A Couple In England – Day 8 – Part 3

When I got back to our room at the Castle Hotel, I was shocked to find that Hubby had unpacked our bags and had actually hung some of our clothes in the closet.

“Feeling better?” I asked. Hubby pointed to a low table that sat between two chairs by the window. On it were our trusty bottle of rum, a bottle of Coke and an ice bucket. I made myself a drink and took a long, lovely pull.


“How’s Hester?”

“Good. She couldn’t believe how bad I looked. I can’t wait till she gets a load of you.”

“At least I don’t feel like I’m going die. I don’t feel great, but I really think I might live.”

We sipped our drinks in silence for a while and then I brought up the subject of food.

“Are you hungry?”

“Yeah, we haven’t eaten anything all day. Come to think of it, neither of us has eaten much of anything for a long time. I don’t want anything fancy shmancy, Hon. I’m not up for that.”

“Fancy shmancy? You’re joking, right? I was thinking more like going straight across the road to the pub.”

“There’s a pub across the street?” Hubby looked out the window.

“Two. You can’t see them because they’re directly behind the Guildhall.”

So we finished our drinks, bundled up and headed out.

I pointed to the Guildhall as we passed. “That’s where Chuck and Camilla were married.”

There? Why didn’t they get married at the Castle around the corner? Boy, that must have been a dark day for you, Hon. Did you cry?”

“I contained myself. But it really should have been me who married Chuck.”

“No kidding. Think of the jewels you’re missing out on.”

Jewels? I could care less about the jewels. What I want is the key to the Royal Archives. And to every other archive in the land that’s usually off limits. One of the first things I’d have done would’ve been to call Stratfield Saye and say `It’s me. Chuck’s wife. Let me in and lead me to the personal papers.’ Here we go, the Carpenter’s Arms.”

Because it was relatively early, we had the whole place to ourselves. I ordered the bangers and mash and I can’t for the life of me remember what Hubby had – and neither can he. Suffice it to say that we ordered another round of drinks and then settled down to wait for the food.

“We’re meeting Hester in the car park at the hotel tomorrow morning and she’s going to drive us to Oatlands. All you have to do is get into the car. No trains or cabs or anything else resembling work.”

“What’s Oatlands?”

“It was Freddy’s house.”

Freddy? Who’s Freddy? Is he related to the Duke of Wellington? Is that the guy with the fake leg?”

“Freddy was a woman. Frederica, Duchess of York.”


“Remember the Duke of York’s column in London?”

“The guy with the mistress?”

“Yes. Freddy was his wife.”


Sigh. “She was a Prussian princess and was rather eccentric and homely, but she was incredibly kind. Some of the greatest people of the age adored Freddy. When Tom Sheridan’s wife was gravely ill, Freddy invited her to Oatland’s to rest and recuperate. And then there was Prince Leopold.”


Leopold. Princess Charlotte’s widower. He went to pieces when Charlotte died and Freddy was very patient with him and had him at Oatlands with her in order take his mind off things.” Our food arrived and we began to eat.

“And of course there was Beau Brummell.”

“Did you know there was a singing group called the Beau Brummells?”

I stared at Hubby. “Yes.”

Laugh, laugh. That was the name of their hit. You know it? Laugh, laugh, la la la la. Da da de da laugh, laugh . . . Remember?”

“Can’t say that I do.” It was obvious that there was no use my going on about the life and times of Freddy, but I felt honour bound to mention that after we’d seen Oatlands we’d be going on the Hampton Court.

“And then after Oatlands we’re going to Hampton Court.”

“What’s that?”

I smiled. “Oh, trust me. You’re going to love it.”

“I bet.”

Day Nine Coming Soon!

Hester and the Queen

As many of our loyal readers will know, we have had a link to the new Windsor and Royal Borough in our sidebar for some time now. Our dear friend and frequent blog post contributor, Hester Davenport, was a moving force in making the Museum a reality and on Friday, December 9th, the Queen officially opened the museum, located in the Berkshire town guildhall where Prince Charles married Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005. The £300,000 museum is housed in the Maidenhead room of the 17th Century Grade I listed Windsor Guildhall.

