The House on the Hill
I have just returned from a beautiful historic house built on a hill in Farmington, Connecticut to our own home, Highclere, built on an even larger hill. It was incredibly busy at Hill-stead with teas, talks, lunches, gala dinners and various interviews for press or PBS.
Additional requests for a few words over dinners always make me pause because I end up thinking about what is at the heart of the event. Hill-Stead is a gem, a house designed by an architect who was a woman, around an outstanding art collection. She was a contemporary of Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon, an indomitable woman who lived here at Highclere and who, again unusually, found a vocation in the era before the First World War in that she set up hospitals both here and later on in London.
The art at Hill-stead was collected by one man and reflects his personal taste at that moment in time. What is so fascinating is he met Monet and there are diaries that record the meetings. So Hill-stead is a home and the art hung on its walls is for a personal appreciation rather than just a museum. There it is to remain.
Again like Highclere, Hill-stead is set in a park, this one designed by Theodate Pope Riddell. A source of much pleasure for walkers, families and joggers alike, parks, like houses, also need maintenance. This past week at Hill-Stead was to celebrate this historic house and grounds and to raise much needed funds as it does not have an endowment. Other “health” or “fashionable” charitable causes may be easier to raise money for, yet the benefits of walking, picnicking, running and being out with the family helps in other, more subtle, ways. Such activities help maintain body and spirit and give a sense of belonging, of being grounded. It is of huge benefit and so, like Highclere, I hope Hill-stead will be there for future generations to enjoy.
Highclere’s park is far larger than that at Hill-stead, which is both good and bad. Here there are more roads, fences and verges to maintain (the bad bit) but its size also enables it to make more economic sense as a business (more sheep or park events).
An additional advantage we enjoy is that Highclere’s hill rises well above the surrounding countryside thus providing not only a spectacular view for miles around and an excellent spot for kite flying but also very useful for deep chalk water wells. In addition, because it was so windy, in medieval times the monks who lived here began a tile business. This not only ensured a constant supply for Highclere’s roofs but, because the surplus was sold, paid for them as well. Sadly this is no longer viable and today the remains of the tile kilns lie under pasture to the north west of the Castle. Now we have to buy in tiles, all of which usually need to be specially sourced, and in terms of maintenance, ensure we sweep the gutters, gullies and clear hoppers several times a year to keep the replacement costs down.
Today we have swapped the tile business for the TV business and, like picnics and family activities at Hill-stead and Highclere, watching Downton Abbey brings us all together.
Like you, I hope that Hill-stead will be around for other generations to enjoy. Speaking of art, do you plan on a series of blog post about the “Art of Highclere”? I have no idea of the number of artworks at Highclere, but would think they would be in the hundreds. And, of course, each one would have its own story to tell and you are the perfect spokesperson to tell those stories.
D. Anderson, what a perfectly marvelous idea! There are so many beautiful pieces at the castle to tell about and give the history of.
i think that a blog or publication on the art work at Highclere would be fantastic. When Cynthia Cable & I tour there Oct 19, 2015, Amy our guide was very knowledgeable about the art works whenI asked, but that might have been an all day
affair rather that 1.5 hours.
Shirley Sloop Placitas NM USA
We took the opportunity after our morning tour to roam the beautiful grounds. view the flocks of sheep across the refine,
discover the secret gardens, chat with the gardeners both young and older and shop i the lovely shop. We were sorry not to see Lady Carnarvon walking the dogs.
Enjoying the informative Blogs.
PS Hope you find the earrings.
This is why I am trying to do a coffee table book (deadline coming up!) -I want to share some of the photos and stories, paintings etc This will be my first approach. Thank you I would love to do more on the art ..
I love the rolling hills of Highclere as well. Unfortunately, that much land in Connecticut doesn’t exist. Montana perhaps. Like the other poster, I would love to hear about Highclere’s artwork. I saw a TV program a couple of years ago with your husband explaining some of them and I found that quite interesting. I look around my own small home and wonder if my own children would ever be able to explain any of it. Likely not. Thanks again for an interesting post.
Thank you tor sharing your visit to my state. I live but 45 minutes from Farmington but have never heard or seen Hillstead. Also I would be interested to learn of the art at Highclere Castle.
Thanks to my mother I was raised on the joy of houses, both great and small, whether it was an auction sale that opened the doors, walkabouts or tours or discovered derelict and forgotten treasures in our travels. So I loved your comment about their importance in our lives in more subtle ways. I feel they are a visual, tangible history that blends our life stories with today, yesterday and tomorrow, indeed a feeling of belonging and a connection with those who came before and those who will follow. We are very fortunate that our children are the 4th generation to thrive in our old family homestead, a rare thing these days. My husband and I look forward to our visit at your home in September for the much anticipated Vintage Garden Party, I can’t think of a better place for such fun!
Thank you – learning about others I think helps give you resilience and being with others – being part of a community – gives you resilience.
I am looking forward to the Garden party. We will have a very traditional English fete, and a carousel, jugglers afternoon tea etc. I think I have worked out a horse & carriage route so you ride down Lime Avenue (used in various Downton shots) to where Matthew crashed his car!
