28 November 2010

a tableau & Gayfere House

Lady Ashley reenacting 
Italian Masters for the Prince of Wales Theatre
in aid of the "General- Lying-In -Hospital"
(captioned from the original photograph in my collection)

Lady Ashley as Ghirlandaio's Giovanna Tornabuoni

Lady Ashley as Cavallino's Saint Catherine

The sitter is Wilfred Ashley's second wife Muriel , "Molly", And she was Mrs. Ashley from 1914 (her marriage) until 1932 (when her husband was raised to the peerage as 1st Baron Mount Temple). As a result of her marriage, Muriel Emily Spencer was styled as Baroness Mount Temple on 13 January 1932. Molly was his second wife, the glorious and slightly seclusive personality , Muriel  Forbes-Sempill, former wife of Rear-Admiral A L O Forbes-Sempill. Her formal title was Baroness Mount Temple. She is referred in the photographs captions as Lady Ashley and Country Life refers to her as Lady Mount Temple. I shall call her Molly. So- "Molly" with the help of architect Oliver Hill, built one of the most ravishing houses in London in the 1920s, Gayfere House, in Great Peter Street, Westminster.
(with a lovely assist in tracking some information on the Lady from the AESTHETE. the Lament here.

Gayfere House built of red brick & Portland stone in the Queen Anne style. Oliver Hill's reverence for the formalities of the style and what Country Life called the "Luytensesque," created a "lighter exterior in spirit and handling."

The drawing room at Gayfere House

 this image from Country Life London Interiors, John Cornforth

The walls of the Gayfere House drawing room were of green-silvered mirror glass & silver grey oak. Molly was the driving force for this modern Baroque masterpiece-sharing her passion with Hill.  Country Life describes the room:  'The walls of glass- backed with small squares of green silver foil and pilasters, and panels of silver-grey oak which disguised the jib doors. These also formed shutters at night that folded over the windows, while the chimneypiece and overmantel of 18th century inspiration were carried out in engraved looking glass. Silver became a leitmotif for the decade...Oliver Hill was fascinated by the possibilities offered by the new ways in which glass was produced. Moreover, Hill had a painter's eye as well as an architect's, which enables him to respond to a very wide range of objects & materials, both hard and soft, man-made and natural, and he was always able to draw on his vivid historical memories & imagination. Thus he was a brilliant architectural decorator.'
What we now take for granted in our rooms today-here at Gayfere House- even the positioning of flowers was integral to the rooms appearance and the arrangement of them- was very new to decorating at the time. The flowers in the Country Life photographs are acknowledged as innovator Constance Spry's work. Two of the arrangements are real while the third is an arrangement of make believe ones. The sumptuously placed stems were 'in a composition reminiscent of Van Huysum or Baptiste.' (16thc. painters)

 van Huysum

Jan Baptiste Bosschaert

Described by Christopher Hussey- 'the bedroom was the cool green of deep water: a bed set in a crystal alcove and resting on crystal feet, standing on a milk-white floor. The Walls and ceiling are glazed green. The bed-cover and chair of zebra- skin.' Hussey also confirms that to a large degree, Lady Mount Temple had the ideas and Hill- the ability to interpret them. ' Both parties were free to criticise and protest, though each undertook not to destroy anything  original in the work of the other.'  It is hardly  thought that the work went terribly smooth- both were known to have their way and Hill-according to Country Life- used every trick available to get his way.

The bathroom at Gayfere House 

In the 1931, Oliver Hill (1887-1968) installed panels of beveled mirrors without decorative frames for the walls, ceilings, decorative panels and door architraves in a bathroom for the Gayfere House in London.  In front of a mirrored wall, Hill placed decorative objects, such as vases and perfume bottles, on glass shelves. Combined with the reflective fronts of a lavatory and a chest, every surface became available for reflection. Altogether the walls, ceiling, cabinet fronts, shelves and accessories formed endless Kaleidoscope effects made more capricious with electric lighting. ( Cornell University linked in text) The craze for modern bathrooms and the ability to design in mirror thrilled Oliver Hill. The innovations in mirror design gave him a chance to pull out all the stops as it were- and design a cabinet des glaces at Gayfere House., The walls and the ceiling were in grey mirror, a floor of black marble and the bath tub was of gold mosaic with blue glass vessels in sky blue recesses. Little else would do than to finish the room off with matching blue towels.

The beautiful Molly, reviving the old masters in tableau, appears to sit placidly while who knows what thoughts may have swirled in her head-perhaps a bed swathed in zebra at Gayfere House along with the nagging thought that Mr. Hill was working his own plans for the same in impala.

all the Gayfere House images are from the Country Life Archives here 
or LONDON INTERIORS from the Archives of Country Life.
the tableau photographs are from my own collection.



