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from TeaAntiques.com
Edition Ten

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Featured Antique

The Featured Antique is a rare and beautiful Caughley slops basin, dating from c1785. These basins were used for the emptying of tea slops from the bottom of cups between cups of tea. There was one produced per teaset, so they are consequently much more difficult to find than tea bowls, cups and saucers, which were more numerous. They were also larger than sugar bowls, but are sometimes confused with them.

This is a very fine example of a Caughley Slops basin and can be viewed on the TeaAntiques web site.

More details of this item and other tea related antiques can be found by visiting my web site at www.TeaAntiques.com.

Highclere Castle, Newbury, Berkshire, England

This month my travels took me to Highclere Castle, a stunning ornate and rather Elizabethan style castle home to the Carnarvon family. The family are famed from their discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb and treasures in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt in 1922.

The castle is set high on the rolling Berkshire downs and approached along a winding drive, the castle looms up over the hills, like a giant wedding cake, iced with towers, pinnacles and piped round with stone balustrades. It was designed by Sir Charles Barry, who also designed the Houses of Parliament in London, which he was working on at the same time as Highclere. Barry was brought in by Henry Herbert, the 3rd Earl of Carnarvon, to make changes to what was then his rather plain Georgian square house and change it he certainly did! The original Georgian house was totally encased by a new ornate stone building. Above the main entrance to the house, boldly carved in stone, is the date 1842 when the changes to the house were completed.

This delightful house and its setting has been used in films and television programmes, it will always be fixed in my mind as the country 'party' house in the BBC TV series of 'Jeeves and Worcester' by P G Wodehouse. It is easy to imagine those cocktail sipping scoundrels here with their black and white evening attire, a warm summers evening enjoying the grand parties or card evenings. Those were the days!

The interior of the Castle was completed by the 4th Earl of Carnarvon. Many of Sir Charles Barry's interior designs were used but with some changes and additions made by the architect Thomas Allom.

Passing through the front door, one enters a very high gothic hall, with its fan-vaulting and church like columns. This leads off to the grand library on the left. The walls of the library are lined with leather bound books, nestling in very grand carved and partially gilded integral book cases. Items of furniture in this room includes an Egyptian/Regency style desk and matching chair. These belonged to the defeated and exiled Napoleon Bonaparte and had been specially made for his home in St Helena.

From the rather masculine library, one moves on through to the music room, a very pretty little room with a most beautifully painted ceiling dating from 1776, showing a scene depicting the patron goddess of Athens in Greece. This ceiling actually comes from the original Georgian house and was incorporated here as part of the redesign.

Leading off the music room is the most charming drawing room. Here the taste has a very French feel, with its rococo light decoration to the ceiling and doors, the doors hung in beautiful arched and gilded architraves reminiscent of a grand French chateau.

Much of the room's exquisite furniture is also rather French in taste and style, including some lovely gilt framed open arm chairs. These have gilded carved wood frames and needlework coverings, they are not French but actually English in origin. A very large desk is embellished with stunning ormolu mounts, handles and escutcheons. It has very curious ormolu feet, each of the four feet terminating in a pair of satires hoofed feet!

Between this room and the smoking room is a secret cupboard located in the door recess of the wall thickness. It was in this cupboard that the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who was a keen Egyptologist, kept hidden some of his Egyptian antiquities. These treasures had remained hidden away until they were rediscovered in 1987 by his grandson, Lord Carnarvon. The artefacts found were from excavations made in Egypt around 1907 and 1920, taken from the tombs of the Kings and nobles.

On the ground floor of the castle are many more rooms including the smoking room, boudoir, saloon, dining room and grand carved wooden staircase.

It amazes me the number of bedrooms in the castle, a total of 31! The first floor sees bedroom after bedroom, some suites and having associated dressing rooms or rooms for your man or ladies maid. Our present Queen has been a guest and stayed in he castle.

In addition to the lovely rooms in the castle there is the added bonus of an exhibition room in the basement of the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb and treasures.

The 5th Earl of Carnarvon had been a passionate Egyptologist and had spent many winter seasons in Egypt on his quest for discoveries. His greatest discovery was that of the tomb of the boy king Tutankhamun in the winter of 1922, making the Carnarvon name famous throughout the world.

Working with Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank, Luxor, they made this shattering discovery of his tomb, still sealed and in tact with all its hidden treasures, secrets and the mummified body of Tutankhamun who died at about the age of 18, (he ruled between approximately 1361-1352 BC).

The exhibition in the castle shows many of the 5th Earls personal belongings that accompanied him on his expeditions to Egypt. Also, there are many Egyptian artefacts including a painted wooden sarcophagus, figures of the gods, shabti figures buried with the dead, etc. There are black and white photos taken at the site, including a wonderful one showing the team at a refined celebratory dinner at the entrance to the tomb! A model shows the internal layout of this relatively small tomb compared to others in the Valley of the Kings. Although the tomb is quite small, the treasures which it was found to contain were breathtaking. These treasures are now on view to the public in the Cairo museum in Egypt.

