Kenilworth Castle – Lavish Love Token

Elizabeth at KenilworthNicola here. One of the things that I have missed the most about Lockdown is not doing my tours at Ashdown House, and not being able to visit other castles and stately homes whilst everything has been closed so it was very exciting when English Heritage started to re-open a number of their historical sites and I could get my history fix again. Last week, for the first time in 5 months, I went to a castle and I thought I would share the trip here for those who would enjoy a virtual history fix.

A place I’d never been to but had always wanted to see is Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire. Kenilworth has a very long and fascinating history from the time of its building as a great tower in the 1120s, through a period when it was one of the favourite palaces of the Lancastrian kings, and the royal visits of Queen Elizabeth I. It was this aspect of Kenilworth’s history that particularly fascinated me, and Robert Dudley’s final, failed attempt to persuade Elizabeth to marry him. So I took The Forgotten Sister along with me on the road trip as I thought Amy Robsart would enjoy seeing the place (more on that later!)

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Georgian and Regency Wallpapers

Parrot paperNicola here, and today I am talking about Georgian and
Regency wallpapers. Wallpaper is a small detail when a writer is describing a setting
but it can be a useful way of showing the grandeur – or otherwise – of a house and it's certainly a way of portraying character. When I saw this rather gorgeous 18th century wallpaper with parrots and apples on it I immediately started to imagine the sort of flamboyant heroine who might decorate her bedroom in this style, but of course it could equally belong to a hero who is an explorer!

A few weeks ago I visited Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire.
Kirby is an intriguing
West front
house because it is part roofed, part ruin. It was
originally built in the 17th century and looks rather like the more
famous Hardwick Hall, but during the Georgian period it was refurbished and
there is a fascinating restoration project ongoing to show the sort of
wallpaper that decorated the library and the billiard rooms in the 18th and 19th centuries and to demonstrate
how it was made and how it was hung. 

Paper Tapestries

Wallpaper was originally called “paper tapestries” and from
the late sixteenth century onward was printed on small individual sheets and
painted in ink using wood blocks. By the end of the 17th century
there were specialist wallpaper shops in London but wallpaper was at this stage
still considered far inferior to wall hangings “fit only to make the houses of
ordinary people look neat” as one social commentator said, rather snootily!
Only in the 1740s did wallpaper become fashionable with the social elite, partly because it
could be painted in vivid colours and with pattern repeats.

Canvas wall coveringBy 1750, full panelling on walls was out of favour and new
houses were built with half-panelling on the lower wall and the upper walls
plastered either to be painted or to take wallpaper or wall hangings. In older houses the top half of
the panelling was removed and sometimes reused to provide a frame. A canvas was
stretched across this to provide a flat wall face. The canvas was nailed to
battens and then brushed with glue to make it shrink as it dried. This gave a
taut, stiff surface. This was covered in lining paper made from linen rags,
which was made in individual sheets and hung so that they overlapped. The
photo, from Kirby, shows and example of how the canvases worked to provide a flat surface that could be papered over.


The Height of Fashion

Flock and damask wallpapers were considered the most modish.
A fashionable red flock wallpaper was
Flock and fleur de lys fitted in the Billiards Room at Kirby
Hall in the mid-Georgian period. (You can see what this looked like in the
photograph). The sale catalogue of 1772 lists “crimson paper hangings” in the
Red Room. Flock wallpapers were made to imitate silk damask wall hangings. The
grandest rooms needed large scale bold designs. This was of course before the
introduction of mechanised processes and so making wallpaper was an entirely handmade
process, which meant that every piece was unique. Early wallpaper was made from
linen or cotton rags not from wood pulp. The cloth was pulped and pressed into
moulds to make individual square sheets. These were then joined together to
make a roll similar to the ones that are in use today. Flock wallpapers had a
background colour printed onto the paper, then glue was applied in a pattern,
sometimes using a stencil, and dyed wool sprinkled on top to simulate velvet. Flock was quite expensive, costing between 4 shillings and 13 shillings per
yard in 1750.

Billiard room wallpaperThe Library at Kirby now the most beautiful wallpaper that
is a recreation of a late 18th century style. Here it is in detail in this photograph. I loved the delicate duck egg blue background and the hand
painted fleur de lys. The blue is so pale that you only get the colour effect from a distance. Close up it looks more like a cream colour.

In the later 18th and early nineteenth centuries,
designers developed new styles including chinoiserie, scenic images, papers
that imitated swags of material and tassels. Some wallpaper was even political;
both America and France celebrated their revolutions in wallpaper (which I think is very cool!) The imported
Chinese and Indian prints were particularly expensive and highly-prized,
costing from 14 shillings per yard. At this point people who could not afford
the paper itself started to paint pretend wallpaper onto their walls! A house
in Wales still has the remnants of a wall painting imitating an early 19th
century Chinese style wallpaper, which in itself was an imitation of the more
costly hand painted version.

