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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I can’t resist posting the following picture which shows Dr. Barchas and me at a Chicago JASNA event.
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.
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.
The film Darkest Hour has been highly praised. WW stands in for Buckingham Palace where Churchill meets with His Majesty George VI.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
She is buried near Chatsworth in the churchyard at Edensor, another of the ill-fated Kennedy children whose lives have been so tragic.
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.
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.
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.
This forest of pillars on the ground floor supports the Marble Saloon above.
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.
But the remaining features of the house are stunning, as in the details of this fireplace surround.
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 gateway, reputedly by architect Inigo Jones, remains from the old house.
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 –
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you’ll know that I spend an inordinate amount of time researching anything and everything to do with the Duke of Wellington. Often, this research leads me down unexpected paths, as happened when I found myself stumbling upon Lady Nunburnholme and her home, Warter Hall, on the Lost Heritage website: The Victorian and Edwardian owners of Warter Hall (or Priory).
The Formidable Lady Nunburnholme
“From the purchase of the Warter Estate by her husband in 1878 until its sale over 50 years later, the village of Warter and the lives of the villagers were dominated by Lady Nunburnholme.
“Born in London in 1854 Florence Jane Helen Wellesley was the eldest daughter of Colonel William Henry Charles Wellesley, a nephew of the great Duke of Wellington. She married Charles Wilson in 1871 and they lived at Cottingham, near Hull before moving to Warter Priory in 1878.
“(Local man) George Noble had many stories of Lady Nunburnholme:She was a Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington’s family. Warter Priory was full of Duke of Wellington’s busts and oil paintings. She used to say “I’ve got the blood and Mr Wilson has the money.” Which he had. … By jove she was a rum un, I’ll tell you that, yes, but when she was alright, she was alright, but by jove she was a goer on as we say… She liked entertaining and she was the boss, and it was no good anybody what worked there telling her off, for she would get his notice just after, you know, pack-up … she would nearly clear him off the place straightaway and pay him up… The butler used to say to me dad, and he was there a long time, and knew ’em all. “Bill”, he used to say “Devil’s abroad, she’s on the warpath … she’s playing devil with me and everybody else she’s come across – if you can find another job, getaway, out of road.”
“The Dowager Lady Nunburnholme died in 1932. The Warter estate had by then been sold by her grandson Charles John, 3rd Baron Nunburnholme. It was bought in 1929 by George Vestey who made Warter Priory his home until his death in 1968. Warter was then sold to the 4th Marquis of Normanby and the Guiness Trust.
“The Marquis bought Warter as a subsidiary shooting lodge and did not intend to live there as his principal family seat was at Musgrave Castle. The contents were auctioned in March 1969, the garden statuary the following September. Attempts were made to find a tenant but when one could not be found it was decided to demolish the house and a final auction of all the remaining furniture and fittings, down the last loo seat, was held in May 1972. Shortly afterwards the house was demolished, the splendid gardens bulldozed and the rubble used to fill in the nearby lake. The 5th Marquis of Normanby sold the Warter estate covering 11,910 acres (4,820 hectares) with 63 houses and cottages to a Hull-born businessman Malcolm Healey in 1998.”
Meeting Lady Nunburnholme thus was pleasantly surprising, but sadly Warter Priory’s fate was all too familiar. Since WWII, nearly 1,000 of Britain’s stately homes have vanished, either fallen to ruin or demolished when changes in social climate and the industrial landscape combined with diminished fortunes and death duties to sound the final bell on a way of life that had become unsustainable.
As we were going to be Derbyshire, I built a stop at Sutton Scarsdale into Number One London’s 2017 Country House Tour, as I wanted to show our guests the state that some of the houses were in when acquired by the National Trust or English Heritage. Sutton Scarsdale is a prime example of the condition so many important houses were allowed to fall in to after the second World War.
In 1724, Nicholas Leke, 4th Earl of Scarsdale commissioned the building of a design by architect Francis Smith, to develop a Georgian mansion with gardens, using parts of an existing structure. The estate was sold to the Arkwright family in 1824 and remained in their possession until 1919, when Major William Arkwright sold the house and grounds at auction. The estate was bought by a group of local businessmen who asset-stripped the house, with some parts of the building being shipped to the United States, where one room’s oak panelling was bought by William Randolph Hearst, who planned to use it at Hearst Castle. After many years in storage in New York City, Pall Mall films bought the panelling for use as a set in their various 1950s productions. Another set of panels are now resident in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.In 1946, the estate was bought by Sir Osbert Sitwell of Renishaw Hall, with the intention of preserving the remaining shell as a ruin. Scarsdale Hall is now in the care of English Heritage, who are in the process of restoring the structure.
