Yesterday, I went to a breakfast meeting at Stoneleigh Abbey.We ate in the saloon, whose ceiling features this magnificent plaster relief depicting Hercules being welcomed by the gods after his death:I visited the Abbey a couple of years ago and went on a tour of the house; sadly, the photos I took then are currently on a computer that won’t boot, so I only have a couple of pictures I took on my phone as discreetly as possible during the meeting.
Yesterday we weren’t given a tour, but after my previous visit I tumbled together all of the snippets of historical truth and myth I could remember into a rather chaotic poem. (The chaos was intentional as the 5th Baron Leigh, who was, I think, responsible for the saloon décor, was “a Lunatick of unsound mind”.)
Stoneleigh: the thirteenth labour
He dreams a spacious blue saloon where burnt ochre scagliola columns
disappear in cirrused skies of Ancient Greece. In Wedgwood cameos
around his head plasterwork gods bicker and betray their kin.
Surf-white unicorns surge from crested walls. Sand billows frame
the multi-panes of windows that fragment the view: green; wide gravel walks;
green; a patchwork square of river; green willow plumes; one solitary fir.
Next door, the ladies perch on velvet thrones. He’s never seen their feet, but fears
identical dishabille robes hide the same dark paws and claws that crouch beneath
the butchered table. The ladies rise and crimson beetles scatter from their skirts.
The library walls are lined with books that will not open. A game little dog
trots at his heels; it follows him from shelf to shelf. He knows somewhere
there is a book with all the answers. He knows he will not find it.
Swansdown and ostrich snowflakes drift and from afar he hears his sister
sing a lullaby. He smells the smoke from burning documents; dust mingles
with a haze of wine. The 5th Baron Leigh slumbers amid celeste and white
rococo waves. His cheeks are damp with salt sea spray.
Since the poem lines wrap on screen, here’s a pdf in case anyone would like to see it displayed as I intended. And a further picture showing a little more of this architectural extravaganza.
The sun had come up before we left, so here’s a view of the gatehouse – part of the original Abbey – which is rather more to my liking: