Wednesday, 31 October 2012


We like to celebrate the seasons and Autumn and Winter are our favourites. Living in the countryside we are subject to the vagrancies of nature and the weather. Our thoughts go out to all in America who are currently suffering due to Hurricane Sandy. May you stay safe, warm and with friends and family.

The Emporium has some lovely Halloween decorations, we quite like these pumpkins and spooky plates.

Halloween goodies at The Emporium, Hungerford.

It has turned quite cold and rain is forecast but we do hope that it is calm enough for the little ghosts, witches and devils to come trick or treating in our village. We have made a Halloween wreath from the garden out of little lanterns.

Vintage Fairy Illustration by Hilda Miller

Zitella The Witch (a Katerine's creation) is in the window to welcome them. Mrs Black is a little shy of children but usually enjoys them in costume.

The incomparble Lord Byron, a splendid Witches hat, the perfect shoe,
and Helena Bonham-Carter in a magnificent swan adorment.

Perhaps one of the aspects of Halloween which appeals to us the most is dressing up, the ability to be, even for one night, someone else.

I think it gives children an opportunity to use their imagination - and why not continue as adults?

Once upon a time there were grand balls to attend where everyone dressed in costume.

These are just a few costumes we love, for both men and women.

Vintage clothes and costumes from the past are a great inspiration to the designers of today, and to the many people who like to wear vintage fashion.

Personally I am coveting this wonderful cape, it is an antique, one of a kind, and not for sale.

It is totally impractical, but that is the point. It is so special that few of us mere mortals will ever wear anything like it.

But we can dream. I  may have to get the pins and needles out before next Halloween to make one of these.

Dark colours are traditionally associated with Autumn and Winter but also brights which gleam and glisten as stillness arrives. I'm always tempted at this time of year to re-decorate. The usual reds, golds and black work, but so do purple and even more surprising, a certain shade of pink!

The Raven quote is available on Etsy.

Whatever that we do in our costumes and decorations, nature always does it best.

The Moon over our village last night.
The trees and leaves on our path.

Friday, 26 October 2012

FOLKLORIC ~ Staddle Stones

Alice and The Caterpillar meet by a mushroom
John Tenniel

Epilogue to Through the Looking Glass

A boat, beneath a sunny sky
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July --

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear
Pleased a simple tale to hear --

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream --
Lingering in the golden gleam --
Life what is it but a dream?

Lewis Carroll

All of my life I have been mesmerised by Lewis Carroll. His photographs and his writing epitomised the idea of England which first captured my heart and made me want to live here. I love his poems which I find quite poignant, and of course Alice. I have collected illustrations and items which remind me of his books and am always thrilled to find anything which touches an 'Alice' chord within me. Our cottage is full of Mad Tea Party and Cheshire Cat vignettes. I always loved that a lot of what he wrote has double meaning and although it resonates heavily with children you can read and re-read and find deeper meaning. It took me sometime to understand - and then thanks to Grace Slick and The Jefferson Airplane with 'White Rabbit'  and a wander through the psychelic streets of Haight Ashbury to realise that the naughty caterpillar (and Alice) were under the enfluence of magic mushrooms and other rather special substances. Mushrooms are forever associated with magic and Fairies and most children delight in finding them in any form.

A set of 6 fabulous stone mushrooms for sale
from the Salisbury Salvo website

There are a lot of things in England which do seem to be Alice like. There are of course those magnifient West Country teas, or tea at The Ritz, how civilised! When I first moved here I was enthralled by giant stone mushrooms I came across in gardens, especially in villages and on farms. I wanted one, or two! They were fairy like and instantly Alice like, but I could not imagine that the generally stoic English public would be so sentimental about fairies or Alice to have strewn these items across their little enchanted isle.  I was living in London in those days and there was no internet (imagine!?) so it took me awhile to work out just what they really were.

When I finally did I was even more excited! I should have just asked a countryman, but instead it dawned on me one fine day when I came across a really magical little building in the wonderful Wiltshire landscape!

