THE 2017 COUNTRY HOUSE TOUR: IMMERSED IN DELIGHT

by Victoria Hinshaw

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.

Wentworth Woodhouse

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.

West Facade
East Facade
The floorplan of the house(s) and the aerial view show how there are actually two complete houses, back to back.

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.

Wentworth Woodhouse, September 2017

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.

The Marble Hall, with its patterned floor and elaborately decorated ceiling.

Looking down from the gallery

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 Whistlejacket Room

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.

Whistlejacket by Stubbs at the National Gallery
Another corner of the Whistlejacket Room

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.

The Giant Urn
The South Terrace
The Ionic Temple containing a statue of Hercules
Part Two coming soon!

Find details regarding Number One London’s 2019 Country House Tour here.

The Bicentenary of Jane Austen’s Death

from Victoria Hinshaw

 

Jane Austen died on July 18, 1817, in Winchester, Hampshire, at age 41. Austen is the author of six complete novels, several fragments and juvenilia.  In her short lifetime, she published four novels –  Sense & Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and EmmaA half year after her death, her brother Henry supervised the publication of two more, both of which he actually named.  Northanger Abbey had been written some years before under the name of Susan, and Persuasion was known to its author as The Elliots.

Jane Austen died in a house in Winchester, 8, College Street. She and her sister Cassandra left their home in Chawton to be near a recommended doctor. She wrote in May:

I live chiefly on the sofa, but am allowed to walk from one room to the other. I have been out once in a sedan-chair, and am to repeat it and be promoted to a wheeled chair as the weather serves…my dearest sister, my tender watchful, indefatigable nurse has not been made ill by her exertions. As to what I owe to her, and to the anxious affection of all my beloved family on this occasion, I can only cry over it, and pray to God to bless them more and more.” 

 Winchester Cathedral, Hampshire

         Jane Austen’s last illness began about a year before her death. She suffered  weakness and fainting, stomach, and discoloration of the skin.  The most accepted diagnosis is Addison’s disease – a glandular condition somewhat related to tuberculosis. Jane Austen made light of her troubles until near the end.  She had severe back pain on and off, and she and Cassandra went to Cheltenham spa  in May 1816 where she took the waters and consulted experts of the day.

     In a letter dated 23 March  to her niece Fanny she wrote:
“I certainly have not been very well for many weeks, and about a week ago I was very poorly, I have had a good deal of fever at times and indifferent nights, but am considerably better now and recovering my looks a little, which have been bad enough, black and white and every wrong colour.  I must not depend upon ever being blooming again.  Sickness is a dangerous indulgence at my time of life.”
Two weeks later, on 6 April, a letter written to her brother Charles tells of severe attacks:
“I have been really too unwell the last fortnight to write anything that was not absolutely necessary, I have been suffering from a bilious attack attended with a good deal of fever….  I was so ill on Friday and thought myself so likely to be worse that I could not but press for Cassandra’s return with Frank.” …

When Jane died on July 18, 1817. Cassandra, Jane’s dear sister, wrote:

Since Tuesday evening, when her complaint returned, there was a visible change, she slept more and much more comfortably; indeed, during the last eight-and-forty hours she was more asleep than awake. Her looks altered and she fell away, but I perceived no material diminution of strength, and, though I was then hopeless of a recovery, I had no suspicion how rapidly my loss was approaching.

I have lost a treasure, such a sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed. She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow; I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I had lost a part of myself. I loved her only too well — not better than she deserved, but I am conscious that my affection for her made me sometimes unjust to and negligent of others; and I can acknowledge, more than as a general principle, the justice of the Hand which has struck this blow.

Jane Austen, by her sister, Cassandra Austen, c. 1800, National Portrait Gallery

You know me too well to be at all afraid that I should suffer materially from my feelings; I am perfectly conscious of the extent of my irreparable loss, but I am not at all overpowered and very little indisposed, nothing but what a short time, with rest and change of air, will remove. I thank God that I was enabled to attend her to the last, and amongst my many causes of self-reproach I have not to add any wilful neglect of her comfort.

She felt herself to be dying about half-an-hour before she became tranquil and apparently unconscious. During that half-hour was her struggle, poor soul! She said she could not tell us what she suffered, though she complained of little fixed pain. When I asked her if there was anything she wanted, her answer was she wanted nothing but death, and some of her words were: “God grant me patience, pray for me, oh, pray for me!” Her voice was affected, but as long as she spoke she was intelligible.

Cassandra cut off locks of Jane’s hair for family members before the burial.  One such lock, presumably faded from its original color, is displayed at the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton.

Jane Austen is buried in the North aisle of the Winchester Cathedral.

 

The Gravestone in Winchester Cathedral engraving, written by Henry Austen.

In Memory of  JANE AUSTEN, youngest daughter of the late Revd GEORGE AUSTEN, formerly Rector of Steventon in this County. She departed this Life on the 18th of July 1817, aged 41, after a long illness supported with the patience and hopes of a Christian.

    The benevolence of her heart, the sweetness of her temper, and the extraordinary endowments of her mind obtained the regard of all who knew her and the warmest love of her intimate connections.

  Their grief is in proportion to their affection they know their loss to be irreparable, but in their deepest affliction they are consoled by a firm though humble hope that her charity, devotion, faith and purity have rendered her soul acceptable in the sight of her REDEEMER.

Note there is no mention of her novels. She was eligible for burial in the Cathedral because she was a rector’s daughter. Though some observers find this simple explanation insufficient – at least the writer of this piece extolled “the extraordinary endowments of her mind,” but it doesn’t sound like Henry thought she’d be celebrated as one of the greatest novelists in English literature.

Jane Austen, watercolour by Cassandra, c. 1804

        In 1872 a brass plaque was placed on the wall in Winchester Cathedral by Jane’s nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, (who had added Leigh to his name after inheriting an estate from a relative on his grandmother’s side of the family) son of Jane’s brother James, with the following inscription:

Jane Austen. Known to many by her writings, endeared to her family by the varied charms of her character and ennobled by her Christian faith and piety was born at Steventon in the County of Hants, December 16 1775 and buried in the Cathedral July 18 1817. “She openeth her mouth with wisdom and in her tongue is the law of kindness.”

Nearby is a stained glass window in honor of Jane Austen, created with subscriptions from the public in 1900.  The biblical and  literary references portrayed were well known in those days, but since have become obscure to most observers.

Jane Austen has millions of fans worldwide.  Many observances are being held in England and elsewhere this year, marking the bicentenary of her death. This fall, the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) will hold its Annual General Meeting  in Huntington Beach CA. to celebrate her legacy.

Over the past two hundred years, opinions of Austen’s works have varied but one cannot deny that she has achieved both an exceptional literary reputation and phenomenal  popular success in every form of media imaginable.  Jane was only 41 when she died, Imagine what she might have done with a few more years.