There are ten stately homes that have been designated as “The Treasure Houses of England,” and three of them are included on our 2019 Country House Tour – Harewood House, Castle Howard and Chatsworth House.
Castle Howard, above, is not a true castle, but this term is also used for English country houses erected on the site of a former military castle. It may look familiar to you because it was used as the fictional “Brideshead,” both in Granada Television’s 1981 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and a two-hour 2008 remake for cinema.
Castle Howard is unique as it grew out of an idea begun in 1699 at the legendary Kit Kat Club when the 3rd Earl of Carlisle decided to build his estate to the design of Sir John Vanburgh – who had never before undertaken an architectural design. Working with Nicholas Hawksmoor, Vanburgh designed the house, situated on the site of the ruined Henderskelfe Castle. The project took over 100 years to complete.
The Howard family are descended from Lord William Howard, the youngest son of Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk. George Howard, 6th Earl of Carlisle, (17 September 1773 – 7 October 1848), styled Viscount Morpeth until 1825, served as Lord Privy Seal between 1827 and 1828 and in 1834 and was a member of Lord Grey’s Whig government as Minister without Portfolio between 1830 and 1834. Lord Carlisle married Lady Georgiana Cavendish (1783–1858), daughter of William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire and Lady Georgiana Spencer, in 1801.
You can take a tour of Castle Howard via the video below –
As part of the itinerary for the Georgian Tour this past April, our group spent a day at Bowood House, home to the Marquesses of Lansdowne since 1754. Actually, that’s a bit of a misnomer – the original Bowood House was demolished and the Grade I listed Orangery converted to a family home. Compare the photo above to those below:
The Bowood estate was originally part of the forest of Chippenham and belonged to the Crown until the early 18th century, when construction of a house was begun on the ancient site of a hunting lodge. The first Earl of Shelburne purchased the unfinished property in 1754 and enlarged the house. His son, the 2nd Earl and first Marquess of Lansdowne, hired famed Scottish architect Robert Adam (who had designed Lansdowne House in London) to further enhance the house and build an adjacent orangery and a menagerie. Adam also built a mausoleum for the 1st Earl in the extensive parklands surrounding the house. In the 1770s, the two parts of the house at Bowood (the “Big House” and the “Little House”) were joined together by the construction of an enormous drawing room.
From Wikipedia: “In World War I, the 5th Marchioness set up an auxiliary Red Cross hospital in the Orangery. During World War II, the Big House was first occupied by a school, then by the Royal Air Force. Afterwards it was left empty, and by 1955 it was so dilapidated that the 8th Marquess demolished it, employing architect F. Sortain Samuels to convert the Little House into a more comfortable home. But before it was demolished, the Adam dining room was auctioned and bought by the Lloyd’s of London insurance market, which dismantled it and re-installed it as the Committee Room in its 1958 building. The room was subsequently moved in 1986 to the 11th floor of its current building, also on Lime Street in the City of London.”
The visitor’s approach to the House is through a portion of the Capability Brown designed landscape and once again, we had glorious weather –
The Italianate terrace gardens on the south front of the house were commissioned by the 3rd Marquess. The Upper Terrace, by Sir Robert Smirke, was completed in 1818, and the Lower, by George Kennedy, was added in 1851. Originally planted with hundreds of thousands of annuals in intricate designs, the parterres are now more simply planted.
Nearly 300 years worth of amazing artifacts and antiques from the family history are on display in the house, but of course, my favourite room was the library.
Above, the family Chapel, located in what was once the laboratory where Joseph Priestley discovered Oxygen in 1774.
Note the decorative door knob and keyhole covers above.
One of the most recognizable items on display at Bowood is Lord Byron’s Albanian costume. Margaret Mercer Elphinstone, daughter of Admiral Lord Keith, was a close confidant and correspondent of Princess Charlotte of Wales (daughter of the Prince Regent, later George IV). After the Princess died in 1817, Meg married the Comte de Flahault, who served as an Aide-de-camp to Napoleon. Meg, an heiress both from her father and her late mother, was well known in Regency-era society. Another good friend was the poet Lord Byron, who gifted Meg with the Albanian costume in which he was famously painted about 1813. Meg was also portrayed in the outfit, that engraving also being on display at Bowood. So how did the original costume come to be at Bowood? Emily de Flahault, daughter of the Comte and Meg, married the 4th Marquess of Lansdowne and was mother to the 5th Marquess.
Several more examples of historic costume are also on display.
