by Victoria Hinshaw

The story of Wentworth Woodhouse (WW) is intensely interesting — and convoluted.  Since I am a great devotee of all things British, and especially the great country houses and the people who lived in them, I was particularly excited to visit the estate with Number One London Tours 2017 Country House Tour.

Wentworth Woodhouse

WW has been open to the public for only a few years.  I was eager to see it, reputedly the largest private house in Europe, if perhaps one of the strangest.

The land has been in the hands of the family since the 13th century. The present structure was begun in the 1720’s by Thoms Watson Wentworth, 1st Marquess of Rockingham (1693-1750), on the site of a previous house.  The baroque style, in red brick, did not find favor with the Marquess and his friends among the Whig aristocracy.

West Facade

Almost as soon as it was completed, Rockingham built another house, facing West, this time in the Palladian style favored by his social set and political allies.  The two back-to-back wings are joined together in an area perhaps saved from an earlier 17th century house.  The estate and political influence both went to his son, Charles Watson Wentworth (1730-1782), 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, eventually Prime Minister and holder of numerous public offices.

2nd Marquess of Rockingham, after Sir Joshua Reynolds, oil on canvas (1766-1768)

The 2nd Marquess and his wife had no sons; therefore in 1782, the estate passed to his nephew, William Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 4th Earl Fitzwilliam, and the marquess’s title, Rockingham, became extinct.

2nd Earl Fitzwilliam by William Owen, oil on canvas, exhibited 1817

If most of these names have a familiar ring, don’t be surprised. Refer instead to Janine Barchas’ book Matters of Fact in Jane Austen.

Matters of Fact in Jane Austen by Janine Barchas

I can’t resist posting the following picture which shows Dr. Barchas and me at a Chicago JASNA event.

Victoria (l) and Janine Barchas

Dr. Barchas traces the origin of many of the family names used by Jane Austen in her novels. Among relatives of the Fitzwilliams were the D’arcys, as used in Pride and Prejudice. Woodhouse is the family name of Emma. Wentworth is Captain Frederick’s family name in Persuasion. The Watsons is one of Austen’s two unfinished novels. Austen’s contemporary readers would have instantly recognized the names of these leading British families, though 200 years later, they come as a revelation. For the source of many other names used by Jane Austen, check the book by Dr Barchas.

East Facade

The Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust was established to preserve and restore the estate, after many years of problems and neglect.  Restoration will be a huge and expensive job, probably aided by the frequent use of the property for film and television dramas.  We saw it in Mr. Turner, the 2014 film about J. M. W. Turner, the celebrated and eccentric artist, where the Marble Hall was staged as the annual exhibition of the Royal of Arts — note that floor.

Mr. Turner, 2014

The film Darkest Hour has been highly praised.  WW stands in for Buckingham Palace where Churchill meets with His Majesty George VI.

WW as Buckingham Palace in Darkest House
Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour

Many scenes in the television series Victoria were filmed at WW, including the review of the regiment on the front lawn.

An ariel view of the adjacent houses shows how they are joined, and in that area where they meet are remnants of the earlier 17th-century structure. It is estimated that there are five miles of corridors inside.

Very little is left of the 1630 house but this garden gateway. Inigo Jones was probably the architect of this Wellgate. Below, compare it to the garden gate at Chiswick.

17th c. gate, reputedly by Inigo Jones


Chiswick House

The previous house built in 1608, of which only traces remain, was otherwise incorporated into one (or both?) of the present houses.

Improvements were well underway when we visited in the autumn of 2017. Simply fixing the roof–said to be nearly four acres in size–will take up most of the initial grant from the government of 6.6 million pounds.

The Fitzwilliam family was one of the richest and most powerful in Britain in the 19th century.  Coal mined on the estate supported them in near-regal style and employed thousands in nearby villages and as tenants on the land.

The Story of Wentworth Woodhouse and its families

The 2014 nonfiction book Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey reads like a novel as it relates the dramatic ups and downs of the estate and its residents.  Highly recommended.

If you will permit another aside, the story of the last 8th Earl Fitzwilliam, has interesting features.

Joe, Kathleen and Jack Kennedy

His romance with Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy was frowned upon by the very Catholic Kennedy family, especially by her parents, who were none too pleased when Kick converted to the Church of England.

