Following the death of Baroness Thatcher, the Daily Mail today reported how we have re-named the Gatehouse bedroom in which Lady Thatcher and Sir Denis once slept in at Upton Cressett in her honour.
As I explained in my Blog of May 12th, the former PM spent two days at the house in September 1995 as private guests of my father Bill Cash MP. The re-naming of the bedroom as the 'Thatcher Suite' has resulted in a social downgrade at Upton Cressett for the Prince Rupert Bedroom where the Thatchers slept named after the nephew of Charles I and Commander of the royal troops in the Civil War had also famously slept before the Battle of Bridgnorth in 1646.
But it is not just the bedroom that has been given a Prime Ministerial make-over - along with the walls now being upholstered in new deep Venetian red 'Arden' velvet, in a 16th century design by Melissa White (below) depicting medieval hunting scenes. Melissa operates from a small studio in Sussex and is a celebrated Elizabethan textile designer - specialising in late Elizabethan designs.
The Master Bedroom in the Hall at Upton Cressett has a large linen hanging cloth by Melissa - commissioned for Upton Cressett before she was 'discovered' by Zoffany a few years ago - and I think it is only fitting that the Lady Thatcher suite is decorated with Venetian velvet 16th century designs - as very much favoured by Elizabeth I herself - by one of Britain's leading female artisans.
So that's the Thatcher Suite walls and side-tables. But what about the bed itself ? And most importantly, what about the bed linen? When you give a historic bedroom with 16th century ornamental plasterwork a new name, you also have to give the entire room new life - and the holy grail of any guest rom these days is the quality of your bed sheets.
In the Thatcher Bedroom, I thought the new sheets and bed linen had to somehow reflect the Thatcher legacy. Ideally, they needed to be trimmed in navy blue and express the fastidious housekeeping standards for which Lady Thatcher was known.
In the Thatcher Bedroom’s case this meant a quest for the perfect sheets (and matching duvet) to do justice to Lady Thatcher’s famous housekeeping standards – the old worn plain cotton sheets and old white duvet from the White Company (now years old) was not going to muster. I needed a new set of the very highest quality linen for the bedroom that was going to do justice to the formidable political housekeeper after which the bedroom is now named.
Knowing Lady Thatcher’s trenchant views on manufacturing quality – Britain’s first female prime minister was, after all, the daughter of a shop-keeper from Grantham- it was never going to be ‘appropriate’ to choose any linens from such chic Italian or French luxury houses as Frette or Hermes - or Germany for that matter. Lady Thatcher may have died in a suite at the Ritz but it was at least the London Ritz.
Yes, it’s true Frette – the super-expensive Italian linen house that has been around since 1860 – do admittedly do a very nice set of bed linen that is edged in a very Thatcher-esque mid-satin blue (the colour of many of her favourite suits) but somehow I just don’t see a Thatcher Bedroom being ‘correct’ if the bedroom guide notes state that the sheets on the Thatcher Bed are from the Taormina Baglio Bordo line of Frette, as available from Harrods.
It would be like Madame Tussauds issuing a press release saying they had just done a new model of BaronessThatcher, only instead of her brandishing one of her famous classic British hand bags from Launer (the same brand as favoured by the Queen), they had her carrying a ‘tote bag’ from the luxury Argentinian handbag maker Prune.
No. That would not do. So I embarked on The Quest for the Perfect Linen for the Thatcher Bedroom and it took me several weeks before I was happy with what I found.
The perfect set of bed linen I have found for the Thatcher Bedroom are trimmed in a dark navy blue and can be bought in a small luxury bed linen shop near World’s End on the New King’s Road called Josephine Home. The set I selected are called the Classic 500 Thread and are made from 100% Egyptian satin cotton. The smart navy blue trim was the obvious choice - but they also come in other colours.
Despite being ‘only’ a 500 thread they feel more luxurious and softer than any of the higher thread count linen being sold by other brands, including the White Company and even Peter Reed, who holds the Royal Warrant for supplying bed linen to Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and all the royal residences.
Since Josephine Home already provide the Madarin Oriental and the Soho House group with their sheets - along with many other hotels/clubs in the world and various oligarch bedrooms and luxury yachts- I am guessing it is only a matter of time before boutique brand Josephine Home - the international luxury addict connoisseur's choice for bed linen - are given royal approval.
