Tuesday, 26 May 2015

An Afternoon With Maud And Gladys

I regard Bank Holidays as a boon and a blessing. We began by going to Southampton IKEA for more wedding-reception-related bits [less than 4 weeks to go!] then took a circuitous route back via Mottisfont Abbey. Our National Trust Membership is being well used! This building began as a mediaeval monastery, built over a font [spring] of fresh water, then became a large house, added to over the years. Its final owners were Gilbert and Maud Russell. On the 1930’s, she was a great society hostess, and many of the rich and famous came to enjoy her hospitality. She particularly encouraged up-and-coming artists, the ‘bright young things’ as well as famous authors.  Nowadays, NT visitors cross the river by a pretty little bridge and walk through the stunning gardens to the house.

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“Fun bunting” I said “Hmmm. Single sided, and not hemmed” replied my beloved bunting connoisseur!! The house was full of artwork. We were not over keen on the 1930’s stuff [and wished there had been more information about the older portraits] We were amazed by the trompe l’oeil room painted by Rex Whistler. The ‘ermine curtains’ and Greek urns looked so three dimensional. Maud’s shoes, tippet and gloves were strewn on the sofa as if she had only just left. And the tray of champagne glasses were cleverly filled with quotes from Mottisfont guests.

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Whistler noted in his diary that the day he painted the ermine curtains was the day WW2 broke out – less than 5 years later, he was dead, killed by a mortar bomb in Normandy, aged just 39.

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In the dining room, each napkin bears a quote about Mottisfont from one of the guests.[Violet Bonham Carter, Lady Asquith, was grandmother of actress Helena and cousin of Florence Nightingale] Ian Fleming is believed to have strolled round Mottisfont, dreaming up the character of James Bond, as he smoked many cigarettes [kept in the gold case which Maud gave him]

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In a clever crowd-control-system, we were given a key with a tag, allowing is to go upstairs and see the maids’ rooms. In the area where mending and darning was done, I realised I had all those pieces of kit at home – including the paper bag of haberdashery from Leicester!

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Under the house is the original mediaeval crypt, which Maud kept as unchanged as possible. It was wonderfully atmospheric. The adjacent tearoom served particularly fine scones. Bob pointed out that the high visitor numbers that day meant that there would be a fast turnover, so the scones were bound to be fresh. Maud had a mosaic installed based on the original dedication of the monastery, to the Holy Trinity.


Russian artist Boris Anrep was particularly gifted at mosaics, and Maud was first his patron – and then his mistress. He created a mosaic on the outside wall of the house, in a hidden corner. It is of an angel – but looks remarkably like Mrs Russell herself.

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We decided we would like to go back again on a day when Mottisfont is not quite so busy, and wander round the gardens. There was a lot to see and altogether too much to take in one one visit. One bathroom door was locked, with peepholes drilled in it. Visitors squinted through and squealed or laughed. I had a look


One guest sent the Russells a present – a crocodile, purchased from Harrods pet department. It was allegedly kept in a bathroom [poor thing] till it could be re-homed.

mottisfont 05 15-007Finally two pieces of modern sculpture from our day out – pigs [or are they tapirs?] from a shopping centre, and some fish by the river at Mottisfont. Maud was certainly an interesting lady. You are wondering about Gladys? She was parked next to us when we returned to the car.


You can just about see her name, painted on the back to the left of the door. She looks as if her owners cherish her, just as Maud cherished the Abbey. We drove home happily, having had a truly Grand Day Out - no more Bank Holidays for 3 months.


  1. What a fascinating place. thanks for sharing it with us.

  2. It sounds like a lovely day out. I remember going to an open air Shakespeare play (Midsummer Night's Dream, I think) there many years ago. I was at college in Winchester not so far away.

    1. Oh, I can imagine those gardens and the house would have made a fabulous backdrop for such a production. What fun!

  3. I wish you could have visited the rose garden, it is so beautiful. We didn't go in the house, except for the tearoom, as one does, and had very good scones also!

    1. We certainly plan to go back - I understand that June is a good month to see the Rose Garden [I shall need a quiet spot to recover after the wedding!!]

  4. Oh, I love this post! I am reading a book called The Housekeeper's Tale (about the housekeepers who ran the manors). I want to poke around the maids quarters.


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