|A La Ronde|
the dream house of cousins Jane and Mary Parminter in 1796
with more recent improvements!
For some time now, Devon OU graduates Ann Reed and John Eaton-Terry have been organising stimulating activities for local AOUG members (Association of Open University Graduates). Ann has hosted poetry and drama workshops at her home outside the village of Feniton, while John has welcomed members to his house in Lympstone, as the venue for some very interesting talks about any and every aspect of life of the early nineteenth century - given by the members of course.
On Friday 29th June, despite reports of some of the most violent storms of the 'summer', a dozen determined graduates decided to brave the elements and supplement their talk at John's house with a trip to see a fascinating early nineteenth century house just outside Lympstone - a visit organised by Ann Reed.
'A La Ronde' is a very surprising house indeed . . .
|outside - an araucaria|
|- with extraordinary fruits|
The gardens are beautiful - although nowhere near their original splendour, apparently. A well-groomed croquet lawn with stunning views of the Exe estuary is overlooked by the house - and a very handsome monkey puzzle tree.
The design of the house can be seen easily from outside. The original occupants - unmarried cousins Jane and Mary Parminter - had it built to a design by their teenage cousin, John Lowder, in 1796. They had the brilliant idea of a hexadecagonal house - with those of its sixteen sides which face more or less south allowing the sun to pour through the windows into a series of rooms. The Parminter cousins could move from room to room (and from one activity to the next) as the sun shone through different windows. When the final room (the dining room) lost the sun's light, they could retire to the central room - the octagon.
Unfortunately, there was very little sun on the day the AOUG members visited - so, as the temperatures were unseasonably low, and it looked like rain - the stewards of A La Ronde invited 'Group B' to start having a look around - without waiting for the official tour.
|inside - Jen entertains on the|
beautiful walnut boudoir grand
(Gebrüder Knake, Münster)
|among the Parminters' collection|
other extraordinary objects
- an emu's egg from Australia
The first room they entered was the drawing room. As everyone explored the room, and inspected the many fascinating curios collected by the Parminters, Jennifer played for them on the magnificent walnut wood Knake brothers grand piano. This piano is quite probably not an original feature, but the 1789 box piano could well have been. However, visitors were not invited to play that!
|A very delicate|
- to the coronation
of William IV
The cousins lived together in A La Ronde for fifteen years. In 1811 they completed their work on the chapel, school and almshouses 'for poor spinsters' on the land attached to A La Ronde. Then, tragically, Jane died - leaving Mary to continue their charitable work, and to look after A La Ronde. When Jane died, George III was still King, but Mary lived to see three further monarchs accede to the throne - and was even invited to the coronation of William IV.
|the male interloper|
Reverend Oswald Reichel
who took over from 1886-1923
and ordered major changes
Lowder's original design was a single-storey thatched 'wig-wam'. Reichel, during his thirty seven year tenure, had an upper floor built - with some of the ground floor used for staircases. He had the thatch replaced by a tiled roof, with dormer windows, and a central lantern above the octagon. Fortunately he did not destroy the unique collection of shells and feathers, brought together by Jane and Mary and used to decorate the inside of the roof's apex.
|Ann Reed and Kate McVie|
admire the view from
one of Reichel's bedrooms
there was no running water
Reichel also introduced the ultimate in late Victorian luxury - an indoor bathroom - on the first floor! That meant a water tower to create enough pressure, which made another innovation possible - a flushing lavatory!
|with the latest inventions|
|He brought things up to date|
The house is no longer a model for sustainable living. It is not so easy to follow the sun from room to room on the ground floor, and the layout upstairs does not follow the same scheme. The answer, of course was artificial light. First gas, and later electricity, were used to light the rooms instead of sunlight - a policy we are still slow to break free from today!
|including gas lighting|
|and a 'dumb waiter'|
Despite the changes ordered by the Reverend Reichel, it is still possible to look past his final Edwardian vision - to see how Mary and Jane lived in the house, as originally designed by Lowder in the eighteenth century
|Ann inspects the original dinner service|
What a pity that the weather was not conducive to a little al fresco dining after seeing the house. The views are outstanding, even on an overcast day, but it was just too cold.
|Ice creams on the lawn?|
- not this time!
|Louis Stanislav Xavier de France|
acceded to the French throne 1795
restored to the monarchy 1814
as Louis XVIII
defended the First French Republic
installed himself First Consul 1799
proclaimed Emperor by Senate 1804
|Sonia Woolley is|
in 'All for William'
Wed 15th Feb 2012
' an interesting period of history . . . '
On Wednesday 15th February this year, actress Sonia Woolley came to St Mary Arches Church in Exeter, to recreate the story of another unmarried woman of the early nineteenth century who created a unique home for herself (and her brother) - Dorothy Wordsworth.
Sonia's theatrical gem, raised money for the restoration of St Mary Arches' sister church, St Stephens, in Exeter High Street. Partly as a result of that St Stephens Church will be reopened to the public on 19th July.
To see full details of Sonia's visit, and the St Stephens Project, follow this link to 'All for William'.