Billy and Kathleen Cavendish with Joe Kennedy

Nevertheless, they married in May 1944. Only her older brother Joe attended the wartime wedding. Just four months later, Billy was killed in action in Belgium. Joe, eldest of the Kennedy brothers, died in August 1944.  The widowed Kathleen later began a relationship with Peter Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 8th Earl Fitzwilliam, who was married and the father of a daughter. Kick and Peter died together in a plane crash on their way to the Riviera in 1948.

Peter Wentworth-Fitzwilliam 1910-1948

She is buried near Chatsworth in the churchyard at Edensor, another of the ill-fated Kennedy children whose lives have been so tragic.

grave of Kathleen Kennedy Cavendish

Upon the death of Billy, Andrew Cavendish, second son of the 10th Duke, became the Marquess of Huntington and eventually the 11th Duke of Devonshire. His Duchess, Deborah, nee Mitford, was particularly instrumental in making the family estate of Chatsworth in Derbyshire, into one of Britain’s premier stately homes. Deborah, or Debo as she was familiarly known, was the author of many books, died in 2014 at age 94.

stones placed on her grave

The complex story of Wentworth Woodhouse is far from over.  At the death of Peter Fitzwilliam, the estate was undergoing extensive strip coal mining, sometimes right up to the door, which weakened the house foundations as well as ruining the gardens. Postwar austerity and crippling death duties required putting the house on the market, and who, pray tell, might want to own such a white elephant?  Most of the furnishings were auctioned and eventually the property was leased to Lady Mabel College for the training of female physical education students.

Entering Wentworth Woodhouse, September 2017

After several decades of changing ownership and sporadic attempts to halt deterioration, in 2017 the WW Preservation Trust acquired the property and a grant for the renovation of the house. They have a daunting task at hand.  When we visited, only a few rooms had furniture, and evidence of sinking accompanied general decline.

Pillared Hall
Pillared Hall

This forest of pillars on the ground floor supports the Marble Saloon above.

Mercury, one of many sculptures in the alcoves
Diana or Venus?
Staircase to Marble Saloon

Upstairs, the room is magnificent, particularly the patterned floor.
Marble Saloon from the Balcony
Our guide

Most of the rooms are without furnishings or temporarily provided with furniture for meetings, parties, and conferences, by which the Trust hopes to help fund restorations.

Marble decor

But the remaining features of the house are stunning, as in the details of this fireplace surround.

The Van Dyck Room

The Van Dyck Room boasts a magnificent chandelier.

The Whistlejacket Room continues the white and gilt decor; it is named for the painting above (though it is a copy) by George Stubbs , c. 1762, of a famous racing stallion owned by the family, Whistlejacket, winner of many races. The original Stubbs work was acquired by the National Gallery in London, where the original now hangs, for £11 million in 1997.


Upstairs, most of the attractive decor came to an abrupt halt.  One room was preserved as it would have been for a student at Lady Mabel College in the 1950’s, but I am sorry to say I missed taking a shot there.  Most of the upper floor was in need of considerable restoration.

After touring the chapel, we went outside to see where and how the two houses were combined with remnants of the original house built a century earlier.

By this time, I believe our tour participants were gob-smacked by the size and condition of the estate. But even more was ahead.

The Wellgate

The gateway, reputedly by architect Inigo Jones, remains from the old house.

The South Terrace

The Gardens are in need of considerable restoration also, but the land itself is interesting and worth seeing.  Some garden decorations remain.

At last we were far enough away to achieve a perspective on the lovely West facade, the baroque house.

If you have managed to stay with us for this long, I will reward you with the other side of the Inigo Jones Gate:


Would you like a first-hand view of some of England’s most beloved stately homes? We’d love to have you along on the 2019 Country House Tour –

The Country House Tour



Jane Austen December 16, 1775 – June 18, 1817

By Victoria Hinshaw

My dearest Jane,

Here I am in the snowy midwest of the United States (that country born just after you), 242 years after your birth, expressing my thanks to you for all your talents and achievements.  I can only hope that somehow you are aware of the esteem in which you are held by millions of people.  Are you surprised that your novels are still adored 200 years after their publication? And that you are celebrated as one of English Literature’s most famous authors?

Jane Austen, sketch by sister Cassandra

How do you account for the fact that many of us call ourselves Janeites? That we gather yearly in several countries to discuss your work, from the earliest of juvenilia to the final letters, prayers and poems you wrote just before your demise? That we scour your words, the accounts of relatives and friends, the objects you touched, your travels, your acquaintances, and every scrap we can uncover that might relate to your life? That universities devote entire courses of you? And that your work has provided the backbone for a whole industry of films, television series, sequels, continuations, contemporary interpretations, and scholarly treatises?

