For many years my husband Mike and I have longed to join our son Daniel and Josie (see photo on left, apart from Daniel who took it!) for the annual summer gathering specially organised for members of The Old Hall Club. But leaving distant Sussex means waving goodbye to Campden, Alveston and even an heirloom Cottage item! But serious Sussex happenings and even the patter of tiny grandchildren's feet have previously forced us to join you all only through the pages of our excellent Newsletter. But still we longed to join you because my lifetime love affair with Old Hall pre-dates my membership by over half a century!
I was born and bred a Londoner and my mum, sister and I loved those blessed shopping areas close to Regent Street and Piccadilly. In my late teens I worked in college holidays, mostly at Liberty's of London, so I was well rehearsed in the beauty of great design. But in my lunch breaks I explored further afield and one day I discovered a shiny and welcoming place called The Design Centre. It was full of gorgeous modern design work from furnishings and china to glorious fabrics and then suddenly I was magnetically drawn to a display table that stopped me in my tracks; row upon row of shimmering stainless steel - spoons, forks and knife blades anchored to sleek handles of smooth opaque blackness. At home we were only used to something imitating ivory or bone and mostly dating back to centuries peopled by servants washing or scrubbing below stairs in dungeon kitchens. What I saw that day was most beautiful as design and created for a twentieth century world passionate for the best of design and practical care. Lord Snowdon, one of the Design Centre's top directors, was to be revered. I returned several times to explore the Centre and always that cutlery collection named Campden.
Then, by a stroke of great good fortune, Mike and I became engaged to be married and my dear sister asked us to choose a special wedding gift. Have you guessed? Although Mike dislikes London we visited the Design Centre together and my prayers were answered when he approved of the shimmering stainless steel married to discreet black. I plucked up courage to ask the imposing salesman the Campden maker’s name and the words “Old Hall” rang through the land! I am happy to report that years later our first born son has inherited the passion for Old Hall. And so it was that over fifty years later Mike and I were guided by Daniel and Josie through the cool woodland and green lawns of Haling Dene to the 2014 Old Hall Summer Fair. Suddenly we were in a very large and lofty room packed with fellow members, almost all busy at tables displaying every kind of Old Hall ware. I felt like a new girl on her first day of term at Big School! But one of the school “prefects” greeted me before I had a chance to hide in the cloakroom! This turned out to be our Membership Secretary Kathleen who, within seconds, made me feel welcome like one of the family and very soon I discovered that everyone in that huge room acted likewise. I wanted to “shop window” every single stand. At no time did any salesperson even hint at any kind of “hard sell”. On the contrary, they contributed for free huge stocks of knowledge of any item I enquired about. I explained I must look at other stands in the room, even though I had chosen an item or two for them to put aside for me! I spotted many items never (by me) seen before like the tiny and exquisite toast racks that I am sure you, the reader, would have known all about and now two are gracing breakfasts in the far away county of Sussex. At one moment I realised I had lost my husband; at last I saw him, armour plated and half hidden behind a very large stainless steel tray which now watches over our tiny toast racks.
All this was thirsty work and a kind fellow member guided me to a cool and welcoming lounge where they promised I would find refreshments. And what refreshments! I was offered tea, coffee or soft drinks and the most delicious cakes, scones and biscuits, all home-made. One of the ladies was Dianne (Nigel’s wife) and with her the equally hard working Val. I lost my chance to “borrow” their recipes because of the queue behind, a powerful reason for never missing another Summer Fair! When I returned to the main hall I chatted again to a stall owner and her daughter (Yvonne and Debbie) and as well as purchasing one of my two toast racks I discovered we had parts of the London of my youth in common. I still had a refreshment or two to spare and my newly made friend and I continued exchanging memories of ancient war and post-war days on the Haling Dene lawn. Perhaps this will explain how, unlike everyday “shopping“, this unforgettable Old Hall Summer Fair seemed to me - a newcomer - so unforgettable.
No longer a "new girl", I had by now been introduced to our "Head Master" Nigel who had kindly welcomed me and arranged for all our family to attend dinner at The Bridge House that evening and very soon it was indeed time to say goodbye to many new friends but not too late to discover one last treasure in between farewells - a small, narrow cardboard box with a see-through "window" containing a Robert Welch "Shetland" pickle fork whose slender stem resembles bone or ivory crowned with a shimmering "flame" of gold or bronze. Every year one of our grandsons helps me fill empty jars with a secret family recipe for spicy pickled shallots. Pip also designs the labels and I think his love of art and design will now extend to a "shallot" fork. And so, at last, we set off for Bridge House and an hour or so later sat down to a delicious dinner with fellow club members. By chance or educated design our delightful neighbours that evening were Carol and Ken. After brief introductions and accounts of our happy day I discovered the Ken and Mike had a very great deal in common since they were both physicists! That meant that Carol and I had masses of non-physics to discuss. We had definitely chosen the right dishes and it was a truly great feast and then ..... to be upstaged by a truly great set of speeches! Our fellow members must have heard many performances from Nigel before but it was our first chance to add loud cheers at the end, and then came another surprise! Nigel summoned his grandson Adam to centre stage to speak to us. There was sudden silence and then Adam spoke! And this young man spoke with very great skill and genuine interest in his large audience. Like the most skilled of professional speakers he turned his head to all areas of the huge room, he smiled when smiles were needed and when nearing his conclusion he glanced with a smile to his grandfather for assurance. His large audience showed truly their great appreciation. Next, Adam's sister Amy took to the stage and her presence was also greeted with huge warmth. I think Amy spoke with great sweetness of tone and also great courage. It is never, ever easy to follow a brother's speechmaking but she also deserved our claps and cheers.
The next morning it was very, very difficult to say our goodbyes. Mike and I had loved our first Summer Fair and we look each day at treasured purchases and Cottage-ware when Old Hall was spelt Olde! But as well as those historic treasures I look back and feel that every historic piece we possess is more than matched by the rare and exquisite artistry of all those friends and members who, each year, and in between, make The Old Hall Club what it means to so very many of us.
p.s. Here (above and to the right) is our other historic collectable!
Note - Jenny would have liked to include about their most enjoyable visit to Moseley Old Hall the following day to see where Nigel's talk with Paul Martin for "Flog It" had been recorded but unfortunately we ran out of space!