Col­lec­tions of Rare Art

Fen­ton House at Hamp­stead in North Lon­don is a de­tached house with walled gar­den, which is large by Lon­don stan­dards, fea­tures a sunken gar­den, an or­chard and a kitchen gar­den

The Day After - - CONTENT - By Seema anand Cho­pra

Evad­ing the speedy life of the nearby Lon­don city we walked up the an­cient Holly Hill to­wards the at­trac­tive yet un­pre­ten­tious Fen­ton House named af­ter one of its ear­ly19th cen­tury own­ers. We were about to dis­cover its fine col­lec­tions span­ning four cen­turies since 1686 AD to fi­nally be­ing with the Na­tional Trust in 1952 and open to tourist. In the due course of time, the Fen­ton House passed through mul­ti­ple own­ers from var­i­ous pro­fes­sions, to­talling17!


We passed through an out­stand­ing wrought iron gate from the early 18th cen­tury made by an iron­worker Jean Ti­jou who had de­signed gates for the Saint Paul’s Cathe­dral and Hamp­ton Court Palace as well! Be­yond the sym­met­ri­cal gar­den and gravel cen­tre path lay the at­trac­tive square brick­work house with four fronts along the four di­rec­tions. We en­tered through the East front into a pas­sage set up with por­traits where the oval- frame por­trait of hand­some James Fen­ton seems to look at ev­ery vis­i­tor and af­ter whom the house is named!


We en­tered the Din­ing room that had been com­bined with the Morn­ing room of the Fen­ton house to cre­ate space. The sim­ple beau­ti­ful Din­ing ta­ble it­self was 18th cen­tury with carved ma­hogany chairs. The Al­cove held a 1774 Harp­si­chord from the fa­mous mak­ers- Shudi and Broad­wood.


The so called Porcelain room had sev­eral us­ages from di­verse own­ers of Fen­ton House- Smok­ing room, Study, Sit­ting room, Surgery and even a Kitchen! To­day there are dis­play cab­i­nets with hun­dreds of fine Porcelain fig­ures by Meis­sen’s great­est porcelain-mas­ters and many more English and Euro­pean 18th cen­tury Porcelain fac­to­ries. We were im­pressed to read lists of name of each Porcelain piece with name of the fac­tory next it –Euro­pean ones sep­a­rate from English ones, a tourist friendly ges­ture. Mov­ing to the next room we passed a 1612 AD Ruck­ers Harpischord on loan from Her Majesty the Queen of Eng­land, with a stamped Wind­sor ac­ces­sion num­ber!!


This room in Fen­ton House takes its name from the Chi­nese porcelain dis­play here. The pe­riod of the Ce­ram­ics is neatly la­belled with the name of the Chi­nese dy­nasty; the old­est be­ing 960AD! Most of the Porcelain in all rooms is from the time of Lady Bin­ning- the last owner of Fen­ton House.


We walked up the Stair­case lit up with nat­u­ral light from a large 10 pane win­dow over­look­ing the gar­den be­low and reached the Rockingham room. A for­mer Bed­room of the Fen­ton House is now called so af­ter the 18th cen­tury Rockingham-China dis­played here! A mem­ory jog re­called that Rockingham pot­tery house was a 19th cen­tury man­u­fac­turer of or­na­men­tal and rare ex­quis­ite porcelain of in­ter­na­tional re­pute to aris­toc­racy in Britain and abroad.

We were in­formed by the Vol­un­teer that the Pic­tures and Needle­work were from Ge­orge Salt­ing col­lec­tion- un­cle of Lady Bin­ning and a great art col­lec­tor of the 19th cen­tury. Ad­di­tion­ally, Lady

Bin­ning her­self was an ac­com­plished needle­woman so this room was a son­net to her re­mark­able needle­work!


Again we spot­ted2 more mu­si­cal in­stru­ments from the Pi­ano fam­ily - fa­mous maker Barkat Shudi’s 1761 Harp­si­chord along with an old­est signed and dated Vir­ginal from 1540! We were puz­zled to see so many mu­si­cal in­stru­ments which did not have much to do with its numer­ous own­ers. A vol­un­teer ex­plained that the Fen­ton house had many pianos and such mu­si­cal in­stru­ments dis­played around as of­ten Con­certs were or­ga­nized here es­pe­cially on Wed­nes­day. They were tick­eted and in­clude a glass of wine as well as a chance to meet the per­former. What a good idea to at­tract more vis­i­tors be­sides the reg­u­lar day-trip­pers!

