The Daring Lady Di

Lady Diana BeauclerkNicola here. A couple of weeks ago I gave a talk and a tour at Lydiard House on the subject of Lady Diana Beauclerk, an 18th century aristocrat who was very unusual in her time for working as a professional artist. Born Lady Diana Spencer in 1734, the daughter of the 3rd Duke of Marlborough, she was for a while Lady St John, mistress of Lydiard House and wife to Frederick, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke. Lady Diana’s life story is extraordinary both personally and professionally but the bit I wanted to focus on was her undoubted talents as a painter and the way in which these had been downplayed because she was a woman and a scandalous one at that. It was a particular pleasure to be giving the talk at Lydiard House, where we could follow in her footsteps in the house and garden and see the influence that her life there had on her art. In the “Diana Room” at Lydiard we also have the largest collection of her work in the UK.

Lady Diana Spencer was the eldest daughter of the 3rd Duke of Marlborough. She was born in 1734 and spent some of her childhood at Blenheim Palace. There was a great deal of fine art there to inspire her; one of her earliest childhood drawings was a pastel of a baby based on a Rubens painting that hung there and chubby Rubenesque cherubs remained a motif of her drawing all of her life. This was how she initially learned to draw and paint, through seeing artistic images and creating her own versions of them.

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Eighteenth Century Party House

Strawberry Hill 1Nicola here. Back in the mid-18th century there was only one fashionable place to be if you wanted a “villa” on the River Thames (a villa in these terms being something roughly the size of a large country house to the rest of us.) That place was Twickenham, a village half-way between the two royal palaces of Richmond and Hampton Court and with the improvements in both roads and carriages, a mere two hours’ drive from Central London. It was here in 1747 that Horace Walpole, the son of England’s first Prime Minister, bought a house that he referred to as a “plaything” and a “bauble” that was to be his summer residence, Strawberry Hill House. Even the name suggests hot summer days and fruit growing wild on the hillsides!

These days Twickenham is a busy suburb and it takes less than an hour to drive between the town and the centre of London. Gone are many of the imposing villas beside the Thames, although a few are still around, and the old houses are often surrounded by the new. Horace Walpole’s little Gothic Castle is still there, though, even if we didn’t see any wild strawberries growing on the hill during our visit.

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Strawberry Hill—a Gothic Masterpiece!

Wheatcroft_1-022516Andrea/Cara here, It’s the height of summer here, and as I stare out my window at the small swatch of greensward and flowering shrubbery in my backyard, I can’t help but fantasize about the Regency-era ritual of the country house party. Imagine rolling through the gates of a grand estate, with acre upon acre of gardens, woodlands and waterways to explore by day. And a grand manor house in which to enjoy sumptuous meals and evening entertainments amid impressive furnishings and fabulous art . . .

13590357_1099341493444871_2103040095411232787_nWhich got me to thinking about which of the stately homes in England would have been the most fun to visit. I didn’t really have to ponder the question long—now, I know many people would choose Blenheim or Chatsworth, but for me, an invitation to Strawberry Hill would have had me packing my ballgowns in a heartbeat. I mean, how could any romance author resist the chance to hobnob with Horace Walpole, creator of The Castle of Otranto—considered the book that created the genre of the gothic novel! As for his self-designed residence and gardens—he called his enclave Strawberry Hill—well, read on!

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