Alfresco affair of the heart

WHERE better for a picnic and evening of outdoor theatre than the stunning National Trust Cliveden estate near Maidenhead?

Heartbreak Productions set the perfect tone for the occasion last night with their tongue-in-cheek adaptation of Private Lives, Noel Coward’s 1930 comedy of manners about a divorced couple having an unexpected reunion when they honeymoon with their new spouses in the same French hotel.

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And the energetic five-strong cast of this Midlands touring company presented a lively and engaging reinterpretation of the play at the tail end of their marathon summer season.

The company head back home to Leamington Spa after presenting more than 250 performances of a quartet of different shows during a hectic three-month summer season that has incorporated everything from Romeo and Juliet to David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny.

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Some 200 theatregoers took their picnics to L’Hotel Crevecoeur to watch Elyot and Amanda struggling with their rollercoaster emotions after their unfortunate meeting in Deauville.

The parts were played by Coward himself and Gertrude Lawrence in the original 1930 production, and later by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in a 1983 Broadway production.

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For this outdoor adaptation of the celebrated comedy, nostalgic music and dance helped to create the 1930s ambience as dusk fell on Coward’s delicious one-liners, but there were darker undercurrents too in the barely suppressed violence underpinning the central couple’s stormy relationship.

A fitting season’s end to Cliveden’s open-air theatre productions, as the Heartbreak team packed up and headed home for a final couple of shows and a welcome break.

 

 

Campaign issues a call to arms

THE Beyonder has launched a “ripple effect” campaign calling on communities across the Chilterns to join forces in a local war on litter and fly-tipping.

The move follows months of research into existing initiatives, speaking to campaign groups, rangers, councils and enforcement teams.

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“It’s clear to anyone driving around our area that there is a major problem with littering,” says Beyonder editor Andrew Knight. “It’s becoming an epidemic on our back roads and roundabouts and it has become a national scandal. It’s the same problem we see on bank holiday beaches and people leaving their tents and camping equipment at festivals.

“A significant minority of selfish individuals are acting with complete disregard for our countryside. It’s costing a fortune to clean up, it’s killing our wildlife and it’s leaving us knee-deep in plastic which eventually ends up in our oceans.

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“Thankfully the tide is really turning in terms of people’s awareness, but there’s still a long way to go.”

He points to the impact of programmes like David Attenborough’s Blue Planet series and praised teenage campaigners like Greta Thunberg for pushing environmental concerns higher up the political agenda.

“It’s easy for people to get angry or disheartened about the sheer scale of the problem, but during the past year we’ve been impressed with the positive news stories from all over the country,” he says.

“From joggers to dog walkers, community groups all over the UK are getting together to clean up public spaces near their homes. It might start with their own garden and spread to their street, estate or village.

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“And that shared sense of achievement is very infectious – there are dozens of such groups on Facebook and sharing their experiences helps them cope with the negative things. It keeps people fit, it gets young and old and families out doing something good for the community and the cleaner an area is, the less likely people are to drop litter – the effect really does spread….”

The “ripple” campaign is based on the same principle, he explains, because dotted across the Chilterns are dozens of places where the tough clear-up work is already being done – in country parks and National Trust properties, by scores of parish and town councils, by ordinary farmers and landowners.

“Where property is owned by the Woodland Trust or local wildlife trusts, rangers and volunteers are already on the case, with local families, ramblers and dog walkers all doing their bit to help,” he says.

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“The big problem is that the minute you go outside Black Park or Cliveden or a remote footpath and reach a main road, you are confronted with all sorts of rubbish just being chucked out of passing cars,” he says.

“We can’t change people’s habits overnight, but we think the “ripple effect” campaign can make a real difference once the word gets out. We have to get the message out there that this type of behaviour is unacceptable, anti-social and criminal.

“But if most people in the community are behind it and want to keep their town, village or street clean, it will make life a whole lot harder for those few selfish souls who don’t understand or don’t care what they are doing to the planet.”

Enforcement is part of the package too, as the magazine explored in an interview last year with enforcement officers like David Rounding (below) and his colleagues at Buckinghamshire County Council.

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The online magazine encourages people to get involved in the campaign in any way they can, whether than means picking up a few items of litter when walking the dog, organising a community clean-up or taking steps to reduce the amount of plastic they buy and use at home.

“We hope people will want to get involved and tell us what they are up to,” says Andrew. “We know this will take time and determination and that nothing will change overnight, but our countryside is under siege and igoring the problem is simply not an option.”

For full details of the campaign, and how to get involved, follow the link.