While the efforts of organizations such as English Heritage, the National Trust, the Landmark Trust and myriad local councils and organizations have helped to preserve so much historic property for us to enjoy, it remains heartbreaking to consider all the houses that have gone forever.
You can read the entire Wikipedia entry for Sutton Scarsdale here, and watch a YouTube video that captures the majesty of the property here. Do visit the Lost Heritage website at the link above and take some time to explore their extensive archives. Additionally, there’s a very good Daily Mail article on vanished country houses here.
The March 1867 issue of The Gentleman’s Magazine carried an obituary for Sarah Sophia Fane Child-Villiers, Dowager Countess of Jersey:
January 26 – At 38 Berkeley Square, suddenly by the rupture of a blood vessel, aged 81, Sarah Sophia, Dowager Countess of Jersey.
Her ladyship was the eldest and only surviving child of John, 10th Earl of Westmorland, by Anne, only daughter and heir of Mr. Robert Child. She was born March 4, 1785 and in May 1804 she married George, Viscount Villiers, who in the following year succeeded his father, the 5th Earl of Jersey, and by whom she had a family of four sons and three daughters. Her eldest son, George Augustus Frederick, died three weeks after the death of his father in 1859; and was the father of Victor, 7th Earl; Augustus John died at Rome in 1847; Frederick married to Lady Elizabeth, daughter of the 8th Earl of Athlonel (title extinct); Francis John died in May 1862; Lady Sarah, married to Prince Nicholas Esterhazy, son of his Excellency the late Prince, many years an ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, from Austria, died at Torquay in November 1853; Lady Clementia died unmarried in December 1858, and Lady Adela, wife of Lieut. Colonel Charles Ibbetson, who died suddenly in September 1860.
The late Countess, on the death of her maternal grandfather, Mr. Robert Child, the banker, by his will succeeded to his large property, both real and personal. Owing to her mother having eloped with the Earl of Westmorland, Mr. Child carried out his determination that not a shilling of his property should go to the male heirs of the earldom, and he bequeathed his large and valuable property to the county of Middlesex and his interest in the old banking house at Temple Bar to the Countess. The deceased Lady Jersey was kind and charitable to the poor, but studiously avoided publicity in doing good to those beneath her. Many indigent families will regret her death, as well as an extensive circle of friends.
Lady Jersey, National Portrait Gallery
by Frederick Christian Lewis Sr, after Alfred Edward Chalon
stipple engraving, published 1839
The Countess of Jersey was for many years one of the leading ladies patronesses of “Almacks” and with Viscountess Palmerston shared the greatest influence; indeed she had for more than half a century occupied the highest position in London society. She was a woman of extraordinary abilities and no female member of the aristocracy could surpass her in her knowledge of European politics. For nearly fifty years her saloons were nightly open to receive the distinguished foreign diplomatists of the day and the prominent political character of the Tory and Conservative party. The Countess’s “at homes” were however, unlike those of Devonshire and Holland houses, exclusively confined to a distinct political faction. Lord Brougham was a great personal friend of the deceased lady, and Viscount Palmerston was among her occasional visitors, even while in office. Lady Jersey was connected by marriage with the late Viscount Ponsonby, the late Marquis of Anglesey; the Earl of Bessborough and a large number of friends of opposite politics.
Entrance Hall, NT
It was not until the death of her husband in October 1859, that Lady Jersey retired into comparative seclusion.—That is to say, sought only the society of her most intimate friends. The Countess was honoured by the personal regard of the late Emperor Nicholas, the late Kings of Hanover, Prussia, Holland, Belgium, and of George IV when Prince Regent.
Lady Jersey, National Portrait Gallery
by Henry Thomas Ryall, published by John Murray, sold by Charles Tilt,
after Edmund Thomas Parris stipple engraving, published 1833
The interment of the deceased took place in the family vault of the parish church of Middleton Stoney, Oxon on the 2d of February, the body of the Countess having been brought to Middleton Park on the day previous. The funeral procession was preceded by the principal tenancy of the estates.
Note from Victoria: The Jersey estate at Middleton, Oxfordshire, was the family’s principal country home after its purchase in 1737, though the property had been a manor since the 13th century. The house built there in the 1750’s and used by Sarah, Lady Jersey, for extensive entertaining, was pulled down in 1934 and replaced a few years later with a modern house designed by Sir Edward Lutyens, now made into flats. The former Middleton Park grounds are now mostly a public park. The village of Middleton Stoney boasts one public house, the Jersey Arms.