THURSDAY, 17 APRIL
The Fenton House is one of the largest and earliest houses in Hampstead. The house was built in about 1686 by William Eades, son of a master brick layer. The house's previous owners included Thomas Sympson, Joshua Gee, and Phillip Fenton, from whom the house gets it name. Fenton House is surrounded by rose, kitchen, and vegetable gardens. There is even an apple orchard. More importantly, within the house there are collections of early keyboards, porcelain, engravings, paintings, Georgian furniture, and 17th-century needlework pictures.
The collection of early keyboards was started by Major Benton Fletcher (1866-1944) and was sold to the National Trust in 1934. Fletcher began the collection due to his desire to preserve these works of art, as well as stressing the importance of maintaining the instruments. The 19 instruments on display are all in playing order and any musician, no matter what age, may play them, though it does require an audition. The collection contains harpsichords, spinets, virginals, pianos, and clavichords by makers including Shudi, Broadwood, Ruckers, Kirckman, Dolmetsch, Backers and Longman & Broderip.
"We took a tour of the keyboards by Mimi Waitzman, a short sweet woman, whose love and incredible knowledge of the instruments made for a wonderful experience. Some of my favorite instruments were the Siculus Spinet, one of only two surviving, the English virginal made to look like a chest, and the Shudi Harpichord with a flap mechanism [Venetian Swell] over the soundboard to create a crescendo and diminuendo effect."
"I loved the virginal in the closet for its shockingly loud and bright sound. I was expecting something like a clavichord's barely audible tones, but found nothing of the sort. The 17th Century English virginal also caught my ears, but mostly my eyes for the exquisite painting and design."