After the official ceremony, the Queen was shown a selection of displays and was introduced to our Hester, who actually got to touch the Royal Glove, above.

The foundation stone of the Guildhall was laid on 5 September 1687 and the extension in which the museum is housed was completed in 1830. Markets were held there until 1901 when the ground floor was enclosed. Sixty years ago, in 1951 the Queen, who was then Princess Elizabeth, opened the refurbished Windsor Guildhall.

You may recall that it was Hester who acted as our guide during the visit Vicky and I made to Windsor, but if not, you can read our blog post about the day here. It was due to Hester’s Royal knowledge that Vicky and I were able to see the Queen up close as her procession left Windsor Castle for the Ascot Races. Vicky and I are dead chuffed that Hester was able to top herself and to get thisclose to the Queen, who Hester told us confidentially seemed very nice as well as very interested in the Museum. As Hester keeps one upping herself in the Royal stakes, Vicky and I can only imagine what she’ll have in store for us on our next visit – tea at the Palace, perhaps?

Victoria here — just checking the mail for the invitation to that tea.  Not here yet!   I had another wonderful day with Hester last June, 2011, at the Museum. All the details are here.  Hester and I had a wonderful time discussing, in addition to the museum, the Queen and many other topics, our favorite authors Fanny Burney, Jane Austen, and Perdita aka Mary Robinson. 

Happy 2012 to Hester and all of our readers!

Travels with Victoria: The Windsor Museum

I was delighted to spend my last full day in England, June 15, 2011, with Hester Davenport in Windsor.

Here is Hester with members of the Irish guard with their canine mascot at the opening of the museum.

Hester generously planned our day beginning by meeting me at the train station in Slough, pronounced I believe to rhyme with plow (or plough).  Our first stop was a new park, formed from an old one which had fallen into disrepair. 
 The Herschel Park, 2011
The park is named after the famed German-born astronomer and musician-composer Sir William Herschel (1738-1822) who died in Slough after a distinguished career in which he discovered the planet Uranus and its moons, invented a number of telescopes, named the “asteroids”, and composed more than twenty symphonies. His sister Caroline was a significant partner in many of his scientific studies.

In the mid-nineteenth century, this area was part of a housing development which included large open spaces, and was known as Upton Park. It borders the M-4 and most of it was badly in need of renewal when a group, with money partially from the Heritage Lottery Fund, redesigned the park with nature trails and a Victorian band shell, a real asset for the neighborhood.Below, an old view of the Victorian park.

Our next stop was the Windsor Farm Shop where one can buy the Queen’s own beef, poultry and vegetables, straight from the Royal Estates. The goods were very enticing, I must say.

 Outside, there was a wide array of herbs, vegetables and flowers for one’s own gardens.  But I couldn’t quite figure out how I would get them home across the pond!

After a quick sandwich, we walked over to the Windsor Great Park to see the Queen and the royal family pass by on their way to the Ascot Races. I completely failed to get a photo here, but I found one in a newspaper that shows the Queen in what I believe is her loveliest hat. We got a very good glimpse of her and I was so impressed, I forgot my camera altogether.  Isn’t this the prettiest chapeau EVER?


Above, Queen Anne on the Windsor Guildhall,  home of the new museum.

View of the Guildhall from the south, showing the original Wren building completed in 1689 and the extension at the rear, constructed about 1829.

In March of 2011, the Windsor and Royal Borough Museum opened on the ground floor of the Guildhall. The doll above is one of thousands of artifacts to be exhibited, covering prehistoric to recent days.

Hester Davenport blogged here about some of the most fascinating items in the collection, the miniature d
ioramas created in the 1950’s by Judith Ackland and Mary Stella Edwards.  Below, a detail of Windsor during George II’s Golden Jubilee in 1809, showing the princesses dancing at the local celebration.

