Cavendish Mews is a smart set of flats in Mayfair where flapper and modern woman, the Honourable Lettice Chetwynd has set up home after coming of age and gaining her allowance. To supplement her already generous allowance, and to break away from dependence upon her family, Lettice has established herself as a society interior designer, so her flat is decorated with a mixture of elegant antique Georgian pieces and modern Art Deco furnishings, using it as a showroom for what she can offer to her well heeled clients.
Today however, we have followed Lettice southwest from her home, across St James’ Park to Hans Crescent in Belgravia, where the smart Edwardian four storey red brick and mock Tudor London home of the de Virre family stands. Two of Lettice’s Embassy Club coterie of bright young things are getting married: Dickie Channon, eldest surviving son of the Marquess of Taunton, and Margot de Virre, only daughter of Lord Charles and Lady Lucie de Virre. Lettice is visiting the home of the bride, which is a hive of activity in the lead up to the forthcoming nuptials.
Lettice has just been spending time with Margot and her mother in the house’s gold drawing room and is just leaving to return home to Cavendish Mews to meet a potential client. As she walks brusquely down the hall, past Lord de Virre’s study, her louis heels click loudly against the parquetry floor.
“Margot! Margot, is that you?” Lord de Virre’s voice calls out through the partially open door.
Lettice stops, turns and pops her head into the study. Decorated with dark mahogany furniture, gold embossed wallpaper, thick Persian rugs and trophies and souvenirs of Lord de Virre’s travels, it is a masculine room which exudes comfort and cosiness. The room is dominated by a great mahogany rolltop desk, at which Lord de Virre sits hunched over. The scratch of a pen against paper can be heard, and a thin silver trail of exotic smelling smoke arises from the silver ashtray sitting to his right.
“No Lord de Virre,” Lettice answers his call. “It’s only me.”
“Ah!” Lord de Virre turns around in his seat, beaming at his young guest. “Lettice! We don’t see you nearly enough these days!”
“London calls,” she replies gaily.
“Yes, with all its delicious temptations for the young.” He picks up a small glass of port and sips it, and it is then that Lettice notices the finely faceted decanter of deep golden liquid on the desk’s surface. “Have you been visiting the bride-to-be?”
“I have Lord de Virre.”
“Good girl! She needs some distraction from her mother and her endless lists of wedding to-dos.”
“Is that why you’re hiding in here, Lord de Virre?”
The older man colours at Lettice’s suggestion. “Oh, I’m no good with table settings, wedding dresses and that sort of thing,” he blusters, fiddling with the writing paper on the desk in front of him. “Anyway, I’ve just been scribbling down a few words whilst I think of them for my father-of-the-bride speech.”
Lettice blushes too, not wishing to cause embarrassment to a man whom she likes very much. Charles de Virre, unlike her own father, has been anything but distant, and always showed interest in anything she spoke about when she came to visit or stay with de Virres, even as a silly little girl or teenager before the war. As a businessman, rather than a gentleman like her father, Lord de Virre always encouraged Lettice’s desire to follow her dream of becoming an interior designer, and his support and sound business advice has been welcome since the inception of her enterprise.
“You know,” Lettice remarks to try and dispel the unease she has created as she slips through the door and into the male preserve. “I always found this room fascinating: intimidating but fascinating nonetheless.”
“Yes, well,” Lord de Virre replies, picking up his cigarette and drawing on it before blowing out a plume of greyish white smoke. “The secrets of industry are always interesting to a young entrepreneur ahead of her time.”
“That’s very kind of you to say, Lord de Virre.” Lettice colours at the compliment. She walks over to Lord de Virre. “Margot and I used to sneak in here sometimes whilst you were away during the war.”
“Did you now?” He cocks an eyebrow at his slender young companion as she sidles up to his big desk. “I didn’t know that. Cheeky girls. I hope that Lucie never caught you in here.”
“No.” Lettice smiles. “She never did. We were careful. Margot always said that she had a sense of you in this room. She said if she could catch a whiff of your eau de cologne, or your cigarettes,” She glances at the half smoked cigarette in his hand. “Then you were alright. You might be in danger, but you would be alright.” She titters in an embarrassed fashion. “It sounds so silly hearing myself say that, but I guess it was Margot’s and my game, or mantra perhaps as the war went on and we grew up.”
“Well,” Lord de Virre replies softly, touched by Lettice’s confession. “It must have worked, because here I am.”
“Yes,” Lettice chuckles. “Here you are.”
“Well, it was either yours and Margot’s mantra, or Lucie’s photo.” He indicates to a photo of his wife in a brass frame on the desktop next to one of Margot as a baby.
