No one likes Twelfth Night cake

Birch & Birch, London Confectioners

Vivien climbed the great Adams staircase at Northam House.  She had scarcely reached the top step when she met Diana, preparing to descend.  She was pulling on her York tan gloves with something like irritation, her bonnet jammed onto her curls as if it were to blame for some upset.  Margaret was behind her, trying to coax her mistress into putting on a pelisse.

Diana obliged, hunching down to accept her dresser’s assistance.  The shoulders and armholes of the garment had been carefully tailored by her modiste to fit the countess closely.  The modish pelisse was difficult to put on but the end result was worth it—the sleeves clung to Diana’s slim arms with no wrinkling, the back setting off her elegant shoulders to perfection.

“Surely you’re not thinking of going out,” Vivien remonstrated.

“I’m off to Cornhill,” Diana said, nodding her thanks to the maid.  Her green eyes dared Vivien to gainsay her.  “To get a Twelfth Night cake.  Birch’s makes the best in London, I’m told.”

Vivien quirked an eyebrow.  “You hate Twelfth Night cakes.  You never eat them at other people’s parties and you give your servants a week’s wages instead of their customary slice so you don’t have to bring one in the house.”

“Quite.  I despise the nasty things they put in them.”  Diana passed her, going down the stairs rapidly.  “But it’s not for me,” she called over her shoulder.  “It’s for Griffin.”

Vivien followed, her slippered feet making what sounded like a silly patter on the stone steps, hastening after the sound of Diana’s leather half boots.  She tried to keep her voice even although it echoed in the stairwell chasm topped by a decorative dome high above.

“You amaze me,” she said to Diana’s back that was by now far below.  “I’m his cousin and have never known him to have a penchant for it.”

The sound of male laughter rose from the foyer at the bottom of the stairway and filled its monumental space.  Vivien could see that Diana had stopped at the landing where she was confronted by her uncle and Griffin.  As she came to stand beside her friend, Vivien noted the exceptionally large box they had, bearing the stamp of Birch & Birch, Confectioners.

“Go ahead, my dear,” Russell said to Diana, winking at Vivien.  “See what Griffin has brought you.”

Diana opened the box and even Ingle, the housekeeper, was moved to express her astonishment.  Inside was a confection exquisitely decorated with delicate icing that was sculpted into swags and bunches of fruit.  In the center, there was no coat of arms nor earl’s coronet as one might expect would crown an offering for a countess.

The Twelfth Night cake was topped, very simply, with the name DIANA.

Griffin cleared his throat in the awkward silence.  “I don’t care for Twelfth Night cakes myself, but I was persuaded you might like this one.”

Vivien, not knowing whether he would receive thanks or a face full of iced confection, stepped into the breach.  “How very thoughtful of you, Griffin.”

She should have known Russell had no such compunction.

“Well, Niece,” he teased, “will you despise this Twelfth Night cake as you have all the others I’ve tried to bring home?”

“I think not.” Diana replied, looking directly at Griffin.  “Thank you for the cake, Sir.”

Vivien wondered at the undefined warmth filling the cold foyer.

Wedding cake of HRH Diana, Princess of Wales

The Chambers’ Book of Days of 1869 reports that Birch’s is one of London’s most celebrated confectioners–the shop being quite old by the the time its proprieter, Samuel Birch, served as Lord Mayor in 1815, the year of Griffin’s gift to Diana.  The shop was in Cornhill, a part of London’s City Center that crowns one of that metropolis’ three hills, the others being Tower Hill and Ludgate Hill.

The picture of another “Diana” cake seemed appropriate.  A slice given by the Queen Mother to her servant sold recently for almost two thousand pounds sterling.  Quite a bit more than a week’s wages, I’ll warrant.

Calennig – A Welsh New Year

Vivien peered into the grand salon, sometimes called the saloon, at Northam Park.  The riotous interior that was a masterpiece of Rococco decoration was clearly at odds with its lone occupant.  The Countess of Northam stood pale and solitary, her tall figure slim as ever, outlined in sharp relief against a soaring Palladian window.  She sifted rapidly, as though unseeing, through a trove of invitations to attend various country pursuits afternoon teas, shooting lunches and hunting balls.

Diana was grieving.

HM Queen Elizabeth's mare Burmese

Vivien knew this because they had been bosom bows for over twenty years.  In that time she had come to recognize the signs of emotional turmoil in her beloved friend.  Signs that included a brittle laugh, sparkling green eyes, fluid, quicksilver movements.

Yet the mistress of Northam Park exhibited none of these now.  The only thing that betrayed her grief was the manner in which her long, elegant fingers rapidly sorted through the embossed cards, as if each one represented an irritation.

Diana looked up.  “Oh, my dear.  How good of you to come and relieve the tedium of my company.”

“I’ve come to give you a gift.”

“Good God.  I’ve been saving mine to give to you on Twelfth Night.  ‘Tis only New Year’s.”

“You’re forgetting I’m Welsh.”  Vivien joined her at the window and offered a polished wooden box.  “This is your Calennig, my dear.”

Diana put the cards down.  She took the box, her long, elegant fingers moving over the gift before opening it.

Inside was a highly polished, copper bit.

Diana snapped the box shut, a violent, angry motion.

“You’ve grieved long enough,” Vivien said, her own voice unexpectedly angry.  “Garnet has been gone for months.”

Diana met her eyes and looked away quickly, her mouth lifted up in one corner as if self-revulsion.  Vivien knew she despised showing any sign of weakness.