 

 

Residents fight Green Belt attack

RESIDENTS across two counties are stepping up their protests over plans to build new motorway service areas and thousands of new homes on Green Belt land.

The upsurge in activity in Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire coincides with deadlines passing for local people to voice their concerns with local councils about their draft plans which will shape housing development in the area over the next 20 years.

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Various protest groups are now raising funds for legal representation to proceed with their campaigns. The Beaconsfield Society Save our Green Belt Campaign has been vociferous it its efforts to fight the “biggest threat for a generation” to the local Green Belt, with plans for 1600 new homes, offices and travellers’ sites around the town, which the society claims would lead to a massive increase in congestion and pollution.

The society has slammed both Beaconsfield Town and South Bucks councils for a lack of communication over the blueprint for thousands of homes in the area and argue that the growing housing crisis is not an acceptable reason to build on the protected land.

In the plans, a total of 5,200 homes are proposed across the area from Iver to Chesham, and other groups have raised similar concerns.

HOMESIn Little Chalfont, which has been zoned for 700 homes, the parish council and community association joined forces to respond to the proposals, while campaigners in Bourne End have also fought to protect Green Belt land.

Meanwhile Thames Valley Police has joined local residents in raising concerns about a £150m motorway service area proposed near Chalfont St Peter.

Extra Motorway Services wants to build a hotel, petrol station and a building containing 12 retail and restaurant units on the 147-acre site between junctions 16 and 17 of the M25, close to the M25 exit for Denham/Maple Cross.

Police objected to the plans because of fears about the impact of a new service area on police resources and the safety of staff and customers, pointing out that Beaconsfield Services at Junction 2 of the M40 currently represented “one of the biggest crime hotspots” in the local policing area, with numerous calls relating to crime and anti-social behaviour.

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Residents were also worried about the impact of the development on the local community and about pollution and congestion.

But similar fears have also been raised about another massive motorway service station mooted on green belt land in Hertfordshire will could threaten the very existence of Kings Langley.

Gary Ansell, chairman of Kings Langley & District Residents Association (KLDRA), said in April: “We are extremely concerned the village of Kings Langley will be surrounded by development. And the site is close to a church and primary school which would both be affected by high levels of diesel fumes and noise pollution.”

Moto Hospitality has submitted a planning application for a new service station at junction 20 off the M25 near Kings Langley with an 80-bed lodge, range of shops, parking spaces and other facilities.

See the highlighted links above for more detail about the different protest groups’  campaigns.

 

Berkshire’s first lady of fashion

IT’S hard to imagine quite how dramatic the state of disrepair at Basildon House was after the war.

Exploring the Grade I listed building today, or sauntering round its 400 acres of parkland, you are greeted with a lovingly restored Georgian country house maintained by the National Trust.

But that’s largely down to the vision and hard work of one extraordinary woman, Renée Lady Iliffe, who first saw the building in 1952 after it had suffered years of military occupation.

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“To say it was derelict is hardly good enough,” Lady Iliffe wrote later. “No window was left intact, and most were repaired with cardboard or plywood.”

Walls were covered with signatures and grafitti from various wartime occupants and there was no sign of modernisation other than an army washroom catering for six people at a time.

Nonetheless, despite the cold and damp, the empty rooms and broken windows, she had fallen in love with the place and would spend the next 25 years carefully restoring it to its former glory.

“There was still an atmosphere of former elegance, and a feeling of great solidity. Carr’s house was still there, damaged but basically unchanged,” she wrote.

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Lady Iliffe was born on the island of Mauritius and the family home was a remote and beautiful 5,000-acre plantation. With the collapse of the sugar industry, the family were increasingly strapped for cash and Renée, the eldest of four children, grew up to be sturdily independent.

But her life changed dramatically through the intervention of her aunt Edith, who insisted that the family decamp to England and paved the way for the family’s assimilation into the English aristocracy.

Cultivated and exotic, with film-star looks, Renée was introduced to Langton Iliffe, and the couple fell in love and married in December 1938 – an event captured for posterity by Pathe News.

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Renée Iliffe soon set about the task of transforming their new home, honing a talent for interior decoration she had first show during the war, and establishing herself as a skilled and generous hostess – so much so that the couple’s lifestyle at Basildon Park would feature in the July 1966 edition of Vogue.

That photoshoot, along with the famous weekend parties in the 1950s and 60s where Lord and Lady Iliffe entertained guests such as Princess Grace of Monaco and artist Graham Sutherland, inspired a special display of select pieces of designer couture from the Fashion and Textile museum which runs until November 18.

From Chanel and Givenchy, Pierre Cardin and Christian Dior, 18 dresses and gowns are on display, including items owned and worn by Lady Iliffe herself.

