Saturday, 10 September 2016

The King & The American

Would you look at the time? I'm going back to 1892 to tell you all another story about a certain late King. It's quite the interesting tale. Welcome to Two Temple Place...


Two Temple place is a gothic mansion, situated on the Victoria Embankment of the River Thames. It was built for William Waldorf Astor in 1892 (completed in 1895), from Portland stone and in the Early Elizabethan style. The inside was described by one Donald Strachan as 'Victoriana meets Disney' and is full of completely bizarre details, which I'll come to shortly. It's also not generally open to the public, only opening its doors during periodical exhibitions. I've wanted to go along to see it in person for a few years, partly because of the connection with King Edward VII, thus making it a great topic for one of these blogs, but also because it just seemed really interesting and unusual. And it certainly didn't disappoint!


Let's start from the beginning. William Waldorf 'Willy' Astor, later known as the 1st Viscount Astor, was an extremely wealthy american gentleman, born in 1848. He was an attorney by trade and hailed from New York, growing up in Germany and Italy before returning to his native country as a young adult. He entered politics in the 1870s, with some success, but it was in 1890, when his financier father died, that he inherited an enormous fortune. Enough to make him the richest man in America.


Among the first things he did with his newfound wealth was to build the opulent Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York. You might have heard of it! But in 1891, he got into a family feud with Caroline Webster "Lina" Schermerhorn, the wife of his uncle, over whether it was she or Astor's own wife Mary who should be known as the official 'Mrs Astor'. Unfortunately, Willy lost the argument. In a very strange turn of events, in order to disappear from the American public eye, Astor apparently faked his own death from pneumonia and moved to England in 1892. Obviously, this ruse didn't last long and he was roundly mocked by the American press. Nevermind, eh? He was in England now!

Upon arrival in London, he rented a home, but immediately began work on Two Temple Place, later buying a country estate, Cliveden in 1893. The work was completed in 1895.

Two Temple Place has everything an eccentric billionaire could want. Elaborate carvings, complicated metalwork, crenellations, novelty lampposts, cherubs on the telephone (it was brand new technology then), a fancy weathervane - all on the outside.


But the inside takes it another step further still. It's extraordinary. Carved wood, wood figurines, gilt plating everywhere, spectacular stained glass on the ceiling and windows. Have a look.

At opposite ends of the Gallery are these amazing windows. 
And there's gold plating everywhere... very dark for photos unfortunately.



The main stairwell has this ridiculous ceiling and a frieze starring characters from Rip Van Winkle and Last of the Mohicans among others, as well as Shakespearean carved figures and other characters from both fiction and history. Anne Boleyn is there somewhere. The staircase has not one but SEVEN mahogany carvings of characters from Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers, allegedly Astor's favourite novel.

Add caption
Porthos
 Not sure - Athos?

It was designed and built by architect John Loughborough Pearson, the founder of Modern Gothic architecture. The budget was so high, he spared no expense on hiring skilled craftsmen. Aside from the crazy and amazing interior, Two Temple Place had many useful features as well. It was Astor's office, was a home away from the US where he apparently felt his children were at risk from kidnapping, the largest strong room in Europe and other fortified safes.

From Wikipedia

But the interesting story of Two Temple Place is all well and good, but what is the connection with The King's Ginger, you might well ask? There are almost too many to detail in one blog (and keep it interesting). Firstly, he may very well have met our hero when still in the USA, as a founding father of the Tuxedo Club - which the Prince attended in New York, as detailed in a previous blog post I wrote on tailor to the King, Henry Poole.

But later in life as a London resident, Willy Astor became very interested in British society, specifically his standing in it. He donated widely and generously to charities - Great Ormond Street Hospital was one such recipient, as well as countless universities, schools, hospitals, benevolent funds, war memories, children's charities and, notably for this piece, donated £5,000 annually to King Edward's Hospital Fund (you can see an earlier piece on this hospital!). While rumours abounded that he wanted to marry into royalty, he controversially gave a very extravagant wedding gift to Princess Maud of Wales, King Edward and Queen Alexandra's youngest daughter -  a bracelet with a diamond larger than a hazelnut. The Evening Telegram in 1896 said of it, 'The ornament is an extraordinary one, even for a many times millionaire to give to a Royal bride, and that giver but a ‘commoner,’ say some of the gossipers.'

