diamond geezer

 Sunday, May 27, 2012

London has more stately-type homes than you might think. Some are still very stately. Some have been thrown open to the public. And some now perform a completely different function. Such is the case at Trent Park, a mansion in deepest Enfield parkland just to the north of Cockfosters. It started out as a hunting lodge, grew into a grand house and eventually mutated into a teacher training college. Today it's part of Middlesex University, the campus where all the arty drama students hang out. But at the end of July they're all moving out, as the university "rationalises its property portfolio", so this summer's the grand finale. In celebration Trent Park is throwing open its doors for a series of Open House weekends, some of which you've missed, and one of which is this weekend.

It's a bit of a trek to reach, as university campuses go. Cockfosters and Oakwood stations are both closest, if close is the word, although the university runs a minibus from the latter to rest students' legs. I walked from the former, up a long avenue of lime trees, through the grounds of the local country park. The squealing I could hear in the woods turned out to be safety-harnessed youth swinging from a Go-Ape zipwire, while their parents chilled out at the cafe up the drive. The view to the north is gorgeous, a rolling haymeadow speckled with buttercups dipping down to an unseen stream with verdant slopes beyond. In heatwave conditions the grounds are ideal for a stroll or a slouch, and it's easy to see why the rich and famous might have wanted a close-to-London bolthole here.

The area hereabouts, and for miles beyond, used to be part of an enormous woodland called Enfield Chase. George III partitioned it off and gave this chunk to his royal physician as quite an ostentatious way of saying thanks. The house started off small, then subsequent owners added extra wings and ornamental gardens, often bankrupting themselves in the process. The penultimate owner was Sir Philip Sassoon, MP and socialite, who became immensely rich on the death of his father in 1912. He cheated hugely by rescuing doors and windows from the demolition of a grand house in Piccadilly, and using them to reface the exterior of Trent Park classical style. A visit to Sir Philip's estate was always a glittering affair. You'd have enjoyed sumptuous cuisine. You might have bumped into George Bernard Shaw or Charlie Chaplin on the terrace. There were penguins in the ornamental lake. Even the deer had gilded antlers so they looked good from a distance.

We heard all about such fripperies on the Open House tour of the house. Once round the ground floor and then, if you waited really (really) patiently, down into the cellars too. One of the students took us round, all genned up and providing a most professional presentation. He pointed out the original front of the house, now the rear wall at the front of reception. He pointed out the bedrooms where Edward and Mrs Simpson stayed, separately allegedly, in the years when their relationship was a clandestine affair. He pointed out the obelisk on the hill opposite, seemingly ancient but imported specially in 1934 for the honeymoon of the Duke and Duchess of Kent (it lined up perfectly with their bedroom). And he pointed out the room in the basement where German-speaking spies listened in on conversations in the rooms above when this became a prison camp for captured WW2 officers. It's had a quite a history, this place.

The ambience was deftly augmented by the subtle appearance of further drama students in period costume, representing former inhabitants, wafting around between the rooms. One in a wig, then three ladies engaged in a deportment class - a very nice touch. But it was a little bit strange being taken on a tour of a mansion that's a university because all the rooms now have very different functions. The main saloon has a clunky overhead projector attached to one wall. A stack of municipal plastic chairs are stacked up next to a priceless fireplace. There are music stands lurking in the front porch. A long-abandoned stationery shop lurks in a messy alcove in the cellar. A nasty 1970s annexe has been tacked onto one wing. But much of Sassoon's sense of showmanship survives.

After today two more Open House weekends are scheduled. One's the 23rd and 24th of June, and the last is the opening weekend of the Olympics, if you're looking for somewhere entirely non-sporting to escape to. And then the students move on and the staff move out, which must be gutting, given the alternative accommodation is a purpose-built campus in Hendon. It has no rolling haymeadows, no Japanese Water Garden, no outdoor pool and no room once painted by Winston Churchill. Instead the entire fifteen thousand square metre estate is up for sale, which'll make the university a tidy profit, such is austerity funding. There are no clues yet as to who'll buy the place up. Enfield council's hoping for a major educational or institutional use, but my money's on a very very posh hotel. The place was used for entertaining before it was a college, and could easily slip back into luxury spa experience mode. So if you want to see historic Trent Park, get down sharpish, else you can always wait three years and come back for cocktails.


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream