A recent post on the D.E. Stevenson list about this farmhouse reminded me that I've had these pictures sitting in a draft post for ages. Some time ago, I came across a newspaper story online about a farmhouse in England where the brother and sister who had lived there since the 1940s had kept things pretty much exactly the way they were since then. The brother and sister were quiet and reserved, and neither ever married, and when they recently died, the house and contents were sold off.
I was more than a bit dismayed by a comment on the article from someone who had viewed the house and thought that it was "creepy and sinister", because I find it anything but -- a little sad, perhaps, thinking of the people who had lived there, quietly and uneventfully, and are now gone, but also fascinated by this insight into the 1940s and 50s which we usually only get to see in bits and pieces. Perhaps the person who found it creepy was thinking of those reclusive hoarders who barricade themselves from the world behind piles of newspapers and dirty dishes and filth, but it is said of Grange Farm that it was "spick and span" and the auctioneers had hardly any cleaning to do before the auction, just re-arranging things for the inventory. (Nor were the brother and sister recluses by any means, to judge not only by the stories from neighbors of regular musical evenings and the delight they took in amateur theatricals, but also by the number of spare rooms ready for guests!)
I am not an utter Luddite by any means -- I have a blog, for one! -- but I am a little hobbitish, perhaps, or like Treebeard the Ent, who says, "I do not like worrying about the future" because like his trees he is so deeply rooted in the past, in the earth and rock and forest itself. I mistrust change for the sake of change, and I must admit that I find this farmhouse utterly fascinating, not just the wooden tennis rackets, the packets of soap flakes, the patterned linoleum, the rather saggy armchairs, the things we don't have any more, but also how all of these things are interesting and beautiful in their own way, the way things get somehow when they have been cherished and used for decades. It gives one a sense that although time is passing, it is also standing still. I have always been intrigued by time-travel stories -- Tom's Midnight Garden, "The Love Letter" by Jack Finney, the Narnia stories, Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander" series to some extent (although she seems to have lost interest in the time-travel aspect as such, more interested in the characters themselves and the historical events that surround them). These houses are rather like that, opening a gate or door and finding yourself in another world.
There are two other places like this that I know well (I mean from having been fascinated for years with them, and read about them) -- Bonnettstown Hall, in County Kilkenny, Ireland, and 18 Stafford Terrace in Kensington (the Linley Sambourne House). I don't meant re-creations, interesting and valuable as those might be -- I mean places where the people who lived there simply saw no reason to change things.
In the early 1980s, American photographer Andrew Bush was hitchhiking around Ireland, when he met and was befriended by an elderly aristocrat living in a rather frayed early-18th-century house called Bonnettstown Hall with three companions, also in their eighties. Bush, rather desperate, as he wrote later, "to soak up as much as I could before it was gone" began to photograph the house. His book of these photographs was published in 1989, and the ones below are all from there.
It is almost impossible, even without knowing that the house would soon afterwards be cleared out and sold, to see these photographs and not feel that they are an elegy, but even so the photos are deeply nostalgic yet unsentimental.
Number 18, Stafford Terrace was the Kensington home of artist Linley Sambourne, a frequent contributor to the humor magazine "Punch", who moved into the house with his wife and two children in 1875, and redecorated it in the new Aesthetic style, which drew on the aesthetic value of things (objects, literature, music) and not their political or social values, with the ideal that one's response to all of this this beauty, this "art for art's sake", was a spiritual improvement in itself.
The Sambournes were not a static family by any means, and they did change their house now and then -- the drawing-room, for one, is papered in a William Morris design from some decades after they arrived -- but when Sambourne died in 1910, and his wife Marion a few years later in 1914, their son, the bachelor Roy, made few changes of his own, and the house remained virtually the same as it had at the turn of the century, until his death in 1946, when it passed to his married sister. Already having a house of her own by then, she kept it but like her brother had, unchanged, and eventually the house passed to her daughter, who by then had become the Countess of Rosse, and had the foresight and determination -- as well as a great love for the house and its contents -- to found the Victorian Society in 1957, partly in order to ensure the survival and upkeep of the house and to be able to open it to the public -- which, to the fascination of those like myself who find it a way to make time-travel really happen, it still is.
(Sharp-eyed viewers may recognize the Stafford Terrace drawing-room as the home of Cecil Vyse and his mother in the 1985 film of "A Room With a View", and the dining-room as that of Aunt Agatha in the Granada "Jeeves and Wooster" series.)