A Couple In England – Day 9

Next day, we met Hester in the car park. When I introduced her to Hubby, all she said was, “Oh dear.”

I opened the rear door of Hester’s car and Hubby dropped onto the back seat. We pulled out of the car park and were soon on our way to Oatlands Park, home of Frederica, Duchess of York, or Freddy, as she’s affectionately known by my circle of friends.

I’ve been wanting to see Oatlands Park, Freddy’s home, for ages and so I was thrilled when Hester agreed to accompany there. Today, Oatlands is a hotel that stands on the footprint of a large mansion which burned down in the late 1700s, but had dated back to the 15th Century. A Parliamentary Survey of the period mentions a house which sat in the grounds of a great royal palace, on the Oatlands Estate. Henry VIII erected the palace for his new Queen, Anne of Cleves. Although a worthy rival to his other riverside house at Hampton Court, the imposing red brick building with its gateways, octagonal towers and open courts, Oatlands was only visited occasionally by the King. And the intended resident, Anne, probably never lived there during the short time she was his wife, but it is thought Henry secretly married his next Queen, Anne’s young Lady-in-Waiting, Catherine Howard, in the Palace chapel.

Over the next 150 years, the house and grounds were remodelled by a string of wealthy tenants. You can still see the coat of arms of one, the Duke of Newcastle, on the main gates at the entrance to the Hotel.

Upon entering the building, we found ourselves in a bright and airy lounge and settled ourselves upon the sofas, where we ordered coffees.

“Well, Kristine, you’re finally at Oatlands,” said Hester.

“And soon we’ll be at the famous cemetery,” I said.

“There’s a cemetery here?” asked Hubby.

“A pet cemetery. Freddy loved pets of every description and created a cemetery where she buried them all. She was eccentric, but popular with the Regency set.”

“Didn’t Princess Charlotte honeymoon here,” asked Hester.

“Yes, and Prince Leopold stayed here after Charlotte’s death. And of course Brummell was a frequent visitor.”

“Ah, Brummell and the decoupage screen that was never finished,” sighed Hester.

“So sad,” I agreed.

“The what screen?” asked Hubby.

“Decoupage,” Hester and I replied in unison. Hubby declined to pursue the matter further.

The diarist Charles Greville has left us a picture of his visits to Oatlands in his Memoirs. Here is an extract:

“The week end parties were often large, and one of the principal amusements of the guests was to sit up playing whist till four o’clock in the morning. On Sundays,” he continues, ” we amused ourselves with eating fruit in the garden, and shooting at a mark with pistols, and playing with the monkeys. I bathed in the cold bath in the grotto, which is as clear as crystal and as cold as ice. Oatlands is the worst managed establishment in England: there are a great many servants, and nobody waits on you; a vast number of horses, and none to ride or drive.”

“The Duchess seldom goes to bed, or, if she does, only for an hour or two; she sleeps dressed upon a couch, sometimes in one room, sometimes in another. She frequently walks out very late at nights, or rather early in the morning, and she always sleeps with open windows. She dresses and breakfasts at three o’clock, afterwards walks out with all her dogs, and seldom appears before dinner-time. At night, when she cannot sleep, she has women to read to her. The Duchess of York is clever and well informed; she likes society, and dislikes all form and ceremony; but in the midst of the most familiar intercourse she always preserves a certain dignity of manner. Those who are in the habit of going to Oatlands are perfectly at their ease with her, and talk with as much freedom as they would to any other woman, but always with great respect. Her mind is not perhaps the most delicate; she shows no dislike to coarseness of sentiment or language, and I have often seen her very much amused with jokes, stories, and allusions which would shock a very nice person. But her own conversation is never polluted with anything the least indelicate or unbecoming. She is very sensible to little attentions, and is annoyed if anybody appears to keep aloof from her or to shun conversing with her. Her dogs are her greatest interest and amusement, and she has at least forty of various kinds. She is delighted when anybody gives her a dog, or a monkey, or a parrot, of all of which she has vast numbers; it is impossible to offend or annoy her more than by ill using any of her dogs, and if she were to see anybody beat or kick any one of them she would never forgive it.”

The room in which the three of us sat sipping our coffee would be unrecognizable to Freddy. After the house burnt down in 1794, it was rebuilt in the Gothic style by her husband, the Duke of York, who went on to acquire the Estate Freehold. Freddy died in 1820 and when the Duke died in 1827, the property was sold to a young Regency dandy and gambler called Edward Hughes Ball Hughes, who was popularly known as ‘The Golden Ball.’ He spent his honeymoon at Oatlands, before pulling down large parts of the existing building and making many alterations to what was left.

“Ready to find the cemetery?” Hester asked.

“Yes. I can’t wait to read the little head stones. Freddy had their names put on the stones and dates and often noted what sort of animal they were.”

Originally, the cemetery was located near the old Grotto, where Greville bathed and where George IV held a dinner in celebration of Wellington’s victory at Waterloo. The stones were moved closer to the house at some point and so were relatively easy to find as they are located right beside a gravel path.

I was a bit taken aback at first glance, as I had thought that the grave markers would look more like traditional head stones. Hester and I drew closer until we were standing over the stones.

“Oh dear,” Hester said. Age and weather had worked ill upon the stones, which were now all completely smooth – whatever had once been written upon them had been forever erased.

“I wanted to read them,” I lamented.

“I know. Me, too,” said Hester, whose face showed sympath
y for my disappointment. “But look, we can still walk where Freddy and Brummell walked. That’s something, what?”

I smiled at her. “It’s something, indeed,” I said. “And  something wonderful at that.”

So off the three of us strolled, down the gravel paths and over to the ornamental lake.

Surprise! Finally, a picture of me and Hubby!

On our way back to the Hotel, Hester pointed out the cedar trees on the property. “Edward Lear used these trees as models for his painting The Cedars of Lebanon.”

In her biography of Lear called The Life of a Wanderer, Vivien Noakes wrote “He needed some cedar trees that were within easy reach of London, and he found them at the Oatlands Park Hotel at Walton-on-Thames. Whilst he was working on his nine foot long picture of the ‘Cedars of the Lebanon’, he penned letters to his friends including Emily Tennyson, Sir George Grove and Chichester Fortescue, to whom he wrote in 1860 saying “The Hotel then is a large and sumptuously commodious place… I have a large light bedroom and wanting for naught.”

Edward Lear’s The Cedars of Lebanon

Taking a long, last look at Oatlands, we made for the car park and set off on the second part of today’s journey – Hampton Court Palace.

Part Two Coming Soon!

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.