I didn’t think I really did justice to Saltram House when I blogged about it last week – I got into such a mess with the photographs that I stopped, and missed off many details about the house, which is a shame because it really is fascinating.
The house, built high above the River Plym, is magnificent. It was constructed during the reign of George II, on the site of an older Tudor mansion, as a home for the Parker family, and they have lived there ever since. 1743 may have been when the Parker family finished cladding the older building with stucco, but the main refurbishment of the interior waited until 1768 when John Parker II succeeded his father. He and his wife Theresa Robinson poured all their energies and artistic talents into decorating the interior, and the joy is that little has happened since then to mess up the Georgian grandeur. The odd room lay-out has been altered, with two smaller rooms being combined to make a magnificent library, and an exterior porch was added in the Regency period, but the building still has the symmetry and elegance of the original Georgian building. You can however still see a few traces of the Tudor building, with its red-bricks showing in the inner courtyard.
It was handed over to the National Trust in 1957 in lieu of death duties and the Trust has done a great job of maintaining the main building as well as the outbuildings, such as the fine orangery, and the garden with its lovely specimen trees.
The interior of the building you see today is a masterpiece by Richard Adam, and the main drawing room or salon is often regarded as the finest example of his work. Adam didn’t just design the salon, its ceiling, its fireplace and doors but also the minutiae of the finishes – the mouldings, the plasterwork, even the door handles. For lovers of the style, it is an Adam-heaven!
John and Theresa Parker were great friends of Joshua Reynolds and they acquired ten of his portraits, mostly of members of the Parker family. The third John Parker married twice and his second wife was an accomplished (and beautiful) woman whose own paintings adorn several of the rooms. But it is the chinoiserie which impresses most, especially in the bedrooms upstairs. OK a few bits have suffered from damp (and the predations of silverfish) but the overall effect is undiminished. As I alluded to in the previous blog, the walls are adorned with painted mirrors – the manufacture of reflective glass was not a technique known to the Chinese, so the mirrors were made in England, and then shipped out to China so that their craftsmen could scrape off the backing of silver nitrate and mercury. The decoration would then be painted on in the Chinese style, and the finished decorative mirror was then exported back to England. Artistry never came cheap …. but the effect is great and you can just imagine how these tiny reflective mirrors must have picked up the flickering candle-light in the dark evenings.
The house has a well restored kitchen/pantry/larder area and I was especially interested in the smoke jack fitted into the kitchen so that the rising heat from the fire turned the spit. My ancestor Richard Hall had great difficulty fitting his smoke jack – it was obviously a messy job, particularly if the chimney was narrow and already coated with soot….
The library is really splendid with a fine collection of 18th Century books. At the time of my visit there was also a display of early Worcester porcelain – normally shut away, but thankfully laid out as a tea service for all to see. And what I liked most – there wasn’t too much of the “touchy-feely, let’s make all this accessible to young kids” which the National Trust love nowadays. I am all for getting children involved but I must admit an emphasis on dressing up in nylon costumes is no substitute for seeing a house in its original state, and just walking around having a good inspection. Personally I am not too keen on trying to make a fine stately home into an adventure park. Curmudgeonly, that’s me. To the core… but I was prepared to overlook the odd teddy-bear having a picnic….