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September 2014

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A treasure trove of gifts

Sam Bertram

25 September 2014

For many an Artist’s Studio wouldn’t be the first port of call for a bit of Christmas shopping, but if you’re looking for something unique this year I really recommend a visit to Wagon Yard Artists in Marlborough. There are Christmas cards, jewellery, ceramic and glass Christmas tree decorations, coasters, ring bowls, tea lights, lamps, vases, sculptural pieces, framed original art and prints and beautiful glass plates. Need I say more?  And for those wanting to gift a new skill why not sign-up a family member for some pottery classes? The artists at Wagon Yard have changed over the years as artists have moved away or opened their own studios but it currently has 6 local resident artists, all who live in the surrounding area, and two associates. Jacqui Melhuish, a ceramist, runs the studio and her passion it to develop an idea through clay. If you go to the studios you can see some of the beautiful sculptural and functional vases or plates she has made or attend one of her pottery classes she runs through the week. You can find Jacqui at the studios most days. Colin Palmer works as an architectural illustrator, mainly on commission, and also produces watercolours of local places of interest as well as original paintings with a Mediterranean feel. If you’re stuck for a gift for the person who has everything or someone reaching a milestone birthday, a Colin Palmer illustration of your house or a day’s watercolour class are lovely gifts.  Jeannette Therrien, founder of Wagon Yard Artists, is a glass artist who loves colour and vibrant pieces and creates stunning glass forms that are both functional and decorative. Her plates are absolutely exquisite. Jeannette founded the Wagon Yard Artists in 2007 after graduating and wanted to teach classes alongside selling her work. While doing a business course in Wagon Yard she noticed an empty unit filled with rubbish and storage. Despite it being a bare, run down place in desperate need of flooring and paint it’s now a warm space that houses a hive of talent. Jeannette has her own studio in Ogbourne St George so although her work is on display she divides her time between the two locations.    Mary Thorne specialises in pottery that is very recognisably influenced by the local Wiltshire countryside. She makes a range of domestic ware such as mugs, jugs, bowls and teapots , each one individually made and decorated by hand. Jane Renwick makes the most stunning wall light panels and lamps with porcelain paper clay with illustrations of bees, butterflies, sea shore anomites and fossils. Jane imprints paper clay with lino cuttings and drawings she’s made herself – so allowing the light to come through in different degrees and shades. She has also recently started doing cold cast metals. Kate Wade specialises in watercolours and oil and is brilliant at depicting light. Many people instantly recognise the landscape before reading the label.  She particularly likes Pembrokeshire and lots of parts of Wiltshire too. You can pick up her prints and cards at the studio. What brings the artists together is the opportunity to share space, firing kilns and rent but also do things that are difficult at home because of the dust it creates. There are currently 6 artists there which is the maximum they can take and they often have to turn new artists away. All of them, with the exception of Mary and Kate, also teach at Marlborough College Summer School. So please promise to visit Wagon Yard Artists. It’s a real treat and they love to welcome visitors to the studio. Just give them a call to make sure somebody will be there, there’s free parking at the yard and everything is fantastic value. Their Christmas Exhibition on the last weekend of November is a must. Open Saturday and Sunday from 10.00am to 4.00pm they have a cheaper market area downstairs for gifts and an exhibition of more high value work upstairs. Go on – you know you want to! www.wagonyardartists.co.uk

