Antiques

We’re still in Brighton.

Walk down from the Brighton Clock Tower towards the sea and take the first left. You are on Duke Street and entering the older part of Brighton. Not quite the oldest part, that is in the Lanes, but this is the first extension of the old fishing village that developed in the late 1700s.

The 'Victory'Walk on down Duke Street, noticing there is still one second-hand bookshop left – there used to be at least four, but it’s somehow comforting to see that one has hung on. You can see the “Victory” pub on the corner of Middle Street.

Duke of Duke's LaneTurn right down Middle Street, ignore the entrance to Duke’s Lane. It’s just the same tourist trap it always used to be. (Though, if you like, take a photo of the figure of the Duke on the first floor balcony. Someone has a sense of humour.)

The HippodromeMiddle Street has a kink in it as you pass the back wall of the infant school’s playground. Observe how the old Hippodrome is boarded up now and looks in need of serious redevelopment. Once an entertainment Mecca, now it’s just a waste of space. It probably has a preservation order on it but no one with the money who’s prepared to try a restoration. (Mind you, forty years ago it was still only a ghost of its former self. Bingo once weekly is all I remember.)

Friese-Greene's plaqueHere on the right is the narrow terraced house with the plaque to William Friese-Greene “the inventor of cinematography”. (The plaque lies.) Opposite is, now, the Coach House Restaurant. If they are open, go in and have a cup of coffee. If you can, sit in the front room, on the street, looking out onto Middle Street with Friese-Greene’s plaque in front of you and you’ll be in roughly the same place I occupied for a year during working hours between the summers of 1975 and 1976. If there’s no business in the restaurant (as there wasn’t the day I visited) you can engage the bored but patient young man who serves you with a story about what used to go on here, once upon a time.

The antique shop that wasWhen I left school and before I went off to university I took a year out. Nowadays I’m told this is standard practice and young people taking their gap year travel around the world, go on extreme journeys, get drunk (or high, or laid… or all three) in every continent they can and generally get all the adventurousness out of their systems before settling down to three, four or more years of serious academic study. At the tail end of the 70s it was more unusual, but I did know people who went to work on a kibbutz or spent a year teaching for Voluntary Service Overseas. Two years after me, my sister did voluntary work in Belfast with an organisation trying to bridge the gap between the warring communities there.

What I did was get a job.

It wasn’t entirely my own doing. My mother’s former boss, Mr Oliver, dabbled in antiques. Especially, he bought and occasionally sold antique clocks, and he’d previously given me a commission to research and write up an essay about the earliest clockmakers in Britain. Now he recommended me to one of his suppliers. Which was how I ended up working in an antiques shop on Middle Street.

The antique shop that was 2Capewell Antiques was owned and operated by an unlikely business partnership. One partner was Nicholas Mann who specialised in grandfather clocks, Properly called longcase clocks, they are floor-standing clocks operated by weights and a pendulum. It was Nick who was Mr Oliver’s supplier. Nick was a stocky, cheerful, curly-haired man. He had an easy smile and calculating eyes. I guess now he was in his early thirties, though I’ve always been a poor judge of age.

Nick lived in Wales where he had storage and a workshop, and drove around the country buying longcase clocks and taking them home to fix up. He dealt in other clocks and some pieces of furniture as well, but longcase clocks were his main interest. Every so often he would load up a van in Wales and drive all the way down to Brighton with new stock. Brighton was a magnet for European and American dealers and collectors.

There were usually about 30 of Nick’s clocks in the shop at any one time and one of my jobs every morning was to do the rounds, winding them up and setting them working. Usually I then went around and stopped them all, because – take it from me – 30 longcase clocks all chiming at more or less the same time on the hour every hour (not to mention the ones that also chimed on the quarters) is enough to drive you insane.

The other partner was the eponymous Phillip Capewell.

I don’t know for sure how he came into possession of the shop that had his name on it. I can’t believe it was by his own efforts. I’ve a vague memory of someone telling me his mother bought it for him. Or perhaps he’d once been more successful. By the time I came on the scene though, he was certainly not doing enough business on his own to keep the shop stocked and open. We always carried more of Nick’s stock than Phil’s. Phil needed his partner.

