What is the fate of the author of eight published Regency Romances? Of the author of numerous short stories, novellas and countless articles and blogposts centering on the Regency era and its people, places, and fashions? Of the avid member of the Jane Austen Society with speaking gigs at many AGMs and regional meetings?
Okay, I admit it. I wrote a contemporary short story, now appearing in From Florida With Love: Moonlight and Steamy Nights, available as an e-book on May 1. 2018, and soon thereafter, in a trade paperback version.
And a further admission — I really enjoyed it. And I might even do it again someday. But the research problems were still there, just not quite so complicated as learning about late 18th Century dancing or the ins and outs of Almack’s. For example, what do young women call their …ah, dates? Boyfriends? Besties? I asked around and got both laughter and shrugs. Nobody could give me a good answer that seemed casual but…promising. So I punted — made the heroine’s best friend a Brit so I could call the guy in question a bloke! Seemed to hit the right tone.
Three images that might interest you in my story,”Playing for Good.” Above, a cello.
An Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake.
The story begins with a car breaking down on Alligator Alley. It concludes barefoot on the beach. Please order a copy!! Includes more fun stories centered on Florida.
On Number One London’s 2017 Country House Tour, our group had a few adventures in addition to seeing spectacular houses and gardens. For most of our tour, we stayed at the Old Hall Hotel in the charming spa town of Buxton, Derbyshire, once well known for its warm mineral waters.
The healing qualities of the waters have been known since the Romans ruled. Mary, Queen of Scots, came here several times while she was being held prisoner by the Earl of Shrewsbury in the late 16th century. A plaque on the hotel commemorates her visit, as does information etched into windows.
Below, the streets of Buxton, and a former stables later turned into a hospital and which is now a part of the University.
The Crescent, built in 1779 by the Fifth Duke of Devonshire, is being restored as a five-star, 80-room hotel and spa, right around the corner from our Old Hall Hotel.
We covered a lot of the Derbyshire countryside and drove through the Peak District National Park. We stopped at Castleton for a spot of tea, and a bit of jewelry shopping; the renowned semi-precious Blue John gemstones can be found here.
To close our series of adventures, I will tell you about an ancient bridge still in daily use despite its inconveniences. The Swarkstone Bridge and Causeway is almost a mile long, crossing the River Trent and adjacent marches.
This Grade 1 listed structure, an official Ancient Monument, is a bit narrow for today’s traffic, so vehicles sometimes have to take turns driving over some stretches. It gives a good idea of how bridges were once built for traffic consisting of walkers, horses, donkeys, oxen, and assorted wheeled vehicles long before the internal combustion engine. I hope they never replace it!
I have ever so much more to write about this great trip with Number One London Tours – Find details regarding Number One London’s 2019 Country House Tour here.
What is more magnificent than Chatsworth House? How about a fashion exhibition of clothing shown in the very rooms in which they were worn?
The exhibition House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion at Chatsworth was on show and we felt really fortunate to see all these wonderful garments long stored away, in most cases.
Many other treasures are permanently on display at Chatsworth, not to mention the art, gardens, restaurants and shops which delighted us.
The Cavendish family and Dukes of Devonshire descended from the marvelous Elizabethan lady known as Bess of Hardwick. At age 70, after surviving four husbands (Cavendish was #2), and assisting her fourth husband, the Earl of Shrewsbery, in holding Mary Queen of Scots under house arrest for many years, Bess built herself one of the finest “prodigy” houses of the age.
Architect Robert Smythson designed Hardwick, one of England’s earliest structures in the Renaissance style. Bess chose the sight on a high hill next to the Old Hall, which is partially in ruins today.
Huge windows bring light into the rooms, astonishing her contemporaries. Despite her age of 70 years, Bess lived here for about ten years, dying in 1608. The property was left to her son William Cavendish, 2nd Earl of Devonshire. Among the treasures in the house are fine portraits and excellent tapestries, shown under reduced illumination for their protection.
We made a quick stop at the ruins of Sutton Scarsdale, a fine Georgian mansion now roofless and in ruins, in order to appreciate the state in which some houses are in when they are handed over to the National Trust, English Heritage or a civic or government body. Built in 1727, the house contents were auctioned in 1919.
The estate is owned by English Heritage, which is in the process of conserving some of the remaining plasterwork and other features. It is a sad reminder that houses such as these may be lost forever unless they are funded and maintained by governments or heritage organizations.
Though the whereabouts of most of the contents are are unknown, at least one room has been recreated and adapted at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, probably a reception room from the ground floor.
Our final day with Number One London Tours in 2017 was spent at Tatton Hall, another Georgian house, this time carefully cared for. I neglected to get around to the front for a photo, but here is an excellent replacement.
We ended our visit with tea at the Gardener’s Cottage, sad that our visit was almost at an end, but already looking forward to our next Number One London Tour.
Number One London’s 2017 Country House Tour included visits to nine country houses, beginning with Wentworth Woodhouse, followed by Kedleston Hall, one of Britain’s finest houses.
