More Stourhead

by Michele Ann Young

This was my first view of the gardens at Stourhead.

The reflection of the bridge in the water, the distant folly and the tree branches framing the picture all made the perfect portrait of another time.

I didn't quite believe what I was seeing.

I took several shots of this view, but this is my favorite, even if it does have a bit of fence in the foreground. Although this next one, from a slightly different angle comes pretty close.

Do you think the designer of the garden intended for the bridge to make such a perfect ellipse? My guess is yes.

I will be using this on my website in the header, as soon as I can remember how.

The gardens were designed by Henry Hoare II (remember Hoare's bank) and laid out between 1741 and 1780 in a classical 18th-century design set around a large lake achieved by damming a small stream. The inspiration behind their creation were the painters Claude Lorrain, Poussin and in particular, Gaspar Dughet who painted Utopian-type views of Italian landscapes.

You certainly can't get more Utopian that the views above, which is why I am going to to post all of my Stourhead pictures over the next few blogs, and I hope you will not be bored, but for me this estate epitomised my internal image of the perfect English country estate in the late 18th and early 19th century and I want to capture it where I can visit it again and again.

At the time of year we visited, early June, one of the draws for the gardens was the display of "azaleas". It was only as we walked around that I realized that azaleas and rhododendrons are of the same family.

The Rhododendron ponticum, called Common Rhododendron were introduced around the lake by Sir Richard Colt Hoare in 1791. Unfortunately these bushes while beautiful, are not native to Britain and have been encroaching on our natural plants at an alarming rate. But since this is not a blog about saving natural plantlife, I will say no more on that topic. Later he added two Rhododendron arboreum.

In this last picture you will see flashes of colour which are some of the rhododendrons in bloom, for we were lucky enough to be there right when most of them were flowering and the colours, everything from white which you see at the edge of this shot to deep red, which you see just beyond the bridge, were ours to enjoy.

This is a very long ramble, and so here we will take a rest and begin our journey around the lake next time. Until then, drink a nice cup of tea and keep cool beneath the trees.

The London of the Ton - Part III

By Ann Lethbridge

A House in Town.

Townhouse were the elegant residences of Regency London and I think you will agree that this one, in Tavistock Square from 1809 pictured here epitomizes it all.

While the columns and other design features, give us a sense of a large home, if you look at the front doors and the areas (those little courtyards with windows below pavement level leading to the kitchens and servants quarters, you can see that each of the town houses in this row are two windows wide.

As always for house of this era, the ground, and the first floor were the public room, and hence the large windows, while the second floor and above would have been private chambers.

Don't forget, ground floor is always counted as floor one.

Above those, in the roof, behind the decorative railing it is likely there were attic rooms for servants.

This is a plan of the inside of a town house, ground and first floors only. This one was on Charles Street in 1820 and has a carriage house attached.

For comparison, here is an image of Buckingham House in the same year, 1809, before it became Buckingham Palace.

By now we will have arrived in Sydney. I wonder what it will be like?

Until next time, Happy Rambles

Newton House, Wales

A small reminder. My new book, The Lady Flees Her Lord will be out in two weeks. Am I excited. Yes.

Okay, Newton house is in Wales with a castle in the back yard.

I am going to start with the house. The first picture is the back of the house. The second overlooks the park.

The house was built in the 17th century, but is now wrapped in a gothic Victorian limestone facade. The landscape however is pretty well unchanged. When Capability Brown visited in 1775, he said "I wish my journey may prove of use to the place, which if it should, it will be very flattering. Nature has been truly bountiful and art has done no harm." In other words, he didn't think there was much he could do to improve it. The park remains more or less unaltered to this day. Some of the trees date by to the thirteenth century.

In this picture, you can see the deer. This is but one of the views across the house from the park and I have to say, it really was lovely. One ancient tradition relates to the white cattle found on the estate. They have been at Dinefwr for a thousand years and are a symbol of the power of the Welsh Princes. The laws of Hywel Dda, a 10th century leader of Deheubarth, refer to fines and payments recovered with white cattle.

While the outside of the walls was changed, and there was remodeling done inside over the years, the basic structure seems to have remained fairly well intact.

The original house was a fortified farmhouse. It had towers in each corner. Domed roofs were added to the towers in around 1750. It was really neat that each of the rooms in the corners had little hexagonal rooms off them (inside the tower) with stairs off them. Of course, visitors aren't allowed, but it gave the rooms a very unique look and feel.