I think Phil must have been about the same age as Nick and like Nick, he was short and stocky, but where you could sense Nick was muscled under his skin, Phil was just dough all the way to the bone. He had a round puffy face with small blue eyes and straight blond hair. His small, pudgy hands were adorned with antique gold rings. He always wore at least two and one was a seal ring, a ring inset with a red intaglio that would once have been pressed into hot wax to create a raised image.

I’d never before ‒ and never since ‒ come across anyone with Phil’s body language. He used gestures almost as if he’d learned them consciously, but then in the middle of use he would seem to get tired of them and abruptly do something unexpected. For example, he would sometimes hold his chin in one hand in an attitude of thought, but then he would suddenly and quite savagely use his fingers to pinch the corners of his mouth together so his lips pursed out. Other times he would hold the palm of his hand against his cheek, again as if thinking, then sharply wipe the hand down and flick the fingers off his chin. Sometimes he would rub his hands together as if in glee, but I never got the impression he was doing it because he actually felt pleasure, it always seemed as if he was putting it on.

I thought of Phil as, basically, a knocker boy with pretensions. He certainly had the gift of the gab. I never saw him actually knocking on the door to talk people into selling him things. By this stage in his life he was buying from the real knocker boys. But he always had a story about anything he was trying to sell – usually a story about the previous owner. “He was a colonel in the Royal Sussex,” he’d say (though I knew the object was something he’d picked up in a flea market a week before). Sometimes he liked to present himself as a go-between. He was selling for the owner: “She’s a lovely old lady who’s fallen on hard times, poor soul.”

His story-telling overflowed into the rest of his life too. Whatever happened to him got inflated into a story, and he was the hero who came out on top. After I’d worked in the shop a few weeks and witnessed some of the incidents that Phil then turned into stories, I got to the point of taking anything that he said had happened to him with a very large pinch of salt.

If Phil had been the only person putting goods into the shop it would not only have been rather bare, it would also not have been an antiques shop, except maybe six or eight weeks out of the year. Most of the stuff he had on sale was better described as second-hand or, if I’m being generous, “vintage”. According to some of his friends, who dropped into the shop looking for Phil but stayed to chat with me if he wasn’t there, any really valuable pieces he bought he’d store in his flat rather than bring to the shop. I suspect he wasn’t getting them quite legally.

Phil didn’t come from Brighton. I’m fairly sure he came from the West Midlands, but he worked on trying to get people to think he came from London, preferably the East End. He couldn’t do the accent, but he loved trying out rhyming slang and new expressions. Especially, he loved to use slang expressions to talk about the value of things that he bought and sold, and the money that he made.

Except he didn’t talk about money, he talked about dosh. Most of his dosh he kept in readies, in rolls of notes in his pocket.
“It cost me a monkey,” he’d say, “but it’s worth a grubby hand.” (Meaning he paid £500 for something he thought he could sell for £1000.)
“I can get a grand for that but I only paid a string of ponies.” (£1000 but he only paid £250 – which is 10 ponies, 10 times £25.)
“He said it was worth a long ’un but it wasn’t even nifty.” (Worth £100 but not worth £50.)

It was from Phil I learned that there are only five types of wood.
“There’s oak, oak is good. There’s beech, beech is good too, but not as good as oak. There’s pine, pine is crap. And there’s mahogany, mahogany’s good.” Anything else was “fruit wood”.

I got more nuanced information from Nick when he was in the shop.
“This is sycamore, American. Not maple, it’s too light. Lovely wood. Look how dense the grain is. See these flecks? Sort of freckles? That’s typical sycamore.”
Then I would tease Phil by asking him “What wood is this?”
“Beech,” he’d say.
“Nick says it’s sycamore.”
And he’d wipe his hand down his cheek and flick his fingers and say, “Could be,” and change the subject or tell me to make him some tea.