Lady Bin­nings Bed­room to the Blue Porcelain room

Next we en­tered the beau­ti­ful bed­room of the last owner of Fen­ton House, Lady Bin­ning-a room that she con­verted into her bed­room and had the shelves in­stalled to dis­play her favourite porcelain col­lec­tion. I re­called read­ing that in 1952 when she be­queathed the Fen­ton house to the Na­tional Trust she ex­cluded her bed­room fur­ni­ture. Years later, in 2004, us­ing a pho­to­graph from magazine Coun­try Life the room was re­dec­o­rated and re­fur­bished ex­actly as it ap­peared in 1950’s!

We came across two more mu­si­cal in­stru­ments in the bed­room- an 18th cen­tury small pi­ano called Spinet and an Ital­ian 17th cen­tury Vir­ginal again from the pi­ano fam­ily.


Sub­se­quently we went to the beau­ti­ful fur­ni­ture; pan­eled, arched al­coves Draw­ing room that at all times seemed to have been the Draw­ing room of all pre­vi­ous own­ers. Lady Bin­ning re­ferred to it as the China room as she had two pairs of full length dis­play cab­i­nets for ex­hibits. Un­like other rooms hold­ing ceramic dis­play in the cab­i­nets or upon shelves, this was dif­fer­ent as the China- pieces were ar­ranged taste­fully to show how to fur­nish the Draw­ing room!

Ad­mir­ing the Glass pic­ture here I re­mem­bered read­ing that Paint­ings on Glass be­came pop­u­lar in Eng­land, France and Ger­many in the 18th cen­tury and Fen­ton House has many like th­ese.


We were again greeted by 17th and 18th cen­tury Ce­ram­ics and splen­did Pic­tures in the fur­nished car­peted Green room, orig­i­nally one of the be­d­rooms and later used as a Dress­ing room too.


We were told that this sec­ondary Stair­case for ser­vants con­nected all 4 storeys of Fen­ton House. On the land­ing we came across a 16th cen­tury French or Ital­ian Buf­fet cup­board on which an In­dian stringed mu­si­cal in­stru­ment Sarim­dah (Sarangi) was placed!


We con­cluded our visit to Fen­ton house with the At­tic, which com­piled of 5 small be­d­rooms, to­day ex­hibit­ing a large part of the Ben­ton Fletcher col­lec­tion of mu­si­cal in­stru­ments. Ma­jor Fletcher (18661944) em­barked on his col­lec­tion for the greater cause of preser­va­tion of the early Key­board-In­stru­ments and they were fi­nally dis­played here af­ter his death.

The vol­un­teer said that as Ma­jor Fletcher would have wished, ac­cred­ited stu­dents came to Fen­ton House to prac­tice on th­ese in­stru­ments and Con­certs were held too! He added that in the past­times the At­tic rooms were used by large fam­i­lies of pre­vi­ous res­i­dents of Fen­ton house as be­d­rooms but later for se­nior ser­vants too.

All rooms ex­hib­ited unique, well pre­served mu­si­cal in­stru­ments be­tween late 16th to early 20th cen­tury- Pianos, Harp­si­chords, Vir­ginals and Spinets of Ital­ian, French, English and Dutch ori­gin, each a piece of mu­si­cal-art!


Lit­tle had changed in the Fen­ton house Gar­den of 1756- planted with Fruit trees and Kitchen gar­den with an ad­di­tion of flow­ers later. The time ma­chine took me back­wards into ‘each gar­den’ of the sev­en­teen own­ers who had added their per­sonal touch down the cen­turies!

We drove back with mem­o­ries of the 17 own­ers of Fen­ton House and their splen­did col­lec­tions, each with an inim­itable soul­stir­ring story of en­try and exit!

Lady Bin­ning’s bed­room

The Draw­ing Room at Fen­ton house

Fen­ton House from Holly Hill En­trance

A view of the Fen­ton house through its beau­ti­ful gate

The Oval por­trait of James Fen­ton who lived in the house from 1806-1834

Ceramic Dis­play at Fen­ton house

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