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She was a skilled and generous hostess whose genius was said to be her ability to create an atmosphere in which comfort was mixed with elegance, and to inject it with a sense of fun.

Sebastian Conway, the Trust’s house and collections manager – and whose pictures feature above and below – said: “The vivid life and colour that filled this house at weekends has for a long time been missing. It’s about time we celebrated Lord and Lady Iliffe’s socialite side, as they brought prestige and recognition to Basildon Park with their dazzling dinners and glamorous parties for their celebrity guests.

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She and Lord Iliffe lived happily at Basildon for many years and, after presenting it in 1978 to the National Trust along with a handsome endowment, remained there as tenants. He had succeeded to his father’s peerage in 1960 and died in 1996, while Lady Iliffe died in 2007 at the age of 90.

The Palladian house itself was built by John Carr of York for Francis Sykes, who made a fortune in service with the East India Company, while the interiors were completed for the Liberal MP James Morrison, who bought Basildon in 1838.

But the house stood empty and neglected throughout the first half of the 20th century.

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Nowadays the interior boasts a richly decorated neo-classical hall, a spectacular staircase hall, an octagonal drawing room with heavy Italianate ceilings and a slightly overwhelming upstairs shell room created by Lady Iliffe.

It has to be said that the floral pinks and ornate fifties feel of some of the upstairs rooms are not to every taste, but for those unmoved by fashion and youngsters wanting to let off steam, the 400 acres of parkland provide plenty of space to escape from the house into the sunlight.

Although substantially damaged by wartime tank training, the long-term restoration of the grounds continues today and the parkland walks provide the opportunity to escape from the crowds, even on busy weekends.

For full details about Basildon Park and its history, along with prices and admission times, visit the National Trust’s main website.

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Surprise guests at the palace

YOU can never be too sure who you might run into at Hampton Court Palace.

It might be a sneaky fox sunbathing among the flowers – or possibly even a rogue monarch stopping for a chat in the Tudor garden.

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Henry turns out to be a lot more approachable in real life than the history books might have had us believe.

But maybe that’s because this Henry is one of the actors playing Tudor roles around the site, nowadays a major tourist attraction run by the Historic Royal Palaces charity, which also looks after the Tower of London, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace, among others.

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It’s an atmospheric touch much appreciated by many of the thousands of visitors who travel here to find out more about Royal history, or just explore the impressive landscaped gardens.

A major appeal of the palace is the chance to discover more about the public dramas and private lives of Henry VIII, his wives and children, and the extraordinary world of the Tudor court.

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Nowhere is that more vividly on show that in the vast kitchens – one of the king’s earliest building works designed to turn the palace into a principal residence, no easy task given the 1,000-strong size of his household retinue.

Despite owning more than 60 sixty houses and palaces, none of them was really equipped for entertaining on the scale Henry VIII envisaged, so this 1529 transformation was perfect.

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Perhaps it was equally predictable that Henry should be enthusiastic about adding a huge feasting room to the palace. His Great Hall was the last medieval great hall built for the English monarchy and took five years to complete, even with the masons working through the night by candlelight.

But Hampton Court isn’t all about Henry, and there really is an extraordinary amount to take in (so much so that you will want to return again, so the family membership fee for unlimited access to all six of the royal palaces makes a lot more sense than the day tickets).

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When William III and Mary II (1689-1702) took the throne in 1689, within months of their accession they embarked on a massive rebuilding project, commissioning Sir Christopher Wren to build an elegant new baroque palace surrounded by formidable landscaped gardens.

Today, the palace houses hundreds of works of art and furnishings from the Royal Collection, mainly dating from the two principal periods of the palace’s construction, the early Tudor and late Stuart to early Georgian period, and ranging from Mantegna’s impressive Triumphs of Caesar in the Lower Orangery to numerous pieces of blue and white porcelain collected by Queen Mary II.

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But that sheer variety of attractions is perhaps the greatest delight of Hampton Court. Even though the Royals left here in 1737, ever since Queen Victoria opened the palace to the public in 1838 it has been a magnet for millions of visitors.

Whether it’s the formal grandeur of the great Tudor kitchens and hall, the stories of ghosts, the famous maze or the fabulous art collection, there’s no shortage of different delights and distractions, from the magnificent chapel to the biggest vine in the world (the ‘Great Vine’, planted in 1768 by Capability Brown and still producing a huge annual crop of grapes).

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Free audio tours allow visitors to make the most of the experience and thousands of Trip Advisor reviews are testimony to the enduring appeal of the palace.