I wonder where they are now, forty years on. I can’t see Nick as a pensioner. I imagine him still buying and selling his clocks. Whenever I catch an episode of one of those British reality TV shows about antiques, I half expect Nick to turn up as a dealer or even – why not – an expert. But Phil I can easily picture on a golf course somewhere in Spain, betting on the next putt. I wonder if he’s still using the same half-cockney slang for money or if he’s picked up some new words. Does he call a euro a “eurinal”?

I fear it’s likely.

Coda
I had written the above when I decided to go on line and see if I could track down Nick Mann or Phil Capewell, just to see if they’re still around and what became of them. I couldn’t find Nick. There are a surprisingly large number of people called Nicholas Mann, which is odd as it’s a schoolyard joke ‒ “Nicholas Mann’s a nickerless man!” You’d think parents would be more careful about the names they give their kids. However, Phillip Capewell was a different story.

Phil Capewell may or may not be playing golf in Spanish retirement just now, but in 2008 he was sent to prison for 5 years for receiving stolen antiques, at least according to this blog article that reproduces a report from the Brighton Argus. That photo, there at the top ‒ a Sussex police mugshot ‒ that’s definitely Phil. A receiver of stolen goods and the beneficiary of violent crime. Although I can remember Phill passing at least one unsavoury comment about sex, I don’t know how much credence to give to the accusations of paedophilia in the follow-up information below the news report. Still, what a pitiful excuse for a life.


This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

In the Soundcloud audio recording, the background sounds at the beginning and very end are ambient sounds of Duke Street and Middle Street that I recorded during my visit there in October 2015.

The West Pier across shingle

West Pier across shingle

What is left of the West Pier across shingle.

The Channel's leaden line

The Channel’s leaden line.

The West Pier with lense flare

The West Pier with lens flare.

Three photos I didn’t manage to include in last week’s post from Brighton. I’m on holiday once again – a new blog entry will follow just as soon as I have the time to write it!

For some truely spectacular photographs from Brighton and Sussex that are far superior to my efforts, follow this link to Brighton Photography.


This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

Brighton and Hove, actually

Last week I was visiting England, and I took the opportunity of spending a couple of days in Brighton and Hove. I took a lot of photos, so this week’s blog entry (late, I’m sorry) is partly an excuse to share some of them.

I was brought up in Brighton. Well, in Hove actually, but the two towns are now one city “The City of Brighton and Hove”. The amalgamated town was granted city status in England in 2011 and according to the Brighton and Hove page of Wikipedia the new city has a population of 273,400. Which makes it the 18th largest British city in terms of population and, more importantly (in the opinion of residents and old Brightonians), ahead of the City of Westminster and the City of London, Oxford and Cambridge, Canterbury and York.

Conversation on the FrontBrightonian, by the way, is the accepted adjective for residents of Brighton, but what is the equivalent for Hove? Hovian doesn’t seem right (although there is a local blog of that name). OxfordDictionaries.com tells me: “No exact match found for “Hovian” in British & World English. Did you mean Jovian?” Well, no, that would be someone from Jupiter, wouldn’t it? OK, how about Hover? The definition seems quite appropriate actually: “Remain poised uncertainly in one place or between two states”. That’s Hove.

When “Brighton and Hove” became a thing, many people of Hove feared their distinct urban identity would be swallowed up by Brighton. That does seem rather to have been borne out by events. Even though the new City Hall is what used to be Hove Town Hall, most people now talk about Brighton rather than Brighton-and-Hove. I can’t say it bothers me terribly, but I know Hove residents who are fighting a rearguard action in typically genteel style by, for example, refusing to address letters to the BN3 postcode area with any identifying name other than Hove.

Look - sandy beach! A little patch of sand among the shingleIf you ask someone from Hove if they come from Brighton they will probably say “Hove, actually”. In Hove that counts as a really witty put-down.

I grew up in Hove, first on the border with Portslade, later at the very end of Dyke Road Avenue, up in the hills, and the last school that I attended (the last of eight) was also in Hove — the Cardinal Newman Comprehensive School on the Upper Drive. (Yes, I worked my way through eight schools before going off to university. What of it?)