“It’s a very pretty photo of her,” Lettice observes.
“Yes, Lucie had it taken in 1916. I carried it inside my coat in the pocket next to my heart for the remaining two years of the war. She swears that’s what brought me home.”
“Well, it was one thing or the other. The main thing is, Lord de Virre, you did make it home.”
“But many others didn’t.” the older man speaks the unspoken ending to her sentence. “Yes. I dare say that Lucie wouldn’t have been so happy with her prospective son-in-law had Margot come home with the news in 1914 when young Harry was still heir apparent.”
“Would you have minded, Lord de Virre?”
“Me? Good heavens no!” He takes another sip of his port, and indicates to the bottle, the invitation to imbibe declined politely by Lettice with a gentle shake of her head. “Margot could have loved him before he was the heir apparent, and he was destined to a life of impecuniosity and obscurity.”
“Margot said that she would have married him even if he was titleless, penniless and you disapproved.”
“Did she? Well! Bully for her! Good to know she has some of my fighting spirit that Lucie hasn’t managed to tame.” He smiles to himself as he runs his fingers over the frame of his daughter as a baby. “No, I have enough money from my business arrangements to have kept Margot in stockings and fans for a good many years. I think I can comfortably extend that largess to support them both. Just between you and I, Lettice, I suspect that is why the Marquess is so keen on the match of his heir with the daughter of a man in trade with a bought title.”
“Surely, surely you aren’t suggesting the Marquess?” Lettice’s question trails off.
“Unlike your father, perhaps under the wise influence of his eldest son, the Marquess hasn’t modernised, and unlike me, he didn’t have a good war. No, I’m afraid to say that he may be property rich, but,” He huffs awkwardly. “It appears that that’s where it ends.”
“But he’s giving Margot and Dickie a house in Cornwall!”
“And who do you think is bankrolling the renovations to have it electrified, connected to the Penzance telephone exchange, plumbed for goodness sake?”
“Oh, I had no idea!” Lettice rests her hand on the edge of the desk to steady herself at the news.
“Well,” Lord de Virre points the glowing end of his cigarette at Lettice. “Just don’t you say anything.” He taps the side of his nose knowingly. “At least Lucie is happy. She can’t do enough to please young Dickie. She finally gets her wish.”
“Margot’s happiness.” Lettice smiles
“Well yes, that too,” Lord de Virre remarks. “But first and foremost a real title in the family.” He chuckles cheekily to himself.
“Oh Lord de Virre!” Lettice scoffs. “You are awful!”
“Now, thinking of business, Lettice, I’m glad you’re here. I’d like to discuss a little bit of business with you.”
“With me, Lord de Virre?” she asks in surprise.
“Yes Lettice.” he replies matter-of-factly. “You are a successful young businesswoman, are you not?”
“Well, I don’t know if I’d go quite that far,” Lettice blushes again at the compliment. “Yet.”
“Nonsense! You’ve been listening to your parents too much, my girl! Now, I believe that once the honeymoon is over, the newlyweds are planning to invite you down to their new seaside residence in Penzance to show it off. When my darling daughter asks you to redecorate a few of the principal rooms,”
“That’s very presumptuous of you, Lord de Virre!”
“Not at all, Lettice. I know she will for a fact.”
“And how do you know?”
“Because I am the one who planted the seed in her mind.” He laughs good naturedly. “The house is really quite beautiful, but it’s not been lived in and neglected for far too long. The old retainers who caretake the place do as good a job as they are able, but it needs some modernisation and updating beyond electricity, a telephone and plumbed bathrooms. So, when she suggests that you do some redecoration for her, stand your ground and tell her that you won’t do it as a friendly favour. You’re a businesswoman Lettice, so she must pay.”
“But you just said that Dickie hasn’t a bean! How are they to pay?”
“Calm yourself, child,” Lord de Virre waves his hands in front of Lettice, trying to dampen her concerns. “Whatever she wants, whatever it costs, she can have. You just send your bills to me. Alright?”
“Really Lord de Virre?”
“Yes, Lettice. And just think what a feather that will be for your business hat. First the Duchess of Whitby, and then the daughter-in-law of the Marquess of Taunton!”
“Well, that would be something.” Lettice muses at the thought, a smile teasing the corners of her mouth upwards.
“Then we have an arrangement, Miss Chetwynd?” Lord de Virre extends his hand towards Lettice.
“I think we do, Lord de Virre.” Lettice takes his hand, and they shake in businesslike style to seal the arrangement.
