As a research lover, it is most satisfying when everything falls into place, like the perfect jigsaw puzzle.
A few years back I asked Keith Johnson of Anthropologie to advise on a good lunch spot in London. He directed me to Thomas Cubitt, a few blocks from Sloane Square.
I loved the interior, all washed out & paneled in soft greys with a great gastro pub menu. I have since drawn inspiration from it for my own commercial spaces.
Whilst researching for my latest book, I delved into the life of Walter Rothschild, a true eccentric from a wealthy English/Jewish family. Walter’s father gave him some land on the outskirts of Tring Park as a 21st birthday present, now part of the Natural History Museum.
His passion & expertise (he started to work toward opening a pubic zoo & museum aged seven) was largely unrecognised in his time, however today his extensive & meticulous collections are coveted and researched extensively. The zoological museum was first opened to the public in 1892 with herds of cassowariess, kangaroos & zebras amongst others.
At its largest, Rothschild’s collection included 300,000 bird skins, 200,000 birds’ eggs, 2,250,000 butterflies and 30,000 beetles, as well as thousands of specimens of mammals, reptiles and fishes. They formed the largest zoological collection ever amassed by a private individual.
Many of the bird skins are housed at the American Natural History Museum in NYC, one of my very favourite museums.
One of Rothschild’s energetic passions was the plight of the Galapagos land tortoises. which saw me visiting the islands earlier this year with a greater knowledge & insight. He had many tortoises at Tring, with the oldest & largest dying of sexual frustration at the park after being gifted to him by a Middle Eastern princess!
My favourite history period to immerse myself in is the mid-late 19th century. This was a time when science & religion were questioned & debated as bold adventurers & buccaneers sponsored by deep-pocketed patrons traversed the globe in search of evidence & wonder.
In London in 1851, a great exhibition was organized with Prince Alfred at its helm, to expose & exhibit the many wonders of industry & nature from around the globe. The purpose built glass structure was designed by Joseph Paxton!
I have bought many treasures over the years from my visits to Paxton Gate in San Francisco. It is all beginning to make sense!
On reading ‘The World for a Shilling: How the Great Exhibition of 1851 Shaped a Nation’ (not a well written book but full of fabulous information) all my people & places began to interlink. Thomas Cubitt was a guarantor and oversaw the construction of the crystal palace and then went on to build at Tring Park in collaboration with Rothschild. AMAZING.
To explore on your own:
Visit Tring Park
Shop at Paxton Gate
Read ‘The World for a Shilling’
Eat at Thomas Cubitt
Once while riding through beautiful Centennial Park, I discovered a white gum forest & was determined to do a guerilla-like shoot here at some stage. Shhh! Don’t tell the council. The opportunity arose when I dove into my dress-up box to shoot my portrait for my upcoming book, The Biography of a Bowerbird.
I donned several outfits and grabbed my brother/photographer Chris. It was a glorious early morning – although extremely muddy after heavy rainfall. Here are the results.
I met my sister at the Q Station recently on a magical Sydney Summer day. It is part of the larger historical Quarantine Station that now has a cafe and restaurant. The buildings have been gently restored & are beautiful. Just wander around & look at the brickwork & lovely hardware & doors. In the rock face, shields & flags have been carved with dates & names. Otherwise just bake on the sand & swim in the harbour. You can catch the shuttle bus up & down or as I did, tackle the stairs & check out the glasshouse near the bend.
Whilst researching my next book, Biography of a Bowerbird at the Macleay Museum, I stumbled upon Mr George Rice. Intrigued, I delved into my research by contacting the Caroline Simpson Library. I poured over old surveyor’s maps from the late 1800s and discovered he owned The Curio Shop, 232 Lower George St Sydney from 1860-1877.
Pics from the National Library of Australia archives.
Around the corner on Pitt St was Mrs Palmer & Sons, a furrier & taxidermist. I have used this research & inspiration for the latest bar I have designed with Kelvin Ho. It is opening in April and is called Palmer & co.
Do you ever grow out of exploring rockpools? The discoveries that can be made at low tide. My first attraction is usually the lovely worn rocks that are the structure & house for the creatures, broken shells, seaweed trapped fish, crabs, starfish, anemones. They are little worlds of wonder that house an entire universe.