There's something beguiling and compulsive about an opportunity to see a bit of a stately home that is not open to everyone else, which is why Bookhound and I could contain ourselves no longer and dashed into the Basement Haunting right after the evening talk at Port Eliot thinking we'd then saunter back in and have a good look at the archive and chat to everyone, say our thankyous and bid farewell.
Except it didn't work like that.
Once we emerged at the other end we were shown out to the car park.
We'd been below stairs and there was to be no return to the glamour and glitz of life above stairs, it felt quite as it must have done to those who worked in this strange world centuries ago.
The Round Room at Port Eliot with its legendary Robert Lenkiewicz mural was the locaton for the evening event and also a display of facsimiles from the du Maurier archive held at Exeter University. For me the most striking picture that of Daphne seated with her father Gerald, looking for all the world like a glamorous couple, he holding her hand firmly on her knee, Daphne looking uncomfortably away, not meeting his reverential gaze which is firmly fixed on her eyes.Surely we expect this gaze to be the opposite, daughter looking at father, making this a picture that told those thousand words and more about the strange relationship between father and daughter.
More fascinating discussion about the paper trail that underpins Justine's writing of Daphne and some very informative details from Jessica Gardner the curator of the archive, and all as the Lenkiewicz mural radiated its multiplicity of strange and complex metaphors down on us. Occasionally my eye wandered off to yet another Robert mystery and this mural is known to contain many, it is unfathomable but spectacular for its scale and artistic prowess, a mix of portrait, still life, trompe-l'oeil and imagery. In death Robert Lenkiewicz has certainly continued to arouse the interest and achieve the notoriety he constantly courted in his life.
Follow this link and get a flavour of the house and a virtual 360 degree tour of the Round Room for yourself, it's truly astonishing. I'm going to write more about the guide book when I get it back because it's a very entertaining and beautifully presented treasure. The Tinker snaffled mine eagerly, but I do now have the horse's mouth (or should that be the elephant's mouth?) explanation for the symbolism of the pachyderm.
Everyone I've asked has shrugged and said they hadn't a clue so in the end it made sense to ask the one person who'd know and the Earl has obliged. More soon on that.
But off to the basement we went ushered in by designer Michael Howells and we should have guessed when we jokingly said 'we might not be back ' and he replied ' you won't be coming back' that he was right.
Firstly the candelit cellars. Round so presumably beneath the Round Room and some stock in evidence.
'Anything worth drinking in there,' someone asked us as we emerged,
'all of it probably,' quipped Bookhound.
Then along to the Housekeeper's Room, the Gun Room, the Servant's Hall, everything dimly and eerily lit by candles, surprisingly spacious and clearly all as it had been seventy plus years ago. This was another complete world, a parallel community existing beneath the one it served, and with a dining room 100 feet from the kitchen they must all have been as sleek as that whippet Roo St Germans. Glimpsing shadowy rows and rows of servants bells all named by room and you begin to imagine the bustle and activity down here whilst life waited expectantly and demandingly upstairs.
The atmosphere was cold, chilled and yes haunting, we weren't expecting the figure in the rocking chair to come to life and get up to answer the phone either, nor to hear that it was Mrs Danvers on the other end.
A lasting image with which to depart as I finally head into that long-awaited re-read of Rebecca forty years on. It is certain in my mind now that Daphne had a house as grand as Port Eliot in her mind when she wrote Rebecca, so all a fitting end to a magical and unforgettable weekend.