Jane Austen, as revised 1871

I wonder how you would like to visit Chawton Cottage and see how it has become a shrine to you and your books?  Or Chawton House, where the mansion has been restored to its late 18th century appearance and is now a library of women’s writings before 1900? I would not recommend that you travel the streets of London to see the blue plaques on the buildings where you stayed with Henry — it’s far too dangerous unless you have a blue badge guide and skillful driver.  Of a car, not a chaise.

Would you believe that among the most popular reasons that people visit Stoneleigh Abbey, Netley Abbey, The Vyne or the Wheatsheaf Inn is that you were there?  Or that one of the highlights of my life was to eat an apple in the garden of Chawton House when the gardener told me it was from a tree which you probably knew and from which you sampled the fruit.  I wasn’t alone either.

And were you lingering high in the lofts of Winchester Cathedral when JASNA held a service dedicated to your memory, and that was only one of many so held in that great place? I hope you died in the knowledge that your family loved you and that someday you would be commemorated worldwide.

Perhaps some of us have overdone things a bit and owe you an apology. Zombies, vampires, sea monsters, as well as highly fantasized so-called bio-pics have played fast and loose with the facts of your stories and your life. But through it all, we know, if we love Jane Austen (and we do!), all we have to do is pick up a copy of one of your books and immerse ourselves once more.

Most of all, I want to express my gratitude for the brilliant way you have enriched my life and that of many of my friends.  You are one of a kind, Jane Austen, and we are so lucky to have “known” you.  Thank you, Jane.

Yrs very affecly,
V. Hinshaw


Victoria here, catching up with the owner/publisher/editor of JARW.

Jan-Feb 2016 issue out now!

The magazine’s website is here. To Subscribe, click here.

Tim Bullamore, the publisher of Jane Austen’s Regency World, is a charming friend and entrepreneur in journalism.  I had the good fortune to interview him at the Jane Austen Society of North America’s Annual General Meeting held recently in Louisville, Kentucky.

Tim’s recent Telegraph obituary of composer/conductor Pierre Boulez is here.
 Nov. Dec. 2015 issue
Tim must have to consult his calendar every day to see where he has to be, for his schedule sounds amazingly complicated to a person like me who just sits in front of a computer most of the day.  He is a busy journalist, spending several days a week in London as the copy editor for the London Times.  He write obituaries for the Daily Telegraph about classical musicians. And, in addition to various teaching assignments, he is the editor and publisher of Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine, which comes out six times a year. And just to provide more variety, his wife holds a university teaching position in Scotland.
Are you surprised this is my favorite of all Tim’s excellent cover images?

We chatted in the busy emporium at the Louisville AGM where Tim manned a table covered with back issues and subscription forms. He told me how his friends were running the Jane Austen Centre in Bath a few years ago. They confided that their magazine, then part of the Centre’s program, was becoming difficult for them to manage. Being a lifelong admirer of Jane Austen, Tim looked into the financial aspects of running the operation and bought it.  In the eight years of his leadership, the magazine has excelled in providing interesting and entertaining articles about all aspects of the English Regency and new insights into our favorite author.  Not to forget the colorful illustrations — and news of JA-related events.  He is proud of the quality of the printing and binding as well, indeed every aspect of the magazine’s production.

The Sept. Oct. 2015 issue, with a cover caricature from James Gillray in 1801:
 using science to treat disease; Article by Penelope Friday.
The content of the magazine ranges among academic and historical subjects, Jane Austen’s life and times, the mania for Regency dancing, Jane Austen in popular culture, including fan fiction, thus appealing to a variety of audiences.
Tim gets a few moments of relaxation in between interviews and courting prospective subscribers.
He spends about a day and a half each week on JARW, working with a small sales staff and editorial consultants. including the renowned Maggie Lane who has written many articles and books on myriad Jane Austen topics.  Time says that as a niche produce JARW has reasonable advertising rates, providing about 20% of income. The rest relies upon subscriptions.

