Sunday, 20 June 2010

The Campanile

This afternoon went to an open day at The Campanile, 11 Edward Road, St Leonards on Sea. We were aware of it ever since we saw a Jonathan Meades documentary on places called Bohemia (I've now found it on You Tube under In Search of Bohemia 3/3); it finished in a fantastic house in Hastings with a magnificent staircase and frescoed walls. There was a very atmospheric looking wood-panelled Gothic library that I wanted to write in - third photo above shows its present state. The poet Fiona Pitt-Kethley who lived there at the time, put in an appearance. The house is on the market for around half a million (out of our league) but we thought we had to see it.

It’s a Grade II listed Victorian villa designed by Francis Fowler and built in 1865 by one of James Burton’s builders – Burton built much of central St Leonards. In 1873 London restaurateur Charles Verrey (see p91 of my Decadent London - Sherlock Holmes would send to Verrey's for food when he was tired of Mrs Hudson's cooking) moved in and decorated it in a theatrical manner with a marble staircase, frescoes, pilasters and rococo plasterwork with putti aplenty; he also had the library installed at the foot of a belvedere at the back of the house with views over the town and towards Beachy Head (very similar to the views from our front windows).

A later owner was Frank Frankfort Moore, a prolific writer who is unknown today. A well-connected man in his time, he possessed a collection of Italian art, which must have looked great in that house and a list of famous friends including the singer Jenny Lind (the name of one of my Old Town locals) who stayed there and presented him with a beautiful 17c carved wooden door that's still in situ, leading from the main hall to the kitchen.

Later the house fell into disrepair, although it looked in reasonable condition in the documentary (made in 1990). On today's visit there were signs of water penetration in some rooms, pretty much everything had been rendered in the modern minimalist style and only a few original features, such as a tiled bathroom, remained. The basement was an anonymously decorated flat where, I assume, the present owner lived. Apparently many of the pilasters, cherubs and painted panels had been removed in a ‘restoration’ in the 1990s – some seem to have disappeared, a few were to be found leaning up against a wall in a storeroom, others may be in the V&A. The listing requires that the marble staircase and Gothic library are retained and restored – at the moment it looks as if it will become a ‘boutique’ hotel. It would certainly require a lot of money to restore it to its glory, but I’m glad we had the chance to see it. All photos above were taken by me today.

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