When I was a kid there was a descriptive phrase in circulation to mark the difference between Brighton and Hove. It was “yobs and snobs” – the Brighton kids were yobs and the Hove kids were snobs. I suppose this reflected a perception of a class difference between Brighton and Hove – Hove was more middle-class, more genteel; Brighton was a larger town with a greater variety of people and, I suppose, more workers of various sorts, though it was also much more vibrant and with a more interesting history as well as a more interesting current existence.

Brighton clock tower (detail)Or perhaps Brighton had more yobs coming down from London. It was certainly true that if you were standing anywhere on Queens Road at about 10 o’clock of a summer’s morning, you would see a tide of people emerge from Brighton railway station to sweep down Queens Road, past the Clock Tower and on to the seafront. The first cheap train from London came in at about ten – the first train for which you could buy a Cheap Day Return ticket – and so the first train that would bring holidaying Londoners to “London by the Sea”, as Brighton was also known.

Not that that meant the people of Hove were all so very much native residents. When I was a kid Hove was a popular place to commute to London from, and of course to retire to. My memory of Hove was of a place with a very high percentage of old people – many of them among the last generation of Imperial civil servants – who spent their days grumbling to one another about how the country had gone to the dogs.

I swore I would never be like that. Consequently (if I am to keep my oath) I can never return to Hove to live because there is a very real danger I would spend my time grumbling to other people of my age about how the country has gone to the dogs.

Brighton centre from Churchill Square car parkAlthough “gone to the dogs” is a bit of an overstatement. The truth is, things have changed – in some ways for the worse but in some ways for the better. That’s very obvious now, though it was less true the previous time I visited.

Fifteen years ago, when it became a city, Brighton and Hove had an unemployment rate over 10%. Even in the town centre, even in the flashy new shopping centre at Churchill Square (well, new and flashy when I was a boy), there seem to be more shops empty and abandoned than open, and among those that were open, charity shops seem to dominate. Now it’s obvious that the economy, if not the British economy then at least the economy of the Brighton and Hove area, is on the rise. There are still empty shops and derelict buildings, but by far the majority are open and doing business.

On the other hand there are large numbers of beggars and homeless people camping out in the doorways of the empty shops and in the shelters on the seafront and you cannot walk the streets without being petitioned: “Spare some change, gov?” And we’re not talking about EU beggars — Brighton’s beggars, the ones I saw last week, are largely white and clearly native speakers of English. (If nothing else, the “gov” is a giveaway.)

Rusting shelter decorationThe weather was cold and damp while I was there, everyone I spoke to told me how I’d just missed the good weather, and I shivered to see the homeless in their torn sleeping bags, dirty blankets or cardboard and newspaper beds. I don’t usually give to beggars — I don’t usually carry change (I’ve been suedified – it’s all done with cards now), but I was on holiday and had cash for small purchases, so I gave some of it away.

If the majority of the shops 15 years ago seemed to be charity shops, now I was struck by the number of estate agents. Property prices are booming and property renovation is going on all over. There’s another reason why I could never move back — I don’t think I could afford it.

Brighton and Hove – especially Hove – was always, as I remember, a bastion of conservatism. Hove and Brighton Pavilion are the two Parliamentary constituencies that embrace central Brighton and Hove. Both returned Tory MPs one after another in all the election of the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. Then in 1997 the total bankruptcy of the post-Thatcher Conservative Party was revealed when both Hove and Brighton Pavilion were captured by Labour.

I sat up all night at home in Sweden and watched the results come in and when Hove went Labour I knew I was witnessing something historic.

Labour held Brighton Pavilion till 2010 when they lost it again, but not to the Tories. In 2010 Brighton Pavilion returned Britain’s first Green MP, Caroline Lucas. A seat she held onto in the recent election now in May. Meanwhile, the Tories clawed Hove back in 2010, but in 2015 have lost it, again to Labour.

