You may not know that actress Patricia Routledge, better known to us all as Hyacinth Bucket, is the Patroness of the Beatrix Potter Society and as such she was on hand at the Chelsea Flower Show to unveil the new Beatrix Potter™ rose, or Beatrix Potter a, seen below and grown by Peter Beales Roses in Norfolk. The rose was named in honour of the Society’s 30th anniversary.
In her Memoir of her mother, Lady Rose Weigall, Rachel Weigall relates the following story about a guest they once entertained, Dr. Barrie (pictured right), as Rachel calls him. History records the name as Barry, but no matter the spelling, the story is fascinating. First some background – Rachel’s mother was born Rose Sophia Mary Fane and her father was William Wellesley Pole, older brother to the Duke of Wellington, whose military and later personal secretary was Lord Fitzroy Somerset. We’ll see the role Somerset plays in the following anecdote Rachel writes about her childhood: “One of our most curious guests was the celebrated army Surgeon `Dr. Barrie,’ who was then stationed at Corfu. Lord Fitzroy Somerset asked my father to show him some courtesy, and said he had done such excellent work for the troops. He came to dinner, an odd-looking little person, very small, with a squeaky voice and mincing manner, just like an old maid, as my mother remarked. She found his conversation most agreeable, but we younger members of the party suffered from suppressed laughter at his peculiarities. He was a vegetarian, and refused even eggs, `because they had life in them.’ We often laughed afterwards about “Dr. Barrie”; and it was not until his death many years later that he was discovered to be a woman, who had masqueraded as a man and as an army surgeon for years.” This fact was discovered by Sophia Bishop, who’d laid out the doctor’s body after his death.
Indeed, Dr. James Miranda Barry had graduated from the Medical School of Edinburgh in 1812 and went on to enjoy a successful career as an army surgeon, eventually becoming Inspector General of Hospitals. As Rachel writes above, it was only discovered after his death at a house in Cavendish Square that he was, in fact, a woman. Odder still when you consider that he’d once fought a duel over a woman, while on the other hand, rumor had it that he’d had a homosexual affair with Lord Charles Somerset, Governor of Cape Town, where Barry spent many years in his company. Charles Somerset was the son of the 5th Duke of Beaufort and brother to Lord Fitzroy Somerset. Sophia Bishop, the maid who’d laid out the body, also claimed to have found stretch marks on the body indicative of the fact that the doctor had at least once been pregnant.
For more information on this story, try Dr James Barry: The Early Years Revealed published in the South African Medical Journal in January of 2008 by Hercules Michael du Preez and
The Secret Life of Dr James Barry: Victorian England’s Most Eminent Surgeon by Rachel Holmes
As you all know by now, I’ve had my London/Waterloo trip planned for some time, but it wasn’t until last year that my daughter, Brooke, said that she’d like to come along. We’ve been to England together quite a few times and she’s a fabulous travel companion, so I was thrilled. And then I thought that, since we’d be in Brussels anyway, how could I not take Brooke to Paris? I mean it would be right there. Paris. So I tacked on five days to the end of the trip. And then I started thinking that five days would be too many. I mean, what is there for an Anglophile to do in Paris? I started to think that I’d made a mistake. And then I went to the library and got some guide books to Paris and began to think that five days might not be enough. At any rate, I am now not only reconciled to, but also looking forward to Paris because it dawned on me that it would be the first trip in a long time for which I would have no agenda. I wouldn’t be traveling on business, nor would I be manic about all the research I had to fit into just a few days. I could go to Paris and be nothing but a tourist.
In essence, this will be my first trip to Paris. Granted, I’d won a trip entitled “April in Paris” about thirty years ago. However, I was pregnant at the time and my ex-husband and I had just bought a new home and needed carpeting more than a trip to Paris, so we cashed it in and stayed home. Fast forward to five years ago and I was in Paris, sort of, on a press trip. As part of a group of five travel writers, I was flown first class on Air France to Paris en route to Zurich, Lucerne and Interlaken. The drawback was that Air France were under the impression that they were going to be huge part of all of our stories. Therefore, upon landing in Paris, we were held hostage in the Air France “war room,” a huge conference room with a huge window over looking the runways, in which we sat for about three hours whilst people with very heavy French accents regaled us with stories of the Air France anti-terrorist game plan, security measures, latest technologies, etc. etc. etc. Finally, we were taken to the Hilton Hotel a block away from the Champs Elysee – and told that we needed to be ready for a gastronomic treat of a dinner in three hours time. I’d instantly bonded with a fellow journalist I’d only just met, Cynthia, and she and I decided to use the time to see something of Paris. We strolled the Champs Elysee, I had my photo taken in front of Napoleon’s folly, the Arc d’Triomphe, and we had a glass of wine at a sidewalk café. The waiter didn’t speak English, neither of us spoke French, but after some back and forth, we discovered that he and I both spoke Spanish. So there we sat, two American journalists, at a sidewalk café in France, ordering in Spanish. Go figure.
