An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 152

Clinton Howell Antiques - October 25, 2021 - Issue 152
An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture
A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts
My introduction to London was, I like to think, unique although I have to say that I have met a number of other Americans who have gone to the London College of Furniture, so at least that part was not unique. What was unique about my experience was a confluence of things including working with my brother and working for the expat Texan, Richard Holley, who did the mise-en-scene for parties for a company called Party Planners. Richard designed these party sets for a number of well known names most of whom I have forgotten although there are a couple of clients who were memorable. Sir Charles Clore, a well known financier who had a dalliance with Christine Keeler of the Profumo Affair fame, was one, and  Mick Jagger was another. It was Mr. Jagger's  thirtieth birthday party which was held at the designer, David Mlinaric's flat in Chelsea near Cheyne Walk where Jagger lived. It was also not far from one of my favorite 18th century parks, the Physic Garden which was created by Hans Sloane, whose collection of things--his supercharged cabinet of curiosities--eventually became the British Museum. The Physic Garden is a treat, by the way, as it focuses on plants that have been and can be used as medicine. It also includes plants that can kill--an inspiration for the murder mystery novelists of this world. 

The parties we set up were often in interesting spots including the Dorchester, what once was the Hyde Park Hotel and is now the Mandarin and the Orangery in Holland Park. One of the more unusual parties we helped set up was on one of the river boats, the Father Thames, which was hired by an owner, or part owner of Tesco, the supermarket chain. The Captain of the Father Thames, a delightful man, offered to ride us up and down the Thames while we set things up on his boat. It happened to be a beautiful day and we could ask the captain to go faster or slower while we lazily did what we had to do, and it enabled us to look at London from what is physically its most central feature--the river. London is a mosaic that evolved in part by the proximity of a waterway to an area and how prone to flooding an area might be. Taking the Tower of London as a central point for where first the City of London and then the London of today (part of the tower qualifies as the oldest building in London) and go east and west, you can see traces of how the city developed. Furthermore, for people who get excited by buildings, the visuals are a feast of size and shape as well as ranging from the year 1100. I mentioned the Physic Garden as that was quite close to where we boarded the Father Thames and although just a walled garden, it was our starting point to the day of the interesting sites of the city.

East of the Tower of London, you will find mostly 19th and 20th century development. Of course, there are exceptions as, for example, Queen Anne's House in Greenwich which was designed and built by Inigo Jones in the early 17th century. The ground rises from Greenwich (up to Blackheath Common) and it is where, aside from the Royal Naval College and Museum, you will find the Royal Observatory. Two things happened in the 19th century to make East London more desirable--one was the Regents Canal started in 1812 which runs into north London (and helped open up North London to development) and the building of the embankments along the Thames in the 1860's. You can see the 19th century structures everywhere, often with a 17th or 18th century church in the middle of them. Clearly, villages were re-shaped with more solid structures in the 19th century, save for the church, as time progressed. The best known 19th century district on the water in London, cinematically at least, is just east of the Tower--Wapping--regularly used to depict 19th century London in films with its cobbled streets and 19th century structures. Aside from churches which, once built were not often torn down, there were official residences and estates on both sides of the river which also reflect pre-nineteenth century London. Going west from the Tower is Somerset House, Lambeth Palace, home of the Archbishop of Canterbury (you can see the dome of St. Paul's) Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament which were some of what we saw as we started from the Chelsea Pier. But Chelsea itself has a great mix of Georgian and 19th century houses, many visible from the water, most notably the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, designed by Christopher Wren. The collision of styles is everywhere, but from the water it somehow feels different. I need to go again to catch up on the last 50 years as the changes have kept on coming. London, architecturally speaking,  never sleeps.