Sunday, 30 June 2013

Killerton: quorema and knuckle-bones


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I've taken a break from usual habits, and written the first draft of this with an Android tablet, on location - just below the summit of Killerton Clump (aka Dolbury Hill), a wooded hill at Killerton, a National Trust owned stately home and estate a few miles north-east of Exeter. One of Clare's friends kindly drove us out there on Saturday, but as neither she nor Clare were keen on the hill (it was a very hot day - maybe 25°C out of the breeze), we went our separate ways for an hour.

Killerton didn't immediately grip me; I'm not at all a fan of stately homes, and architecturally the frontage is a kind of Borg Cube of a house - apparently a temporary build for another house that never came to be. Inside you're immediately greeted by a huge wallful of Dead White Male portraits - members of a club called Grillion's - and it all seemed rather ominous as a sample of the kind of history we'd get.

However, it did pick up once we got further inside; a particular plus point is that it's a lot more hands-on than many such places. You can play the Bechstein piano and Great Organ, and the Library has a sign saying you're free to take books from the shelves (not, I assume, in the full literal sense of the word "take").

Clare found a cookery book - A Guide to Modern Cookery - with some unusually-named but recognisable dishes such as "The Quorema" (that is, a korma); and I was tickled by some of the titles - Hobbles' On Corns, and Nettles for Nice Noses - which on closer inspection (the books being unremovable from the shelf) turned out to be spoof book spines hiding a cupboard.

I've transcribed the titles in another post, False books at Killerton.

Outside, Killerton is a beautiful example of an 18th-19th century estate, its small formal garden leading out to around 10 square miles of landscaped parkland and woodland, a mix of the straightforward and the exotic (weird things like Tulip Trees, and a 'Deodar Glen' planted to resemble Himalayan forest).

A particular cosy section is the rock garden, a bijou artificial valley in the vicinity of the estate's icehouse and the Bear Hut (a thatched wicker summer-house whose quaintness is somewhat diminished by its history - the name comes from its use to incarcerate a pet bear - and one section's gruesome flooring of deer knucklebones).
Bear Hut
Bear Hut - knucklebone floor

Dolbury - the summit
From there, you can carry on up through woods to Dolbury, a hill-fort at the summit of the dolerite hill north of the house. Some of the literature calls it "an extinct volcano", but it isn't - it's a igneous intrusion, forming a hill by virtue of being harder than the softer rocks that eroded away around it. Unfortunately there's not much to see from the top, which was planted with elms and conifers, now long-established, to make the hill look more imposing - at the expense of killing the view from it. But on a sweltering day, it was a spot of cool and calm, especially on the north-west side of the hill away from the main public garden, with nothing to hear but birdsong and the rustling of trees. It was opportunity for a spot of reflection: on walks at present I get a lot of 'existential moments' about the strangeness of, so far still, being fit and well after last year's diagnosis. What did I reflect? Nothing much. It just feels very good to be enjoying summer.

See The Dolbury Dragon for more about this hilltop.

Behind the hill
To be honest, this kind of "site-specific writing" approach doesn't work for me, except for making notes. I find that doing the research is integral to topographic writing, and without simultaneous Internet access (of which there was none, hill-forts not having Wi-fi hotspots) I find my writing about locations is vague and generalised, without the specifics and quirky details that interest me. So on to those, now I'm back at the main computer ...

The Quorema recipe
First, there was the "Quorema".  A Guide to Modern Cookery (Mary Harrison, pub. Sampson, Low, Marston, 1891) had only a few other examples of Indian recipes, but there's a lot more detail in The Indian Cookery Book (anon, pub. Thacker, Spink & Co, Calcutta, c. 1900, Internet Archive ID TheIndianCookeryBook.- there are a number of editions, the first possibly 1860s). Apart from "quorema", many other names are recognisable - "pellow"/"pooloo", "doopiaja", "cofta-ca-carree", "jhal frezee", and "saug" - alongside un-obvious ones such as "chahkee", "country captain", and "pish-pash". Despite the odd scary ingredient such as mutton brains and udder, the book - written "by a thirty-five years' resident" - clearly comprises Indian cuisine filtered for the English ex-patriate palate ...
Pellows are purely Hindoostanee dishes. There are several kinds of pellow, but some of them are so entirely of an Asiatic character and taste that no European will ever be persuaded to partake of them. It is therefore considered useless to offer instructions how to prepare such as the ukhnee pellow, in which are introduced cream, milk, butter-milk, garlic, and lime-juice; or the sweet pellow, in which almonds and raisins are introduced, in addition to sugar, &c
... with vegetables are boiled for appalling times by modern standards - for instance, "two to three hours" to boil carrots. Otherwise, apart from using what seems excessive oil, the recipes look pretty palatable. The book also has many archetypally English cakes and desserts; Indian pickles and preserves; home-made "liqueurs" (including cocktails and punches); medicinal concoctions; perfumery, cosmetics and dentifrices; and miscellaneous household tips. It's good reading.