Little building from Sheldon Manor, near Chippenham, Wiltshire
From here:
Once upon a time these uncommon looking things were quite common and they had a very important use. They are known as 'Staddle Stones' a kind of magical name just in itself.  From the Wikipedia page: "In Middle English staddle or stadle is stathel, from Old English stathol, a foundation, support or trunk of a tree. The tops of the staddles were usually circular and this made it almost impossible for a rodent to climb up and into the hay or grain stored above. The air could freely circulate beneath the stored crops and this helped to keep it dry. Bee hives were often set on top of staddle stones to keep out predators and provide dry and airy conditions."

An old barn supported on several Staddle Stones at Boscombe, Wiltshire
Photo by Mike Searle, from here:

Staddle Stones of old were made of sandstone, red sandstone or granite, according to whatever materials were available locally. Today some garden centres sell reproductions made of cement but they are not anywhere near as magical and it takes  along time for them to achieve the any kind of patina or growth of the wonderful lichen that adds to the ancient look and charm of the old ones.

You often see old cattle troughs and sinks being placed upon Staddle Stones, still with their mushroom tops, or otherwise and this makes a lovely planter. I came across this pretty one in Ramsbury.

Conical shaped Staddle Stones in Ramsbury, Wiltshire

Mushroom Staddle Stones for sale at Below Stairs, Hungerford

Recently when I posted a fine set of these magical mushrooms for sale at a favourite shop, Below Stairs in Hungerford, ( their website:)   Nella from the lovely Acorn Country Living here:  asked if they had a special name. This reminded me once again of how much these stones meant to me and what a part they had played in my life in England. Since living here I have found out that they were also used in America, but most of them were made of timber there and have not survived.

I always look for them on our travels and they never cease to delight. Once they were quite common, less so today, but to me they will always be magical and Alice like.

And finally, here is the one in our garden which covers the old well that was once used by our village before it was connected to mains water in 1936.  Today the cats often sit upon it watching the birds in the trees.  As soon as we viewed our tiny Arts and Crafts cottage we fell in love with it and when I saw this mushroom in the back garden I knew we had to live here. Our very own little bit of 'Alice'.

Our much loved Staddle Stone over our old well

Further reading: The Wiki page for Staddle Stones

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

CHARMED ~ Moushkin - painted by Lady Marion Rootes

Moushkin by Lady Rootes

Some of you may remember a post we wrote in August when the lovely artist, illustrator and jewellery maker Joanne May and I had a little wander in the village of Ramsbury, Wiltshire. We could not resist having a look in the local charity shop which often has some lovely bits of china. There I came eye to eye with a pretty black and white cat with amber eyes and a secret smile staring down from the wall at me.

In my search for things to sell, and things to keep, I do come across a lot of paintings of cats. Many of these do not look like real cats which makes them uninteresting. This one really caught my attention and I could not look away. It was as if the eyes were watching me from behind those flowers!

I bought it and added it to the items needing to be priced for the shop. It stayed there for a few days and by then I knew that it would never be sold. I had become attached to this cat. It reminded me of TS Eliot's Jellicle Cats because of the dancing eyes and Mona Lisa smile. I once had 2 such cats in my life, a very long time ago and my fondness for them made me long to know who this cat with such a big presence was.  I researched Lady Marion Rootes, the name of the painter which was written on the back, and decided to post about it in case anyone could tell me anything. This is what we posted -

A Jellicle Cat by Lady Marion Rootes

Lady Marion Rootes, considered by many to be the most beautiful
woman of her generation.

This is the age of communication and yet it never ceases to amaze me when thepower of the internet can be harnassed for good. I had not given up the search for Lady Rootes or the name of this cat and last week when I visited The Emporium to drop off some stock there was a letter from someone in California who claimed the pastel - and the cat! I sat in Raffles Cafe reading her letter over one of their very nice coffees, and admit that I did shed a tear.

Photo of a young Moushkin taken by Camilla, Grandaughter of  Lady Rootes

I owe the very pretty cat an apology because in my previous post I referred to her as 'he'. How foolish of me, anyone could see that he was a she. That wise elegant head and flirty eyes. It turns out that Lady Rootes painted a family pet and her name was Moushkin.