Bicycling in the rainMeanwhile the Greens were in (minority) control of Brighton and Hove City council for four years between 2011 and 2015. You can see their legacy in all the cycle lanes and pedestrianised or part-pedestrianised streets.

But regardless of politics and economics, of poverty and affluence, the sea and the seafront (or the Front, as we call it) are much the same as ever. Even the wreck of the West Pier is still there, though looking smaller and tidier now the most dangerous bits of the structure have been removed. The Pier that Wouldn’t Die. A fire burned it out, then explosives failed to destroy it, then a salvage vessel failed to dismantle it. Storms have broken over it for years, but still it stands, a feature and photo opportunity that must be known around the world by now. (My local pride is showing I fear.)

The Angel of PeaceI spent a full day in Brighton and walked along the Front, passed the Angel of Peace. (Who turns out to have nothing to do with a peace treaty between Brighton and Hove as I used to believe. I’m quite disappointed.) On to the beach and across the shingle, down to the breaking waves. Far out to sea the misty shapes of cargo vessels are following the mark of what Kipling called “the Channel’s leaden line” and eager dogs are chasing driftwood while sporty types jog along the promenade or run up and down the shingle banks between the beach and the prom.

Keep off the groynesAs the rain that had held off for my walk started to fall I took myself into Hove Library. It was a pleasure to see the library is still in operation, and clearly well used, but it was also a relief to find the building hasn’t been replaced. I walked into the children’s section and my feet took me automatically to the wall where the good books used to be. No more, the tall book cases I remember have been switched for low ones displaying colourful covers instead of the rather drab institutional bindings the books used to have. But still, here was where I found the Moomins and the Railway Children and Dr Dolittle, where I explored Swallowdale and Coral Island and dived 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, where I stepped across the Wrinkle in Time or listened to the Wolves howling about Willoughby Chase. And then upstairs to the corner of the general library where they used to keep all the history books that were my salvation throughout my O and A Levels. This is a lot more as I remember it, though they have English Literature here now.

When one has read so much about libraries being forced to dumb down or give away or sell stock or simply close, it’s good to see that Hove still has the right idea.

And on that note, as I see I’m pushing 1750 words, I shall close this text that started out as just a vehicle for my photos. There may be more next week!

West Pier across the water
West Pier across the water

This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch’d land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

From “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold

Strange maps

All armchair travellers love maps. Even many of us who once in a while also get out and about love them. Maps are where you start when you’re planning your next trip, or where you can go to revisit one of those journeys you made ten or twenty years ago.

With the coming of Google Maps and Street View the armchair traveller has been given an enormous boon. When Mrs SC and I were looking for a place to live in Brussels, we used a property website in conjunction with Google Maps to get a grip on where in Brussels the places we were interested in were to be found, and then used Street View to look around the neighbourhood. Of course it doesn’t fully take the place of seeing the street, the architecture or the population density in real life. Or hearing the noises or smelling the air for that matter, but it does give a much better idea than a paper map.

At the same time, while I can appreciate the advantages of an electronic map, I still feel there’s nothing quite like a real map, printed on paper, that you can carry with you, as we did when we travelled to Brussels. You can mark a paper map in a way you can’t mark an electronic map. You can stick post-its on it, you can use it as a signalling device to attract your partner or the help of random passers-by. You can use it as protection from an unexpected shower, and (if it hasn’t dissolved) you can keep as a souvenir of your adventures.

Travel books and adventure stories – not to mention accounts of fantasy worlds – are complemented and completed by maps. Following the journey of Marco Polo to China and back is made easier with a map. Tracing the voyages of the Vikings and the route of Fletcher Christian and the Bounty mutineers across the seas of the world likewise. And what would Bilbo’s journey to the Misty Mountains – or Frodo’s quest to Mount Doom – be without Tolkien’s spidery maps and dodgy calligraphy? What would Narnia or Earthsea or Westeros be without their maps?

And maps are also handy ways to convey information graphically, whether it’s true information or invented – or an amalgamation of the two.