Tim has attended Jane Austen Society events in England, Australia, around Europe, and across the U.S. and Canada.  His first JASNA AGM was in Chicago where he was delighted to receive a warm and enthusiastic welcome from North American Austen fans. He has spoken at several events, including a talk on obituaries in the time of Austen, and a thoroughly tongue-in-cheek “Defense of Mr. Wickham,” (in Minneapolis, 2013) which to his surprise, several listeners took quite seriously. I found it hilarious, casting Mr. Wickham as the victim of Georgiana Darcy’s unsuccessful seductions.
Tim summed up his description of the magazine with an ‘elevator’ pitch: “It has everything you need to know about Jane Austen, the Georgian period and Regency times, full of news, views, and information, an indispensable guide.” 
Who could say it better than that?  Thanks for an engaging chat, Tim.  I look forward to another year of reading pleasure.

Pride & Prejudice Anniversary Merchandise

Commemorative stamps issued by the Royal Mail will be available starting February 21st.

Pride and Prejudice anniversary Journal and Mug from BBC America.

Pride and Prejudice T-shirt, BBC America

T-shirt – I’m not single, I’m just waiting for Mr. Darcy

Pemberley Christmas ornament

iPhone 5 case

iPhone 4 case

Tall, Dark and Darcy tote

Darcy quote vinyl wall decal

Elizabeth and Darcy bookends/shelf pillows

Set of 3 Pride and Prejudice votive candles

Handcut paper silhouettes

Jane Austen Silhouette

Book purse

Valentine Cards

Jane Austen reproduction ring

Jane Austen gypsum plaster bust

Jane Austen in London

Jane Austen arrived at her brother Henry’s new London residence in Hans Place on August 22, 1814.  Henry had moved from his previous house in Henrietta Street near Covent Garden to this recently developed area off Sloane Street.

The house now occupying the spot at #23 Hans Place is a Victorian reconstruction, very unlike the house in which Austen stayed.  Below, the blue plaque on the house, commemorating her stay on the premises.

Around the crescent from #23 Hans Place there is a Regency-era house which is probably what Henry’s house looked like in 1814.  Of course, any vehicle that might have been in the road in those days would not have resembled the one here.

The neighborhood around Hans Place was relatively new, developed just off Sloane Street as part of the Cadogan estate and opened out onto uninhabited fields to the west.  The Hans in the name honors to Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), president of the Royal Society and benefactor of the British Museum, for whom Sloane Square is named.

The general neighborhood has been much in the news lately because the Ecuadoran Embassy is located nearby, the place Julian Assange sought asylum.

A quick check of property values in the area shows that these tall Victorian houses, now mostly institutions or condominiums, are extremely pricey. 

Jane Austen described Henry’s house in a letter to Cassandra dated Tuesday 23-Wednesday 24 August, 1814. After sharing a few details of her journey to London, she wrote:  “It is a delightful place—more than answers my expectation. Having got rid of my unreasonable ideas, I find more space and comfort in the rooms than I had supposed and the Garden is quite a Love. I am in the front Attic, which is the Bedchamber to be preferred.  Henry wants you to see it all…”

From Ackermann’s Repository, April 1814

In early September, Jane Austen wrote from London to Martha Lloyd, who was staying in Pulteney Street, Bath.  She shares her impressions of London fashions: “I am amused by the present style of female dress; — the coloured petticoats with braces over the white Spencers and enormous Bonnets upon the full Stretch are quite entertaining…”

From Ackermann’s Repository, 1814

Miss Austen went on to make observations on a recent art exhibit:  “I have seen West’s famous painting and prefer it to anything of the kind I ever saw before. I do not know that it is reckoned superior to his Healing in the Temple, but it has gratified me much more and indeed is the first representation of our Saviour which ever at all contented me. ‘His Rejection by the Elders’, is the subject.–I want to have You and Cassandra see it.”

Benjamin West, Christ Rejected, 1814,
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia

Jane Austen wrote further of  her brother’s house (his wife, Eliza de Feuillide Austen had died in April 1813): “I am extremely pleased with this new House of Henry’s, it is everything that could be wished for him and I have only to hope he will continue to like it as well as he does now, and not be looking out for anything better.–He is in very comfortable health; — he has not been so well, he says for a twelvemonth.”

Henry Austen was his sister’s favorite brother, for his talents and charm.  He had several careers, first at Oxford, then in the military, and in various business ventures.  His bank failed in 1816 and he went into the church, as curate in the Chawton parish and later as rector in Steventon.  Henry assisted Jane in her publishing ventures, making deals for the sa
le and repurchase of her books.  He oversaw posthumous publication of   Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

Today: Garden in Hans Place, London