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



Back in October, I attended the 2015 Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America, held in Louisville, Kentucky. I have reported here on several of the presentations there (Ship’s Surgeon, JASNA  AGM Tidbits,  Mary Crawford at Almack’s?,  Age of Caricature,  men’s clothing) and associated jaunts to Locust Grove, the Kentucky Horse Park, and the Cincinnati Art Museum.

One of my favorites of the Special Interest talks at the AGM was “Thomasina’s Notebook and Thomas Lefroy’s House: Life of a Young Woman in Austen’s Dublin.”

Glynis Ridley, PhD, Professor of English, at the University of Louisville

Dr. Ridley spoke about a book found in a Paris Flea Market by her husband, and the fascinating mystery she is uncovering.

A commonplace book is a compendium of poems, prose excerpts, original observations, and daily commentary often belonging to a young woman of some status in the Georgian era. She might write in it herself, or ask various friends and acquaintances to enter material.

Literary historians have found many examples of commonplace books.

When he brought the book to his wife, Dr. Ridley’s husband was not fully aware of just what he had discovered. Only after considerable research has Dr. Ridley begun to unravel the stories of the owner and her family. And even more exciting, she discovered a link with Jane Austen.

The notebook belonged to Thomasina, daughter of Thomas Gleadowe-Newcomen, 2nd Viscount Newcomen (1776–1825) and his long-time mistress Harriet Holland, who bore him eight children. Like peeling an onion, layer by layer, more mysteries are revealed.

Newcomen was an unmarried banker and lived in a grand Dublin mansion with Harriet and their children; why did he and Harriet never marry? Obviously, from clues in Thomasina’s commonplace book, the family associated with Dublin’s leading citizens, some of whom wrote in the book. They lived together as a family in a fine Dublin mansion, and their country home was  Carrigglass, aka Carrickglass, about which more later.

The former Newcomen Bank, Lord Edward Street, Dublin

In 1825, the Newcomen Bank failed and Lord Newcomen killed himself, at age 48. Still to be tracked down are the movements of Harriet and her children, at first to France, then back to England.  In later years, where did they all end up, and particularly what happened to Thomasina? Dr. Ridley has a few leads and perhaps some clues, and we await her findings eagerly.

And now for the Jane Austen connection, a serendipitous a matter indeed. Carrigglass, the country home of the Newcomens, was purchased by Thomas Lefroy (17876-1869) in the 1820’s after the demise of the bank and its owner. Thomas Lefroy was the student whose flirtation with Jane Austen in 1796 has been the object of much attention in the last few years, turned into a romantic film (Becoming Jane, 2007).  After his “interlude” in Hampshire with Jane, Thomas Lefroy returned to Dublin, became a member of the bar and eventually Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. In 1837, he had the house rebuilt in the Tudoresque style.  He and his descendants lived at Carrigglass until its sale in  2005.

Carrigglass, Co. 

As a sad postscript about this property, one version of the wretched fate of Cairrgglass, can be found here.

Dr, Ridley certainly presented us with a fascinating account of her research mysteries and the need for further investigation. Along the way, she presented many comparisons to the characters in Jane Austen’s novels. We could easily identify a Marianne (SandS) and a Harriet Smith (Emma).  We continue to wonder, did Harriet Holland or Thomasina ever find themselves a Mr. Darcy or a Mr. Knightley?

Previous books by Glynis Ridley:



Victoria here, reporting again from the Louisville, Kentucky, meeting of the Jane Austen Society. Unfortunately I missed the presentation on women’s clothing, but I have to admit I liked all these presentations on men. Okay. No excuses.

First up was Brian Cushing with his Special Interest Session “Dressing Mr. Darcy.”

He started fully turned out, though he had to put his walking stick aside for the talk.

Under the coat was a handsome waistcoat and black neckcloth or cravat.

Removing the cravat
Left in his shirt he talked about how it did not open up all the way down, had extra long sleeves and tails which were pulled up to use as underwear beneath the trousers.

Michael Ramsey presented a Special Interest Session: Hero, Scoundrel, or Dandy: How to step back into Regency England.

