Jane Austen’s Haunted Emma

The environs of Jane Austen’s Emma boast some spectral incidents. Set in Surrey “the most misunderstood English county,” the novel features picturesque Box Hill and surrounding villages serving as the backdrop for a subtle complexity of romantic misunderstanding.

All quotes are from the novel.

“Emma had never been to Box Hill; she wished to see what everyone found so well worth seeing..”

Box Hill itself contains the grave of a man buried upside down. Major Peter Labilliere, not surprisingly a somewhat eccentric man, was a particular friend of the 5th Duke of Devonshire. He spent a good deal of his time wandering the hill. His ghost has yet to quit the area, according to reports.

“Let everybody on the Hill hear me if they can. Let my accents swell from Mickleham on one side, and Dorking on the other.”

The road from Box Hill to Dorking passes through the village of Westcott, the location of Stowe Maries, a Grade II listed sixteenth century timbered house once owned by the actor Leslie Howard. Reports of a ghostly horseman abound. One witness saw the roadside bushes part as if pushed aside, accompanied by the sound of a horse trotting by.

“I didn’t chase women, but I couldn’t always be bothered to run away.” — Leslie Howard

The ruins of old Betchworth Castle to the east make it difficult to imagine this medieval fortification had been renovated into a fine Regency-era house. It became part of the grounds of nearby Deepdene, acquired by colorful banker Thomas Hope. His well-developed craze for the Gothic style led him to turn a destructive eye toward old Betchworth. He had the house deliberately reduced to a picturesque ruin. Ironically, his Regency masterpiece Deepdene was destroyed to make an office building.

Betchworth Castle still remains, said to be haunted by a ‘Lord Hope.’ His ghost wanders in perpetual grief over the accidental killing of his son. A spectral black dog prowls the ruins at night as well.

Old Betchworth lies along the River Mole. Spooky, yeah? Photo by Ian Capper via geograph.org.uk

To the west of Dorking is Silent Pool, situated near the old estate of Henry Drummond, one of the wealthier men of Regency England and a rival banker to Sarah Sophia, Countess of Jersey. The body of water has a blue opalescent color. It is said to be haunted by a woodcutter’s daughter who drowned there to escape King John’s embrace.

Mystery writer Agatha Christie mysteriously disappeared near Silent Pool, where her car was found abandoned.

Jane Austen wrote Emma while staying with relatives in Great Bookham, on the outskirts of Dorking. Richard Sheridan, Regency-era playwright and one of Lady Bessborough’s lovers, lived in the neighborhood for a time at Polesdon Lacey, an old manor later remodeled into a villa and fine example of the era’s architecture. The grounds of this house and nearby Cotman Dean heath (Little Bookham Common) long had the reputation of being haunted by the spirit of an old woman.

“..ridiculous, disagreeable old maid! The proper sport of boys and girls..”

The villagers had almost forgotten their local ghost until some boarding school boys resurrected her. They used a dark lanthorn (lantern with sliding black lens) and carried it around the place at night. The villagers were not familiar with this relatively new device. Thus they grew convinced the light moving swiftly around the heath, point to point, could have only been carried thus by spectral means.

The fun ended when the boys were discovered and thrashed within an inch of their lives.

Bookham Commons via nationaltrust.org.uk

 

A Regency State Banquet

The recent state banquet in Buckingham Palace had me glued to the TV screen. Not to view the participants, but to catch a glimpse of the treasures acquired by the Prince Regent, still in use today.

The banquet took place in the ballroom of the palace, a Victorian creation. July 20th will mark the beginning of a new exhibition, “Queen Victoria’s Palace,” which will highlight the transformation of what had been “a private house to a working royal residence.” Below is an image of the ballroom during Victoria’s reign:

Watercolor by Louis Haghe (1806 – 85) from the Royal Collection Trust

What makes a state banquet in the ballroom so magnificent is the decorative and functional items on display. Thanks to the excellent catalog and descriptions of the Royal Collection, one can know the  provenance of those items brought out from the Queen’s  ‘cupboard’ to serve the attendees.

It is also an opportunity to see the very best that graced a Regency era table.

The Grand Service was assembled by George IV over the course of his life as Prince of Wales,as  the Prince Regent and finally as king. It consists of more than 4000 pieces and made by the Royal Goldsmiths, Rundell Bridge and Rundell. The style reflects the eclectic taste of the Regency era. There is no one pattern, but a harmony of classical, Egyptian and oriental motifs.

Irreplaceable and wholly incomparable in size and magnificence, the Grand Service remains in use for state banquets like the one this past week.

The magnificent Mercury and Bacchus candelabrum by Rundell & Bridge goldsmith Paul Storr (1811)  – it is always placed on the table of HM the Queen, along with its pair, Apples of the Hesperides photo via dailymail.co.uk

The first installment of the service was used in Carlton House. The banquet table featured  goldfish swimming in a trough down the length of the table; highlighting, perhaps, the magnificence of the silver gilt plate.