 Since the town council was not in session, I had the opportunity to go upstairs and view the council chamber, the mayor’s office and  the Ascot Room up close.

 You will be pleased to know that I did not dissolve the town while I sat in the mayor’s chair under the portraits of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.

This recent picture of Queen Elizabeth II hangs in the Council Chamber, but I have to admit I preferred the earlier one below, which is not currently hanging but can be seen in the Ascot Room underneath a portrait of Queen Victoria, her great-great grandmother.

The Ascot Room, next to the Council Chamber, is often used for wedding ceremonies, most notably the 2005 marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, and later that year, the civil partnership of Sir Elton John and David Furnish.

Hester and I finished with a delicious dinner.  I thank her ever so much for showing my around.   Hester is a very busy lady, with many boards and committees having to do with local history and the 18th /19th C. history. She is currently, for example, the chariman of The Burney Society and is a frequent speaker and writer on literary figures.  Thank you, Hester!!!

The next day I was off to Heathrow for the return trip, already planning for my next visit.

Travels with Victoria for 2011 concludes with this post. I hope you have enjoyed vicariously accompanying me on my jaunts.  And I hope you did not catch my pesky cold — which followed me back home but is now, thankfully, only a memory.

The Charlotte Gunning Portrait at Chawton House by Guest Blogger Hester Davenport

The Portrait of Charlotte Gunning (1759-94)
copyright Chawton House Library

On 15 May 1784 it was the turn of Charlotte Margaret Gunning, Maid of Honour to Queen Charlotte, to have use of the Royal Coach. Her friend Mary Hamilton called at St James’s Palace, and went with Charlotte to ‘Romney’s, the Painter’s’ where Miss Gunning was ‘to sit for her picture’. That half-length portrait now hangs in Chawton House Great Hall.
Mary Hamilton had also been employed in the royal household, to help with the education of the young princesses; she found her duties arduous, thankfully withdrawing from court after five years. Perhaps the two young women talked over the difficulties of royal service, which included their reputations as ‘learned ladies’. Both had had ‘masculine’ educations in the classical languages: according to Fanny Burney Miss Gunning was derogatively nicknamed ‘Lady Charlotte Hebrew’ for her learning.
Charlotte was the daughter of Sir Robert Gunning (1731-1816), a diplomat who was so successful in conducting the King’s business with the Empress of Russia that in 1773 he was made  Knight of the Bath. His daughter’s appointment as Maid of Honour to Queen Charlotte in 1779 was no doubt a further sign of royal favour. He had two other children, his son George who would inherit the baronetcy, and another daughter Barbara. His wife had died when Charlotte was eleven-years-old, but in the 1780s he ordered portraits of himself and his three children from the society portraitist, George Romney (1734-1802).
The painting of the 25-year-old Charlotte is interesting in its apparent contradictions. The colours are muted, with the head veiled in white and the black dress severely plain, yet it is very low-cut, and the sitter looks out self-assured and even challenging. A warm glow in the sky behind suggests there is feeling and passion beneath that cool exterior. Charlotte’s hair is dressed high on her head and fashionably powdered. A hat might have been expected, but scarves, called ‘fascinators’, sometimes replaced large hats, especially for evening wear.
There were six Maids of Honour, paid £300 a year, with duties that must have been stultifyingly dull, standing in attendance at the Queen’s ‘Drawing rooms’ and other court functions (though periods of duty were rotated). Charlotte kept her position for nearly twelve years before managing to escape. It was not easy to withdraw from royal service, as both Mary Hamilton and Fanny Burney discovered, and reaching her thirtieth birthday in 1789 Charlotte must have feared a dreary life of spinsterhood. But on 6 January 1790 she achieved an honourable discharge when she married a widower, Colonel the Honourable Stephen Digby, the Queen’s Vice Chamberlain. Another of Charlotte’s friends, Mary Noel, wrote in a letter of her surprise that Sir Robert gave his consent ‘as it must be a very bad match for her if he has four children’, though she also recorded Charlotte saying that she ‘can’t live without his friendship and could not keep that without marrying him’.
For Fanny Burney the news of the forthcoming wedding was a shock: she believed that Digby had been paying her marked attention for two years and that she should have received the proposal. Her sense of betrayal was huge and she gave vent to her feelings in page after page of her journal. She never blamed Charlotte but no doubt got sly pleasure from noting the King shaking his head over ‘Poor Digby’ (because his bride was a learned lady) or recording the strange details of the wedding: that it was performed by Dr Fisher, Bishop of Salisbury, in the Drawing-room of Sir Robert’s house in Northampton, with the guests sitting round on sofas and ladies’ workboxes not cleared away. The new Mrs Digby paid a visit to Miss Burney, ‘quite brilliant in smiles and spirits’ and Fanny did her the justice of saying that she believed that Miss Gunning had ‘long cherished a passionate regard’ for Colonel Digby.
Two children, Henry Robert and Isabella Margaret, were born in quick succession, but the marriage was not to be long-lasting. In June 1794 Charlotte Digby died (possibly in childbirth – the brief obituary notice in the Genteman’s Magazine gives no cause of death). She was buried in the vault of Thames Ditton church where Digby’s first wife lay: he would join his two ‘dear wives’ there in 1800.
Charlotte Gunning wrote no books, has found no place in history. But there could surely be no more suitable place for her portrait than Chawton Women’s Library, in the society of so many other ‘learned ladies’.
Permission to reprint this article, which first ran in The Female Spectator, was kindly granted by that publication and Chawton House Library.   

