Salisbury Cathedral Close Preservation Society

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XSpring Lecture 2017
XI21st March 2017 at Sarum College, The Close, Salisbury


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Mompesson House

 

By Emily Blanshard

Summary:

 
I’m going to focus on a couple of key people in the story, a few particular treasures and share just a little bit about what you can look forward to if (or hopefully when!) you visit us in 2017. I want to start though by sharing our Sprit of Place statement – every National Trust property has one – and they are used to shape, guide, even govern everything that happens at a place. The Mompesson spirit of place document was written in 2016 by the Mompesson team with input from our curatorial advisers, our volunteers, our visitors – maybe even some of you – and it sums up what is unique, distinctive and cherished about this very special place….

The spirit of Mompesson is encapsulated by its setting. This quintessential Queen Anne townhouse is surrounded by, and intrinsically part of, the historic Cathedral Close in Salisbury. Whilst the largest house on Choristers’ Green, Mompesson’s homely atmosphere and welcoming proportions are dwarfed by the towering spire of Salisbury Cathedral. Neither grand nor humble Mompesson is a sanctuary in the heart of the city. The hidden and tranquil garden offers a chance to escape the hustle and bustle.

Whilst the architecture and interiors are undeniably of the highest quality, Mompesson is approachable. Visitors can easily imagine themselves living here. Indeed it has been a home to many families, each of whom made their mark on the house. Whilst they have left precious few artefacts, the plasterwork, panelling, staircase and ceilings all tell their stories.

Following in the footsteps of past residents, the National Trust inherited an empty house and filled it with treasures. The collection of eighteenth-century drinking glasses alone draws visitors from across the globe.

Despite a history of thoughtful and responsive change, Mompesson’s is a story of timeless continuity. The Cathedral Close setting and the proportions of the house really are fundamental to the appeal and atmosphere of Mompesson – as you can imagine, many of our visitors tell us of their plans to move in! It is this Spirit of Place Statement which will governs all our future plans for Mompesson.

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History…


Although there has long been a house on the site, the current Mompesson House is around 300 years old and was named after Charles Mompesson for whom it was built in 1701. The hopper heads at the top of the downpipes bear the initials CM and the date of construction. The architect is unknown but the style distinctive. In the past the house has been ascribed to Christopher Wren but sadly there is no documentary evidence to support this. The house stands out from the others on Choristers’ Green in that it is faced with stone, all the others of course are brick. It is, however, relatively reserved and elegant, rather than ostentatiously grand. Mompesson is typically Queen Anne in style in that it is balanced and restrained, with symmetrically arranged sash windows, a hipped roof - the ends being sloped instead of gabled - and dormer windows. The unifying symmetry is however a slight illusion - the building extends further on the right-hand side.


The Mompessons were an old Wiltshire family, recorded from the early 15th century. Several of them had been sheriffs. Charles’s father, Sir Thomas, an ardent Royalist, was an MP, and Charles was for some years himself an MP – one of two for the rotten borough of Old Sarum. In 1703, Charles Mompesson married Elizabeth Longueville and their union was celebrated with the addition of a decorative cartouche above the front door – their new joint coat of arms (this one is actually a replica – The original had become very worn and was replaced in the 1950s, which itself was replaced in 1995 with this one carved by specialist stone masons from Cliveden Conservation studio.)

Mompesson died in 1714 and soon after, his brother-in-law, Charles Longueville took over the lease on the house - it is him we have to thank for the richly decorated interiors - he commissioned the wonderful plasterwork and the oak staircase in the 1740s and made considerable changes to the height of the ceiling in the Large Drawing Room. The fact that the land and buildings on the site have been leased from the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral from the 16th century onwards is a critical factor in the creation of Mompesson as we know it today.

Following in the footsteps of the Mompessons and Longueville – successive families took the lease on the house - the Hayters to 1800 – the Portmans to 1846 and the Townsends to 1939 – they each took possession of an empty house, they moved in, bringing their furniture and belongings with them; created their home; made modest changes to the interiors (generally just a simple re-paint in the fashion of the time); some had children who grew up in the close; and finally they moved out – taking all their personal effects, furniture and belongings with them.