P.S. For those curious, the recipe for "uknee pellow" - which seems to correspond to the modern Yakhni Pulao - is described in a similar book, R Riddell's 1860 Indian domestic economy and receipt book ("comprising numerous directions for plain wholesome cookery, both Oriental and English, with much miscellaneous matter, answering all general purposes of reference connected with household affairs likely to be immediately required by families, messes, and private individuals, residing at the presidencies or out-stations"). Ukhnee, or Kid Pullow (page 434) doesn't look so dreadful, though it does look complicated, with a lot of boiling of presumably tough meat. Its combination of milk and meat would make it off-limits to Jewish readers of the books, but I don't know to what extent this would have been a mainstream taboo/preference in the mid-1800s.

Deer knucklebone floor - detail
And then there's that knuckle-bone floor. This was the first one I'd ever seen, but Googling finds the idea not unprecedented. This newsletter from the borough of Sandwell, West Midlands, has an article - page 2, Sandwell's archaeologist 'floored' by amazing find - which says that:
Knucklebone floors were in vogue for a comparatively short period from the late 17th - early 18th century and are therefore quite rare. Owners of buildings with simple earthen floors could consolidate and protect them from wear as well as producing a ‘pleasing’ decorative effect by driving animal bones (usually sheep) into the ground surface.
...
‘Knucklebone floors’ are among the better documented constructional or decorative practices from post-medieval Britain which was fairly widespread throughout the south west and south east of England in the late 17th to the early 18th century, although few have been discovered. 
Other extant examples include the floor of the Hermitage at Bicton Park, Devon; King John's House, Romsey, Hampshire (see Cattle foot floor for blog photo); and the Stiles Almshouses in Wantage, Berkshire. An example was also found during an archaeological dig for the hermitage at Belton House, Lincolnshire (see Belton's wilderness hermitage re-found (p14, National Trust Bulletin, October 2012), but it may have been re-covered; here's a good Flickr image. Though it looks difficult to find, there's a complete gazetteer of known examples in the monograph Diet and crafts in towns: the evidence of animal remains from the Roman to the post-medieval periods (Dale Serjeantson, Tony Waldron, BAR British series, B.A.R., 1989).

For fuller details on Killerton House, check out its main National Trust website: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/killerton. Despite, as I said, not being a fan of stately homes, I found a lot of interest there, in its general topgraphy and botany, and the scope of its estate for walks looks as if it would repay further exploration. There's a more academically-styled description at its National Heritage List Entry (ID 1000694); it has changed remarkably little from the description in an 1883 issue of The Garden:
KILLERTON
From Silverton Station, on the Great Western Railway, to Killerton is about two miles, but the walk is a pleasant one, especially after one crosses the stone bridge which spans the river Clyst, fur the road runs between high banks shaded by trees, Ferns being abundant on the banks, the Hart'stongue predominating. Killerton is especially celebrated for its grand old trees, and their grouping has been done with rare taste and skill. There are no sharp, hard lines anywhere. The whole place is an illustration of the way in which art can help or mend Nature. Intending planters might learn useful lessons in bold grouping by studying the planting here. Much of it was done or altered by the late Sir Thomas Acland, in combination with the late Mr. Veitch, of Exeter.