From the British Museum collection – a Charles Williams print clearly objecting to this first of Prinny’s many extravagances

I particularly like the more unusual pieces. They inspire great plot ideas for that Regency dinner my characters labor to serve.

A spirit burner is used to keep food warm on the table as diners serve themselves à la française — photo via Royal Collection Trust

 

Chained unicorn detail from the wine cistern (now punch bowl) — final piece of the Grand Service – photo via Royal Collection Trust

 

There are four of these dessert stands — Bacchus here dancing with his maenids photo via Royal Collection Trust

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Composer to the Regency

This Blog has often addressed the burgeoning need for access to the arts during the Regency period. Muzio Clementi (1752 – 1832) was the man who brought the music to the age.

The father of the piano

Born in Italy, as a young man he came to England at the behest of his patron, Sir Peter Beckford, to develop his musical talent and entertain the Lord Mayor’s country household. His public performances as a pianist and organist were quite the treat for a provincial audience far removed from London. It was perhaps inevitable that Dorset would not hold him forever, and upon his release from obligations to Sir Peter, he was on his way to the Metropolis, and fame.

He was to become the musician to the Regency.

Late Georgian England was already attracting many accomplished composers from the Continent, including Joseph Haydn and Mozart. Upon his arrival in London, Clementi began composing, and his talent aroused great interest among the ton, and notice among the great masters.

Mozart: ‘Clementi is a charlatan, like all Italians.’ Clementi: ‘Until (Mozart) I had never heard anyone play with such spirit and grace.’

His talent took him to the Continent as well. Among his first performances was the famous competition between himself and Mozart, before the Imperial court of Austria. But unlike poor Salieri, Clementi held his own against the better-remembered Mozart, astonishing the emperor and those in attendance. Indeed, the man later known as Amadeus gave the ultimate compliment to his rival, using Clementi’s beginning motif to his Sonata in B-flat Major, No. 2 in the famous overture to The Magic Flute.

Back in England, Clementi’s influence was considerable, finding its way into music rooms and parlors, figuring largely in lessons on the pianoforte. His compositions were considered most challenging, being intricate and often difficult to play, despite their ‘simplicity, brilliancy and originality.’

“The celebrated John Christian Bach (son of John Sebastian Bach’s second marriage) spoke of (Clementi’s Opera 2) in the highest terms; but although one of the most able players of the time, he would not attempt its performance….his works ‘could only be performed by the author or the devil himself.’ ”

— Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review, vol 2, 1820

Composing and performing were not particularly lucrative. Clementi supplemented his income by publishing the works of other composers, in addition to his own. He used his connections with notable musicians to gain exclusive rights to publish their compositions, fulfilling increasing demand for sheet music, both for piano and flute.

Beethoven made his nephew play these exclusively. My piano teacher employed the same philosophy with me.

From his publishing company’s Appendix to their Catalog of 1816:

Clementi & Co., having established a Correspondence with several of the most respectable Continental Publishers, they have entered into such arrangements as will enable them to supply their friends and the public, at a short notice, with Correct Editions of the most esteemed Productions of the Foreign Musical Press.

Having a robust musical library was just as important as having a large and varied collection of books. Scattered sheets of music, however messy, was a mark of distinction for any household.

Clementi was the exclusive publisher of Beethoven’s compositions sold in Britain.

Clementi also had a piano factory, building instruments that incorporated his designs to improve their performance. Innovations in case construction allowed a pianoforte to retain its pitch and tone longer, so that tuning was not so frequently required. Clementi also patented a process that allowed strings to be attached directly to the soundboard, lengthening tone and increasing resonance.

‘..old-fashioned square parlor…the proper air of confusion by a grand piano-forte and a harp..’ Persuasion, by Jane Austen
photo via bestbrodipianos.co.uk

Unfortunately the manufacturing plant was destroyed by fire in 1807, from a stove flue that ignited surrounding woodwork. The engines for putting out the fire arrived fairly quickly, but were unable to stop the destruction because, as the Athenaeum of 1807 reports,’no water could be procured for nearly an hour after.’

His obituary summarizes his remarkable career with special tribute paid to Clementi’s humanity, his kindness to others*, his capacity for feeling. Noted with sadness is the composer’s suffering over the death of his first wife in childbirth, and his son’s premature demise from a pistol’s accidental discharge.

At his funeral:

“The cheerful noon-sun shone through the cathedral windows when the procession began to move…it was the illumination most befitting so clear and natural a spirit as Clementi.”

— Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol 102, Part 1 (1832)

In Austen’s novel Persuasion, Captain Harville and Anne discuss ‘the richness of the present age.” It is perhaps no small surprise that the father of the piano should have inhabited the Age of the Regency, and adorned its music.

* He was known to have sponsored a subscription fund for the widow of fellow composer John Gildon, so that she could live in comfort, and even start a business. Ackermann’s Repository (vol 10, July 1813)