Family items in the Bowood collection included jewelry, swords, china and more, but personally, I found this portrait miniature fascinating, as I’d never seen another like it before. I’ve since learned that this type of portrait miniature (above and below) was known as a transformation miniature and featured multiple mica discs that in effect allowed one to change the costume worn by the sitter. From The Royal Collection Trust website: “The mid-seventeenth century saw a vogue for an unusual type of miniature which could be dressed in a variety of different outfits by placing painted transparent overlays on top of the master image. Constructed from very thin slices of the mineral mica, these overlays included male and female outfits with appropriate accessories. When placed on top of the portrait, these semi-transparent discs transformed the costume and hairstyle of the sitter, creating a new composite picture, much like outfitting a modern paper doll. It seems likely that the purpose of such a set was to provide entertainment.”
Once again, a fabulous time was had by all at Bowood, but the day wasn’t over yet –
As part of Number One London’s Georgian Tour, our group made a day trip to Longleat, family seat of the Marquesses of Bath. The house was built by Sir John Thynne and was designed mainly by Robert Smythson, after Longleat Priory was destroyed by fire in 1567. It took 12 years to complete and is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of Elizabethan architecture in Britain. Surrounded by 4,000 acres, the gardens were designed by Capability Brown. Today, Longleat is occupied by Alexander Thynn, 7th Marquess of Bath, a direct descendant of the builder; however, management of the estate and all business passed to his son Viscount Weymouth early in 2010. This article may go some way towards explaining why. And of course Emma, Viscountess Weymouth, wife of the current heir, is Britain’s first black member of the aristocracy.
But we weren’t there for family matters, we wanted to see the house. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed inside, so here are a few photos I swiped off the internet –
So, by the time we were through seeing the house, the skies looked like this –
Kind of half cloudy, half sunny. We’d been told there was a quaint country pub that did good food just about a mile away, at the end of one of the drives leading from Longleat, and we’d planned to walk there through the park.
“What do you think?” I asked the others.
“It’s definitely going to rain,” answered Andrea.
“How do you know?” I asked.
“Because I’m a charter boat captain,” she said, scanning the skies. “Gonna rain. Not that I mind, my jacket has a hood.”
In the end, the consensus was to risk it, and we started off. All was well until this happened –
Louisa and I were bringing up the rear and were also the only two without a hood or a hat. Well, I was wearing this cap, but it did no good.
“Why don’t you take that cap off? The rain is pouring down off the bill in a sheet. It looks like you’ve got a hose attached to your head,” Louisa said at last.
“I was ignoring it. And hoping you would, too.”
“Pretty hard to ignore,” Louisa said.
At last, the Bath Arms hove into view.
Louisa and I shouldered through the door together and found the others already ensconced at a fireside table. They looked at us askance. And well they should. We were both dripping water onto the floor.
“Told you it was going to rain,” said Andrea, as she perused the menu.
After pots of hot tea, generous portions of wine and a hot meal, the sun returned and we went outside to take in the scenery in Horningsham, the tiny village surrounding the pub.
I’m glad to be able to report that sun continued to shine from then on and that a good, if damp, time was had by all.
Just before the 2017 Country House Tour began, Kristine Hughes Patrone, Sandra Mettler, Delle Jacobs and I met up at our hotel and made a visit to Lyme Park, which became an icon for lovers of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice when it was used for the exterior shots of Pemberley in the BBC-Colin Firth-Jennifer Ehle version of Pride and Prejudice produced in 1995.
Below, the film inspired souvenirs in the gift shop — mugs, tea towels, chocolates, and the DVD among other treasures.
The view as we entered did not look like the one above which overlooks the lawns and park. Where were the columns, I wondered?
The north facade looks somewhat like the Elizabethan house it once was, with Georgian additions such as sash windows, etc.
This photo, from Wikipedia, gives a better view of the north facade, which is described in the guidebook as “the exuberant Elizabethan frontispiece executed for Sir Piers Legh VII in about 1570…” There have been about thirteen or fourteen Sir Piers or Sir Peter Leghs in the family’s five-century ownership of the property.
The Courtyard was completed in the early 17th century by Sir Peter IX to the designs of Giacomo Leoni in the Palladian style. On the courtyard sign, we found our instructions.
So we popped into the ticket office and showed our Royal Oak passes before proceeding into the house. Of course we knew that the Pride and Prejudice 1995 interiors were shot at Sudbury Hall, and thus the Lyme Park rooms were entirely new to us. Only exterior shots of Lyme Park were used in that version.
