I have recently decorated Mercia bedroom here at Highclere Castle. It is a lovely bedroom looking south, so when you open the shutters in the morning, the views are glorious across the lawns, to the russet coloured woodlands of Sidown Hill, with the arch of the folly Heaven’s Gate at the top.
It has an 18th century four-poster bed with beautiful silk embroideries. The room used to be a bit of a shiny cold blue, which worked better on TV rather than in real life. Downton choose it for Lord and Lady Grantham’s bedroom.
The curtains in Mercia were, however, disintegrating; they were well past the moth-eaten, charmingly worn stage. That was my justification to my husband who has long ago given up trying to set a budget for decorating a room here. I never know what I am going to find that needs doing and so my budget rises in line with the invoices. The other ploy is to hide the letters and excellent suggestions from Sarah Morris and her team as we plunge into the project.
Highclere is a quite a masculine house but here we could create a really feminine room around the beautiful bed. Sarah’s mood board pulled out the oyster colour from the silks to use as the base for the walls, with a stippled effect, new curtains, – in blue – new pictures, a chintz armchair, rewired lamps, and a new rug. It has come into its own as the exceptional room which had been hiding behind the flatness of the previous paint. It also looks as if it has been there for ages.
It was named Mercia for the Anglo Saxon kingdom. (The 4th Earl was a keen historian of this time). It is also nicknamed the “No Mercy” bedroom by Geordie (my husband ) and family because Porchey, the 6th Earl of Carnarvon used to put any prospective girlfriend, married or not, in there. He would then leap out from behind a door hoping to get lucky. Given what happened in Downton last night it was particularly amusing, that by chance, Mercia had been chosen from the first series to be the Grantham’s bedroom. He had an optimistic approach and clearly played a numbers game.
Porchey’s amorous stories, however, were not confined to Highclere, there are many stories of him hiding under the stairs, climbing out of windows, running away across a road pursued by a furious husband…his antics live on in anecdotes even if the “No Mercy” room has changed its colours.