He is himself a tailor of Regency-era apparel.

Some of his sources on regency clothing and behavior

A few of the men;s fashion he showed.

He particularly emphasized the importance of fabric quality in delineating the status of a fellow in regency days.  Re-enactors and costumers need to avoid modern fabrics wherever they ca and be sure the quality of their wool, cotton, and silk is suitable for the character they portray,

Jeffrey Nigro and William Philips of Chicago  spoke on “A Revolution in Masculine Style: How Beau Brummell Changed Jane Austen’s World”

Jeff Nigro left, and William Philips, at the microphone.

In many ways, the regency era was a time of revolutionary change; for example, determination of a person’s status was changing from his amount of land ownership to his personal merit.

George Bryan Brummell
a.k.a. Beau Brummell 1778-1840
Caricature by Robert Dighton, 1805 Present whereabouts unknown
Though George Brummell attended Eton, he liked to pretend he came from nowhere; he thus created his own style and persona, calling himself “Beau” to indicate his spiritual excellence rising above the ordinary. Restrained elegance, superiority of bearing, and a ready wit combined to form his style of ostentatious understatement. 
Philip Dawe The Macaroni, a real character at the late masquerade 
1773 British Museum
The style of the Macaroni was extreme, and often ridiculous. It was a revolt against this style that Beau Brummell created. He shunned hair powder and cut his hair much shorter. His clothing was subdued in in quiet colors rather than the bright brocades of the past.
Enrapt listeners
One of the most important features of Brummell’s style was personal cleanliness. Instead of infrequent bathing, he promoted daily baths in hot water and avoided lotions, powder, and scents.

George Cruikshank, published by George Humphrey
Hummingbirds, or a Dandy Trio, published July 15, 1819
Beau Brummell 
Wearing high collars and elaborate high cravats facilitated Brummell;s haughty attitude of looking down at others, enhanced by peering through his quizzing glass.
Francis Alleyne, Portrait of Two Eton Schoolboys in Ad Montem Dress

One source for Brummell’s ideal of male fashion was the Eton “uniform.”

William Philips in a traditional Japanese jacket, a haori

Jane Austen rarely described a gentleman’s clothing in details, but the particulars of demeanor and attitude were often reflected in her delineation of character.

Sir Walter Elliott in Persuasion is vain and self-centered — elaborately dressed.
The worthy Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice is the epitome of understated elegance like Brummell’s.
Mr. Frank Churchill’s coat is not described, but the fact he goes to London for a haircut perfectly characterizes him in Emma.
Jeffrey Nigro in a business suit directly evolved from Beau Brummell

How the Brummell Style has evolved through the years.
2013 G8 Summit, Lough Erne, Northern Ireland

Still with us is the essence of the Brummell style, white shirt, dark coat, dark or buff trousers.

This is just  brief taste of what the presenters gave us….celebrating the men in Jane Austen’s World.




1. Sitting at  the Emporium Wisconsin Table Selling Calendars and jewelry

Mary and Sara ‘man’ the table

Kathy and Mary Anne at the WI table

2. Shopping in the Emporium

At my favorite Jane Austen Books
Visit them here.

Teas and ribbons….

Gowns of all sizes and shades…

Mob caps
More gowns

The gentleman’s tailor

A display inviting us to the 2017 JASNA AGM in Huntington Beach, CA
For More information click here.

Our Friends from Chawton House Library
for more information, click here.

3. Making my “Breast Knot” otherwise known as a beribboned posey

Victoria wearing her creation  with instructor Julie Rockhold
It’s the one on the right, ribbons and flowers,
(The smaller one says ‘I’m for Emma,’ advertising the 2016 AGM.)