The last thing I am going to show you is the ice house. Now if you have been following this blog you will know I have a fascination for ice houses. One of these days I am going to put them all up on my web site. Newton House also has an ice house. It is set off in the woods, and would have been used to help keep the meat from the deer park fresh. According to the guide, because of the location of the ponds servants would have cut the ice and carry it up to the ice house very early in the morning so as not to disturb their employers. It was a distance of about one mile.

Deer meat would be stored on shelves around the edge of the round house or hung from the roof.

Next time we will take a look at the castle. Not because it was regency, but always because it was there in the regency. And quite honestly what could have been better but your own ruin. People paid a fortune to have them built.

Until next time. Happy Rambles.

Searching for Regency England

I promised one last blog on Margam. I wanted to show pictures of the original house, primarily because it should have been there in the Regency, the house we saw in the earlier blog having been built in the 1830's. The estate belonged to the Mansel family, a landowner and knight raised to a Baronetcy in the early seventeenth century and the peerage in 1711 by Queen Ann.

The title became extinct and the estate went to the Talbot family. The house was demolished around the end of the eighteenth century 1792-93. These bird's-eye view paintings give a wonderful overview of the house.

The house had its origin in the converted domestic buildings of the medieval abbey. The picture above is the north view, or the back of the house, and while the house stretches out to the east, at the centre west can be see the ruins of the monastic chapter house, and the absence of fine windows at the western end suggest this was the service and stores end of the back of the house. Coal was kept in the chapter house during this period.
The front of the house is very different, but clearly shows its expansion over the years. To the right, or the east is the medieval gatehouse, behind which is a walled in courtyard, the the far west Corinthian columns or pilasters rise up in grand style above a door way.

A summer banqueting house was set off to the far right from the main building and overlooked the deer park. While we can regret its loss, it is not hard to see why the owners might have wanted to replace the rambling old seventeenth and eighteenth century buildings with something more up to date. On the other hand, to set a novel in such a house is very appealing.

I hope you enjoyed these two pictures. I have one more house in Wales I want to show you in my search for Regency England next time.

Until then, Happy Rambles

Searching for Regency England

We were talking about Margam, which is located near Neath (Castell-nedd) and Port Talbot. I fell in love with these trees in the park.

One of my biggest disappointments was the fact that we could not enter the house which burned out in 1977.

The park contains the largest herd of fallow deer to be found in south Wales and thought to be descendants of a small herd brought here in the fifteenth century. So there would have been deer here during the Regency.

Another building we would have seen during our era was the remains of the abbey, founded in 1147 by the Earl of Gloucester and given to the Cistercian monks from Clarvaux Abbey in France.

It became the largest and wealthiest abbey in Wales and once held a copy of the Domesday Book, now owned by the British Library.

Pictured here is the remnant of the twelve sided Chapter House.

And from a bit further away, with the end of the Orangery off to the side.

Imagine having that in your back yard.

While not strictly our period, I am going to put up some pictures of the house that was on the property, prior to the current castle. Its loss is to be mourned, but if I can get the pictures to download, I think you will agree it is worth recording it, if for nothing else, a setting for a story and a look at an earlier time on which our Georgian period is based.

Until next time, Happy Rambles

Searching for Regency England

Did you miss me? Or did you take a peak at the other blog? It seems there is a new catch phrase for writers who guest blog and no one turns up, you are No Friends Nigela. I don't know if anyone has seen that cooking show? I like her, but lots of folks don't apparently. Anyway, I wasn't lonely lucy either. So now back to our regular programming.

I got a bit sidetracked over the past few months and there were one or two more places I wanted to bring to you from my last research trip.

Both of them are in Wales. The first one I wanted to chat about is Margam. Margam Park is built on the site of an abbey (closed in 1536).

The house pictured here was designed in 1827 and completed over the next several year. So it is Georgian, but not Regency. It is definitely romantic, with its mock battlements, clusters of tudor twisted chimneys, turrets and pinnacles. A great central pile of the house rises to a majestic octagonal tower. The architect was Thomas Hopper. The view of it here is the back of the house, which overlooks the park. It really is a ruin inside. So sad. But it is also gorgeous and fascinating and could just as easily have been built during the Regency, so I present it here.