I love maps, and I love the inventiveness of cartographers and that makes the blog Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities, created, composed and curated by Frank Jacobs, a pleasure to visit. I don’t know how long he’s been publishing the blog, but the most recent article (Watercolours of the War between East and West) is number 746 so it’s certainly been going a while. I don’t go to there weekly, but every so often I take myself there and I binge. I usually read the current post and then follow the links to other related – or often unrelated – posts. Sometimes I’m intrigued enough to go and visit the sources, which Frank Jacobs is always careful to include.

For example, this time around I followed “related links” to read about the Circular Towns of Georgia (in the USA), Planet Voronoi (where the countries of our world have mysteriously changed shape “patterned after some abstruse logic”), Nazi Treasure Maps and Phallic Cartography. Many of the more recent articles have internal links to earlier articles which can also be great fun to follow. The Nazi Treasure Map article links to blog entry 63 – The Lost Dutchman Goldmine – and to entry 88 – Neuschwabenland. (Sadly though some of the internal links seem to be broken or blocked. Number 234 Slumless, smokeless cities, for example, which has a link from the Circular Towns article, comes back empty for me. A pity.)

But generally this is a very good website and well worth a visit. Or three.

I am myself out travelling at present, which explains why this week’s effort is so short and without a recorded version. I’m hoping to return to my regular service next Wednesday.

Toodle-pip!

The Horta Museum

I’m standing outside the town house of Victor Horta on a Sunday afternoon. Even though it’s a Sunday afternoon, there is a small crowd of us waiting to be let in and we’re waiting because the house is full of visitors and the Horta Museum has to limit numbers. It’s a small house and there are a lot of eager visitors.

I tried to visit last week, but the people running the house wanted me to leave my camera in the reception. As I wasn’t prepared to do that, I postponed my visit instead. Now I’m back – no camera, but I have my trusty recording device – except I still haven’t learned how to use it properly and the 30 minutes or so of recording I made in the house is almost unusable. Oh well, better luck next time.

Art nouveau detailsArt Nouveau (or, if you prefer, Jugendstil) – you cannot escape it in Brussels. It’s in the stained glass of door lights and window panels, it’s in the intricate ribbons of balcony railings, it’s in the twisting forms of decorative house numbers and the willowy women featured in fresco facades. You even see it reproduced as graffiti, in the ironwork of some bus shelters and in the transfers decorating the doors of Brussels buses.

The man responsible for this – or at least the man who is credited with first introducing Art Nouveau into Brussels architecture – is Victor Horta. Whose town house I have just got into.

Excuse me while I pay the €8 entrance fee and buy a guidebook – €12.

Letters for HortaVictor Horta was born in 1861 into an artisanal-class family in Ghent. His father was a cobbler – a bespoke shoemaker perhaps, but still a working craftsman. The family must have had aspirations, though, and seen potential in their son. They paid for him first to attend music school to learn to play the violin. He was sent down for bad behaviour. Nothing daunted they tried again. The boy had once expressed an interest in building, so they paid for him to attend the Ghent Académie des Beaux-Arts to study architectural drawing. This time he behaved.

He completed his studies and, when he turned 17, left Ghent for Paris. Here he worked for an architect and designer in Montmartre. In Montmartre he was at the epicentre of modern art, and in 1878 in Paris he must have see the fantastic achievements of modern iron and glass technology on display at the Exposition Universelle. All of this would feed into his work and find an echo in his house, when he came to build it.

The house and Horta’s office and studio were built on adjoining plots in 1898 and Horta lived and worked here for 16 years until the Great War drove him from Belgium. When he returned after the war was over, he sold the house and studio separately and both buildings then seem to have led mundane lives as middle-class homes until 1961 when the municipality of Saint-Gilles bought the house. In 1963 it became the first listed Art Nouveau building in Brussels and in 1969 the first incarnation of the Horta Museum opened here.

Art Nouveau influenced doorSo, past the cash desk and leave the dining room on the right – it’s too full of people at present – and up the stairs to the first floor landing. This is an impressive space. The guidebook tells me it is equal in area to the space taken by the stairwell. It has windows opening on to the street at the front and no back wall separating it from the stairwell so the light from the street fills the space and reaches across to the dining room half a level down and at the back of the house. This space is made possible by using a iron frame – inspiration from the Paris Exhibition perhaps.