Maud of Wales

But even more interestingly, as transcribed in this great blog post, in 1896, the Chicago Tribune reported that the generousgift of the bracelet probably came as a result of Astor's closeness with the then Prince of Wales, because Astor had paid off some of our Playboy Prince's mounting debts:

... the Prince looked around him on every side for another benefactor, whom, the probabilities are, he found in the person of William Waldorf Astor, who was only too delighted at the opportunity thus offered to place the future King of England and Emperor of India under so heavy an obligation to himself.
The Prince is not ungrateful, and he has shown by his visits to Cliveden, by his influencing the other members of the Royal family to accept Mr. Astor’s invitations and by his inviting him far more frequently than is stated in the newspapers to Sandringham, how much he appreciates the assistance afforded.
One of the most significant features of the situation is the superb wedding present given by Mr. Astor to Princess Maud of Wales the other day. It was an unset diamond of huge size, of perfect purity and luster, and of immense value.  It was a gift which a brother-in-law might give to a sister-in-law or a kinsman to a relative, but hardly one which any mere acquaintance of the family, a comparative stranger, would dream of sending.
The Royal family are very particular about the origin of presents, and many a gift has been refused because the Prince and Princess did not consider that the value thereof was warranted by the degree of intimacy or of friendship.
The inevitable conclusion, therefore, is that William Waldorf Astor, descendant of the German pelt-peddler and late of America, is not only considered an intimate friend of the family of the Prince of Wales, but is in a position steadily to intensify that intimacy and worm his way to the throne, the left-handed consort’s throne, itself.
London society is convinced that this is Mr. Astor’s purpose, and those luminaries of it who best know its inner workings consider that his chances of success are good. 

And as a final amusing note, Astor's son, Waldorf Astor, had a second marriage to another American emigré to England, Nancy Witcher Langhorne. Nancy Astor was famous in English society for being a bit saucy in her speech - she was apparently charming, witty and interesting (if also very devoutly religious). The couple lived in another of Willy Waldorf Astor's homes, the aforementioned Clivedem. On the Cliveden site (now National Trust), it states:
In the early twentieth century, King Edward VII was eager to meet the newly married Nancy Astor. On one occasion during a visit to Cliveden, Edward VII asked to play bridge which Nancy declined, famously saying ‘I am afraid I can’t tell a King from a Knave’ – much to the King’s amusement.
I suspect the King might have had designs on her...

That's all for now. Here are a couple more photos of the amazing Two Temple Place, where Astor and the King may or may not have drunk together. The exhibition on inside during my visit was on Egyptology - fascinating but the building itself was worth the trip alone. It's now closed to the public until their next exhibition in 2017. I encourage any history lovers to go along when you can, it's amazing!


D'Artagnan in the foreground there.

This is the ladies loo! It's the worst photo I took, but I'm sharing for posterity!


In the meantime, drink loads of The King's Ginger - it's getting to that season after all. Especially at this weekend's Goodwood Revival, where there's a lovely Berry Bros. & Rudd Bar! Cheers!


Fleur xx
DiaryofaVintageGirl.com

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Go Hard or Go Frome (part 1)

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (or rather last June in Somerset), much fun was had. It was actually a hen do, and all in honour of Jeni aka Yesterday Girl, who got married in Vegas last July. A fabulous time was had by all (and documented on Instagram) but then the photos got lost on a hard drive and so no blog post was written. But then, a couple of months ago, they got found... hooray!

So anyway, last June, my girl gang and I drove in convoy to Frome (yes it's pronounced Froom, rather than to rhyme with home but oh well), with me in my little yellow Panda and Bethan in her red Ka. We stayed in a lovely holiday cottage called Stonehenge (s/o to all you Spinal Tap fans) that we found through Snaptrip, which had a pool and games room next door. And we celebrated Jeni's forthcoming marriage with almost none of your standard hen party accessories. Except willy straws. Oh, and willy cutlery.



