Parham House and Gardens’ Annual Garden Weekend

Parham House and Garden
Gardener and patron, Peta Ashton and Lady Emma Barnard, in conversation in the Tudor herb garden at Parham House and Gardens

This week I am visiting the walled gardens in the lead up to one of the highlights of the Sussex summer calendar: Parham House and Gardens’ famous ‘Garden Weekend’. This year’s celebration of gardening at Parham will be opened on Saturday by the BBC Gardeners’ World presenter Joe Swift.

I love the stillness that gathers you in the walled gardens at Parham. It transports you, separating you from the business of life. To create a garden of this subtlety, depth and beauty requires a sensitivity to place, light, the elements and the seasons.

Tom Brown, Head Gardener at Parham, leads a team of gifted people, whose creativity allows this sublime garden to honour the past while remaining forward-looking. I am excited to be meeting Peta Ashton, a gardener and member of this team, whose individuality and talent is apparent in her work in the Parham gardens.

Lady Emma Barnard and I walk from her wonderful house to the gardens and she leaves me in the path between the long borders as she goes off to find Peta. If you have ever dared to still yourself and stand in a landscape, you will know that out of the silence your senses become heightened. You become more alive. Sounds, colours and movement reveal themselves to you. As I stand between these borders with the warmth of the sun upon my face, the wind and shadows cause the soft planting to dance. I become aware of the swathes of colour and their relationships to one another, which, together with the textures of flowers and foliage, form complex compositions. The gentle breeze plays upon the leaves. There is a rhythm and wholeness, born out of this rich canvas. Lady Emma appears with Peta, the sound of their voices and feet on the gravel paths marking their approach.

Borders at Parham House and Gardens
Peta Ashton’s sublime borders at Parham

The borders which have just captured my imagination and gathered me are the work and inspiration of Peta Ashton. I remark on my experience of this particular part of the garden. She listens thoughtfully. Her face breaks into a gentle smile beneath her broad-brimmed hat, evidently pleased by my unexpected response to her work. I ask her what has influenced the garden layout. She replies, “The gardens are laid out in the ‘Old Parham Way’ with secret and open spaces.” There is much talk today of garden rooms but it would seem that this is nothing new at Parham.

Together the three of us walk towards another of Peta’s creations, the restored herb garden, which is bordered by a tall yew hedge of dark green hue. Entering through an arch cut into the hedge, we find ourselves in a secret, sunny garden. A circular stone pond with a lead putto is framed by tall herbs. Excitedly Peta leads Emma and me around the herb garden, delighting in the names, the foliage and the characters of each individual plant. It is apparent that we are in the company of a generous and passionate plantswoman, who expresses her hopes and fears for each of them in turn.

In Tudor times, when Parham was built, herbs were used for their culinary, medicinal and strewing properties. Herbs would be strewn on the floors and surfaces of homes to deter insects and to disinfect, as well as for their fragrant qualities. In this enclosed garden, I am reminded that herbs were associated with the monastic tradition in medicine. It is these influences which are expressed in the disciplined, balanced planting. Peta explains that this would be defeated if it was too ornamental. There is a sense of working with nature and history.

The Gardens at Parham House
A view from the gardens looking towards the house and Sussex Downs

I ask Peta how she comes to imagine and create these remarkable borders and gardens. She pauses for a moment, considering her reply, and then says, “The borders come out of being in this space in silence. It is the combination of this inner criterion and influences from outside which I try to work with.” Being attentive to nature, colour, form and movement requires a particular quality of engagement and a generous discipline – a combination of relationship with our environment and an attempt to shut out the white noise of our lives and be truly present, undistracted in the given moment. It is a form of meditation, of prayer. Peta clearly understands this and it gifts her creativity and remarkable vision with depth and subtlety. She is both artist and gardener.

Calling and vocation can be expressed in infinite ways. Peta Ashton’s sense of vocation towards her work, like her gardens, is inspiring. It is bound up with her very personhood. Like so much at Parham House and Gardens, Peta’s tremendously personal expression of creativity is possible thanks to the patronage and involvement of Lady Emma.

Sheltered by the warm hues of the old brick garden walls covered in lichen, these gardens have a remarkable ability to gather and engage people. Families find a gentle place to wander in conversation, their time in the garden informed by the beauty around them. Keen horticulturists will pause to explore the subtleties and effects of the planting and compositions before them. Whatever your approach, though, you cannot fail to wander in this beautiful place without being moved by it.

