A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND: BOWOOD HOUSE

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:

Bowood House from Morris’s County Seats (1880), as found on Wikipedia

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.

Byron in Albanian Dress, by Thomas Phillips, c. 1813
Meg in Byron’s Albanian costume, photo by Victoria Hinshaw

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 –

A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND: LONGLEAT

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 –

c Tripadvisor
c Longleat
c kidsandcompass.com

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.

VISITING LYME PARK

by Victoria Hinshaw

Lyme Park, Cheshire

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.

From the 1995 BBC Pride & Prejudice film

The famous wet shirt scene

Below, the film inspired souvenirs in the gift shop — mugs, tea towels, chocolates, and the DVD among other treasures.

In the Gift Shop
Coffee or Tea?

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 very sober Courtyard Entrance

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.

INSPIRED BY THE ROMANCE OF THE LAKE DISTRICT

Guest post by author Diane Gaston

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.

Wray Castle

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!

Hot chocolate at the Gardener’s Cottage, Tatton Park

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.

 

A Lady Becomes a Governess is available now in paperback and ebook from most online vendors.

Visit my new website at www.dianegaston.com

 

 

VISITING WENTWORTH WOODHOUSE

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:

 

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