by Elizabeth Miles
One of the best things about Friends cultural trips is that doors are opened for us that are normally closed to the general public. This could not have been more true than on this visit to London and Oxford. Thanks to the reputation of the Friends and to the wide range of global contacts we have, Edwin Mok (Collectors Circle) and Therese Lesaffre (Tours) were able to use their valuable connections to give our small group unprecedented access to the British Museum, the Fan Museum, Bonhams auction house, Waddesdon Manor, Oxford University’s China Centre, the Ashmolean Museum and to both Wadham and St Hugh’s Colleges.
Waddesdon Manor was a revelation. A building more suited to the banks of the Loire than to rural Buckinghamshire, this is a grand house designed and built for entertainment by Ferdinand de Rothschild in 1874 and it now houses the Rothschild Collection, one of the world’s finest collections of decorative arts primarily from the 18th century. The history of the Rothschild family is fascinating. Ranging from medieval to modern, they were the greatest collectors of the 19th century and they bought only the very best pieces available. We were fortunate to be given a personal tour of the house and grounds organised by Anna Ellerton, a longtime Friends member and a guide and lecturer at the Manor. We also managed to squeeze in a small exhibition of the drawings of the sculptor, Henry Moore, providing a valuable insight into his sculptural works.
From Waddesdon, we sped off to Oxford and to the newly built and very beautiful Dickson Poon China Centre Building within the confines of St Hughes College and opened by the Duke of Cambridge only last year. Drawing upon Oxford’s historic relationship with China, the centre is destined to become the foremost place of study about China in the world. We were treated to a personal tour of the building and strolled through the Fellows gardens for tea at her home with the warden of St Hughes, Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC who produced some exceptionally good scones, not to mention chocolate cake!
After a very comfortable night in the rooms of Wadham College, which dates from 1610, we were treated to a most informative tour of the college, its chapel and delightful gardens by Professor Jeffrey Hackney, Emeritus Fellow and Lecturer in Law, who has recently marked over 50 years at the university. Sir Christopher Wren is perhaps the College’s most famous alumnus and designer of the clock in the historic front quad.
From Wadham, it was onwards to our final visit of the trip – the Ashmolean Museum and a private viewing of paintings from the Michael Sullivan collection of Chinese paintings, 2 exquisite but minute Chinese robes, and historic publications especially selected for us and discussed by the curator, Shelagh Vainker. We were able to spend a little time exploring the treasures of the rest of the museum (and of course the shop) before boarding our bus for London – tired but completely sated. It was a wonderful trip and I am already hoping that Edwin and Therese will start to plan another.