Posts Tagged ‘Ham House’

Winter approaching….

I still feel a bit like my head is full of cotton wool so I’m doing a winter photos post. Please forgive my lack of actual blog writing recently.

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The walk to work in the cold

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Wednesday’s mist

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He was just standing there as I walked to work!

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The river through the bus window

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Winter sky behind Ham House

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The walk home is dark and beautiful

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Halloween at Ham House

I’ve never been much of a Halloween celebrator. I have put pumpkins in the window and got sweets and waited and the children have not knocked on the door anyway. And that’s the most I’ve done. This year, however, Ham House was in charge and they had an evening of fun planned that I couldn’t help but get caught up in.

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After finishing our normal work day, we whipped out the crazy make-up and got ready for the evening.

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The house looked fabulous, lit up against the dark sky.

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(Just realised that the above photo doesn’t do it any justice at all.)

They had tons of good stuff happening in the house. Unfortunately, I was working in the Ghouls Just Wanna Have Fun bar so I didn’t get photos so I’ll tell you about it.

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There were séances happening in the attic, scary films showing in the chapel, a pair of real lungs hanging in the meat larder downstairs, mini ghost tours, a design-your-own-gravestone art workshop and a photo booth that made the photos look all old and faded and ghosty.
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It was brilliant fun, if the mood of the customers in the bar was anything to go by.

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The outfits were amazing too. Everyone had dressed up for the occasion and some people had really gone to town with it. One woman was dressed as a pumpkin and had somehow lit it from inside so as she wandered around the gardens, I could just see this massive orange ball. There were ninjas and witches, mime artists and dead brides, and everything in between.

I’ll try and see if anyone else at work got good photos and I’ll put them here for you to see.

What I did yesterday

Yesterday, at Ham House, all the cool kids gathered for fun and drink and food so that we could show off the garden produce. The chef for the evening, Susie, basically did everything but I’m going to ride on her coattails and claim some of the amazingness that comes from being associated with it.

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Unfortunately, I was busy faffing around with vegetables and presenting the dishes so I didn’t get photos of everything. I can talk you through it though.

It started with bubbly and the canapes – mini bruschetta topped with onion marmalade and goat’s cheese and also spinach blinis topped with beetroot chutney and sour cream.

Then the guests were taken on a garden tour in the beautiful fading light.

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When they came back and were seated, we started with the kale and spinach soup.

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The bits and peices on the top were fried onions, roast root veg and pitta bread croutons. It was accompanied by homemade rosemary foccaccia bread.

Next up was the gnocchi…

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(I don’t have a photo of it before it went to the table, sorry!)

…accompanied by pretty garden leaf salad.

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The gnocchi was a big hit with the guests.

Next up, the mains were a venison stew with redcurrants and red wine and some garden veg. I don’t have a photo but you must trust me that it was so so tasty! The gravy was amazing. I tried to stop dipping the foccaccia bread into it and eating it but I couldn’t!

Also up were green beans in tarragon butter, roasted root vegetables and apples, a pumpkin and marrow gratin, a beetroot, courgette and mozzarella salad and – the only one I photographed – a caramelized elephant garlic, pumpkin and goat’s cheese tart.

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Loads of people raved about this and wanted some to take home with them.

Next, we gave them a few minutes to rest their stomachs before starting on dessert which was apple dumplings (these took me hours and hours to make!) baked in a caramel sauce. We served it with a fig and cinnamon swirl semifreddo, which was very well received.

After the overwhelming food onslaught, we were all made to come out of the kitchen and be applauded (like on Masterchef), the cafe manager did a little thank you, then a guest also said thank you from the guests and I stood patiently, wondering which of them was going to make the announcement that I was finally going to get my Michelin star….

I can only conclude that they didn’t want to do it in front of everyone else. Maybe it’s a more private affair, getting given your Michelin star. I’m sure they’ll be in touch.

Anyway, we retired back into the kitchen and sent out the little after-dinner nibbles, fresh raspberries and quince jellies.