In the Entrance Hall, Leoni remodeled the original Great Hall but retained evidence of the house’s antiquity.
In addition, Mortlake tapestries from the Hero and Leander series, C. 1625, adorn the walls; the room was used as a ballroom from time to time.
The Library, in the two photos below, is one of those places we want to spend a few days perusing the many shelves of books.
Oh to be let loose on those shelves!
The Dining room was added in 1814 by Thomas Legh in an addition designed by architect Lewis Wyatt on the east front.
The table setting is Edwardian, c. 1908.
The Yellow Bedroom was furnished in the early 18th century, with the elegant bed contrasting with the colorful Flemish tapestries on three walls.
In the adjacent dressing room, we found an exquisite grey silk Regency-era pelisse.
The Saloon sits behind the memorable portico on the South Facade. As the principal receiving room, it is paneled in oak and boasts a fine walnut harpsichord by John Hitchcock of London, from the mid 1760’s.
The Grand Staircase was designed by Leoni in the early 18th century. At the top is a portrait of Thomas Legh (1792-1857) an avid traveler in his Nubian (Egyptian) dress, painted c. 1820 by William Bradley.
The typically Elizabethan-era Long Gallery, above, on the first floor, was designed for exercise on inclement days and as an all purpose room for family activities, such as amateur theatricals, as well as being a picture gallery.
In the second decade of the 19th century, architect Lewis Wyatt designed the Orangery and its colorful terrace.
The Dutch garden should be viewed from above, for which it is magnificently designed.
And from the Dutch Garden, you can clearly see that famous Pemberley facade from the film.
Lyme Park was full of surprises. We expected it to be a classic Palladian house, precisely the modern structure Jane Austen described as Pemberley. Instead, we found everything from remnants of its origin as a medieval hunting lodge through myriad design styles to the eclectic combination of today. Yet it all seems of a piece, fittingly so.
Would you like to visit some of England’s finest stately homes? Number One London has another Country House Tour set for May 2019 – complete details here.
It was a truly magical experience visiting the Lake District in Cumbria, in northwest England, last year with Number One London Tours. We saw beautiful vistas, blue lakes, a real stone circle, charming villages, and historic houses. So when I needed a setting for A Lady Becomes a Governess, where else was I going to pick but the Lake District, with its’ ever changing, romantic landscapes? In many ways it became like visiting the area again. The sights I saw on the tour are sprinkled throughout the book. William Wordsworth even makes an appearance. It made the book a pleasure to write.
I needed a country house for my hero and the tour gave me several examples. I wanted something very different than a typical Georgian mansion. I was tempted to use Wray Castle, because it was so over the top gothic, but, alas, it was not a real castle, but a gothic revival built in 1840.
I finally decided on Levens Hall, now owned by the Bagot family, originally a medieval pele tower built in 1350. In the 1500s the Bellingham family expanded the house and added the oak paneling and plasterwork that makes Levens so distinctive. In the 1600s the park and gardens were added by new owner Colonel James Grahme, who brought in French gardener, Guillaume Beaumont. The park and gardens have remained remarkably intact from Beaumont’s design. The topiary is a wonder to behold, so naturally, it had to appear in the book. Further additions to the house were again made in the early 1800s.
Some floorplans online and room images helped me visualize the setting as it was in the the Regency, the time period of my book, and as I saw it on the tour. I did have to make a few alterations to the house to suit the book, though. For one thing, I had to add an imagined children’s wing to the house and, unfortunately, those details were not part of the tour or shown in any online images.
Speaking of the Regency period, Kristine and I were most excited to visit Levens Hall on the tour as the house features a “Wellington Trail” – Sir Charles Bagot married Lady Mary Wellesley, niece of the Duke of Wellington, and it is through this connection that so many fascinating artifacts have been handed down through the family. The collection was truly impressive.
Now that I’ve “lived” in the house through the writing of A Lady Becomes a Governess, I wish I could visit Levens Hall again to see how close my version was to the real place. In fact, the Lake District is a place to which I’d be more than delighted to return – especially for the hot chocolate and marshmallows!
A Lady Becomes a Governess is dedicated to Kristine, because, after all, without her and her Number One London Tours, this book would not have been written.
Book 2 of the Governess swap will include another setting from last year’s trip with Kristine. Bath! And, because I’m going on Number One London Tours Scottish Writers Retreat in September, expect a future book set in Scotland.