The Magic Garden is an interactive play garden inspired by Hampton Court’s long history, while the gardeners have worked wonders in recent years to reconstruct the kitchen garden which once grew all the local fruit and vegetables for the Royal dining table.

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Note the word local, because of course the king had no qualms about importing the most exotic delicacies from around the world to grace the tables in the Great Hall – and some of the extraordinary menus on display there do much to explain Henry’s imposing girth.

Time was when three sunken gardens were originally ponds used to house freshwater fish such as carp and bream for the Royal table, although when Mary II arrived at the palace, these sunken, sheltered, south-facing gardens were used to house her collection of exotic plants.

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There’s a whole lot more which could be said about the palace of course, but why not set aside some time to pay Henry a proper visit?

See the main website for full details about prices, attractions and special events at Hampton Court Palace as well as those at other HRP destinations like the Tower of London and Kew.

Thoughts in a time of plenty

IT’S hard to believe we are already more than halfway through August, but the sudden splash of colour from the hibiscus hedges at our front door are the most vivid reminder of the changing months.

We’ve enjoyed the fabulous summer displays from the roses, fuchsia and buddleia in our tiny back garden, and now it’s the turn of the front to have a final spectacular flourish.

IMG_1075Lammas Day (August 1) is past – traditionally the day when the first wheat from the harvest is made into a loaf to be the bread consecrated with the wine at a thanksgiving mass.

Lammas comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning loaf mass and has been celebrated for thousands of years, marking a bittersweet month of feasting and abundance, a time when growth is slowing and the darker days of winter and reflection are beckoning.

IMG_0820These are the dog days of summer, when the gardens and roadsides are full of goodies, fields are full of grain, and harvest is approaching.

In ancient times it was a time to celebrate the great Celtic sun king Lugh and reflect on the upcoming abundance of the fall months – the season when the first grains are ready to be harvested and threshed, when the apples and grapes are ripe for the plucking, and we are grateful for the food we have on our tables.

August is a traditionally a month of feasting and celebrations – of market fairs, games and bonfire celebrations, circle dances and community gatherings, as well as being seen as an auspicious month for weddings.

There are many customs throughout Europe around the cutting of the grain or corn.

The first sheaf – which guarantees the seed and symbolises continuity and rebirth – would often be ceremonially cut at dawn, winnowed, ground and baked into the harvest bread which was then shared by the community in thanks. The first barley stalks would be made into the first beer of the season.

The last sheaf was also ceremonially cut, often made into a ‘corn dolly’, carried to the village with festivity and was central to the harvest supper: a corn maiden after a good harvest or a hag or crone after a bad one.

Old Lammas Day on August 12 apparently also marked the day when the lord of the manor would allow commoners to graze the medieval flood plain meadows until Candlemas at the beginning of February.

Locally, the blackberrying has been in full spate and the visitors from earlier in the year – Fez the wandering pheasant and Snoot the sneezing hedgehog – have been replaced by the delightful ducklings, swarms of cheerful tits and agile squirrels.

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It’s a reminder that it’s almost two years since we moved to Wooburn Green, and of what a delight that time has been, with the cooing of the pigeons and whistling of the red kite in the nearby Cedar of Lebanon a constant backdrop to life at “Bear Cottage”.

That slight chill in the evening air is also a reminder of the bittersweet aspects of August that former generations will have sensed – the imminent end of the harvest, the picking of the fruit and berries and the promise of darker winter nights to come.

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Open doors to our heritage

DOZENS of venues across the Chilterns throw open their doors next month as part of the country’s largest free celebration of history and culture.

The annual nationwide event boasts a dynamic programme of more than 5,000 events where public, private and community spaces host tours, talks and open days.

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From open churches to family fun days, doors are flung open at some of the country’s best-known tourist venues, as well as monuments and buildings which do not normally allow visits.

Attractions range from churches, country houses, museums and gardens to theatres, wildlife reserves, distilleries and even recycling centres.

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To celebrate the festival’s 25th anniversary, 25 new venues are opening their doors. “It’s always exciting when new places join Heritage Open Days,” said national manager Annabelle Thorpe. “I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than by sharing it with these iconic places.”

Behind-the-scenes visits include theatres, bell towers and sports stadia, with a full searchable list of all 5,000 atractions available at the main Heritage Open Days website.

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Other popular options include National Trust properties opening their doors free for the day and local churches, museums and other venues staffed by thousands of volunteers eager to share their knowledge of local heritage.

This year’s event runs from September 13-22 and local highlights across the Chilterns are listed on our What’s On pages.

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Established in 1994, Heritage Open Days is England’s contribution to European Heritage Days – launched in 1991 – and has grown into the country’s largest heritage festival.