Wormsley, the house and the garden, was the ‘Beaux stratagem’ of Christopher Gibbs who set himself the mission of finding a country hideaway near enough to London in which his friend and client Paul Getty could house both his family and his extraordinary library. Set in a long deeply engraved crack in the chalk of the Chilterns, barely forty miles from Hyde Park Corner, it was the seat of the regicide Adrian Scrope and, by descent from the end of the seventeenth century, the Fane family, whose fortunes waxed and waned there until 1986. Christopher suggested to Paul and Victoria that they buy the then deliciously crumbly estate, and then masterminded the entire restoration with an array of notables: Nicholas Johnston was chief architect; Penelope Hobhouse designed the walled garden; and Chester Jones and David Mlinaric designed indoors, along with Jane Rainey, chief amanuensis to Christopher himself. Circumventing many complications that circumstances threw up, mostly to do with safety and security for the family, the team conjured a vibrant, eclectic world and we were lucky enough to play a very small part and sometimes hang around backstage. Julian and I were talking recently about the fact that there are people whom you spend a lifetime trying to please, and Christopher is one of them. When his eye glints and he takes a mint from you and sucks it smiling, remembering the days when we all smoked Rothmans, the world lights up. He has been our chief antiquarian mentor along with David Vicary and John and Eileen Harris, and a minder too, opening up a continent of curiosities, erudition, intuition, religion and sedition. He is both patrician and tactician, a man of vision and mission, a magician, a magus, a Merlin, and a Gandalf.


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