It would appear that Moushkin came to the family by accident, but even at such a tender age she was in control of her own destiny. While at the vet with a dog it was brought to their attention that an unwanted kitten was about to be put down unless saved that day. It seems that Moushkin's ability to touch people was there from the start. The vet who made an effort to save her and the kind heart who gave her the 'forever' home were equally charmed by her.  She was a much loved pet, as I had suspected when I first saw the painting of her, and she lived to a grand old cat age. Moushkin passed away long ago and Camilla who had grown up with her moved to California leaving behind the pastel of Moushkin. She hoped that one day it might be passed to her to join other portraits of her family and pets by Lady Rootes and her sister, and by Camilla herself as both she and her husband are artists - this is a talented family!

Sadly earlier this year Lady Rootes passed away in her 90's and during house moves this pastel of  Moushkin was mislaid. They had thought that it was lost to them forever. But Moushkin had at least one last trick up her sleeve, she worked her charm again and I was captivated. 

 Purely by accident a relative happened to come across my post about the picture and shared it with Camilla who decided to write to me to try to buy the picture back.

Now, only someone with a very cold heart could sell Moushkin back to her own family.

Even as a kitten her willpower and spirit had saved her and found her a loving home. She enchanted Lady Rootes who captured her presense so well that many years after she had died her bright spirit still lived on in the pastel and had the power to reach out to me.

I have loved and been loved by many cats, each one special. I would very much have liked to have known Moushkin, and in a way I feel that I have.

My husband has photographed Moushkin so that I may keep a small print of her to remember the adventure her and I have had and the small part she granted to me in helping her to get home again.

Sometime in the future she will be handed back to the woman who saved her at the vets that day long ago and finally she will find her way across the sea to live with the young family of the girl who grew up with her.

It's magic isn't it?

You can see some of the art of Camilla and Richard Shaffer here:

Their website Zebra Paris

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

SHOPPE KEEPER ~ Hungerford, Berkshire

We sell from a little unit tucked in a corner at the top of the stairs on the first floor of  The Emporium in Hungerford, Bershire. It's only a tiny nook so our mission is to find small Object of Desires to fill it.

A few items which we have sold at Mrs Blacks. 

For those who do not know The Emporium it is in the High Street in Hungerford, Berkshire. It's a lovely old building full of found, rescued and restored treasures of over 30 antique and vintage dealers.
   website of The Emporium

You can always find interesting and beautiful vintage items at The Emporium. 
Items at The Emporium are displayed so well by all the dealers. 

We were so tempted to buy this lovely cat! 

We love Hungerford and feel very lucky to be able to live in the area. The town has a little bit of everything,  history, many old buildings including the Arts and Crafts style Town Hall, lots of antiques, a wonderful florist (Martin and the Magpie), fabulous bookstore, (Hungerford Bookshop), Hungerford Bookshop,  cookshop and plenty of places to eat and drink.  Martin and The Magpie (love the name!) have their own blog with lots of  inspirational style and colour.
Martin and The Magpie

One of the most interesting shops in Hungerford is 'Below Stairs'. It's a warren of little rooms, all filled with carefully curated displays of furniture, china, brass and fascinating objects. They have a fabulous collection of vintage light and light fittings, incredible old signs and lots of garden items in their outside yard.  They have a fabulous old tin tub full of water lilies and frogs who live in the yard.

Phew! Exhausted now after all of these photos, must go and have a cup of tea (in vintage cups of course!) and a cat nap! 

Friday, 12 October 2012

SEASONAL ~ Let there be light

Littlecote Woods, Berkshire

I love the light in England this time of year. As foilage brightens the days begin and end in a twilight world. It is my favourite hour of the day. The light plays tricks with you, casting an ethereal glow over the landscapes. It makes everything seem as if it is in the distance, just out of reach. I feel very lucky to be surrounded by so much magic. Sometimes it is like living in an illuminated manuscript.