A pleasant peek into a ‘modern’ house in the USA. Also a little peek into the hard work that goes into maintaining a large house in England. I used to live in a big house in Wiltshire and I shudder when I remember the cold, the expensive maintenance and the constant wrestle with large gardens ! I am glad that Highclere is in good hands and that the TV helps with the costs..but I am SO glad I don’t have to live there.
That is why my friends love to come for a weekend – and go!
Another lovely post — thank you! The aerial view of Highclere is interesting. I love David’s idea of a series on Highclere art, both indoors, and any outdoor sculptures!
Give me time and I will get there…the sculpture is special.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
We met ever so briefly last Sunday, May 29, in one of the tearooms. Thank you for stopping by my table to speak with a friend and me. I am so excited about your upcoming visit to Trinity-by-the-Cove’s event next spring. I am sure you will enjoy our group and likewise we will enjoy your company. Naples is very different from the UK and London, but in the spring it is delightful.
My friend and I had a delightful visit at Highclere. The fields around the mansion are so beautiful. This you will not find in Naples, but perhaps a view of the Gulf of Mexico will suffice.
I travelled from London to Edinburgh on Monday and have had a visit in this area. I visited Dunbar today–it had been a lifelong desire to visiit the home of my ancestors and I discovered that I was the only “Dunbar” in town; they were run out of town by the Stewarts several centuries ago! It is a lovely harbor city right on the North Sea. It was interesting to speak with residents about their history.
I look forward to seeing you again.
I look forward to being in Naples! Delighted to meet you.
Just thinking that the entire estate of Hillstead isn’t as old as your front door…The thought made me smile..Nice to know that were able to take a little jaunt away to appreciate another fantastic family home that is doing what it can to survive……Almost like the grandparent estate looking at it’s great grandchild with pride, each learning from the other. Thanks for bringing Hillstead to my attention. You and your husband are doing a wonderful job at keeping the legacy alive and healthy.
We can all swop ideas and share links. It is the people that keep a house alive.
I love your writing!!!
It’s a beautiful place. Having visited Highclere last Fall….a piece of my heart will always remain there.
I hope you will come back again …
I love the historical connection Highclere has with the USA. This is so fascinating. Thank you for this enlightenment. Tile roofs are beautiful. I had no idea of the maintenance involved – – and so high up – yikes! That is most interesting about the monks and their life spent there. Bless you and bless your resourcefulness.
We originally come from Windsor, Berkshire (UK) and used to visit Highclere all the time in the old days, and we have always loved the Castle. We now live in Vancouver and see a lot of programmes on PBS portraying the “Connecticut styled” houses, although they are indeed quite spectacular in their own way, however none of them quite compare to the very magnificent and absolutely beautiful Highclere…
Bless Your Graces and Bless Highclere!
Thank you. Funnily enough , I am just re-reading my visitor books looking for when John A Macdonald was here. There are so many lovely comments from guests who have stayed here about the beauty and warmth of the house. It does help to read them when sometimes I feel vaguely panicked about the scale and complexity of life and business here.
We used to live in Avon CT, neighboring Farmington CT. Hilstead is a real treasure! Were you able to visit the Avon Old Farms School, also designed by Ms.Riddle?
I was not but I did have quite a schedule and began to lose sense of which day and where I was due next!!!
It is so beautiiful, thank you for sharring all this.
What a beautiful legacy both Hillstead and Highclere are creating for future generations. And it is true that we tend to concentrate on the great houses and mansions and forget that the grounds and parks will be an environment to cherish in the future,too. As an artist and a retired art professor, I must admit I was in awe with the art collection at Highclere when I visited in 2015… Van Dyke, Joshua Reynolds, so many “family” portraits and so many stories to tell. Definitely waiting for you to write all about them, your writing makes the history of Highclere come alive! Thank you so much for these fascinating blogs!
Thank you – living history and real people!
What glorious architecture! How fortunate you are to have these most unique, and beautiful examples of their time. Thank you for keeping both in such pristine condition, and for sharing them with us. I can read your ‘Blogs’, and drift away thinking at least of how a sunny afternoon would go. So relaxing. So Fun.
Your writing paints many a wonderful picture in my mind. Thank you Lady Carnarvon.
It is very cold here and I have turned a heater on in my study, so the warm afternoon here would be much appreciated!
I just watched a repeat of the The Secrets of Highclere Castle, wonderful show. As an addicted knitter, I am wondering what happens to all the wool sheared from the sheep on the property ?? The idea of being able to buy yarn from Highclere sheep would thrill so many knitters who are Downton Abbey fans.
Hoping to hear, but nor sure where I could find an answer to my question.
Thanks so much, Ruth
Do you know we cannot find anyone who wants the wool here? So sad, I do not like waste….
Of note with Hillstead and the mention of Avon Old Farms School…Ms. Pope’s nephew is Philip Johnson. He designed the Glass House located in New Caanan, Connecticut. There are some similarities between his architectural style and Ms. Pope’s. She was definitely ahead of her time and like your home, strong women are big influences in our history.