The estate of the Curzon family since the 12th century, the present hall was built in the mid-18th century. The original architects, James Paine and Matthew Brettingham, laid out a sober Palladian block with four (eventually, just two) side villas all attached by colonnades. Scottish master designer Robert Adam altered the plan and re-designed the more “rococo” south or garden facade.
The house has a spectacular interior, intended for entertaining on a grand scale.
The house, inside and out, is flawless. And, like almost all stately homes, the residents are equally fascinating.
The gardens are extensive and dotted with statuary and follies, as well as sweeping lawns featuring the requisite sheep.
Kedleston Hall belongs to the National Trust, given to the NT in lieu of death duties in 1970. Our next stop, Calke Abbey. is a house of a different color. As is often the case, by the time a family must offer a property to the government or the NT, it is in wretched condition. This time, taking the dilapidated house and its land, the NT decided to keep it as the “unstately home.”
In the words of the website, visitors “explore the tales of an eccentric and reclusive family who amassed a huge collection of hidden treasures.” We wandered the stables, full of dusty reminders of former equine residents.
The house is better dusted but jammed with furniture, knick-knacks, old magazines, long forgotten boots, pictures dimmed by time, and a hideous collection of hunting trophies, particularly stuffed birds.
The extensive gardens, however, were spacious and well-tended.
The third house we toured was Sudbury Hall, a 17th century Restoration house, but it carries features from the earlier Tudor style, such as the blue patterned design (diapering) on the front, or northeast facade.
Contrasting with the Tudor features are Jacobean and baroque elements as well.
On the uppermost floor is a Long Gallery, probably the last one built in a British stately home. The brilliant plasterwork and sweeping length, more than 160 feet long, forms a beautiful setting for a collection of portraits and fine furniture.
The Great Staircase is particularly praised, though due to its fragility, it is no longer used except for the occasional appearance in film.
The magnificent Red Room was once the home of the Dowager Queen Adelaide — as well as the place where Darcy changed his coat in the 1995 BBC production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
In the Drawing Room, the chimney piece is adorned with one of Grinling Gibbons’ finest carvings, dated 1678.
From the the 17th century, our Number One London Tour of country houses in or near Derbyshire traveled backward in time to medieval days at Haddon Hall, one of the best preserved houses of its day.
Like many of the remaining examples of medieval residences in Britain, Haddon Hall came to the Manners family by marriage to an heiress, Dorothy Vernon, in 1562; the Vernon family had acquired the manor in the 12th century by a similar marriage to an heiress. Being a secondary home of the families, it remained relatively untouched and thus it is a fine example of period architecture.
In our next post, Act Three, Number One London Tours takes on Chatsworth, Hardwick Hall, and Tatton Hall.
This is how I felt for almost the entire 2017 Number One London Country House Tour. I love visiting English Stately Homes and this Tour offered a stellar variety of periods, architectural styles, and decorative arts. Plus, our group was remarkably compatible and full of historical curiosity. We had great food, accommodating drivers, fun hotels, etc. etc. etc. Only thing I wished for was more energy!!!
See how our first hotel’s wall recognized our goals!
Our first stop was one I had been eagerly anticipating for several years. Wentworth Woodhouse has only recently opened to the public. As you can see from the pictures of the south facade, you have to get back a long distance to photograph the entire house, and this is only half of it.
Said to be the largest private residence in Europe, Wentworth-Woodhouse in fact is two houses joined. The earlier west-facing house was begun by the 1st Marquess of Rockingham in the 1720’s in mellow red brick in the baroque style. A few years later, the same Marquess chose to build an even larger house, the east facade, constructed of sober grey stone in the Palladian style.
Recently WW, as I will refer going forward to Wentworth Woodhouse to save my fingers, has been seen in several films and on television. In Episode One of Season Two of Victoria, the scenes of the royal couple reviewing the regiment were staged in front of WW.
I will relate the full story of WW soon, and a long complicated tale it is. For the time being, just know that touring it was fascinating. Recently, the estate has been acquired by a Preservation Trust after many years as a school and then standing empty and abandoned for some time. Fortunately, the Trust will preserve and restore the house and the gardens.
We entered on the ground level, to find a great forest of pillars, cleverly named the Pillared Hall.
And a noble staircase leading to the Piano Nobile, that is, the State Rooms.
It is easy to see why there are so many pillars holding up this vast room, which was used for all sorts of gatherings, as a grand ballroom, as a gymnasium for the women’s college, and it also stands in for Buckingham Palace in the film Darkest Hour.
Most of the rooms are now empty, previous furnishings sold, stored, or lost. WW is a venue for business meetings and weddings, with the facilities able to accommodate either intimate gatherings or a virtual mob.
The gilded walls of this room once held the famous 1762 painting by George Stubbs of Whistlejacket, a champion racehorse owned by the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham. Sold to partially fulfill death duties, the canvas now hangs in London’s National Gallery, where I had visited at the beginning of my trip. The version at WW is a copy.
I will close with three views of the extensive gardens, which are being restored after wholesale destruction for strip mining of coal. Next time I will cover, more briefly, other houses we visited on Number One London’s 2017 Country House Tour.