I will simply post this as a visual diary of our excursions. There's Wookey Hole, which was quite literal cheesy fun in caves (clogs not recommended), the vintage amusement arcade and mirror maze plus the dinosaur trail outside. We also did a trip into Frome to poke about the vintage shops. While other people's holiday photos can be dull, I assure you all there are lots of good vintage outfits and hair to be seen here! Part 2 coming soon and by the way, all these photos are from Jeni's amazing camera, which explains why they are much better than my knackered old Canon can manage.


Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Feelin' Vinyl

Yesterday was really quite special. Not only did I get to hang out with one of my oldest and dearest friends Naomi Thompson, but I got to dress up and have my photo taken in a fabulous 1970s dress with hair and makeup, too. Exhibit A:


As a newly converted 1970s aficionado, it was a bit of a dream. The shoot was in honour of the new HBO series Vinyl being released for digital download, today. Firstly, and most importantly, here's what Vinyl is all about:
VINYL is a ride through the sex- and drug-addled music business of 1970s New York at the dawn of punk, disco and hip-hop. Richie Finestra, the founder and president of American Century Records, is trying to save his company and soul without destroying everyone in his path. With his passion for music and discovering talent gone by the wayside, and American Century on the precipice of being sold, he has a life-altering event that reignites his love of music, but severely damages his personal life.
It has been created by none other than Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger, author Rich Cohen and multi-gonged producer Terence Winter who is known for "The Wolf of Wall Street; HBO’s “The Sopranos” and “Boardwalk Empire”, so if that's not a recipe for an amazing series right there, I don't know what is!


The aim of the day was for the dream team of Naomi and Natasha from Pretty Me Vintage to transform a select few journalists and bloggers into (imaginary) characters from the series. Think glitzy, moneyed 1970s New York music industry clothing, rather than boho, wild-child hippies or English Laura Ashley frocks.

It's fair to say, they got it spot on!


Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Welcome Home (The King's Sanatorium)

It's time for another delve into English Edwardian history for The King's Ginger. This time, we're going back to a darker time, when tuberculosis was a scourge. Men, women, children, rich or poor - no one was safe, and a cure was not yet known. But the luckier (and not necessarily wealthier) victims of consumption did have more of a chance, thanks to a state-of-the-art sanatorium that bore the King's name...




Back in my teens, all I really knew about TB was that the leading lady in La Boheme had it and I got a very painful BCG inoculation against it. But in the early 1800s, TB was the cause of an astonishing twenty-five percent of all deaths in England. By the turn of the 20th century, rates of death from consumption were still high, with a vaccination more than twenty years away and a cure, almost fifty. It was only a couple of decades previously, that the medical profession discovered that TB was infectious. It was certainly had no respect for money or class status. But it's fair to say there was a huge difference in the treatment of poor TB victims and the wealthy ones. Both were isolated from society, but the poor went into sanatoriums that were essentially prisons or workhouses and the more well-heeled benefited from plush hospitals, relaxation, fresh air and sunlight.


Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Snapshots of Berlin

After an insanely busy six weeks, last Monday I ran away to Berlin for a couple of days. One of the nice things about being a freelance copywriter and social media type, is that with a bit of preparation, I can theoretically do my job from anywhere in the world. So, off I flew!

My lovely man had gone to Hamburg the previous weekend to watch St Pauli play (I had to work, which was a convenient excuse to get out of watching football) and came to meet me in Berlin on Monday night. We stayed in the awesome Michelberger Hotel, a place that's 50% boutique hotel and 50% budget hotel, and 100% hipster, but in a cool way. The way East London was about five years ago, before it became too knowing about its own hipsterness! It's in Friedrichshain, in what was previously East Berlin, which was then the poorest part and is now arguably the most fun and creative part. We especially loved neighbouring Kreutzberg with its independent shops, bars, restaurants and venues.

What I present here are some snapshots of my trip, more for personal record than anything else. That disclaimer comes because I have a brand-new camera (a Canon 70D) which I haven't quite got to grips with yet, so these photos are really just holiday snaps and not beautifully-composed blog photos. And because sometimes it's better to capture moments with an iPhone than it is to grapple with a DSLR beast!


The most delicious German breakfast, at Tante Emma

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Having a Grape Old Time!