Mass production

The earliest machines for printing wallpaper were developed
in the late 18th and early 19th century. The
Machine printed paper
advent of
steam power meant that paper could be printed quickly and cheaply, and also in
multiple colours so it became cheaper and more widely available within society. I’ve included a couple of additional examples of late 18th
and early 19th century wallpapers from the National Trust here, just
to show the sort of variety on offer. The picture on the right, featuring a very elegant peacock was one of the late Regency machine printed wallpapers. Below is a Georgian leather-embossed wallpaper, again with a bird theme and the most glorious colours.

Leather embossed wallpaperWhat do you think of the Georgian and Regency patterns? Would
you like a parrot print in your house or some other sort of “heritage
wallpaper” as it’s called today? And do you think that the way someone decorates a room is a way for a character to express themselves?


Gardens of Pleasure

Nicola wenchmark Hello, Nicola here! I enjoy reading about garden history and a couple of weeks ago I went on a research trip deep into the Wiltshire countryside to visit some pleasure gardens created in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century at Old Wardour. The centrepiece of the Old Wardour gardens is… a genuine, ruined medieval castle. That's quite something to incorporate into your garden design.

The Castle

Old Wardour Castle was originally built in the late 15th century and served as an impressive family home for 250 years before it was partially destroyed during a siege in the English Civil War in the mid 16th century. The Royalist forces attacked the castle to take it back from the Parliamentarian troops and set gunpowder mines in the tunnels leading to the cellars and latrines. The intention was to set off a small explosion to frighten the garrison into surrendering but unfortunately someone dropped a lighted match into the barrels of gunpowder that were being stored in the tunnels (a real oops moment!) and the subsequent underground explosion was so huge that two of the turrets collapsed bringing down the roof and much of the upper floors. What followed would have been farcical had it not involved a fight to the death. The Roundhead commander, Edmund Ludlow, had been lying late in bed and woke up to find his bedroom wall missing and the King's troops clambering over the ruins to attack. He shouted for help and his own garrison tried to climb into the room from the other side but they were using too short a ladder to reach him. Ludlow was running backwards and forwardsOld Wardour  across the room, trying to beat off the attackers on the one hand and pull the rescuers up the ladder at the same time. It couldn't end well – eventually he was captured and the castle fell to the Royalists but by then it was a ruin. That was a slight digression to explain how the castle came to be a ruined "folly" in the gardens!

 Nicola at Wardour The Ruin

The Arundell family who owned Old Wardour built themselves a new house nearby (New Wardour, of course) and the old castle was left as a ruin until the end of the eighteenth century when the eighth Lord Arundell began to develop the landscape as a pleasure ground. Ruins were very popular in the Picturesque landscape of the period. They were a romantic reminder of the world of chivalry and a place where the natural world could run wild. The ruined medieval castle thus became the focal point of a fashionably romantic landscape! Today the castle ruins have been made safe to explore. Here I am on the staircase to the Great Hall.

The Grotto and Stone Circle

Grotto A ruined castle, whilst quite a coup, was not sufficient to make up an entire Picturesque landscape so Lord Arundell added a grotto and a stone circle to his pleasure grounds. The grotto was built from the fallen stone of the castle. It is rather charming and very wet, with water piped in deliberately to drip from the roof onto the fossils and ferns below. The purpose of the grotto was to provide an example of "nature unchanged by man"!

The story of the creation of the stone circle did cause me to wince a little since it involved the moving of a genuine 4,000 year old stone circle from a nearby village. This was set up at the end of a yew-lined terrace and a couple of rustic alcoves were built alongside it using stone and plaster from the medieval castle. Here one could sit and shudder fashionably at the thought of prehistoric barbarism!

The Banqueting House

The final touch was a mock-Gothic banqueting house built as a special place for the Arundells to Banqueting Hall entertain their guests. Here is my picture of the interior. It has a coloured marble fireplace and beautiful stained glass windows and these days it has a licence for weddings. Ever practical, even in a "wilderness", Lord Arundell had a three seater "necessary house" as it was called built with similar Gothic detail to the Banqueting Hall. This was particularly interesting as I didn't realise that visiting the necessary house was a communal procedure in this period. I don't have a photo of it, I'm afraid – it was too dark in there!

By the 1830s the pleasure grounds at Old Wardour were open to the public and the Banqueting House had become a refreshment room with an attendant serving afternoon teas.

As it says in the modern day visitor brochure, the landscaped pleasure grounds contained all the necessary elements of the fashionable Romantic Landscape. Here one could contemplate the frailty of human life and the futility of human endeavour that would one day be overcome by wild nature – before enjoying a cup of tea in the Banqueting House and a visit to the "Necessary Room" and going home for dinner!

Ladybird We may not all be able to site a ruined castle in our back yards, but in my Standing stone back garden I have two very small contributions to the Picturesque Landscape, my standing stone and my ladybird. What sort of picturesque or romantic element do you have in your garden, back yard or window box?