Here's Jo, talking about Aske Hall in Yorkshire. I have a particular reason, which I'll explain at the end.
There are, of course, gentry and aristocratic homes all over England and most don't come to our attention unless something special crops up. This is especially true when the house isn't open to the public, as is the case with Aske Hall.
There's an extensive article on the history of the house here so I won't go into it, but it's interesting that the original was constructed in the 1760s, the time of my Georgian romances, so parts represent a typical Georgian country house, even if it has undergone substantial changes. What's more, it illustrates one type of Georgian landowner.
To begin with, the man who built this house was a self-made man. "The son of an Edinburgh Baillie, Dundas was educated at the High School. He made his fortune through stock speculation and by provisioning the British army, under the Duke of Cumberland, during their campaign against the Jacobites (1745-6) and in Flanders during the Seven Years War (1756 – 1763). Dundas was created a Baronet in 1762.
Of course he then wanted a country seat, and bought the Aske Estate.
This picture is of Sir Lawrence Dundas at Aske Hall with his daughter.
This is from the Aske Hall site above.
"Sir Lawrence Dundas Bt. (that means baronet, an inheritable knighthood) bought the Aske Estate from Lord Holderness in 1763 for £45,000 and the imposing Hall has remained the family seat ever since. Sir Lawrence was a hugely ambitious and successful man and one of the reasons he bought Aske was that the estate included the pocket borough of Richmond and he was therefore able to nominate the MP."
(A pocket borough was one that was in someone's pocket — ie he got to dictate who became the MP. This was a very common situation before Parliamentary reform in the 19th century. I'm sure Rothgar has a pocket-full of them.)
"He subsequently branched out into banking, property (he developed Grangemouth in 1777) and was a major backer of the Forth & Clyde Canal."
Then we can see how the family rises.
Thomas(1741 to 1820) made an excellent marriage to Lady Charlotte FitzWilliam, daughter of the 3rd Earl Fitzwilliam, and that moved the family up the social scale a few more steps. The marriage took place in 1764, as Thomas's father was building Aske Hall, and Thomas was already living the part as we can see from this portrait — the very image of a Georgian gentleman enjoying the obligatory Grand Tour.
In 1794 Thomas became Baron Dundas of Aske — ie Lord Dundas.
He was succeeded by his eldest son Lawrence (1766-1839) who became second Lord Dundas at the age of 56. In return for providing financial assistance to the Duke & Duchess of Kent, the future Queen Victoria's parents, Lawrence was created the 1st Earl of Zetland in 1838. In 1892, the title became a marquessate.
There's another page about the family here.
So now, my connection to all this. Very slight, I assure you!
In the 1930s, my father in law was a mechanic/chaffeur at Aske Hall, and we have the photographs to prove it. He didn't talk much about it, and we weren't sensible enough to question him. (Note to all, get your elderly relatives to talk about their lives, if possibly recording it. You never know when you'll want to know, and even everyday lives have historical interest.)
Because of this, we drove to it a few years back, and it's admirably accessible. One can drive close to the house and there's a public footpath through the part that runs close to the house. Now we've taken the advantage of one of the rare open days to visit and learn more. It is a fascinating house still with many Georgian interiors, including a room designed by Capability Brown. I learned something there. I wasn't aware he did anything other than gardens and landscapes.
My next book will be An Unwilling Countess (March 2011), set in Yorkshire. I decided to base Keynings, the hero's home, on Aske Hall.Of course, Aske Hall has changed since 1765, and by the time I'd finished meddling it's a different place in a slightly different location, but that was the seed of it.
Does anything about this family history surprise you? Does this picture of 18th century life fit the world of historical fiction? I find that often the self-made hero is portrayed as slightly coarse and perhaps even proud of it and disdainful of the rich and titled, whereas Sir Lawrence appears to have had good taste and certainly made every attempt to fit in with the aristocratic world — and suceeded.