There are believed to be deadly curses put on the people who dare disturb these ancient tombs, Tutankhamun's was no different. Was it then this curse that resulted in the death of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon in Egypt, before the excavations were complete? He died from a cut made whilst shaving with his cut throat razor, which turned septic. A tragic end after such a wondrous discovery. Other members of the excavation team also died in strange circumstances, but Howard Carter lived to the good age of 65!

I am fortunate in owning some Minton plates from a dinner service belonging to the 5th Earl of Carnarvon. Each of the moulded white plates carry the monogram of two linked 'C's, for Carnarvon and Chesterfield and the Earl's coronet. The 4th Earl had married Lady Evelyn Stanhope, daughter of the Earl of Chesterfield.

The plates are beautifully marked, this one showing a date mark of an impressed 6 in a circle, for 1906. Others in the plates I have various dates from 1894, so the set was obviously replenished as required, bought through the retailers Mortlock's, Oxford Street, London. Who knows who may have eaten from these plates?

Highclere Castle is still very much a home and one containing items of great quality and interest.

For details on its summer season opening times, etc, you can ring the Castle on +44 (0) 1635 253210, or Fax them on +44 (0) 1635 255315.

My link with Egypt continues with my afternoon tea recommendation, taking tea in the Old Winter Palace, Luxor, where the 5th Earl of Carnarvon stayed.

Tea at The 'Old Winter Palace' Luxor, Egypt

I continue by following in the footsteps of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon of ancient Egypt, taking you for tea at the Old Winter Palace, in Luxor.

The Old Winter Palace is the most charming and romantic of hotels, with a strong atmosphere of the past and it's grand life of days gone by. It is indeed a palatial building, built in the nineteenth century as a winter palace for the King of Egypt, but for many years run as an hotel, now operated by the 'Sofitel' hotel chain. It was in this hotel that the 5th Earl of Carnarvon stayed and so have many other famous people including the late Princess of Wales, Princess Diana.

The hotel stands very proud and colonial like on the Corniche to the river Nile.

From the hotel there are views across the busy Corniche, the bustling Nile and beyond to the West Bank, green and lush on what were the flood plains turning quickly to dessert and the stark Mountains. It is in these mountains that the Valley of the Kings lies hidden and the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb was made in 1922.

I have had the great pleasure of staying in the Old Winter Palace on many occasions and can recommend its charm and rather faded elegance as a refined and comfortable place in which to stay in Luxor. The hotel is traditionally decorated and there are many antiques dotted about, including some divine French furniture.

The rooms are light and airy, with the original very tall ceilings, those on the front have French windows opening onto rather small balconies, but which have the most tremendous views towards the Nile and the West Bank. This is a lovely place to sit in the evening, with a cocktail watching the most beautiful sun sets I have ever seen. The sound of horse drawn Caleshes outside transport you back in time.

After a day of exploring the many sites of interest in Luxor, you can return to take afternoon tea in the Victoria lounge.

A lovely large and grandly but comfortably furnished room which over looks the tranquil large gardens of the hotel, the largest garden in the centre of Luxor.

Tea is a casually smart affair, no swimming attire, etc., which is just how standards should be maintained. Tea is laid out on a large marble topped gilt framed table to one side of the lounge, from which you are served delicate sandwiches held together with winter palace cocktail sticks. Other delights on offer are cakes and pastries as well as unexpected English Scones, cream and jam!

Tea is served to you by well dressed staff in traditional uniform at your comfortable armchair or settee, or if preferred a table and chairs. What a blissful way to pass the hot afternoon.

Whilst in Luxor, as well as visiting Tutankhamun's tomb, which still contains his mummified remains, there are endless attractions of ancient temples such as Luxor, Karnak and Hapshetsut and many splendid tombs, richly decorated.

When staying in Luxor, my first choice would be at the Old Winter Palace. However, if you prefer a more modern hotel with more mod cons, there are others to choose from, including the Sonesta St George, the Hilton, Sheraton and the Movenpick. If you do decide to stay at a hotel other than the Old Winter Palace, then I strongly recommend that you at least visit it for afternoon tea, or to take a formal dinner in the intimate 1886 restaurant, where they serve French cuisine.

Hot 'tea' tip!

It was whilst in Egypt, that I discovered the easy and non-messy way of dealing with tea served to you with a tea bag on a string floating in the cup! I watched how the situation was dealt with by 'Norma', my Egyptologist guide.

The simple trick is to use the teaspoon to lift the bag clear of the tea just above the cup. The simple trick is to use the teaspoon to lift the bag clear of the tea just above the cup.
Taking the string by the tag, wind the string over the front on the bag and round the back of the spoon bowl. From here you can pull on the tag, squeezing out the tea. Taking the string by the tag, wind the string over the front on the bag and round the back of the spoon bowl. From here you can pull on the tag, squeezing out the tea.
Then using the tag push the bag from the spoon bowl either onto the edge of the saucer, or into a bin. No mess of tea dripping everywhere! Then using the tag push the bag from the spoon bowl either onto the edge of the saucer, or into a bin. No mess of tea dripping everywhere!

However, the best solution is to get them to serve you tea the proper way, in a pot, preferably with loose leaf tea, it makes all the difference in the world!

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