Thursday, November 09, 2006

Blackfoot Hall

Yes, Blackfoot Hall, a wonderful place, still got it's old but unused chapel, the absurd folly that you can see across, on a fine day, the rolling acres. It is just one of those magical, quintesentially English piles. In former times, the estate was vast. The kennels were full of hounds and the stables full of hunters. The estate manager had an imposing house and the farm cottages were quaint with their uniform battleship grey painted woodwork and porches and most of the village, including the brewery, were property of the Blackfoots. But, the ebbs and flows of outrageous financial fortunes and of course, missfortunes, have taken their toll. Now the farm cottages have porches and range rovers parked in their little drives and the acres have been, over the years, leased out or sold off.

But, the river still runs through it and Milverton has managed to retain the fishing rights.

I remember shortly after his father died, and after a bitterly disputed will and death duties and debts were sorted, Blackfoot phoned me to say that things had come to a pretty pass. He had inherited the Hall with just four acres and that was mostly the roof tiles that needed replacing.

I believe he still ownes the Blackfoot Arms and probably, under some dubious covenant, the brewery. In order to make ends meet, he and his wife Florence take in paying guests. They have a mottley crew of loyal retainers who administer to the needs of the guests. First and formost there is, of course, Chef Swelter, a huge man, probably in his late seventies, who presides, in his subterrainian kitchen with its coal fired ranges, in chef's whites, so starched, that should he make a sudden movement, he would crack open.

The intense heat of the kitchen and his fondness for copious pots of local ale, means that he perspires profusely and the sweat drops like balls of mercury onto his starched chest and slide down and plop onto the floor.

There is Brittany, a vivacious, but totally stupid young woman from the village. An immensely hard worker who peels, chops, washes up, burnishes the ancient copper pans and sometimes comes in slightly late and breathless in the mornings either flushed with love and romance or tight lipped and moody after an unhappy binge drinking session.

Mrs. Worthington, a benign, unflappable housekeeper, who is a culinary saint when it comes to making jams, chutneys, pickles and other preserves who along with Ben the kitchen hand, manage to provide and general dogsbody, take care of the food.

Then there is the magnificent Mercedes, a voluptuous 40 year old who waits at table. She invariably wears dramatic purple or black dresses, her thick black hair is coiled above her head as high as a bishops mitre and when a little tipsy is prone to bursting into arias.

The gardener, Lovegrove, formerly a gamekeeper, but now a dedicated poacher, keeps the larder full of game and fish.

Florence Blackfoot, somehow, manages to preside over this bizzare household. Florence has the alure of Isadora Duncan and is often to be seen plucking bouquets and peaches when in season, from the orangery.


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