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Everything that was made yesterday (apart from the obvious stuff like the meat and cheese), came from the kitchen garden and had been picked that day. There really is nothing like working with garden fresh produce.

I think it’s safe to say that a good evening was had by all and it was a lovely thing to be part of. Keep your eyes peeled for the next Supper Club. And if you’re in/near London, totally come to the next one.

Will there be any history left?

When I think about my trip to Ightham Mote the other day, part of it’s attraction was how they didn’t definitely know who’d built it, they didn’t definitely know if Henry VI had visited, they thought that probably the new chapel was built as a guest bedroom.

They had done some cool dendochronology thing where they had managed to work out the date of origin for each part of building. There were lots of theories about when the ceiling in the new chapel had been built and painted. Had it been built for another building? A ceremonial outdoor thing for the king perhaps? But the exact same proportions as the roof in the room at Ightham Mote? They worked out eventually it had been built for the room and painted in situ.

There was a lot of mystery, a lot of research. I often wished, when reading history books, that we knew exactly what had happened, exactly what kind of people they were, exactly what they were thinking. But I also recognised that if I did know all those things, the mystery and intrigue would be gone. I’d probably go, “I wish I knew what they were really thinking at that moment? O, here it is. She was a bit bored. Ok, then. Ummm.”

And this is my worry. Are we making our history boring by recording everything? There’s no mystery. If someone in a few hundred years wanted to know what the World Famous Writer/Baker/Farmer Laura Maisey was thinking about at 7:26am on September 24, 2013, it’s all here. I’m going on about making history boring.

The stuff that’s most interesting for me in Ham House is the stuff that they don’t know for definite yet or the stuff that has numerous different stories attached to it.

And there’s Time Team to think about too. I mean, what will Baldrick do if he doesn’t need to dig sections of soil up anymore? People will have been rabbiting on about their new houses and gardens and there will be no need to try and establish where the outside walls of the castle were anymore. He’ll be able to just Google it.

Is that ok? That we are turning future historians into Google lovers? Maybe we should kill the internet briefly in a hundred years or so and start afresh, erasing everything and so creating some mystery for the poor bored historians of the year 2500?

Getting spooked (part 2)

Last week, if you remember, I had a bit of wierd bulb-smashing incident when looking for ghosts in Ham House. I thought that was the end of it. And maybe it was. But something else happened that makes me think it wasn’t

Well, on Wednesday, there I was, working away. We were quite quiet in The Orangery so there was just me out front, making tea, talking about cake, etc etc. All the usual.

The coffee machine and the till are opposite each other so that if you have one person working at each, they’ll be standing back to back. I hadn’t made any coffees, just lots and lots of tea. The tea is made further along and I hadn’t touched the coffee machine at all. As I stood by the till doing money stuff with a customer, a coffee cup fell from the coffee machine (we keep the cups on top so they stay warm) and smashed on the ground next to me. It might interest you to know that it smashed on my right side, as did the light bulb.

Unperturbed, I continued serving. The man I was serving when it happened asked me if I was ok. I was like, ‘Yeh, I’ll clear it up in a second.’

But then as I was passing him his pot of tea, there was a shard of smashed coffee cup on the work surface near him. That bit was quite wierd because there is a fairly big gap between the coffee machine and the till and the rest of the cup was on the ground. How did that one shard manage to get across the gap and over by the customer?

I’m not saying anything, right. I’m just saying it happened.

Getting spooked in Ham House

A few days ago, I expressed an interest in becoming a tour guide at Ham House. As luck would have it, the very next day there was a training session on how to guide the ghost tours.

I jumped at the chance so the following morning, the training was due to begin at 10am. The house is generally kept quite dark, to avoid light damage to any of the delicate things in the rooms. This makes the whole place a bit spooky. My plan was to go into the house at 9.30am and have a little look around for some ghosts while the place was still quiet and dark.