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Smocked Frocks

Sam Bertram

15 September 2014

Do you often hear people (or yourself!) say children’s clothes aren’t what they used to be?  Well in answer to that question, they are – you just have to know where to look!  Shalbourne resident Jill Richard’s Smocked Frocks are gorgeous traditional hand smocked cotton clothes that any little girl or boy would love to have.  Unlike some of the new high-end brands that create dresses for little girls that are completely over the top, Jill’s smocked dresses are beautiful and understated where less is more.  As Jill says she likes to think they could be worn to a party one day but be worn while out jumping in puddles the next. Every piece is individual and made to order, a recent assignment of five bridesmaid dresses all had the same material but each with different smocking.  Her customers get to choose both the material and style although, a compliment to Jill,her return customers often leave it to her to decide on the detail. Jill does dresses, shirts, rompers and nightwear in pretty cotton checks, stripes and little prints – in fact anything that can be smocked! Her love of smocking is much like her love of jigsaw puzzles – she enjoys the symmetry of it and seeing the pattern emerge.  Her evenings are always spent smocking in front of the TV, while she does her machine work during the day.  Despite living in Wiltshire in the past, and kicking off her teaching career in Marlborough, Jill and her husband Rod haven’t always lived in Shalbourne.  After a stint in France they moved to Devon and it was while living there that Jill thought she would see where her love of sewing took her, and began to take her creations to a little weekly flea market in Chagford.  The response was great with her selling 4 dresses in the first week, spurring her on to attend further markets at National Trust venues and Exeter Festival week.  Jill has two sons, James and Will and all 4 grandchildren have modelled for the Smocked Frocks brand! They all live nearby and her latest model is her new 5 month old grandchild Hatty. Her biggest learning curve has been gauging tastes – understanding what people are looking for and the types of materials they like.  She says she has lovely customers all over the world who have been with her for years.  Many are grandmothers and mothers with babies who stay with her for 7 years or more.  Some just want to carry on traditions – one grandmother’s mother gave her smocked dresses to take her children out of hospital, and she wants to do the same for her children.  In this digital world she rarely meets her customers but through the process feels like she gets to know them.  Many remain on her mailing list even when their children are too big as they just love to see Jill’s designs. When Jill has spare time and left over material she makes little smocked gowns and sends them to the neo-natal department at John Radcliffe in Oxford. They are often given to babies too tiny to survive and Jill feels it’s really important that these little babies have something beautiful in those few moments of their lives. Having previously lived in the stunning yet harsh and elemental Dartmoor, Jill loves the undulating rolling hills and soft green of Wiltshire. She’s also really enjoying being in a less remote location and closer to people.  In Wiltshire you’re far enough out of London but not too far – it’s a good stepping off point for North, West and South.  She’s also enjoying being back with her old teaching friends and loving picking up from where they left off.  And with smocking having been developed in England in the Middle Ages, it’s rather apt that historic Wiltshire is where Smocked Frocks calls home. www.smockedfrocks.co.uk

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A Treat of a Getaway

Sam Bertram

5 September 2014

It’s no coincidence that Brittany and Guy Manning’s Michelin Starred Red Lion Inn in East Chisenbury has just been named 3rd best pub in the country by the Good Food Guide.  Their high standards and desire to provide the best experience is unmistakable in both their pub and luxury guest house. Troutbeck Guest house is across the road from The Red Lion in East Chisenbury and a perfect place to relax while enjoying the great cuisine The Red Lion has to offer.  It’s the ideal getaway – you’re in complete tranquillity in a small Wiltshire village, while being only a short walk from a Michelin starred dining experience.  The attention to detail is phenomenal.  Every room has bi-fold doors that open to a private terrace looking out onto the river and the Salisbury Plain beyond. The rooms are equipped with high-end furnishings that anyone would love to have in their own home.  There are standing lamps by the bedside, exquisite linen and the ‘Benjamin’ has a Victorian slipper bath where you can relax and read while looking out over the beautiful view.  The paint colours are warm and inviting and there are lovely finishing touches – a selection of fine teas, natural beauty products from Wiltshire based Quintessentially English and slate signposting. I’m already dreaming of leaving the kids for the night (with care of course!) and spending some time there.  The 5 rooms are all named after people who have been part of the Red Lion.  Anglesea refers to their first sous chef Tom Anglesea who they met while both working at Per Se in New York, while Chamberlain is neighbour Carol & Barry’s surname (it’s said Carol was born in the pub & Barry is their life saver – helping them with anything that needs doing!).  Manser is in reference to John who owns the pub premises and stepped in 14 years ago to rescue the old village inn from closure.  To add to this there’s the personal touch of framed menus dotted about from places where Guy and Brittany have eaten & enjoyed the food. 2008 was the year of all things for Guy and Brittany – they started The Red Lion & married in Vegas.  Brittany says that even a wedding with 20 people was stressful!  You have to take your hat off to them; they have had two children Max, 3 ½ and Mini, 2 ½ while building two successful businesses. They both came to cooking through different ways.  Brittany grew up in New Jersey and was always baking as a little girl so the writing was on the wall.  She spent 4 years at culinary school on Rhode Island before being offered an internship at Thomas Kellar’s Per Se while competing in the Culinary Olympics in Germany.  Guy on the other hand came through a less traditional route, and it was only after some adventures sailing across the Atlantic and to Antarctica that he settled into the culinary world.  A born natural he spent some time as sous chef at Chez Bruce in London before taking a role at Per Se in New York and the rest as you’d say is history… The Mannings knew how to cook and were longing to cook what they wanted in a relaxed environment, so after stints in London and Spain they set about pub hunting.  With Guy having spent his childhood in Newbury the South West was a logical choice and, when they met John Manser and discovered they had much in common, The Red Lion soon became their business to build. So next time you’re looking for a spoiling place to stay with fantastic food on your doorstep then Troutbeck has to be it.  An afternoon of reading (preferably in the Victorian slipper bath) looking out across the plain, followed by a delicious meal in the Michelin starred Red Lion and finally sinking into one of their luxury beds for an uninterrupted sleep - tempted? I know I am. http://www.redlionfreehouse.com/