As a result the collection you see when you visit Mompesson, in contrast with somewhere like Stourhead or Lanhydrock for example, contains very few indigenous items. Those which we have are treasured… and many relate to Barbara Townsend – who lived at Mompesson for almost a century - her family moved to the house in 1843 and she lived there until her death in 1939. Moving in to the house as a young child, as an older lady Barbara made no concessions to fashionable dress and continued, throughout her life, to swathe herself in elaborate Victorian or Edwardian hats, multiple shawls, veils and scarves – as a result she was a familiar and instantly recognisable figure in the Close and around Salisbury itself. She was a self-taught artist – a very talented and original watercolour painter - Barbara recorded everyday life in the Cathedral Close and family excursions further afield - views out of the window of the spire, or azaleas in the entrance hall. She worked mainly in watercolour and produced a huge number of paintings during her long life. She decorated cups and plates and tiles and sketches, all her work piling up around her – the ceramics were sent by train to London for firing. Rex Whistler described her work as “exquisite”. Many of her pictures are on display in the house…

Miss Townsend was very happy with Mompesson House as it was - in all its un-modernised splendour and so it is largely due to her that it survived into the 20th century in its unchanged and intact condition – this is the Dining Room in the Victorian period. Today her influence on Mompesson is captured in the Small Drawing Room – dressed as her painting room – with all the intricate details captured – from William Morris curtains, an easel, the day bed by the fire - down to the minutest of details – a replica tiny ceramic penguin figure on the desk. She’s similarly celebrated in the tea room which was refurbished last
year and copies of her watercolours hang on the walls.

And that moves us on very nicely to the final member of the Mompesson ‘family’ that I want to talk about this evening – an absolutely critical player in the story of how the property came to be owned by the National Trust – Denis Martineau. He was born at Boxmoor in Hertfordshire on 6 November 1907. He studied art and architecture at Trinity College, Cambridge, qualified as an architect in July 1931 and practised from London.

On the outbreak of the second world war in 1939 he joined the Royal Air Force and became a Flight Lieutenant, serving until the end of the war. On demobilisation, he moved to the fashionable Montpelier Square in London and he kept this house for the rest of his life. Eventually he decided he would like to purchase a cottage in Wiltshire to use as a weekend retreat. Mompesson House was drawn to his attention when it appeared as an advertisement in Country Life magazine in 1952. After considerable negotiation, Denis arranged to buy the house from the Church Commissioners (it had temporarily acted as the official home for the Bishop of Salisbury – but was felt to be too small and too public) - and agreed to give the property to the National Trust on his death.

An official document, the Memorandum of Wishes, set out the agreement between Denis and the National Trust on the terms of his occupancy. Denis would be responsible for the upkeep of the house, so long as he lived there. The property was conveyed to the National Trust on 1 July 1952. Martineau continued to live and work as an architect in London, but spent most weekends in Salisbury.

It soon became apparent that major repairs to the house were necessary and as an architect, Denis was at pains to see that the restoration was carried out to a high standard. Outside he renewed the stonework of the main house where it had decayed. Inside he carried out important structural repairs and installed new plumbing and central heating. In the main rooms he ensured the preservation of the panelling and ornamental ceilings - however, he replaced the Victorian fireplaces in the library and dining room with eighteenth century ones. But his approach could never be described as purist and his choice of colour schemes and furnishings was often bold. The dark brown Victorian paintwork was deeply unfashionable by the 1950s. Denis set about a complete redecoration in bright vivid colours  and the 1740s plasterwork was picked out in gold. These ocelot print curtains were a particular memorable.