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I went and stood in the chapel, where the Duke of Lauderdale’s body lay for a week after his death and where a woman dressed in black has been seen kneeling by the altar and where a handprint was found in the dust one morning, at the Duchess’ pew. I stared into the darkness and my heart beat fast and eventually I lit up my phone to scan the room for ghosties but didn’t see one.

Next I went to to the Round Gallery where, in the book I recently talked about, one of the main characters sees some ghosts. While I am not claiming this book is based on anything factual, I still thought I might come across something, given all the portraits on the wall.

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Nothing.

Back downstairs, I went into the Duchess’ bedchamber. This is the room where she spent the last years of her life, ridden with gout and feeling trapped. I can’t remember the exact quote but she writes about feeling imprisoned in her beloved Ham House. There have been ghostly sightings by room guides here, who’ve been so scared by what they saw, that they have been unable to return to the house.

I lingered around, looked in the mirror, looked at the portrait of the Duchess as a young woman and waited.

Nothing.

Undeterred, I went into the White Closet, a beautiful little room that was one of the Duchess’ private closets in which she entertained only her closest friends.

As I stared at a painting of the back of Ham House and the gardens, I remembered someone saying that this painting contains most of the people at Ham House who have been seen/heard as ghosts. So I started looking for them in the painting. And I heard a noise…..

Whirrrrrrrr…..

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Oo! Oo! It’s the ghosts! Through there! Up there! In the next room! I snuck along following the noise, with a beating heart, and found….

One of the staff members hoovering the floor in the Long Gallery.

Ah. Yes. Of course that was it. Silly me. Ghosts don’t whirr, everyone knows that.

I did tell him off, though, for hoovering while I’m looking for ghosts. How can they walk around or say hi to me if he’s busy hoovering them up? It takes them bloody ages to get back out of that hoover so I wouldn’t see them until much later in the day.

By this time, it was 10am and the training was starting so I went upstairs and complained about the lack of ghost sightings. We talked a lot about how a tour should run, then a few of the experienced guides did a sample tour for us around the house.

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I still didn’t see any ghosts on this tour but not for lack of looking.

Anyway, the training finished and I left, clutching my notes and dreaming about being the Best Ghost Tour Guide The World Has Ever Seen, and ran into my manager from the cafe, who told me about a name scratched into the kitchen window in one of the house steward’s flats upstairs in the house.

The story is, briefly, a young man called John McFarlane was at the house. He was in love with one of the kitchen girls but she was in love with the butler. He was super distraught about it and threw himself out of one of the upstairs windows and died. But not before scratching his name into one of the window panes – John McFarlane 1790.

So we went to see this name scratched in. I was really having to restrain my excitement. People have photographed this window before and seen an orb in the photo! I attempted to take a photo of the name but my phone was like, “There is no more space for photographs on your phone.”

Humph.

So I deleted some photos to make space and tried again. Same thing. I deleted some more and eventually I got one but I couldn’t take any more. After walking through the front room into the hallway, we decided to look around upstairs.

As we approached the stairs, Sarah said to me, “There are stories of a little boy ghost on these stairs,” then she turned the light on…

And the light popped and the bulb threw itself out of the socket and it hurtled down the stairs towards us and smashed on the ground, only just missing us. I tried to photograph the smashed glass but the phone was having none of it. Sarah checked the fuse box but nothing had blown….

Make of it what you will, my friends. Make of it what you will.

Things I have recently made at Ham House

The other day I was talking about the lovely fresh fruit and vegetables that the gardeners bring us at the Ham House cafe. Today, I’m going to show you that food in action. This is just a few of the things we have done with the garden produce.

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A fig and greengage tart

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An almond cake with blackcurrants and raspberries

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A gooseberry and apricot tart

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Mixture of dried herbs to flavour soups and risottos and stews

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Edible flowers decorating the cake section. The tart on the bottom left is with blackcurrants from the garden

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One of the table displays that a gardener made for the cafe