Victoria in England 2011

Penshurst Place, Kent

Yes, both Kristine and I confess we are unrepentant when it comes to spending our time and money on trips across the pond to England.  Many of you do the same.  We work hard to book ourselves into a variety of cities and London neighborhoods,  lots of museums and other historic attractions, gardens for wandering, evenings in the theatre or concert hall, and wonderful meals… and, believe it or not, time in libraries and archives.  My upcoming two weeks in England will be no different … castles, stately homes, gardens, museums, several different hotels…and archives at the University of Southampton and Hatfield House.
Upon our arrival in Dover, I hope we can visit Walmer Castle. We “did” Dover Castle a few years ago, and this time, I want to see the Duke of Wellington’s home when he was in residence as the Warden of the Cinque Ports, less than ten miles north along the Channel coast.

We have a stop planned at Penshurst Place, in which many centuries of British History are enveloped…as well as a great slice of architectural history. And stunning gardens, which I hope will be in full bloom in early June.

While we are in London, we want to re-visit the Victoria and Albert Museum, this year to see the Cult of Beauty exhibition, which comes highly recommended by Jo Manning and many others.
Last year, at the V and A, I enjoyed the Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill exhibition, in which many of his treasures were reassembled and shown while the house itself was undergoing a thorough renovation.  This year, I intend to see the finished house, just a short train ride from London in Twickenham.

Next I head to Southampton to visit the Archives in Hartley Library at the University of Southampton.

And while I am in town, I will make time to see the sights, though I understand that the house in which Jane Austen once resided is long gone.  Parts of the city walls, however, still stand, and the famous port should be interesting to see. 

After a short stay in London again, I will go to Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, to study diaries in their Archive. Hatfield has an amazing history and renowned gardens. I wrote about a previous visit to Hatfield on this blog, August 13 2010.

My final stop will be in Windsor, where I will visit the brand new Museum of Windsor and, if the stars are in perfect alignment, visit with our friend Hester Davenport, author of biographies of Mary Robinson and Fanny Burney, and an expert on Windsor history, among other achievements.

Then it will be time to fly home. And start planning the next trip (anticipation is more than half the fun). I will report more fully after I return, and perhaps, along the way.