Here are a few highlights… the black and white images show how the house was when Martineau had finished his restoration – the vivid colour scheme can be more clearly appreciated in a set of photos taken in the 1970s…

The Staircase – 1977 and now

The Entrance Hall –in 1958 and 1977 – complete with Battersby trompe l’oeil panels – this one depicting the haunting legend of the Mompesson drummer


The large Drawing Room – 1958, 1977 and today

The library in 1958 – and both these photos show the room today – as the only room in the house which today retains touches of Martineau’s rather flamboyant taste – and a wonderful touch on one of the hidden doors through into the service area of the house – artificial book spines chronicling his life through the places he lived – each title representing a different home, school or billet.

The National Trust received an Architects Report in 1975 which recommended repairs to the iron railings, treatment for dry rot in the small drawing room and renewing the electrical wiring throughout the house. Denis readily agreed to the work, although he was obviously concerned by the predicted costs of about £15,000. During the summer he sold many choice objects from the house - his collection of Wedgewood Jasperware, satinwood furniture from the large drawing room, as well as some paintings. At the same time, the entire contents of the house were removed to store, including the fitted carpets and curtains, to facilitate the rewiring. Martineau furnished the studio in the courtyard as a bedsitting room for his weekend visits and he used the summerhouse (now the tea-room) as his office.

This year, for the first time, the Studio – Denis’s bed sitting room is open to the public– it is home to our new shop and a fascinating new addition to the visitor experience – and gives a really great insight into
Martineau’s taste! (our designers had great fun with the 1950s theme to inspire them and incorporating original features – such as this very bold red patterned wallpaper into their designs…) The work began in July and by the end of the year it only remained to make good the damage to the plasterwork in the small drawing room; but then the unexpected happened. Martineau died from coronary thrombosis at the age of 68 on 4 December 1975 at his home in London. His sudden death at a time when all the bills were coming in for the work at Mompesson could have been a problem but the executors of his will agreed that these costs could be borne by his estate, as they would have been had he lived.

Martineau had no immediate family and contrary to expectations, he did not leave the contents of the house to the National Trust. However he did bequeath it the curtains, carpets, light fittings and garden ornaments. Everything else was to be sold on behalf of the beneficiaries in his main will. Suddenly the National Trust had to decide the future of the empty house. It was Dudley Dodd, Historic Buildings Representative who took on the challenge – in his words –“Inevitably a picture or chest of drawers just did not seem to quite “go” and we had to plan again but, happy to say, there were very few snakes and many ladders in our race to open the house in the spring of 1977.”

That race involved negotiating object loans from the V&A, Bristol Museum and Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum and arranging for collections of objects donated to the National Trust over the years to find a new home in Salisbury –

… the Bessemer Wright collection of ceramics - a collection of porcelain including many figurines - mainly Derby and Bow - and often representing themes such as the seasons and animals.
Then there was Olympic gold-medal winning tennis player Captain Turnbull’s collection of 18th century drinking glasses - The Turnbull collection of English 18th century drinking glasses is the largest and finest collection of its kind in the National Trust -collected by Oswald Turnball in the 1920s and bequeathed to the Trust in the 1970s, it comprises over 370 individual pieces. The glasses rang from heavy bottomed firing glasses for charging a toast, to delicate air twist stems which rose in fashion after the introduction of a tax on the weight of glass. Both ingenious and beautiful!

A collection of stumpwork – to be the subject of our 2018 exhibition And some of Dorothy Bushby’s treasures from Portland House in Dorset.

That’s where I’ll leave the story for now – as ‘what the National Trust did next’ is the focus of our new exhibition – here’s the house, ready of opening in 1977 – so do please come and visit to find out more.

Mompesson is now open 7 days a week until early November – with the tea room, house, garden and shop all open from 11am – 4.30. There are lots of new members of staff looking forward to welcoming visitors and we’re always looking for new volunteers to join the team so please do get in touch if you’re interested in finding out more.

 

Emily Blanshard

March 2017

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Barbara Townsend
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Denis Martineau
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Entrance Hall 1950s


Entrance Hall now
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Large Drawing Room 1950s


Large Drawing Room now

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Mock of Studio Interior
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Stump Work


































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Richard Owen KSG FCA