ENTERTAINMENT

After 44 years in the Cotswolds Retreat, PRUE LEITH shrinks as she makes lifelong memories


In 1976 we lived in an apartment in Paddington. With two two-year-olds – my son Daniel and adopted daughter Li-Da – who had frequent fits of anger, and my late husband, writer Rayne Kruger, who needed rest, a country house looked like the answer.

In those days the Cotswolds were rural backwater and real estate was cheap. Rayne's specifications, however, included high ceilings, lots of light, no moisture – and no other houses in sight. This excluded most of the farms, village houses and cottages.

My demands included a good rail link to Paddington and enough land to grow vegetables and flowers and to open a duck farm. At that time, my restaurant was selling 15 servings of Leith's ducklings a night, which meant over 200 birds were being used per month. (That plan was dashed – my ducks would cost about twice what we paid our suppliers.)

When we first visited the Glebe, my main impression was of large rooms, high ceilings, wonderful light and freezing weather. It was so cold that the water in a vase on the mantelpiece of the living room was frozen – it was warmer outside in the snow than inside.

Heart of her home: Prue Leith in the kitchen, where she tested "millions" of recipes. She says, "The kitchen has always been the heart of the house and where most of my memories are."

A look at the Cotswolds retreat Prue is now selling. The house was originally a 16th century farmhouse and became

A look at the Cotswolds retreat Prue is now selling. The house was originally a 16th century farmhouse and "was changed by almost everyone who lived in it," writes Prue

What really attracted me was the dining room, which I instantly knew would transform into the kitchen. It has a wonderful view and there was space to cook and eat.

The view from the room upstairs, which was immediately intended for Rayne's study, seduced him.

The house was big, but not grand or grandiose. Originally a 16th century farmhouse, it was changed by almost everyone who lived in it and was now a happy mess of old basement, Georgian center, Victorian grand piano and pinned 1930s living room.

Now, 44 years later, it is time to say goodbye. With adult children, the same family has become too big and too expensive for us. So with a heavy heart we sell and (terrible word) downsize.

My second husband, John Playfair, who is finally selling his house too, is irretrievably throwing in his property with me (we have been known to have separate houses throughout our time together).

Our new home ("Our Eventide Home," as John roughly calls it) is completely different, and planning is a great antidote to contemplating losing the old home.

But looking back, I can't believe I was fortunate enough to have 44 years of Glebe. When we bought it, I was beside myself with excitement. 36 years old to be mistress of paradise! It took us a year to renovate and I loved this summer. We'd be driving down from London, Rayne would disappear into the house to talk to the builders while I would pick spinach and peas and the kids would run around or sleep on a blanket under a tree.

Aside from having decent central heating built in, our biggest change was opening up the hallway and making it twice as high by losing a bedroom and bathroom above.

Frieze frame: The design on the living room ceiling, painted by Prue's step-granddaughter, artist Amy Douglas, must be left behind

Frieze frame: The design on the living room ceiling, painted by Prue's step-granddaughter, artist Amy Douglas, must be left behind

Swan song: The pedal boat on Glebe Lake was a gift from Sandi Toksvig. She says, "We ran out of water, but when the children could swim I gave in and he supervised the digging."

Swan song: The pedal boat on Glebe Lake was a gift from Sandi Toksvig. She says, "We ran out of water, but when the children could swim I gave in and he supervised the digging."

The Victorian wing had a butler pantry, kitchen, flower room, and storage room that we combined to form a huge playroom big enough for a ping pong table, trikes, and train sets. At Christmas the ping pong table was connected to other odd tables and we sat 20 or 25 family members for lunch.

The first floor had four bedrooms, all facing south, the best with windows facing south and west and a dressing room and bathroom. I had a happy time decorating this bathroom.

We'd inherited old-fashioned ocher tile with a spacious bathroom with a bezel big enough to hold a tea tray (or gin and tonic).

I love a long bath and had the fantasy of lying under an apple tree laden with rosy apples. I couldn't find an apple wallpaper, so I bought a leaf wallpaper and painted hundreds of apples on it. I didn't paint directly on the ceiling in the Michelangelo style, but with the paper on the table tennis table.

I also bought an elaborate mantelpiece with shelves that I'm really going to miss. Strangely shaped bottles sit on it and I fill them with boat bath bubbles of every color.

Every room has a memory: the children crawl into our bed in the morning; Rayne's study that smelled of old books and cigarette smoke; The year we staged a nativity play in the playroom, our donkey ate the nativity scene and then peed on the floor.

Trying to decide what to bring into the new house is agony. My favorite piece of art is a giant tapestry by artist Cathelin that was bought on a whim. I was on vacation and saw it in an exhibition in Provence.

For me, the test of great art is whether your heart beats faster – meaning went out the window. It will surely come with us. One of them was my mother's copper soup tureen, which I remember when I sat on our table as a child in South Africa. She died at the age of 97 and grew up a philodendron for the last 30 years of her life. A descendant of their original plant still thrives there today.

Branching: A huge metal tree owned by Prue's husband John. She also used some spare chains to secure some tea cups in a chandelier

Branching: A huge metal tree owned by Prue's husband John. She also used some spare chains to secure some tea cups in a chandelier

The ceiling that Prue painted. She says, "I couldn't find an apple wallpaper, so I bought a leaf wallpaper and painted hundreds of apples on it."

