"Ashcombe The Story Of A Fifteen Year Lease" 1949 BEATON, Cecil

BEATON, Cecil 

B.T. Batsford Ltd.


8.75" x 6"

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Ashcombe House, also known as Ashcombe Park, is a Georgian manor house, set in 1,134 acres (4.59 km2) of land on Cranborne Chase in the parish of Berwick St John, near Salisbury, Wiltshire, England.

The photographer and designer Cecil Beaton first visited the house in 1930, taken there by the sculptor Stephen Tomlin together with the writer Edith Olivier. He was later to write of his first impression of the house, as he approached it through the arch of the gatehouse:

None of us uttered a word as we came under the vaulted ceiling and stood before a small, compact house of lilac-coloured brick. We inhaled sensuously the strange, haunting – and rather haunted – atmosphere of the place ... I was almost numbed by my first encounter with the house. It was as if I had been touched on the head by some magic wand.

That same year Mr Borley leased Ashcombe House to Beaton for £50 a year, a very small rent, on the condition that Beaton would make improvements to the house, which was all-but derelict. Beaton employed the Austrian architect Michael Rosenauer to make substantial alterations to the material of the house, including a passageway through the house to unite the front and the back, and elongating the windows. Plumbing and electricity were installed. The artist Rex Whistler designed the Palladian front door surround, with its pineapple made from Bath stone. Urns were positioned on the roof and the orangery was converted into Beaton's studio.

Beaton entertained lavishly at Ashcombe House, and his houseguests included many notable people of the time, including actors and artists such as Tallulah Bankhead, Lady Diana Cooper, Ruth Ford and Lord Berners. Artists Whistler, Salvador Dalí, Christian Bérard, Jack von Reppert-Bismarck and Augustus John and stage designer Oliver Messel painted murals in the house, and Dalí used it as the backdrop of one of his paintings. Little remains of the Beaton-era interior design, although in the "circus room", which once contained a Whister-designed bed shaped like a carousel, one mural (by Elsa 'Jack' von Reppert-Bismarck) of a lady on a circus horse remains, painted during a hectic weekend party when all guests wielded paintbrushes.

Beaton's lease expired in 1945, and he was heartbroken to be forced to leave the house: his biographer Hugo Vickers has stated that Beaton never got over the loss of Ashcombe. Beaton detailed his life at the house in his book Ashcombe: The Story of a Fifteen-Year Lease, first published in 1949 by B. T. Batsford. The dustjacket of the first edition of the book featured a painting by Whistler, with the orangery on the left of the painting (on the back cover) and Ashcombe House itself to the right, on the front cover; this image has been reproduced on the cover of the 1999 publication of the book.

In 1948 Beaton designed a fabric, which is still available, which he named "Ashcombe Stripe" after Ashcombe House.

Right up until his death in 1980, Beaton owned a late eighteenth-century painting of the house, thought to have been painted around 1770. It is now held at the Salisbury Museum, having been bought at an auction sale of Beaton's collections.

Beaton's landlord, Hugh Borley, R. W. Borley's son, lived in the house from 1946 until his death in 1993. He grew increasingly eccentric and resented the fame which Beaton's book had brought to the house, refusing all offers to sell it and chasing off sightseers with dogs or threatening them with guns.

An exhibition titled Cecil Beaton at Home: Ashcombe and Reddish, curated by Andrew Ginger, director of the Cecil Beaton Fabrics Collection, was shown at Salisbury Museum from May to September 2014.

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