To one side are doors leading through to the reception room (with display cabinets) and Horta’s office – furnished now as a drawing room. The reception room and the office are in the studio, the building next door.

When the old studio came up for sale in 1971 it was also bought up by the Saint-Gilles municipality, and in 1989 plans began to be laid to restore the two buildings and turn them into a single museum. Plans that – according to the guide book – “will be completed in 2014”. Well, it’s 2015 now and the restoration is clearly not complete, but it’s pretty good.

Horta Metro graffiti womanI suppose that while some people in Brussels are proud of Victor Horta and his works, other are less impressed – perhaps just because there is so much Art Nouveau (and faux Art Nouveau) in the city. In the same period that Saint-Gilles was buying the Horta home and creating the first Horta Museum, the city of Brussels was undergoing the same rush of modernized brutalism that London, Stockholm and other European cities were also enjoying. Out with the old, in with the new – especially if the new was utilitarian, concrete and dense. Notably, Horta’s first public space, the Maison du Peuple/Volkshuis (commissioned by the Belgian Workers’ Party and opened in 1899), was demolished in 1965.

But the dedicated and determined staff of the Horta Museum and the Amis du Musée Horta (founded 1982) carried on and gradually the tide seems to have turned in their favour.

Most of the furniture in the house appears to have been sourced from other places or collections. Little is original to the house, although they have managed to track down a few pieces. I suppose Victor Horta sold off most of the furniture, or took it with him in 1919, but I’m guessing he didn’t take the fitted wardrobes in the second floor dressing room. Off the dressing room are a bath (with gas fired boiler and shower) and a toilet. I’d like to believe they’re original too. Also, in the bedroom, the urinal hidden in a bedside cupboard.

Art Nouveau house numberOne of the important influences on European Art Nouveau came from the English Arts and Crafts movement, and the Horta Museum includes wallpapers and furniture covering with a distinctly William Morris look about them. Another influence (and on the Arts and Crafts movement too) was oriental art, and the house is decorated with wall hangings, prints and objects from China and Japan, as well as for example modern woven silk wall coverings made to Horta’s original design.

Up the stairs again and we find the bedroom – suit really – designed for Horta’s only child, Simone. Her bedroom opens on to a roof terrace with views over the back garden and way across the roof-tops and gardens of the surrounding houses. The dressing room next door – also at the back of the house – has a sliding door that opens into a small greenhouse (with another door to the terrace).

This was the part of the house I most liked. Bright, light, green. I could live there. Across the stairwell at the front of the house is a guest room. Not bad, but not nearly as attractive.

The guidebook also describes the servants’ quarters. There is a separate servants’ staircase (which I glimpsed through one door left ajar), and there are kitchens and servants’ rooms too, but these were not open on my visit. Nor was Victor Horta’s studio with its high, wide windows which you can see from the street.

It seems the Horta Museum has acquired the building on the other side of Horta’s residence – nothing to do with the architect – and is gutting it preparatory to moving the reception, cloak room and bookshop there – and perhaps adding a lift for disabled visitors. I can’t say, but it seems to involve work on the servants’ area as well. Maybe I’ll pay another visit next year and see how far they’ve come.

There’s a lot more to say about Victor Horta, but I think I’ll draw a line under this piece now. It was fun to visit the Horta Museum – even if I couldn’t see all of it – and I would recommend it to anyone with half an interest in architecture or Art Nouveau. Open Tuesday to Sunday inclusive (except for public holidays) 14.00-17.30. It takes about half an hour. The home page promises “Guided tours by appointment, booked one week in advance… [in] French, English, Dutch, German and, possibly, Italian and Swedish.” But when I asked, buying my ticket, I was told there are guided tours only in French and Dutch. I don’t know how to interpret that.

Apparently you can also hire the dining room for private dinners or cocktails for €2,500. Don’t all rush at once now!

Horta metro station graffiti