The soil is very fertile, overlying a stratum of rock called honeycomb rock, which is of volcanic origin. In many places the rock is deeply covered; in others it crops up near the surface, but in such cases it cracks into fissures, and the roots of the trees penetrate to a great depth. A curious instance of this was pointed out to me on the Beech Mount, in the deer park. Here a shifting of the surface on the edge of a ravine showed the fissures in the rock as if upheaved by a subterranean force; the roots of the trees had gone down, and from their luxuriant development they were evidently enjoying the feeding ground provided for them below.

Chapel - built of the local dolerite in a style imitating
the Norman-Gothic St Mary's Chapel, Glastonbury
In the grounds surrounding the private chapel, built by the late Sir Thomas in 1811 with stones dug on the spot, are many handsome trees. Several of the common Larch are very fine. One I measured was 12 feet in circumference at 3 feet from the ground, and had an altitude of not less than 130 feet. Here also were several handsome Cedars of Lebanon, transplanted some years ago when they were more than 40 feet high. They are now about 65 feet, and suffered but little check from their removal, having been heavily mulched as soon as the work was done. Near here is a very fine scarlet Oak, and a short distance away in an opening stands a handsome specimen of the Lucombe Oak girthing 17 feet 6 inches. In and around the open glade in front of the chapel are many fine trees, although some of them are comparatively youthful specimens. For instance, here is a Spanish Chestnut planted by the late Mr. Veitch seventy-two years ago which girths 13 feet at 5 feet from the ground. The upright Cypress, C. sempervirens, and C. torulosa are in duplicate 50 feet high; and near the chapel-yard is a hedge of Berberis asiatica, and another of common Box. These I notice just to say how elegant they look growing in a free and open manner, without shearing, the only attention given being to nip off long ends with the knife once a year of so.

Standing in front of the mansion and looking southwards across the park the views are very fine, extending for many miles' The park is of considerable extent and well timbered; handsome specimens of English Elm abound. To the left of the mansion, and some 300 yards or 400 yards away from it, is a group consisting of the finest specimens of evergreen Oak in the country. One of the largest measures 13 feet round the trunk, and has a spread of branches of 81 feet, and scattered about in this part of the park are many handsome Thorns. A small formal flower garden fills a sort of recess on the east side of the house, and this is the only bit of really formal gardening I saw at Killerton. But the handsome trees and their picturesque grouping are worth going a journey of many miles to see.

The mansion is a square building, suggestive of comfort rather than architectural beauty. In a glass colonnade is the usual assortment of flowering plants adapted to such structures; also such plants as Bougainvillea glabra, Acacia Riceana, Luculia Pinceana, Heliotropes, and Abutilon Boule de Neige, trained on the wall and roof. The latter plant makes an excellent climber, its white flowers being so useful, and produced most abundantly and continuously when planted in a light position. The walls of the mansion are clothed with climbing plants, among which are Magnolias and the Judas tree, which reaches up to the roof; Chimonanthus fragrans, Banksian Roses, Akebia quinata (quite hardy and flowering freely); and last, but not least, there is the old pink monthly Rose. In the flower garden are apair of nice plants of the hardy Palm, Chamrcrops Fortunei, and to the west of the mansion and only a few yards from it standing on the open lawn is one of the finest Tulip trees in the country. It measures 17 feet round the bole 5 feet from the ground and must be at least 100 feet high, and of handsome proportions.
southward view

There are several acres of dressed ground on the west side of the mansion. Its surface rises upwards like an amphitheatre and it is embellished with trees and shrubs of the most varied and interesting character. Handsome groups of trees, wide stretches of closely shaven velvety turf, deep glades running far back up the hillside with an unseen, unknown termination, arc evidences of taste on the part of a bygone generation. Away far back, many feet above our standpoint is a large, bold group of common Beech, which thrives amazingly here, intermixed with the wild Cherry, which also forms a timber tree, and must be especially ornamental when in flower in spring amid the delicate tints of unfolding foliage. In front of the deciduous trees are masses equally bold of Wellingtonias, Taxodiums, Cupressus Lawsoniana and C. macrocarpa, with the funereal Cypress jutting out into the foreground, and variegated Hollies and lighter lifted low-growing shrubs in front. Rhododendrons also abound, as do many other flowering and evergreen shrubs, which lack of space compels me to pass over.

