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Wilsford Manor

"The interior of Wilsford manner reveals an asymmetrical structure that added to this feeling of cosiness. Each room leads into another, and walking through large reception rooms, up the graceful staircase and the long expansive landings to the well appointed bedrooms, a newcomer to the house had the impression of constant discovery, as though on an expedition through a maze of pleasing spaces, each turn designed to bring a leafy leaded window into view." 


At Wilsford Manor Stephen hosted his friends and many of the Bright Young Things of the day including Cecil Beaton, Rex Whistler, Osbert Sitwell, Willie Walton, Zita and Baby Jungman, Edith Olivier and Siegfried Sassoon. One weekend, devoted largely to dressing up, Stephen planned a fancy dress dinner, at which Olivier noted guests gradually got hungrier waiting for Stephen, who eventually appeared wearing a white Russian suit, silver train and bandeau round his head. This meal was then followed by a game of hide and seek. 


"Tennant did not play host solely to his friends; the Wilsford school log book records a trip that the children took to Salisbury Cathedral school carol service which turned into an adventure when a dense fog prevented buses running for the return trip. The ambulance was despatched from Lake House which met the children on the road back to Wilsford and took them all home. The log book notes that the children did not have to miss a Christmas party given by Tennant the next day, and describes the artificial pink roses on all the tables, recording that the girls were given kid leather gloves, and the boys, woollen scarves.

The artificial roses were symbolic of the kind of decoration that Tennant enjoyed. In his introduction to Tennant’s ‘Leaves from a Missionary’s Notebook: The Adventures of Felix Littlejohn’ he quotes Tancred Borenius saying that ‘the house should be made airtight and preserved intact just as it is at the moment, so that future generations may see these incredibly delicate and vivid colours, the vases of artificial roses and lilac, the whole paraphernalia of Stephen’s taste, which astonishes even his few intimate friends and would be quite incomprehensible to future generations’. Stephen was particularly fond of shells, even placing them on the staircase, and one of the bathrooms was a ‘shrine to shells’." 

After Stephen's death in 1987, the contents of the Manor were sold by Sotheby’s raising some £1.6 million. The auction catalogue 'The Contents of Wilsford Manor' can be read on Lilium's Compendium here.

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