In the end, the Battle of the Bedsheets, came down to a choice between Josephine Home and Peter Reed - who can be bought from Peter Jones. Reed has been manufacturing sheets in Lancashire since 1861 - the same date that Frette was founded - and in many ways the brand likes to position itself as the Frette of British bed linen.
But the Peter Reed brand has suffered badly over the years and there is little doubt that the quality is not as good - not the drive for perfection - as Josephine Home, which is run by former Lehman banker Stephanie Betts (pictured right) and her husband Martin Betts.
Their office is not some flashy office near Bond Street but rather a basement below the shop on the new King's Road where piles of glorious cashmeres and throws and more beautiful sheets than Gatsby had beautiful shirts in his closet.
For years, the Reed brand was eponymous with the finest British cotton quality, When the Reed family ran their mill in Nelson, Lancashire, it was called Springbank Mill and contained the second largest weaving shed in the world at that time (748 shuttle looms). The firm's problems began with the controversial 1959 Textile Rationalisation Scheme which led to family members being paid off and the company being split into different parts - followed by a disastrous public flotation in 1966 (becoming part of Allied Textiles plc).
In 2003 the company 'changed hands' again after what it admits was 'a difficult period'- with quality and branding slipping badly at a time when people were spending fortunes on their bathrooms and kitchens but were still putting up with inferior quality bed sheets and bed linen.
Today, Peter Reed still have their Royal Warrant of Appointment to Her Majesty The Queen - granted in January 2008 - as manufacturers of bedlinen.
But knowing how fanatical HRH Prince Charles can be about his cushions and toothpaste and pressed linen sheets, I'd be surprised if the word about Josephine Home doesn't reach royal ears soon. Today the brand is still something of a boutique 'cult' - once you have Josephine Home on your bed, there is no going back.
The vision behind Josephine Home is that of Stephanie, an elegant French former banker and lawyer who started the business after having her first child Tristan and wanting to set up home near Henley on Thames - but not being able to find sheets or bedroom accessories or 'special things ' that matched the quality and style of her grandmother Josephine's old house in Paris. Hence Josephine Home.
'She lived in the most inviting home I have ever known' says Stephanie, who is always dressed immaculately. 'She had the most wonderfully comfy beds, which gave me the sense of being not just expected, but more importantly, cosseted and loved. In that, she was the ultimate hostess'.
Stephanie travels around Europe sourcing only the very finest artisans and craftspeople to source for Josephine Home - using Scottish wool mills and very best artisans from both Britain and the Continent (and certainly not China, as some 'luxury' linen mail-order luxury behemoths now do to keep up with the volume of their orders.
Stephanie's shop on the King's Road is an extension of her Henley home and her private self. It is al about comfort, colour and what the French like to call The Art of Life - or joi de vivre. Nothing about Josephine Home could be further removed from the glossy alpha glass and steel world of her former life at Lehman Brothers with with its soulless meeting rooms, board room tables the size of swimming pools and hard leather and chrome chairs. Now she has quite banking for bed linen, Stephanie gets inspiration for each new collection's mood boards from sitting in the garden at her house near Henley and creatively absorbing the seasons around her.
'Frost or dew, sunshine and shade—I find inspiration all around me. I like to focus on the simple but often forgotten, homeware products which we use every day, and which I knew from my childhood growing up in France'.
But a warning. As I mentioned earlier, Josephine Home is not just a cult - seeking out the perfect ben linen can be expensive and compulsive. I've never heard of support groups for people obsessed with buying the most beautiful sheets, cushions, throws and pillow cases - a new line of silk pyjamas inspired by the works of David Hockney have recently been launched - but I wouldn't be surprised to hear of a new "LL" (Luxury Linen) category of addict being treated at the Priory.
As Stephanie says; 'The experience of genuine quality becomes addictive'. Ive never heard of sheets or linen (ruinously expensive to iron every day) carrying health warnings before, but having now experienced the Josephine Home sheets in The Thatcher Bedroom I think each tissue wrapped set of sheets should definitely contain a warning card inside. To the effect that sleeping in Jospehine Home sheets can seriously damage one's ability to sleep in anything less.
The reason for such comfort is that her Italianbed linen is made from the same type of linen that the Pope uses at the Vatican - her linen is also the favoured choice of various Russian oligarchs, including Eugeny Lebedev, owner of the London Independent and Evening Standard. Whether his billionaire father - who is facing jail in Russia for assaulting a fellow guest on live television - would be allowed to use Josephine Home in prison to make his possible stay more comfortable, I didnt like to ask.