Dark and masculine, this tiny corner of Lord de Virre’s study is different from what you might think, for it is made up entirely of 1:12 size dollhouse miniatures, some of which come from my own childhood.
Fun things to look for in this tableaux include:
The mahogany rolltop desk is a miniature that I have had since I was about eleven years old. The top does roll up and down, and the pigeon holes and writing area of the desk move forward, just like a real rolltop desk. I bought the desk along with a lot of other 1:12 miniatures from a High Street speciality dollhouse shop in England. The receipt with a few handwritten amendments is actually the scroll with the pinked edge in the far right pigeon hole of the desk! Much of the printing has faded, but as you an see the handwritten amendments can still be seen in black ink.
Lord de Virre’s family photos are all real photos, produced to high standards in 1:12 size on photographic paper by Little Things Dollhouse Miniatures in Lancashire. The frames are from Melody Jane’s Dollhouse Suppliers in the United Kingdom and are made of metal with glass in each.
On the desk are some 1:12 artisan miniature ink bottles, stamps, a blotter, a roller and letter rack, all made by the Little Green Workshop in England who specialise in high end, high quality miniatures. The ink bottles are made from tiny faceted crystal beads and have sterling silver bottoms and lids. The ink blotter is sterling silver too and has a blotter made of real black felt, cut meticulously to size to fit snugly inside the frame. The stamp is made of brass. The silver letter rack which contains some 1:12 size correspondence, also made by the Little Green Workshop. The silver pen with a pearl end and the letter opener with a cloisonné handle are also made by the Little Green Workshop. All the piles of correspondence, bills and documents atop the desk were made meticulously by Little Things Dollhouse Miniatures in Lancashire.
Also made by the Little Green Workshop is the silver ashtray. Made from a metal piece used for jewellery making, it features faceted crystals inserted into it. It has ‘ash’ moulded inside it so it looks remarkably real. A single cigarette with a red burning tip rests against its lip. This is the smallest of my 1:12 miniature collection. The cigarette is a tiny five millimetres long and just one millimetre wide! Made of paper, I have to be so careful that it doesn’t get lost when I use it! Also on the desk is a box of Swan Vesta matches, which is a 1:12 miniature hand made by Jonesy’s Miniatures in England. Swan Vestas matches are manufactured under the House of Swan brand, which is also responsible for making other smoking accessories such as cigarette papers, flints and filter tips. The matches are manufactured by Swedish Match in Sweden using local, sustainably grown aspen. The Swan brand began in 1883 when the Collard and Kendall match company in Bootle on Merseyside near Liverpool introduced ‘Swan wax matches’. These were superseded by later versions including ‘Swan White Pine Vestas’ from the Diamond Match Company. These were formed of a wooden splint soaked in wax. They were finally christened ‘Swan Vestas’ in 1906 when Diamond merged with Bryant and May and the company enthusiastically promoted the Swan brand. By the 1930s ‘Swan Vestas’ had become ‘Britain’s best-selling match’.
The bottle of port in its faceted glass bottle and the tiny port glass are both actually made of plastic and come from a miniature suppliers in Shanghai.
Atop the desk stands a photo in a frame. Like the other two photographs in the pictre, it too is a real photo, produced to high standards in 1:12 size on photographic paper by Little Things Dollhouse Miniatures in Lancashire. The frames is also from Melody Jane’s Dollhouse Suppliers in the United Kingdom and is made of are metal with glass. The Edwardian mahogany clock next to the frame is a 1:12 artisan miniature made by Hall’s Miniature Clocks, supplied through Doreen Jeffries Small Wonders Miniatures in England. Next to it you can just see the base of an urn. The urn is only two and a half centimetres high and is an antique miniature and has been hand turned and polished. It has an African ebony body and a bubinga wood top and base. Next to the urn, on the right-hand side of the rolltop desk’s top stand three ledgers from Shepherd’s Miniatures in the United Kingdom.
In the background you can catch tantalising glimpses of other things in Lord de Virre’s study including a Regency painting of a horse in a gold frame from Beautifully Handmade Miniatures in Kettering, and a hand painted ginger jar from Thailand which stands on a Bespaq plant stand. Bespaq is a high-end miniature furniture maker with high attention to detail and quality.
The Persian rug you can just glimpse in te bottom right-hand corer of the photo was hand woven by Pike, Pike and Company in the United Kingdom.
The gold flocked Edwardian wallpaper is beautiful hand impressed paper given to me by a friend, which inspired the whole “Cavendish Mews – Lettice Chetwynd” series.
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