I am looking forward to the Parham House and Gardens’ ‘Garden Weekend’ this Saturday and Sunday, 12th and 13th July 2014, 10.30am to 5.00pm. For more information go to or telephone 01903 742021. Tickets include the wonderful gardens and entry to the house and its superb collections. There are Parham plants for sale too – wonderful stock – so don’t forget to treat yourselves!

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 9th July 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Dinky Toy Vehicles for Sale at Toovey’s Auction

Dinky Toys 'Weetabix' Guy Van No. 514 at Toovey's
Dinky Toys 'Weetabix' Guy Van No. 514 at Toovey's

Just weeks after the introduction of driving tests in Great Britain, the No. 23a racing car became the first model vehicle to bear the brand Dinky Toys when it rolled off the production line in April 1934. However, the history of this household name of toy manufacturing already had its foundations firmly laid prior to the production of this little car. Meccano had been produced at the same Liverpool factory since the early 1900s, created by toy pioneer Frank Hornby. In Mike and Sue Richardson’s book Dinky Toys & Modelled Miniatures 1931-1979, Hornby is described as:

Tooveys Lot 3009 Dinky Toys
Dinky Toys No. 505 Foden Flat Truck with Chains, boxed. £150-250

“A man in the great English tradition of entrepreneur and inventor mixed with a Scottish trait of emphasis on sound educational values and improvement of the mind. He was a true turn-of-the-century Briton…”

Tooveys Lot 3012 Dinky Toys
Dinky Toys No. 531 Leyland Comet Lorry, boxed. £100-150
Tooveys Lot 3057 Dinky Supertoys
Dinky Supertoys No. 918 'Ever Ready' Guy van, boxed. £100-150

Not content with creating a best-selling construction toy, Hornby continued on the logical path from Meccano to develop a new product in the form of an ‘O’ gauge train set, intended to rival the tinplate tradition of Germany (see an earlier blog post on Bing tinplate toys by clicking here). Since the 1920s these trains have been the inventor’s namesake. Quickly realising that the toy train enthusiast wanted to make their railway layouts as realistic as possible, various accessories were added to production. Meccano Limited expanded their output to include a range of vehicles to accompany the ‘O’ gauge series, perhaps influenced by the arrival of the American ‘Tootsie Toy’ vehicles. This first group of six vehicles did not bear the Dinky Toy name but were instead called Hornby Series ‘Modelled Miniatures’. Toovey’s sold two of these early Modelled Miniatures in our specialist auction of Toys on 25th March 2014. No. 22a an open sports car, finished in red and cream, sold for £100, and No. 22b a sports coupe, finished in yellow and green, sold for £380. They are particularly prized among collectors as they are still deemed among the first Dinky Toys, despite the different branding. Hornby soon dismissed ‘Modelled Miniatures’ and ‘Meccano Miniatures’ in favour of the more catchy ‘Dinky Toys’. From then on, generations of children enjoyed playing with ‘Dinkies’. Dinky derives from the Scottish and literally means attractively small and neat, a perfectly apt description of the vehicles produced by the firm.

Tooveys Lot 3058 Dinky Supertoys
Dinky Supertoys No. 942 'Regent' Foden 14-ton tanker, boxed. £100-150
Tooveys Lot 3059 Dinky Supertoys
Dinky Supertoys No. 934 Leyland Octopus wagon, boxed. £100-150

The Second World War halted production of toys at the ‘Binns Road’ factory in Liverpool with attention turning to war work. They even raised funds for a ‘Meccano’ Spitfire by creating a special pendant to purchase the aircraft. Immediately after the war, the government insisted on Meccano focusing on their export market to help pay off the war debt. It was after the war years that Dinky Toys really enjoyed a renaissance period. In 1947 Dinky ‘Supertoys’ were launched to great success. Dinky Supertoys were a larger scale than that previously offered and were produced for nearly two decades. The entire range of Dinky vehicles included planes, military vehicles, cars, vans and lorries. In their striking boxes and bold colours, these are as prized among collectors today as they were coveted by children of the day. The brand enjoyed great success until the Liverpool factory closed its doors in November 1979. The brand name was later purchased by Matchbox but, after various mergers, it was eventually swallowed up by Mattel’s ‘Hot Wheels’ brand.

