Back in October me and my friend Anne had a little road trip to Hemingford Grey, to see the home of Lucy Boston. Unfortunately, the day we had planned to go, the weather was terrible, bucketing it down with rain. As viewing the house is by appointment only, rather than cancel, we still set off and got there in one piece.
In case you don’t know, Lucy Boston was an author who wrote a series of children’s books set in a house called Green Knowe. She also was a most prolific and incredibly talented patchworker and her quilts* are on display there. To actually see the quilts in the house where they were made is a real treat.
Sadly Lucy died some years ago, however, The Manor (her home) is lived in and managed by her daughter-in-law Diana.
If you live in the Uk and have even a passing interest in quilts and patchwork then visiting this house is a real must (I’ve wanted to go there for the past 15 years so was very excited when Anne said “do you want to go then ” after I’d told her about it)
The quilts themselves are all hand pieced over papers in the English style, however unlike the more traditional hexagon, grandmothers garden style patchworks, Lucy’s quilts are a series of incredible, often quite complicated patterns,that repeat over the quilt. She purchased a lot of her fabric solely for the purpose of making patchwork. Then each piece was carefully cut ( today it’s called “fussy cutting”) so that each fabric could have 4,5,6 different variations of pattern and colour. Diana told us that Lucy also bought fabric in several colour ways, so you get the same patterns but in a different colour which made you think “hmm that looks familiar”, they combine perfectly and keep the eye really interested as it travels over the surface of the quilt.
The quilts are all kept upstairs where they are laid flat (it’s a bit like the Princess and the Pea where she has to sleep on a 100 quilts and mattresses) and Diana (wearing cotton gloves) carefully turns each one over.
Probably the most famous of Lucy’s quilts is called “Patchwork of the Crosses” but I think my favourite is a small hexagon quilt she made for a grand-daughter. Equally stunning was a grey and cream, brown and charcoal coloured quilt, it’s made up of squares and octagans and looks incredibly modern and reminded me of some quilts I’ve seen in a Japanese quilting book.
After viewing the quilts we then went up some tiny stairs…………growing up I was a huge fan of The Lion,the Witch and the Wardrobe, I read it over and over, I totally loved it. Well the next bit was a bit like going to the house where the professor lived and being shown a room with a huge wooden carved wardrobe in it……we went in to a small children’s bedroom and it was just like stepping into the pages of a book. I hadn’t read the Green Knowe books growing up (though I’ve now read the first one and it’s so lovely) but there was such a sense of familiarity and magic about the room. Diana pointed out all the toys from the books, the huge rocking horse, Linnets doll, the sword and flute…..the little bird cage where the chaffinch flies in through the window to sleep when it gets cold and it’s hiding from owls.
(if you haven’t read the books, and you are thinking to visit the house, then do read at least one, Lucy’s writing is beautifully descriptive and I think you’ll enjoy them….especially when you see the bedroom, it will make you gasp and feel so happy)
Eventually it stopped raining so after a couple of purchases in the shop (there are several books available to buy about Lucy and her quilts) we had a look around the garden, this is probably best done in dryer and sunnier weather, however it still looked stunning even after all the rain.
I’ve not really done Lucy justice here, she was an incredibly fascinating woman. You can buy books from Diana directly (all the profits go to keep the house running, so I think it’s important to support Diana, the quilt collection at The Manor really is one of a kind and the fact it’s not been split up and sold around the world is just marvellous….you can also buy the templates and instructions if you want to create your own “Patchwork of the Crosses”.
And on the day we went, a local magazine was running a story about The Manor (issue twelve of Cambridge magazine)….it’s a nice long piece with plenty of pictures.
Other things to note which I should have wrote in earlier but didn’t….in the late thirties/early forties, Lucy bought a pair of hexagon flower quilts from Muriel Rose’s art gallery in Sloane Square (if you don’t know about Muriel Rose then you are in for a treat), initially they were put on beds and then Lucy decided to use them as curtains. Over time they became worn and she began to patch them and from here she began her interest in patchwork. She was then in her fifties (I think that is what Diana said) so basically you are never too old to learn to do patchwork or quilting.
*Actually although they are referred to as quilts, what Lucy made was patchwork tops. They aren’t quilted. They are sewn to backings but there are no stitches to properly join the layers. This makes the “quilts” incredibly fragile and Diana said they were starting to wear. It was quite odd looking at them, they are all stunning, each piece has been so carefully cut,been laid at exactly the right place on the fabric, but I didn’t want to touch a single one…..normally I want to run my hands all over a quilt (like a passionate lover who has to touch everywhere all at once) but there wasn’t that feeling with these. But perhaps if these had been quilted, then the constant touching and hand rubbing over the ridges and bumps and contours of the quilting would have worn and distressed the fabric even more.
There is a film adapted from one of the Green Knowe books…it’s called From Time to Time and was directed by Julian Fellowes (he created Downton Abbey)…it stars Maggie Smith and one of my favourite actors….Timothy Spall…oh Timothy, your beautiful East Anglian accent was so utterly perfect (he’s someone I would love to meet just so I could hug him)……in the film Dame Maggie is working on some patchwork, and Diana had it in one of rooms downstairs, along with the Muriel Rose hexagon quilts (which are still being used as curtains)…… so my new claim to fame is that I’ve touched a piece of patchwork that was held by Maggie Smith!
Lucy Boston also wrote ghost stories for adults and The Manor has ghost nights where Robert Lloyd Parry reads stories by M R James (it’s a very atmospheric and creaky noised house so if you like getting the willies with goosebumps running up your back then contact Diana for more details)