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Le Gavroche @ Mark Wilkinson

Sam Bertram

4 September 2014

This week I felt extremely lucky to be invited to the launch of Wiltshire based furniture designer Mark Wilkinson's new Portobello kitchen, taking inspiration from the architectural lines of the terraced homes on Portobello road. Besides being able to view the stunning new range there was the added incentive of a cooking demo from Michel Roux Jr! It was fitting that Michel was there as he has a Mark Wilkinson kitchen in his home in Clapham. Held in Mark Wilkinson's showroom in Holland Park, and with excellent hospitality from the team, some champers and canapés were the perfect accompaniment for a bit of browsing. The Portobello kitchen had me dreaming of what my kitchen could be like. Absolutely stunning with a clean design that perfectly blends the traditional with contemporary it feels calm – a fitting place for the home hub. There are the unmistakable Mark Wilkinson touches - inlaid handles in polished Nickel and trays discretely made to look like part of the cabinet design. As one guest said the tray looked so good you'd need a backup one to drop down when you used the tray! The circular island is representative of the kitchen table of old with stylish drawers and neat touches like a quadrant chopping board that fits perfectly on the island and slots neatly on the edge. Now I'm no kitchen guru but if this could be mine I would be one really happy lady. I spoke with one of the designers who explained that one of the things that makes Mark Wilkinson different is his designs can be used throughout the home. So you could use the Portobello for both your kitchen and cupboards in your bedrooms but because of the bespoke nature no one room will look the same.  This is quality at its best. And what a charming man Michel Roux Jr. is. We were a fairly small group so as Michel Roux prepared his canapés he chatted animatedly engaging with the audience and their questions. What struck me about Michel Roux Jr. is his complete lack of pretentiousness.  He is self-effacing and honest and he put the room completely at ease joking with us all with his infectious smile. Not that I meet celebrities very often, but my favourite people are those that don't intimidate and Michel Roux Jr. is just that. And it goes without saying that his food is delicious. He prepared two canapés - crispy chorizo rolls and a petit pate de pezenas, a spiced mutton pie brought to Pezenas by Lord Clive from India. Yum! We did joke about how he managed to stay so thin while cooking so much great food. It's no secret that he loves to run marathons and as he said 'when you run marathons you get really hungry so I get to eat delicious food all the time.'  And he doesn’t pander to the eating fads - he loves animal fat and cream etc. and says it’s all about balance. Well if that's not a motivator for getting super fit then I don't know what is. We also touched on the issue of obesity in Britain and Michel's view is that it all begins when you’re young.  If you teach your kids from primary school age to love local fresh food by picking it straight from where it is grown or regularly visiting local markets then you are starting them off on the right foot.  Sounds like Local Uncovered could help out there… It was a real privilege to witness the best of some of what Wiltshire has to offer and reminded me why I set out on this journey in the first place.  Mark Wilkinson has made a name for himself, and deservedly so, but there's so much more waiting to be discovered! http://www.mwf.com/

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