Home Sweet Home

Regency-1Cara/Andrea here, As I sit here amidst piles of unpacked boxes and stuff to be sorted into its new places, I am breathing a sigh of relief that the ordeal of moving from one home to another is over. I’m usually able to stay on an even keel through all the inevitable storms and squalls that spring up in the course of Life. But this was House 2-7incredible stressful. There is, of course, the physical process of sorting through your belongings and deciding what to keep and what is merely weighing you down. That can be emotional. However, far more emotional is both leaving a familiar place, where all your things have a regular place and surround you with a sense of order and continuity, and finding a new place where you feel you can create a sense of “home.” In some ways, change is good! It challenges you to reassess a lot about yourself things, and see things in a new light. But in some ways it’s also absolutely terrifying.

Regency-3Which got me to thinking about moving in the Regency, especially for women. It suddenly occurred to me that “home” and the prospect of losing a secure place in the world, plays an integral part in many of Austen’s novels. Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion—actual displacement from a familiar place or fear of losing it play a central role in the stories. Mansfield Park also has a strong theme of “home” as Fanny struggles to figure where and how she fits in.

Young_Ladies_at_HomeWhere is your place in the world? I had the freedom to decide I was ready for a change and then take independent action to make it happen, but for our Regency sisters, it wasn’t quite so simple. For one thing, few ladies had the financial means to make such decisions on their Imagesown. Unless they were lucky enough to have received a bequest from some rich relative of property or money, they had little hope of establishing themselves in their own place. Of course, if they were married, the situation became even stickier, as the legalities of the time made them little more than a husband’s property, like his horses and his hounds.

6450In the higher circles of English society, there was also the worry of a husband passing away without a male child, leaving his widow and daughters at the mercy of the heir, who by rights can toss them out on their ear. In this light, Mrs. Bennett’s obsession with marrying off her daughters—especially to a rich man who will take care of the rest of them—becomes Regency-2a tad more sympathetic. Worry over the future was no trifling matter. Austen shows us this in Sense and Sensibility. The Dashwoods must make the best of being forced from their home when Dashwood’s son by his first marriage inherits the house. They are offered a cottage by distant relations, and must establish a new life. Their story, of course, has a happy ending, but I imagine that many real-life situations did not. Slowly sinking into genteel poverty was not uncommon. The sense of dislocation and helplessness must have been frightening and frustrating.

1813-ackermann-regency-morning-dress-2So ladies were pretty much dependent on making a making a good match or the goodwill of their family to care for them as spinsters or widows. Now, family dynamics likely haven’t changed much over the centuries. Relationships are, say we say complicated, and it’s the rare family whose interactions are nothing but sweetness and light. Conflicts and resentments can arise, making the hierarchy even more complex. A brother’s wife may resent the crowding and extra mouths to feed, or expect an unwed sister to serve as a Regency-13nursery maid. An imperious grandmother may treat a poor relation as an unpaid servant, there to do her bidding at every hour of the day. Any female with spirit or a lively intellect could very feel stifled and frustrated by a lack of independence. For a gentry girl, an option could be seeking a position as a governess or paid companion, but that was in a sense simply jumping from the frying pan into the fire. For an aristocratic lady, there wasn’t even that choice—if she didn’t marry, she would likely find herself confined to world where the horizons were ever shrinking rather than expanding world.

BoatSo as I settle into my new digs, and surround myself with all the little things that are meaningful to me and create a sense of “home,” I reflect on how much as I love the Regency, I am glad to be living in the here and now. (But hey, I brought my oil lamps with me from the old house . . . there is something to be said for the best of both worlds!

So how about you? Have you ever moved, and did you find it as stressful as I did? What would you dislike most about living as a poor relation in a household? I would miss the privacy and the quiet time to read and reflect.

A House In The Country . . .

AP-avatarCara/Andrea here,

SP-1One of the many reasons I’m enjoying Downton Abbey and all the enthusiasm for British History it has engendered here in the States is the interest it’s stirred in the great country houses. Now, many of us are familiar with the famous estates, like Chatsworth and Blenheim. But there are so many lesser-known places with unique and fascinating histories, as Nicola often points out in her wonderful posts.