In a secluded spot with an open space of turf in front is the conservatory, chiefly filled with handsome specimen Camellias, some being as much as 15 feet high and well furnished. East of the conservatory is a small enclosed garden devoted to hardy herbaceous plants called Miss Acland's garden, and a most interesting spot it is.

As we ascend the hillside we come upon a handsome specimen of Thujopsis dolobrata, the best furnished example I have yet seen; it is 17 feet high and of proportionate diameter. Then we come upon a Scotch Fir with a straight and massive trunk 33 feet to the first branch, thougli the branches are drooping to the ground. The bole is 12 feet in circumference and as straight as an arrow; next a Picea cephalonica in cone, a handsome specimen. But the grandest feature in this part of the grounds is the group of Cedrus atlantica, at least 90 feet high, furnished down to the ground, and showing the beautiful silver tint for which this Cedar, when well grown, is remarkable. Pinus insignis, many years old, was green as a young plant, and a fine Araucaria, 54 feet in height, healthier and better coloured than usual, feeling the benefit of the warm sea air.


One of the features of the grounds at Killerton, and a very pleasing one it is, is the mixed groups of climbing Roses, Honeysuckles, Thorns, and other shrubs which mingle in a wild, graceful manner. The outlook from a rustic summerhouse, which occupies a retired spot on the side of the hill, is a most delightful one. Dartmoor, some 20 miles away, is distinctly visible, looming up dark aid drear. To the left is the break in the chain of hills called Sidmouth Gap, through which the sea is visible. Westward are the woodcrowned Woodbury Hills and Woodbury Castle, whilst we have a foreground that cannot be surpassed in the tastefully-planted park.

We leave the dressed grounds, and ascend higher up the hill, and come upon a rockery formed principally from the natural rock, and wild and bold with steep banks and ravines planted with bamboos, Azaleas, Ferns, and other appropriate plants. Far up 40 feet above is also a large natural self-sown bed of the Evening Primrose (Knothera biennis), which here seeds and grows abundantly, giving a bright and pleasant character to the .place. Foxgloves might be added to keep them company with advantage.

Further on we emerge upon an open space where there is a rustic seat, in front of which is a monument erected to the .memory of the late Sir Thomas Acland by a few of his friends. It is in the shape of a Maltese cross, and occupies a pleasant site amid leafy glades, and commanding a charming view up the Exe valley. The Fern glen is an exceedingly pretty and interesting spot. It is a ravine or deep glen, shaded by trees and spanned by a rustic bridge, and is full of very fine specimens of hardy Ferns.

We pass onwards through a Beech avenue noting some extremely fine Chestnuts and a group of Cupressus Goveniana, and grand examples of Taxodium and Cryptoraeria japonica, tlirough a wilderness of natural beauty called the Druids, where we find a plant of Rhododendron Blandfordianum 10 feet high, one of R. Thomsoni 10 feet high and as much through. We pass up through the Beech wood which crowns the summit of the hill, taking note of the fine herd of deer in the park below, through the Deodar glen which contains a handsome healthy lot of trees, the undergrowth consisting of Rhododendrons.
We turn to the left across a wide, open, breezy hill covered with Bracken with Thorns planted thinly among it from which the views are magnificent. The shades of evening were descending as we entered the kitchen garden, but enough light remained to show that there was an abundance of fruit and vegetables.

The pyramid Pears were especially well managed and full of fruit. The walls also were well furnished with healthy trees. The Vines, both the Muscats and others, were producing plenty of fine Grapes, and several other ranges of glass were occupied with healthy collections of Orchids, Ferns, and flowering plants. Mr. Garland grows all his Potatoes and coarser vegetables in the open field, and I saw two acres planted with Regents and Champions looking at the time of my visit remarkably well, and in an adjoining field another acre planted with Onions, Carrots, &c. The Potatoes are planted !1 feet apart in the rows, and never earthed up, Turnips (Orange Jelly and Red Globe) being sown between the rows for autumn and winter use. This system of growing the main crop of roots, Cabbages, &c., in the open field, and leaving the enclosed, sheltered garden for the early crops and things that are benefited by shelter, or which, such as Celery, require to be .near the water supply, is a step in the right direction.

- E. Hobday, The Garden - An Illustrated Weekly Journal of Gardening in All Its Branches, Volume 23, Jan. 13 1883.
- Ray

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