It's about time I took a foray back into the more distant past for a fresh King's Ginger adventure. Luckily enough, I have had one up my sleeve for a few months, ready to unleash on my loyal readers at the most opportune moment! This particular story revolves around sparkling wine (and horses), and what better time to enjoy such things than in the lead up to Valentine's Day? Well, sparkling wine, not horses. Though what you do with your own time is no business of mine.

Onto the tale!


Thursday, 28 January 2016

From Hobby to Career – Becoming a Vintage Seller

In the second of my two posts for Shurgard's blog, I am asking: so, you think you have a good eye for vintage clothing and accessories? Perhaps, after many years devoted to your own collection – honing your eye for a bargain – you realise you prefer hunting down vintage and antiques more than your actual job. Well... why not try and make a living out of your hobby? Seriously! You'll have to get used to early mornings, become a photographer, get to grips with social media marketing and, most importantly of all, genuinely have a passion for what you're doing. But the rewards are so worth it! 


Keep your eyes peeled

The casual collector scours eBay and Etsy and probably frequents vintage sales, charity shops and carboots. But the serious stock sourcer needs to think bigger. You can find big lots on eBay if you look, but it's being first through the door at sales of all kinds that reaps the rewards. Pro sellers are the ones lining up at opening time, sweeping through and leaving before the hobbyists have even got out of bed! You can even try going to proper vintage clothing auction houses like Kerry Taylor to battle it out with other dealers, hitting foreign flea markets or making friends with local house clearance companies.


Promoting your collection 

When you've acquired some stock, what then? Sure, you can book spots at fairs, boot sales and so forth, but if you don't have transport, it can be difficult. Selling online is the answer, but it's an art all in itself. Taking decent photos is key. A decent camera (or cameraphone), a plain backdrop (or bedsheet!) and a cheap mini tripod are good to have. It's definitely fair to say that the better your photos are, the more you are likely to sell, and potentially command higher prices.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Starting a Vintage Collection: Beginner's Basics

Collecting anything, but especially vintage clothing or accessories, can vary from being a casual hobby to an all-consuming compulsion. As a collector of everything from Beanie Babies (as a kid) to vintage housedresses (ongoing), I have experience at both ends of the spectrum! I was asked by Shurgard Self-Storage to write a piece about said experience for their blog and was only too glad to oblige. I can waffle on a bit as any regular readers know, and I kept it more concise there. So here, in full are some tips to kickstart your collecting career.


Starting out

Firstly, and most importantly, decide what you want to collect! You do need to pick something that genuinely interests you, or you'll lose the passion for hunting it down. Go for vintage clothing that you want to wear yourself or restore and preserve; things you will use and enjoy, like mid-century costume jewellery, bakelite bangles, art deco china tea services or CC41 furniture. I collect clothing and deco china but Naomi Thompson, who wrote the book Style Me Vintage Accessories with fellow collector extraordinaire Liz Tregenza, says that vintage jewellery is the 'lazy' collector's choice! 

'I grew tired of mending, washing, storing and protecting delicate vintage clothing. That pool is getting smaller. Now, jewellery is democratic. It doesn’t matter what size, shape or age you are, everyone can enjoy jewellery.'



Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The Seven Years of Blogging Christmas

When you've been blogging as long as me (8 years next year), you've accumulated a lot of photos of Christmases past. In the interests of nostalgia and laziness, I thought I'd take you back in time to my many and varied (and not-so-varied) vintage Christmas outfits of the past! In a vaguely chronological order...

Back in 2008, I loved swing dancing. I wore this two-piece candy-cane striped set to a Christmas swing dance, complete with holly in my hair! Can't remember the brand, but I do know it is long gone.

The following year, I wore a repro velvet dress from Able Grable, another defunct repro brand.

This vintage inspired coat came from the high street... Oasis I think. A staple of winter for years & years!

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

A Horrible Halloween

There haven't been many years since around 2008 where I haven't thrown a Halloween party, either with my friend Ruby who owns Fontaine's Bar in Dalston, or the Vintage Mafia. This year combined both into the Mortuary of Madness, a horror hospital-themed party the VM threw at Fontaine's! Apart from Jeni's costume getting lost in the post, forcing her to be a patient rather than a Great War nurse, it was a brilliant night and all our guests made so much effort. Here's a selection of snaps by the ultra talented Hanson Leatherby, to see the full album, head to his Facebook!


Take a look!

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