Saturday, September 26, 2015

A really good day out

Grace had painting to do. I had various odd jobs to do. We needed to take Kantara out and touch up the scrapes and scratches on the hull blacking. But the weather was glorious, and we just couldn't resist the temptation to drive out somewhere interesting and beautiful. We've been to Upton House and Gardens twice before, but the National Trust recently notified us that the house is staging something of an exhibition, celebrating the life and work of former owner, Lord Bearsted. In particular, how, in 1939, he used his fabulous country house to support the war effort.

One of Lord Bearsted's 52 business concerns was the family's merchant bank, M. Samuel & Co., housed in London. When war was declared, he foresaw the danger of bombing in the capital, and moved the entire staff of 22 into his house, from which they continued to run the business. This helped to keep the wheels of the nation's commerce running during the war years, and the bank further helped the government by funding all sorts of projects, from supplying parachute silk to a system of credits for purchasing eggs from Hungary.

But far from ensconcing himself in the bank in his house throughout the war, Lord Bearsted joined the secret services, while his wife financed and helped run canteens in the bomb-struck East End of London. Both got involved in the desperate struggle to help fellow Jews in peril across Europe. 

Since we last visited the house, it has been transformed to how it was during those years. It was all very fascinating. Unlike most exhibitions of its kind, in this one, visitors are encouraged to touch artefacts, sit on the chairs and at the desks, lie on the beds, read the letters, both business and personal, and peruse the numerous newspapers and magazines of the era.

Lord Bearsted had a large collection of paintings and porcelain. Most of these were bequeathed to the National Gallery at his death, but many of them are still on display in the house. He arranged for some of them to go, with many of the most important works from the National Gallery, to slate mines in Wales for safe-keeping during the bombing of London.

I've never been one to feel awed when in the presence of anyone famous, but I was star-struck when faced with a huge Canaletto painting, just inches from me.

We even had a wartime lunch. "Woolton Pie". Seasonal vegetables topped with potato and cheese, and served with a thick gravy. Very tasty. The sky was cloudless, the sun was hot. Just perfect for strolling in the gardens, or sitting and enjoying the views.

Unfortunately, the lake had leaked away and was mostly quite dried up, but, coincidentally, it had been deliberately drained during the war so that the water couldn't create reflections which might have been seen by enemy aircraft crews, and prompted bombing.

It was a great day out, with the added bonus of outward and return journeys by different routes through beautiful Warwickshire countryside.

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