Toovey’s forthcoming specialist auction of Toys, Dolls and Games on 15th July 2014 features the usual fantastic selection of Dinky Toys and other die-cast metal vehicles.  Among the offerings in the auction is this post-war Dinky Toys No. 514 ‘Weetabix’ Guy van with first type cab and second type wheels. Offered with the all-important original box, it carries a pre-sale estimate of £300-500. A good selection of other Dinky Toys and Dinky Supertoys vehicles included in the sale are also illustrated.

Viewing for the sale is on Saturday 12th July between 9.30am and 12 noon; Monday 14th July between 10am and 4pm; and on the day of the auction, Tuesday 15th July, between 10am and 1pm. The auction commences at 1.30pm. Click here to view the online catalogue.

The Delight of William and Mary Taste

William and Mary chest detail
A detail of the top of the chest of drawers, finely inlaid in various woods and stained ivory

Against the backdrop of revolution and religious conflict, 17th century England witnessed remarkable achievements in science, art and commerce. Among these were the scientific genius of Sir Isaac Newton, Samuel Pepys’ groundbreaking work with the Royal Navy, the architecture of Inigo Jones and Sir Christopher Wren, and the publication of the King James’ Bible in 1611, often described as the finest work ever produced by committee.

17thC Dutch Delft dish
A late 17th century Dutch Delft moulded dish, auctioned at Toovey’s for £480
William and Mary chest
A fine William and Mary laburnum oyster-veneered and floral marquetry chest of drawers, auctioned at Toovey’s for £17,000

At the end of the 17th century, Charles II’s Catholic brother, James II, was replaced by the Protestants William and Mary during the Glorious Revolution of 1688. William of Orange and his wife Mary, James II’s son-in-law and daughter, invaded England with a Dutch army. Their actions had been encouraged by a group of Tory and Whig parliamentarians, who were fearful that the birth of James II’s son would establish a Roman Catholic dynasty in the British Isles. By Convention of Parliament, William and Mary were invited to sign the Bill of Rights of 1689, which passed the crowns of England, Scotland and Ireland to them. They ruled jointly as William III and Mary II until Mary’s death in 1694. William continued his reign alone until he died in 1702. The bill limited the power of the crown, set out the rights of Parliament with rules for freedom of speech, including the right of Parliament to petition the monarch without fear of retribution, and the requirement for regular elections.

William brought with him Dutch artisans, who were joined by French Huguenot refugee craftsmen. The royal couple were painted by the finest artists of their age. However, you cannot help but delight in the naïve quality of the depiction of William III on this late 17th century Dutch Delft dish, painted in blue, green, yellow and black. The border of tulips and other flowers shows the Dutch influence.

William and Mary longcase clock
A William and Mary marquetry longcase clock by William Cattell, auctioned at Toovey’s for £26,000

The fashion for smaller more intimate rooms created demand for furniture of a more modest scale with an emphasis on comfort, in contrast to the opulence of Charles II’s Restoration period. There is a reliance on good proportion and simple lines in the finest examples of William and Mary case furniture, which is often finely decorated with marquetry inlay. Flowers, acanthus leaf and C-scrolls define the William and Mary taste. Take the William and Mary marquetry-veneered chest of drawers illustrated here. The top is finely inlaid. The central oval panel and four corner panels are filled with flower-charged vases, inhabited by birds, within a laburnum oyster-veneered border. The sides and drawer fronts have similarly inlaid floral panels. Exotic woods, like olive and laburnum, reached this country via new East-West trade routes.

The rare William and Mary longcase clock with its eight-day, five-pillar movement, striking on a bell, is by William Cattell of London. William Cattell was apprenticed in 1664/5 to Edward Stanton and was freed in April 1672. The walnut and laburnum oyster-veneered marquetry case is decorated with motifs of birds and flowers similar to those on the chest of drawers.

The quality and richness of decoration, combined with the intimate and fine proportion of William and Mary furniture and clocks, continue to delight connoisseurs today and prices remain strong.

Toovey’s next specialist auctions of clocks and furniture will be held on Thursday 17th and Friday 18th July 2014. If you are considering the sale of your clocks or furniture, please contact Toovey’s for free and confidential specialist advice.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 2nd July 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.