Windows of old cottages, manor houses and religious buildings have always enchanted me. New glass has nothing in common with glass that has aged.  It has a special muted quality, a soft focus.

Windows from The Bell, Ramsbury and  Littlecote House

I have an inquisitive mind (curiosity killed the cat!) and cannot resist looking in as I walk past a window where the curtains are not drawn. Often the owners provide little vignettes to snare our interest. Looking at windows from the outside gives a glimpse into the life of those who lived or are living in a house.

The delightful  'frog' window in Hungerford, Berkshire, and antique china illuminated by lamp light in Aldbourne, Wiltshire

Windows in Chilton Foliat, Berkshire

Looking at the world outside through an old glass window frames the world in a different way than when seen from the ground. 

Looking out at the beautiful views from Littlecote House

Not everything in life that we desire costs a lot of money. This Mintons tea cup is one of our favourite items, collected from a charity shop in Hungerford for truly next to nothing. It was created sometime in the years between 1873 and 1912 which makes it over 100 years old and possibly 140. It wears it's age well despite a crack which has been crudely glued by a previous owner anxious to save the cup. But not for use, simply because it is so very very beautiful. 

No tea pours through it these days, but the light still does. The china is so fine that it is translucent. The hand painted decoration is exquisite. 

When I look at it I am grateful to Mintons for creating it, to whoever it was who did not throw it away when it was broken and to that person who still loved it enough to hope that by giving it to charity it would find a new owner to cherish it. And we do. 

Exquisite fine china Mintons tea cup, broken but it's beauty undimmed

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

SEASONS ~ October Reflections

Visions of October

Photos we have taken in Autumn 

October is my favourite month. The heady scent and heat of summer are gone and I enjoyed them, but for me nothing matches the crunch of leaves beneath our feet, the smell of wood being burnt in fireplaces and the fiery burnt umber and violet spectrum colour palette that nature provides in Autumn.

The landscape takes on a different countenance, slightly spooky at those twilight hours, morning and evening.  The shadowy outline of the trees begins to emerge from under their green leafy mantles, like great sculptures being slowly and tantalizingly unveiled. The seedheads in the garden are spidery forms as they stand bare before Winter brings snow and ice.

Animal and bird friends begin to draw close to our cottages, we see more of Mr Fox, Mrs Mouse, Bank Voles and The Thrushes and Blackbirds. Fieldfares and Redwings light up the farm fields. Sometimes in the woods we catch a fleeting glimpse of the Deer. And if we lose ourselves in Autumn dreaming we can imagine that the Wolf is there too, watching us. The village has two Wolves, one black, one white. Both friendly and much loved, but when you meet them in the woods you never know for sure if they are really a dog, or a Wolf after all. I'm sure that they are dreaming too, of long ago ancestors.

The village school is on our estate along with the ancient church and small graveyard. Autumn here is splendid in all it's colour. Harvest Festival will see the 12th century church decorated with food and flowers and soon the children will be making Halloween decorations. We always have some wonderful ghosts and witches come trick or treating in the village. I do not see such a pagan festival as being at odds with the Christian celebrations. To me it is different ways to acknowledge and show gratitude at the end of a bountiful time and seek guidance and blessings for the beginning of the more difficult weather to come. Having always loved nature it seems completely natural to appreciate the changes of the seasons and to celebrate what we have received. I think that this is why Thanksgiving works so well in the States bringing together families and friends and giving thanks for the harvest.

October images from Tumblr

tumblr and pininterest are fabulous resources for ideas and images, but far too often the person who has posted them has not given reference to what they are, or where they came from. Sadly not many of these can be credited as a consequence, but we will continue to look for their sources and when/if found post them here.

The little painting of the Fairies in the tree with books and a bird is by Andrew Lang from the  Blue Fairy Book.
The risque lady wearing yellow, on the right 3 down is by Toulouse Latrec.
The lady in the centre resplendant in gold velvet is by Thomas Wilmer Dewing and it is called Portrait in a Brown Dress, (1908) which simply does not do this justice!
The charming little girl with the black cat is a vintage print of unknown origin.

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