  1. I'm confused about the names. Why would Mrs Ashley become Lady Ashley when her husband became Lord Mount Temple. She would have become Lady Mount Temple.

  2. Was that *entire* edifice their home? What an enormous building! There are two doorways -- perhaps it's a duplex where they lived on one side and rented out the other? Or did they really occupy the whole thing?

  3. Columnist, confusing. here is a link to the peerage-http://www.thepeerage.com/p157.htm#i1569 with notes,& so it goes to each and every person she vreathed the same air as during her lifetime. I have added some notes in the text to explain the "Lady Ashley"-and what I can tell you is- the photographs depict the sitter as "Lady Ashley" wife of Mrs Willfred Ashley-She would have veen only "Lady" attached to Willfred Ashley-later Lord MT. In tracing the dates, and sitter-it is likely a lack of exact captioning on the back of the photos that creates navigating the Peerage treacherous for me. His first wife- as noted in the peerage- died Amalia Mary Maud Cassel in 1911-and would not have had the title Lady. The daughter of the couple however would go on to marry Mountbatten.
    "Lady Ashley" as referred to in the photographs is referred to as Lady Mount Temple by Country Life. As a "commoner" for me- the story is less about the title and more about the surreptitious nature my liking the photographs revealed a firm history in designing a house like Gayfere during this era. pgt

  4. Those living in an urban area will especially appreciate the very stylish use of mirror and reflective finishes. That house was superb, both inside and out.

  5. I think I've worked it out: she was Lady Emily Cowper, and after she married Mr Wilfred Ashley she became Lady Emily Ashley, (not Lady Ashley). She was Lady Emily because she was the daughter of a peer. When Mr Ashley was elevated to the peerage she became Lady Mount Temple, (as the wife of Lord Mount Temple). Ashley's daughter by his first marriage was Edwina, who married Lord Louis Mountbatten, subsequently created Earl Mountbatten, (and uncle of Prince Philip). British titles are indeed a minefield, for anyone!

  6. How astounding those interiors must have been when they were new! I wonder if at least the bath rooms have survived. ... Mark

  7. Always so refreshing to come to your blog!
    Your combinations of pictures, image similarities and history is impressive.
    That Hill Bathroom must be quite hallucinatory....
    Thank you:)

  8. I read your blog every day (and love it!) and today your images really were so relevant for me personally as I am working on an editorial video and the hair I envisioned to do is wrapped and coiled… Think Vermeer esque … but I loved these images as well that I will expand the wrapping idea I think!
    These really inspired me to integrate the concept into my shoot:)

    Thank you for being in cyber space! I look forward to opening your mail each and every day,KQ

  9. Ok, Professor LA: which came first Adler's bathroom for Leona Armour now residing with Miles Redd or this little lovely? We have a van Huysum at the Nelson Atkins that I have swooned in front of for decades. On its rich black ground, the flowers are incredibly lovely. Alas, I think of my southern artist friend who said,"If a woman had painted this it would have been sold at a garage sale." Apparently men can paint flowers and be serious artists but women who paint flowers are often in the Anon dept.!

  10. Dear Gaye, what a fantastic post. The Lady Ashley pictures are very special as is the house. The bevelled mirror has given me a few ideas for my bathroom. Your blog is always an inspiration xx

  11. Home, it seems like both were begun in 1931, and it is likely because of the advent of what was possible with mirror suddenly. The Adler project dates to 1931 as well.

  12. Home- also, this link from Cornell gives much info. about mirror innovations. http://intypes.cornell.edu/expanded.cfm?erID=54

  13. Anon. Kristin,Christina, glad I can help a bit.

    John,I bemoan seeing some of the color that must have created a huge ambiance too.

    Townhouse, I dont know.
    Home, and you know I am no Prof. nor do I want to be- I prefer the Quirky to scholarly any day.

    Columnist-"Lord" yes.

  14. It is remarkable how contemporary the drawing room looks. The photo of Molly as Ghirlandaio's Giovanna Tornabuoni is gorgeous! This is one of my favorite paintings--here is a copy & paste url to one of my collages using her image:
    (click to enlarge) Thanks for another fantastic post--where ever do find the time---!!

  15. She was my Great Great Aunt.
    Her Father was Rev Walter Spencer a minor canon of Chester Cathedral who married Annie Elizabeth Hudson Daugher of Robert Hudson of Hudsons soap after whom I am named.

    She First Married ALO Forbes Semple and then divorced him she then married Wilfred Ashley and became Mrs Ashley subsequently when Wilfred was raised to the Peerage she became Baroness Mount Temple but was known as Molly Mountemple



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