SP-mapFor those of us who don’t live in the UK, and only occasionally get a chance to travel to the Sceptered Isle, these stately houses are incredibly alluring. The grand gardens, the ornate rooms, the opulent furnishings, the memorabilia decorating the niches and walls—it all resonates with wonderful stories and gives us a glimpse into the richly textured past. Last summer I had a chance to visit one of these  marvelous estates, so in homage to the recent start of Season Two of Downton Abbey here in America,  I thought I’d share  a little about Stoke Park, which is located near London, just a few miles from Heathrow Airport.

Elizabeth-1The lands of Stoke Park and the village of Stoke Poges, where it is located, are mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, and through the ensuing centuries the estate passed to various nobles of the realm. Queen Elizabeth graced two of her favorites with use of enclave, first allowing Sir Christopher Hatton  to reside there, and then giving the honors to Sir Edward Coke. Coke became one of the most prominent lawyers in England, and was involved in sending the Earl of Essex to the gallows, as well as prosecuting members of the Gunpowder Plot. Two years before the Queen’s death, he entertained her at Stoke Park.

King-CharlesRoyalty made another visit, albeit a less pleasant one, to the estate when King Charles I was imprisoned for a short time there before his execution. And in 1688, the newly crowned King William III was traveling in the area and wished to see the manor house. However, he was refused entrance by the owner, who said “He has got possession of another man’s house and shall not enter mine.”

Stoke Park eventually passed to the Cobham family, who also owned Stowe, a well-known estate in Buckinghamshire. In 1749, the dowager Viscountess came from Stowe to live at Stoke park—and brough with her another fascinating figure in English history—the legendary landscape designer, Capability Brown.

Cap-BrownLancelot Brown—who earned the moniker “Capability” for often telling clients that their estates had great “capability” for landscape improvement—was born in Kirkharle, Northumberland in 1716. He started his career as a gardener’s boy at Kirkharle Hall, and then moved on to Stowe, where he studied under the famous landscape designer, William Kent.

Brown made a name for himself by breaking with tradition and creating a new “natural” approach to designing gardens and grounds, as opposed to the formal layouts of the past. He called them “grammatical” landscapes—in explaining himself to Hannah More in an encounter at Hampton Court, he said, “I make a comma, and there . . . where a more decided turn is proper, I make a colon; at another part, where interruption is desirable to break the view, a parenthesis . . .” Now as a writer, I of course love this name for his style. And oh, can Brown punctuate!

Stoke-Park-2His style is marked by long stretches of rolling grasslands, with bushes, trees  and lakes—manmade if necessary— artfully placed to create visual texture and interest. Many of the most famous estates in Britain feature his garden designs, including Croome Court, Blenheim Palace, Warwick Castle, and small traces at Kew Gardens. Stoke Park’s grounds—which today include a wonderful 18-hole golf course by the distinguished Harry Colt—showcase Brown’s genius for subtlely shaping the earth and creating pleasing vistas from every angle of the estate.

Stoke-Park-1I was lucky enough to play golf through some of the grounds that he designed at Stoke Park, Now, Mark Twain called golf “a good walk spoiled” but nothing could diminish the pleasure of winding my way through the vistas of rolling grasslands, strategically placed clumps of bushes, and graceful stone bridges crossing scenic waters. It’s not often that I can combine my love of history with my love of sport, so this was truly a special experience.

Thomas-GreyOther notables who owned Stoke Park include Edward Gray, one of England’s premier poets. His most famous poem, “Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard” was written about St. Giles’s church in Stoke Poges. The Penn family, familiar to all us Yanks, was also a steward of the lands. In the early 1800’s John Penn, grandson of William, brought in the acclaimed architect James Wyatt to help design a manor house.

Sp-tennisNow this brings us back to the Downton Abbey era, which also figures prominently in the history of Stoke Park. In 1908, sport-mad Nick Lane Jackson had the grand idea to “establish a country club somewhat along the lines of those which had proved so phenomenally successful in the United States.” He and a group of investors arranged to lease part of Stoke Park with an option to buy. The Stoke Park Club came into being, and today it still offers its members and hotel guests world-class golf and grass Goldfingercourt tennis. (The famous golf match in the James Bond movie Goldfinger was filmed at the club.) The public can book a stay, Stoke-interiorwhich offers the opportunity  to enjoy tea and meals in the fabulous period rooms, or enjoy a quiet read in the library or various sitting rooms. It’s well worth a visit for it’s truly a special place, for everywhere you look, both inside and out, you get a breathtaking look at history.

What about you? Are you enjoying Downton Abbey? Would you like to have a stay at a grand English country house. Which one would you choose?