Giles Keating, the owner of Athelhampton House, one of England’s finest Tudor manors, has overseen a major plan of maintenance on the much-loved building
Following a spell as a research fellow at London Business School, Giles Keating was chief economist at a major international bank for 30 years. ‘The political events of this last month would have been my meat and drink, it would certainly have been a pretty busy few weeks!’ he says.
He spent his time at the bank studying the economy and finance not just of the UK, but of the major and emerging economies across the globe. He first visited China before the Tiananmen Square massacre, and went back frequently, watching it grow from a primitive economy to a global power. He toured the world, visiting Asia, the Americas and the Middle East: ‘I spent my time examining, talking to people, telling them what I thought I knew, and discovering what they actually knew!’
When he retired from banking he cast around for new ventures: ‘when you retire, you can’t just lie down’.
Giles became increasingly interested in the modern finance revolution, bringing tech into the finance arena: first via a robo-advisor startup (a type of automated financial advisor that provides algorithm-driven wealth management services with little-to-no human intervention), and then in digital currency. But with more time on his hands, Giles needed a new project.
A Tudor shopping list
‘I have always had a yen to get closer to the spirit and architecture of the Tudor era. I also have four children (and have just welcomed my first grandchild), and I wanted a house which could accommodate big family get-togethers. On top of which I wanted a new business – not one to just sit on, but one I could be involved in, making it live and work. Old houses need looking after – they need to be alive.
‘But it’s a niche property search; Tudor houses are in rather limited supply. The selection of those that may also be run as businesses is even tinier. And there seems to be no checkbox on Zoopla for “minstrel’s gallery”, which is a glaring omission … It took many years, but finally I found Athelhampton, and from the very first visit I knew it was the right one.
‘The house was in perfectly liveable condition when I moved in, but as the bigger projects got underway it became less so. Guests weren’t keen when flushing the toilet meant filling a bucket of water from the river!
‘After two years the heavy-duty works are complete. Most were simply maintenance, sorting the roof etc. There was also the work on revealing the original Tudor kitchen, of course (as featured in The BV, July 22). So now it’s about using the house and encouraging people to use it too. We’ve opened more of the rooms to the public, created interpretative panels to show the timeline of the ownership, and we really want to use the space.
‘We’ve had a fabulous half-term with the Tudors in residence, re-enacting the house as it would have been originally. This summer we hosted the stars of the Royal Ballet with musicians from the Royal Opera House for a fabulous weekend of dance; sadly diary clashes mean they can’t return next year, but are already booked for 2024.
And of course we have the Dorset Food & Drink Christmas Fair coming in December – upwards of 2,000 people come through the doors.
We’re also utilising the long gallery for local artists – we currently have an Elizabeth Sporne ‘Modern Icons’ exhibition until the end of November.
Giles has written a book based on characters from Athelhampton’s past – as he researched for a new guidebook as a lockdown hobby, the extraordinary history of the house and its occupants seemed ready-made for a story. He based it around Anne of Athelhampton, featuring historical characters and events. A second book is due out in the spring.
A life in music
And so to Giles’ eight music choices, in no particular order, along with how and why they stuck in his life:
Come Ye Sons of Art (Ode for Queen Mary’s Birthday),
I just adore Purcell’s music, and especially this Ode, which is such a happy celebration and raises the heart every time! “Sound the Trumpets!” And as an added bonus, it has a link to Athelhampton, since Queen Mary’s Aunt (Lady Francis Keightley, nee Hyde, sister of James II’s first wife Anne Hyde), lived at Athelhampton around the time this was composed.
A change of gear after Purcell! The date gives a clue to why this is here: this track is from Folklore, one of two albums that Swift released in an incredible burst of creativity during lockdown. I played this a lot when driving down the almost-empty roads to Athelhampton, where I was helping supervise a major construction project, which made the house well-nigh uninhabitable (hence the driving). The album is simply one amazing hit after another, and I think August especially hits the spot in bringing out the sheer emotional intensity of a summer love affair.
Atom Heart Mother Suite,
This had been out for a while when I went to uni, but it was a favourite of those years and listening again recently, I think it has stood the test of time. It’s incredibly original, spanning rock and classical, a kind of rock sonata that uses any and every available musical medium including choirs and motorbikes.
Sonata No 1 in G Minor, JS Bach – 1953, Jascha Heifetz
These unaccompanied solo violin works by Bach are quite stunning, and of course require a superb musician to play them.
I’ve always loved folk music, perhaps because it somehow spans the Celtic (Irish) side of my ancestry and the English (Kentish) side, or perhaps just because it’s wonderful to listen to! Greensleeves was first published in 1580, at the heart of Athelhampton’s Tudor era (though some people say it was composed some decades earlier, by Henry VIII). Like most people, I really only know the first few verses and the chorus, but there are a total of 17 verses, and I’d like to take a vocal version of that to the Island so I can take time to get to know them all.
Rose Tint my World,
(The Rocky Horror Show, 1973, Original London Cast)
A key soundtrack to my school years, there was even a production based on it in the school hall (don’t ask me how they got away with that!). It’s a brilliant and fun show with fantastic dancing music, but it is deadly serious below the surface. Not just in bringing gender etc. issues to the fore decades before current debates, but also in its mantra for all aspects of life: “Don’t dream it, be it!”
Dr Who theme music, Ron Grainer, original 1960s version realised by Delia Derbyshire
There was a handful of iconic TV shows when I was a kid (and I was only allowed to watch a few hours of TV a week) and while picking my Dorset Island Discs, I found myself wrenched between the Avengers (Diana Rigg version, of course!), Thunderbirds, and The Prisoner. In the end, Dr Who won out because I think its amazing, original electronic sounds will repay playing over and over again on the Island. And of course, The Seeds of Doom series was filmed at Athelhampton.
(spoiler alert: at the end, the RAF has to bomb the house to destruction because the giant rogue plant has taken it over. Perhaps that’s the real truth behind the destruction of Tyneham Manor?? I think we should be told!)
There were so many contenders for my final choice, ranging from Verdi’s La Donna e Mobile through to Bowie’s Lazarus. Gaga won out for the sheer energy and craziness, including those amazing costumes – and especially headgear – from the video that the music evokes! I’ll need that kind of energy to keep me going on the Island.
Architecture and LEGO
My book choice would be A Pattern Language: Towns, Building, Construction, by C Alexander, S Ishikawa, M Silverstein and associates, 1977.
This is simply one of the great books. Ostensibly about Architecture and town planning, it’s really about life in every sense; how people live and interact with one another, grow up and grow old. Also, though published before the Internet, it has hyperlinks throughout, encouraging one to leap from one section to another, so you don’t read it straight through like a normal book, you always take a different route, as with web pages. That makes every read different – perfect for my Island stay!
For my luxury I’d like a great big LEGO set, please. The more retro style, I think the current branding is “Classic”. Then I can make anything out of it, rather than be limited to one specific theme. But, please, lots of different colours and shapes – then for spooky Hallowe’en, I can use the browns and blacks, and for jollier days some bright reds and blues!
Click here to listen to Giles entire playlist on YouTube