The next morning, I was seated on the wrong side of the plane and so never even glimpsed the Tour Eiffel as we flew out to Switzerland. In fact, I voiced the opinion that there was, in fact, no Tour Eiffel and that it’s existence was a plot by the French government to lure travelers to the City. So, this time, I am determined to see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and to stroll the City at my leisure. I have made no definite plans for our five days in Paris other than to have booked a champagne cruise on the River Seine, the boat to be boarded at the quay hard by that elusive edifice, the Eiffel Tower. If I find that there really is an Eiffel Tower I will gladly apologize to the proper French authorities. Well, perhaps not, but I will take a photo and post it here upon my return.
Brussels today is the capital of the European Union, a fitting role for the city which has been an important trading center and part of many empires — Burgundian, Austrian and French, to name only three in the last fifteen centuries.
Capturing Brussels was the immediate objective of Napoleon Bopnaparte as he marched his army north out of France in June of 1815 after his escape from his first exile in Elba. He knew the British and Prussian armies were there or heading in that direction. It was in Brussels that he hoped to re-establish his empire by annexing part of the United Netherlands, as the areas of Holland and Belgium were known at the time.
Stories about Napoleon’s disdain for the abilities of the Duke of Wellington, commander of the Allied forces, may also be true. Bonaparte is reported to have said, “…Wellington is a bad general…this is going to be a picnic.” How wrong he was.
In the year since the Allies first defeated Bonaparte in 1814 and restored the Bourbon monarchy in Paris, Brussels had become a popular residence for many Englishmen. Some aristocratic families were trying to cut costs and live less expensively. For example, the Duke of Richmond had moved his family and many servants to a large house in Brussels where they could entertain and still watch their finances. The Capel family was another who escaped creditors yet were able to live quite comfortably in Brussels. Some of the British were simply tourists flocking to the continent after the Napoleonic Wars had made travel difficult for many years. Particularly in the weeks leading up to the battles in June, Brussels was the scene of a lively social life, balls, soirees, breakfasts, promenades, as though no one had a care in the world.
Waterloo, the village for which the decisive battle is named, is just ten miles south of the center of the city. The battlefield is preserved, though the land is partially farmed just as it was 195 years ago.
The main part of Brussels is divided between the Lower and Upper Towns. The Hotel de Ville (City Hall), scene of a great welcoming ball for the Duke of Wellington, is in the Lower Town, in the Grand Place, the most famous location in Brussels.
However beautiful this scene is, perhaps an even more familiar symbol of Brussels is the Mannekin Pis, the little statue that is often dressed in costumes and rivals the city’s chocolates, lace and tapestries for worldwide fame.
In the Upper Town, many fine mansions surround the Parc de Bruxelles where the uniforms of Dutch, Belgian, Prussian, Hanoverian and British soldiers could be seen on parade in 1815. The nearby Palais Royal and the Musee Royaux des Beaux-Arts date from a few decades after Waterloo. When Belgium became an independent country in 1830, the great powers chose as its king Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, once the husband of the British Princess Charlotte of Wales.
Kristine and I are looking forward to strolling the parks, the colorful streets and the lively cafes of Brussels as we search for the location of the Duke of Wellington’s headquarters and the site of the famous Duchess of Richmond’s Ball, from which so many brave officers left directly for the battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo.
s residents were on pins and needles to know the status or outcome of the Battle. Dependable news and reports were few and far between. They could hear the artillery and they saw wounded troops coming back by the wagonload, not to mention some Prussian troops who had simply turned tail and fled the fight. Eventually, the news of the British-Prussian defeat of Napoleon spread. Many homes and public buildings were turned into hospitals to care for the wounded.
Blenheim Palace attracts many visitors in itself, but never enough paying customers just to see the house and gardens. So, like many other stately homes in Britain, the estate is now a business, home to all sorts of events.
The Blenheim Horse Trials are justly famous, but only one of many sporting events held on the grounds. To amuse the children, the 11th duke began a railway, a maze, the Butterfly House, an adventure playground and the Churchill Exhibition.
The estate is the venue for all sorts of concerts, fairs, sporting events and can be hired for weddings.
Sad to say, but apparently true, the historical and cultural treasures of the great country estates with their incredible gardens — all these riches are not enough to attract sufficient numbers of paying customers to meet the bills. One has only to think of how many stately homes are now part of schools and colleges, hotels,
country clubs, or worst of all, demolished. In the latter category are hundreds of once thriving estates dating from the time when owning land was the key to wealth.
One more opportunity for earning money is to serve as the setting for movies and television programs. You have seen parts of Blenheim Palace and its grounds in scenes from many films, such as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, The Young Victoria, The Oxford Murders, and currently filming, a version of Gulliver’s Travels.
Or go to this website for the story of 1,776 demolished country houses. It’s a sad story.
But aren’t we lucky that so many wonderful estates remain for us to visit. We’ll blog about more soon.