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The Victorian B&B: What the butler saw

Raised on a remote farm 60 miles south of Perth in Western Australia, Harold Brown was beguiled by his English grandparents’ tales of the 'old country’. By the time he was six he had resolved that that was where he wanted to live, and 11 years later – in 1969 – he boarded a ship for England. What he found exceeded his expectations. Coming from a country where a 100-year-old building was considered ancient and rare, he was enthralled by London’s history and tradition...

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Victorian perfection

Harold Brown is a modest man with a passion for anything that is Victorian. As an eighteen year old he followed a training as a butler; during thirty years he was at the service of the British aristocracy. He also acted as coach for Anthony Hopkins when he played The Remains of the Day. Then he retired to the relative silence of Tunbridge Wells, where he discovered a house built in 1860. "First I bought the basement, my upstairs neighbours were a Russian princess and an english lady who worked most of her life in Italy for FAO. We formed a unique trio, we often ate together, and they thoroughly spoiled me."

In time he acquired the entire building and started the titanic job of re-establishing the house as it must have looked in the second half of the nineteenth century. The visitor, listening to the story while having a cup of tea in the drawing room, is overwhelmed by the decor. Standing lamps in surprising forms, red velvet sofas, hassocks and armchairs, paintings and etchings, a bronze of Queen Victoria, a grand piano and piles of books about royal houses are displayed on a background of very pleasant flowers.

"I already possessed a big collection, and now I could display it in appropriate surrounding. The job took seven years; in fact it is not yet finished. But I am on the right way and now I can enjoy the happiness of living in an interior from my favourite period, when this country went through a tremendous development and extended an empire."

The bedroom, looked out on a very green garden, takes on a somewhat quieter atmosphere. The walls are cream coloured, and there are small etchings on the wall. Breakfast is served in what could best be described as the portrait gallery, with a painted portrait of Queen Victoria featuring as piece de resistance. It goes without saying that the English breakfast bordered on perfection, both presentation and preparation.

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