MR HARRISON WEIR AT HOME
This excerpt is from an article printed in “The Newcastle Courant” on Friday April 18th, 1884.
Although this article is unsigned, it is clearly the work of a journalist who had paid a visit to Mr Weir at his home “Weirleigh,” near Matley, in Brenchley, Kent. The publication date is likely to have been long after the initial interview, as in the text, reference is made to the “proofs” of the book “Every Day in the Country,” which was published in 1883 and dedicated to Harrison’s brother John Jenner Weir. This would therefore most likely put the date of the interview, to no later than mid 1883.
The illustrations presented here are not part of the original article, but have been selected to match and enhance the text.
“Weirleigh”, the country residence of Harrison Weir, family and menagerie. Image from the Scientific American Supplement, April 9th 1881.
MR HARRISON WEIR AT HOME
On leaving the train at Paddock Wood Station, on the S.E.R., says the World, you alight in the midst of the garden of Kent, and, wending you way southward toward Matfield, you ascend the hill which leads to Mr Weir’s residence.
At a mile farther on you catch sight of Weirleigh. The house abuts on the road. It is a quaint,imaginative and half medieval pile of red brick with stone dressings. From the midst rises a tower roofed in red and white tiles, arranged in rectilineal design, capped by a vane each flying the initials H.W., with a thistle-stalk outwards, serving as a wind indicator, and suggestive of the Scotch descent which Mr Weir can trace to a certain Aubrey de Vere, the lord of a family which found a home in the “Land of Cakes” some centuries ago.
The stone points to the stained and mullioned windows are carved with roses in bold relief, drawn by the owner on the stone when placed, their climbing tendrils reappearing in faithful conceit on the sills of the windows above.
On approaching the chief entrance, you read, under a garland of sumptuous flowers, the family and punning motto, Vero Nihil Verius.,¹ which has been Mr Weir’s moral guide in the critical and judicial portion of his life. You are welcomed with a cheery greeting by the artist and naturalist, a bale and hearty man apparently, dressed in knickerbockers, a garb which has been found by him best adapted to country life and to the use of the tricycle. A high-crowned felt Tyrolean hat with the wing-feather of a bird stuck carelessly in the back, surmounts a face with features of marked charm and the bright blue eyes, twinkling with bonhomie, denote power s of keen observation, while the figure, now inclining to stoutness – for Mr Weir is past “his forties” – verifies the saying of ‘Laugh and grow fat”²
“Biding his time”, a coloured book plate for the month of July, from “Every Day In The Country,” 1883.
Entering his sanctum, lying on the table may be several proofs of an illustrated work, entitled “Every Day in the Country,” ³ which comprises a naturalists calendar, with a vade mecum for the use of all who live in or who may visit the country.
On the desk is a wood block of a drawing on which Mr Weir was engaged. It represents a cow lying down, while over its back a brood of young ducks are swarming in pursuit of the flies, which they are devouring with evident gusto, to the grateful relief of the friend and beast.
Round the room are well-filled bookcases containing the works of poets ancient and modern, books on horticulture of present and bygone days etc. In one cabinet may be found a goodly array of cups and medals gained at horticultural, pigeon and poultry shows.
His mornings are usually spent in this room, writing for the many periodicals to which he contributes, or in sketching and painting, or in reading the immense amount of correspondence which reaches him from all parts of the world.
Passing through the corridors, panelled with yellow pine and dark cedar, up the broad staircase, you are impressed with the air of comfort which pervades the house. On entering the spacious dining room, one’s first impulse is to approach the great bay window, which occupies one entire side of the room, and, reclining on the lounging seat fitted to the embrasure, to feast one’s eyes on the really magnificent panoramic view of the Weald of Kent, which lies like a chequered map before one. Miles on miles of hop-gardens and orchards, cornfields and copses, dotted here and there with oast-houses and villages, while far down in the valley the thin trail of steam of a passing train may be descried. Turning inwards, you remark the artistic taste displayed in the furnishing; especially two carved oak cabinets of excellent workmanship, only surpassed by another, which stands in the morning-room, the counterfeit of one in Cologne Cathedral.
Master Painter of Horses, John Frederick Herring Snr, father-in-law to Harrison Weir. His eldest daughter Ann, married Harrison Weir on 29th October, 1845. They had four children.
Over the fireplace rises a mantelpiece after Mr Weir’s own design, early English in style, and made of Sequoia wood inlaid with ebony, having curious shelves, niches, and cabinets introduced as receptacles for the beautiful specimens of Spode and Wedgewood china , some cloisonné enamelled plates, and some exquisitely modelled cats in terra-cotto, by Mrs Alice Chaplin, who has executed similar work for the Queen.
An old English strap-bottle, an antique three-handled jar of Lambeth ware, a lustrous jar of Sussex which has served as a model to the painter J.F.Herring , sen.,⁴ and several examples of Crown Derby , make good points of colour against the dark oak. Almost everything in Mr Weir’s house is old and quaint, having come into his possession either as heir-looms or as gifts, or picked up “for a song” in some odd corner of the country. Each object has a history of its own: here, a splendid sofa, an honorarium from Brock the pyrotechnist for designs for the Handel Festival : there on the wall, two old daggers, often wielded by Creswick in the murder of Duncan; on the sideboard a handsome flagon⁵ given by the Directors of the Crystal Palace as a tribute of appreciation of Mr Weir’s services in originating the first Cat Show.
¹ The latin inscription over the entry to “Weirleigh” is the same motto for the Scottish family of –“WEIR” as it is for the English – “de VERE.” “Vero Nihil Verius” can be translated as “nothing truer than truth” or alternatively as “truth, nothing but the truth”.
² Mr Weir was being coy by implying to the young reporter that he was well past his forties. He was in fact at least 59, and into his 60th year!
³ As per our note above: Although this article is unsigned, it is clearly the work of a journalist who had paid a visit to Mr Weir at his home “Weirleigh,” near Matfield, in Brenchley, Kent. The publication date is likely to have been long after the initial interview, as in the text, reference is made to the “proofs” of the book “Every Day in the Country,” which was published in 1883 and dedicated to Harrison’s brother, John Jenner Weir. This would therefore most likely put the date of the interview, at not later than mid-1883.
⁴ John F Herring (Snr), Britains pre-eminent painter of horses, especially for the aristocracy, also famous for his renditions of winners at Ascot, and other racing events. Himself a gifted artist, three of his sons were similarly gifted and well-known for their ability to render horses in pen or paint. His eldest daughter Ann Herring, was Harrison Weir’s first wife, and the mother of his four children.
⁵ This refers to the Silver Tankard presented to Harrison Weir, which features as a line drawing in his book “Our Cats” 1889, and is shown here in a photo courtesy of the Lewes Town Council.
“Life In The Woods” a coloured book plate from “Every Day In The Country,” 1883.
“Out for a stroll”, a coloured book plate for October, from “Every Day In The Country,” 1883.
The Crystal Palace Company Tankard, presented to Harrison Weir in 1871, referred to in the last lines of this article as “a handsome flagon”. Photo with permission of the Lewes Town Council. Photo: Tom Reeves