These steps, to the west, lead to the orangery, which was finished in 1793, at the same time as the original house was being torn down.

It was built to contain a great collection of orange, lemon and other citrus trees. There were a great many legends about the origin of the trees, which indicate that while they were destined to be delivered to the crown the ship foundered and were claimed by the Mansells. Sounds like there might be a story in there somewhere.

By the mid 18th century there were over one hundred trees in greenhouses all over the park, and while they can stay outside in the summer, they must be taken in for the winter because of low temperatures. This orangery is gorgeous. It is long and narrow with 27 tall south facing windows to admit winter light and the plain black wall has fireplaces from which hot air passes through flues. It is beautifully augmented by fountains along its length, deeply-worked stone, friezes and sculptured urns

We have talked about orangeries before and this one has to be added as one of the most gorgeous ones of our era.

There is lots more to say about Margam, so I will continue next time.

Until next time, Happy Ramble.

Regency Bathrooms

A rather intimate topic, you might say, but it is one of those things we occasionally wonder about as writers, particularly if we want to have our romantic couple bath together.

I can remember homes that had outside facilities while I was growing up, indeed there were special government grants to convert them to indoor facilities. I recall one row house we lived in for a time, where we bathed in a tin tub in front of the fire. And no, dear reader, I was not born in the Regency. lol. It also had its own air raid shelter on the other side of the road. I still have the scar on my forehead from falling into the stairwell of that abandoned shelter.

So what facilities could they possibly have had two hundred years ago.

More than you would expect, but less than you might hope if you were time traveling.

This picture shows the types of luxury bathing one might find in the very best homes in the Regency.

Around this time, the shower-bath was invented, bath-tubs replaced the elegant but much more expensive plunge baths of the eighteenth century. A shower bath would be a cistern which emptied over the bather's head into a tub or a plunge bath. My guess is you had to be quick.

and most important of all, really efficient water-closets, fitted with valves that worked, at last became available (often still supplemented by outside earth-closets for the servants)

As early as 1813 the Earl of Moira's Donington Park in Leicestershire had two bathrooms and at least six water-closets, on two floors."

People were more likely to install these new fangled items at their country estates than in London homes where space was at a premium.

There was no such thing as municipal water during the Regency. In London water was delivered by wagon and deposited in a cistern located across the area, under the street, next to the coal cellar. Access to both was via hatches in the street. Water was not delivered every day. Anyone with a flushing toilet required servants to hand-fill a smaller cistern located in the attics.

The first flushing toilet was actually invented back in the 1500s. One was installed at Hampton Court for Elizabeth. However, these were very smelly affairs since the U-trap had not yet been invented.

Not until 1780 did advances make flushing toilets practical. By the Regency, new houses built for the middle or higher classes included water closets that emptied into the waste cistern under the servants' privy, but as you can see from the diagram they were not what we think of as a toilet today.

Until next time, Happy Rambles.

Regency Architecture

I thought we might focus on architecture and design occasionally over the next few months, mostly because it helps me when describing buildings. However, I will look at buildings that were around during the Regency, not just those designed and built in the period.

I did want to start with a Regency Architect and chose one of the most well known architects of the era is Sir John Soane (1753 to 1837)
Soane was the son of a bricklayer. I really like that bit of information about him. I imagine that he would have not just a feeling for the design of a building but the bones of it, the real structure. Perhaps that is why his buildings were reduced to the essentials. His father would have known the architects of the day, and he trained with Dance and Henry Holland and then studied at the Royal Academy which awarded him a scholarship to Italy.

Architects were considered of little more importance than a master craftsman during and prior to this period. He used his position of professor of architecture to have architects recognized as professionals culminating in the founding of the Institute of British Architects in 1837.

Most of Soane's buildings are gone or have been altered beyond recognition. The Dulwich Picture Gallery as the first public art gallery in England was started in 1811 is a good example of his work.

Soane concentrated on internal spaces and lighting. He avoided dark corners, hallways and stairways. His work in the Bank of England incorporated top lighting because the building had no windows. Here is the exterior of the Bank, followed by the the windows in the roof, to provide daylight from above.

And finally his house/office in Lincoln's Inn Fields, which is now a museum. This picture shows the house around 1802, before the loggia were glazed in.
Don't forget that all of those signed up for my news letter on publication date will be entered in a draw.

Until Next Time ~~ Happy Rambles.