The ceiling that Prue painted. She says, "I couldn't find an apple wallpaper, so I bought a leaf wallpaper and painted hundreds of apples on it."

Then there is a brass spittoon that once adorned my Leith & # 39; s restaurant in London. I bought it at the Portobello Market and thought it was a fancy vase only to hear from a customer that it was a spittoon. Yuck!

Now it is in the dining room, filled with a graceful weeping fern.

And I can't leave my collection of antique teacups behind. I've been collecting them for years and they're way too small for tea – I like huge teacups – so I lined up some of them in a chandelier with a couple of spare chains that will come with us.

I'll also take the huge metal trees John designed to hang my ridiculous collection of necklaces and earrings.

Another thing I will definitely take is a Victorian porcelain basin that I had put in the living room wall. It's very pretty and must have been to a winter garden once so that chic ladies can fill their little watering cans.

Rayne drank a couple of glasses of whiskey and water every night so we wouldn't have to go to the kitchen for water. In the new house it will be on the loo on the ground floor. What I can't take with me is the frieze on the living room ceiling, painted by Amy Douglas, my artistic step-granddaughter. It consists of alternating thistles (John is a Scot) and proteas for my South African origins.

From the kitchen I take my Lazy Susan, who has been spinning spices and flavors, kitchen knives and wooden spoons since we arrived. I designed it and the carpenter who made it said we needed 100 1 pound ball bearings to support the spin weight – 100 pounds!

I said, "Let's use the children's marbles." He said they would be crushed in a few days. Forty-four years later, they are still doing a great job.

The kitchen has always been the heart of the house and where most of my memories are. Here we eat every day, where I've tested tens of millions of recipes, made endless jams, where the kids learned to cook, where I wrote my eight novels and relish, my autobiography and where I am now writing. Here my long-suffering John becomes the cameraman for my Instagram videos.

Home Sweet Home: Prue with late husband Rayne and their children Daniel and Li-Da when they first moved to the Cotswolds

Home Sweet Home: Prue with late husband Rayne and their children Daniel and Li-Da when they first moved to the Cotswolds

It's also the scene of one of the few series that I had with my late husband. My brother's children lived with us so to my shame there were half a dozen child witnesses for my losing it. I was going to throw something at Rayne and the only thing on hand was my plate of cereal, yogurt, and banana. I picked up the bowl and at the last second thought better of tossing it across the table and instead tossed it straight up where it hit the ceiling.

I don't remember what the argument was about, but I do remember the horrified faces of the children and a bit of banana taped to the ceiling with yogurt that slowly peeled off to join the mess on the table. For years we pointed out the stain on the ceiling and told the story.

Most of our best memories are garden memories. When the kids grew out of the sandpit and jungle gym, we decided to replace them with a stone pergola with grapevines and a long table for al fresco dining.

Rayne said, "For what we're spending on this cause, all of our friends could fly to the south of France for lunch every year." And at least the sun would be shining. "

What matters is that I was fortunate enough to live happily in a beautiful house for 44 years, writes Prue Leith (above)

What matters is that I was fortunate enough to live happily in a beautiful house for 44 years, writes Prue Leith (above)

But over the years we have had many, many happy lunches under that pergola – though I must admit we occasionally had to run away with everyone clutching their plate as the rain subsided.

Rayne said flowers should be confined to a garden and insisted that the view from his study be on grass, water, and trees. We ran out of water but when the kids were able to swim I gave in and he oversaw the digging of a small lake where two generations of kids swam and splashed around in row boats, rubber tires and most recently a 12 foot swan pedal Gift from Sandi Toksvig (from QI and Bake Off fame).

We picnicked and barbecued on his little island and I spent hours cleaning up weeds and introducing fish and water lilies.

Rayne's interest in China resulted in a Chinese-style bridge and pagoda. I think the lake and the garden will be missed most when I leave. Rayne's ashes are in the water, strewn about after his death in 2002, and I'm pretty sorry mine won't be anymore.

An annual event until Covid was Chastleton Sports Day for hordes of friends of my children and their families, from toddlers to grandmas. The front lawn is divided into running lanes, and teams compete in everything from tug-of-war to croquet.

The highlight is the Underpants Duathlon, where everyone takes off their underwear and runs across the field, swimming across the lake to the island, getting out and buckling over the bridge and then back across the field to the front yard.

Since John entered my life ten years ago, my and his grandchildren have benefited from his construction skills. There's an adventure playground with zip lines and wobbly walks, a climbing wall, and monkey ladders.

Leaving a house is sad, but it is also very hard work. It should be a pleasure to go through boxes and boxes of photos before moving.

Well, I've wasted hours in the past, but I didn't like it. I feel guilty because I can't kick most of it out. I am sure I should. Why bother my children with sorting out all these things – not just photos, but half-written novels, diaries, press clippings?

When my mother died she hadn't thrown anything in years and I was just too busy to sort it out. I still feel guilty about throwing 90 percent of it unread.

I only kept their diaries and photo albums and they are now on the pile that I face. One day one day I'll read it

I am sad to have to sell beloved sideboards and tables because they are too big for the new house.

I hate to think of our Welsh oak dresser or the solid 6-foot round stinkwood table (a rare South African species) that's overpainted and "desperate" to be shabby chic. But hey-ho, it's just "stuff".

What matters is that I was fortunate enough to live happily in a beautiful house for 44 years. I am really grateful.

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