Choose flowers and ribbons

My choices, above and below

4. Studying the ‘History of Women’s Writing’ Panels

5. Listening to wonderful speakers

Inger Brodey presented the AGM Opening Plenary
“Making Sense of Sensibility in Jane Austen’s World”
photo courtesy Dave O’Brien
A Full House
photo courtesy Dave O’Brien

Sara Bowen presented “Village Life in Jane Austen’s World: The View from the Parsonage.”
photo courtesy Dave O’Brien
Amanda Vickery gave a plenary session, the Carol Medine Moss Keynote Lecture
“No Happy Ending? At Home with Miss Bates in Georgian England”
photo courtesy Dave O’Brien

Sheryl Craig spoke on “Jane Austen and the Master Spy.”
photo courtesy Dave O’Brien
Ed, Victoria, and Susan Forgue after our presentation
“London High Society in Austen’s Novels”
photo courtesy Dave O’Brien
Burney Society Luncheon speaker Hilary Havens of the University of Tennessee
Her topic for our meeting was “Two Decades of the Burney Society and Burney Studies.”
Back at JASNA
Above and below, slides from the excellent presentation by Shannon Campbell of the Edmonton Region: The Beast That Made Britain Strong.”
Somehow I missed getting her picture.
Hint: That beast goes ‘Baaaaaa.’

I have previously reported on the closing talk by Dr. Rachel Brownstein (here)
and I will report on several presentations concerning the men of the regency era soon.

The AGM was truly memorable. Thanks again, Louisville!

Miss Benn Dines with Jane Austen

The Jane Austen House Museum, Chawton

On May 25, 1811, Miss Mary Benn dined at Chawton Cottage with Jane Austen, and — one assumes — her mother Mrs. Cassandra Austen and their co-resident, Martha Lloyd. 

We learn this in Jane Austen’s letter of Wednesday, 29 May 1811, to her sister Cassandra who was staying at Godmersham, the Kent home of their brother Edward Austen and his children.  This letter is filled with rambling accounts of family and friends — from seedlings to disinheritances. 

Syringa (Lilac)

Jane tells her sister that the Pinks and Sweet Williams are blooming and the Syringas coming out.  She relates family news, upcoming journeys  and that very day a second encounter with Miss Benn  over their tea table.

Miss Benn is a poor spinster who lives in reduced circumstances in Chawton; though we know little about her, she is mentioned in Jane Austen’s letters more than a dozen times in the few years between the Austen’s arrival in Chawton and Miss Benn’s death at age 46 in early January, 1816.  Some biographers have speculated that her extreme poverty caused the Austens to invite her for meals frequently.  In her 1997 biography Jane Austen: A Life, Claire Tomalin  writes, “‘Poor Miss Benn’ appears very much oftener in Jane’s letters than their few better-off neighbours; she was not very interesting, but then nor were they” (p.210)

In January 1813, Jane Austen reported from Chawton to her sister in Steventon that “I have got my own darling Child from London…” meaning a copy of the three-volume first edition of Pride and Prejudice, Austen’s second published novel.  In the letter of Friday, 29 January 1813, Jane tells Cassandra that she had read half of the first volume to Miss Benn, who was “amused, poor soul.” Miss Benn “seemed to admire Elizabeth.”

In her next letter, Austen writes that her mother had read further in the novel to Miss Benn.  Austen did not care for “my Mother’s too rapid way of getting on…Upon the whole however I am quite vain enough and well satisfied enough.–The work is rather too light and bright and sparkling…” — an opinion that generations of readers would deny, finding precisely the correct light, bright and sparkling qualities in the novel.

Mary Benn was the sister of Reverend John Benn (1766-1875) who presided over the parish of Farringdon, nearby Chawton in rural Hampshire.  Mr. Benn and his wife had as dozen children, which probably meant they could not do much to help Miss Benn.

Nevertheless, Miss Benn has found her place in the eternal pantheon of Jane Austen fans.  I am sure she would be surprised even to be mentioned in the year 2012, two hundred years after that dinner in Chawton.

I was alerted to this less-than-earth-shattering meal in my weekly perusal of  A Year with Jane Austen: A Calendar for 2012, the production of JASNA-WI.  Events from Jane Austen’s life and/or events in her novels fill almost every day of this wonderful calendar, accompanied by appealing color reproductions of the 1898 illustrations for editions of Austen’s novels by artist C. E. Brock.

These calendars are still available — and you have half of 2012 left to enjoy one.  Go to the JASNA-WI website  here and click on Merchandise.