“How was the Boxing Day hunt?” she asked, her voice derisive.  “Did your new nag refuse any of the fences?”

“It would never occur to Bandula that she might ever refuse a fence,” Vivien replied.  “She’s as close to being my dear Thor reincarnated as I should ever like to see.  Even down to her grey coat.”

Diana set the box down on the window’s marble sill.  She crossed her arms over her chest, her long fingers clenching against the expensive silk that made up her sleeves.  “Do not bother to cozen me, Vivien.  I’m blue-devilled and shall be miserable company for anyone.  For a long time.”

“It’s the New Year.  What better time to look about for a new horse?”  Vivien insisted.

“Aye, you hardly gave a thought to poor old Thor, so fast did you seize upon your new pet. ”

It was a wounding thing to say, but Vivien did not mind.  She knew that it must come from a pain so terrible that it was positively eating Diana alive.   And so she leaned against her friend, even though her own head scarcely reached Diana’s shoulder.

“Oh, Vivien,” Diana groaned, her words wracked by the suspicion of a sniff, “I can’t seem to right myself.  Garnet must have been the most wretched mare alive.  I think she must have thrown me a dozen times or more.  Griffin never liked her, although I used to catch him giving her scraps from the kitchen.  Good God, she would eat anything, even roast beef if you offered it to her.  And do you remember the time, Vivien, when we first met and Thor put her in her place with that well-bred glance of his?”

Their glances locked, each remembering their horses now gone.  Predictably, Vivien felt her face crumple in a sob and it was Diana who was holding her close for comfort.

“I think I needed to see you grieve, Vivien, in order for me to get over mine.”

“You wretched creature,” Vivien replied, hugging her friend even closer.

The Calennig is the Welsh New Year’s gift.  Vivien, a marchioness, chose to give the Countess of Northam something rather more meaningful than jewels or fabric to demonstrate her love for her old friend.  A copper bit, brand new, was a gentle reminder we must all move on from the pain of the past year.

Vivien’s mother was born in Wales and converted to Methodism.  She had always schooled her daughter with a tenet remembered from a long remembered preacher.  “You must forgive the past year to live in the new.”

Christmas at Windsor Castle

Lighted Christmas Tree - Octagon Dining Room at Windsor Castle

In 1844, long after the events in Notorious Vow and Notorious Match, Diana and Vivien attended the young Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, at Windsor Castle.  The countess and marchioness were astonished to see a tree suspended from the ceiling of the Octagon Dining Room, where the chandelier is normally hung.

A Christmas tree, the Prince Consort explained.

This is from the Royal Collection’s website at :

In the German tradition, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve and presents were laid out on tables, each of which had a Christmas tree at its centre.  Two gift tables will be recreated with presents exchanged by Victoria and Albert.  Among the highlights is a painting by Sir Charles Eastlake commissioned by Victoria in 1844 as a gift for Albert, and a sculpture of Princess Beatrice as a baby lying in a shell, given to the Queen by Prince Albert for Christmas 1858.

In the Castle’s State Dining Room, the table will be laid for a Victorian Christmas feast with a magnificent porcelain dessert service by Minton of Staffordshire.  Known as the Victoria Service, the set was purchased by the Queen at the Great Exhibition in 1851 and includes four porcelain figures of the four seasons, ice pails, cream and bon-bon dishes, and a pair of silver-gilt sauceboats shaped like sleighs.

This special display has been recreated for the public’s viewing and ends on January 8th.

Porcelain Dessert Service - State Dining Room at Windsor Castle

Sweet Science

           “Move aside, you fools,” Nigel shouted.

Diana jolted awake.  A cacophony of shouts and neighs sounded just outside the coach, made by what must be an inordinate amount of horses and men calling their greetings to one another.  The coach had stopped, presumably in the ostlers’ yard at the Maiden’s Crown, but the racketing around by jingling harnesses and stomping hooves did not call to mind the exclusive inn’s normally quiet order.

Diana told Selby and Margaret to remain where they were while she investigated.  As soon as she stepped outside, it seemed as though she were the only female left on earth amid males of every description from country yokels to London dandies.  Nigel had all six sets of reins bunched in one fist while directing the Northam outriders to hold the excited team.

Nigel called to her from his box.   “’Tis a blasted—begging your pardon, my lady—there’s a mill going on between the Black and Quentin Fosonby less than a mile from here.  Every inn and hostelry is crammed full with gawkers to watch the match.”

Selby and Margaret alighted, the former fixing an icy stare on one unfortunate  who gaped at them with a straw hanging out of his mouth.  At the dresser’s glare, the man took himself off.

“No matter,” Diana replied, “our rooms were bespoken in advance.  Have the horses seen too and I shall sort this out.”

She thought briefly of Griffin.  If he were here, it would be his province to deal with travelling upsets.  But as he was not, she would.  God knows she had enough experience.  She briefly wondered if he might have stopped to watch the boxing match, leaving his horses with some boy to look after for a guinea.  Men liked that sort of thing, the blood and violence of a good fistfight.  They also liked to ride their horses or curricles on the open road, without female companionship.

Poor Diana, my heroine in Notorious Match, had run smack-dab into the middle of a sport that was all the rage in the Regency.  Called the “sweet science” by noted sportswriter Pierce Egan, pugilism seemed a Godsend to males everywhere in the early nineteenth century.  .

The Jane Austen Centre does a lovely overview of the sport as it is confined to the early eighteenth century, including a nice excerpt from the movie Becoming Jane.

More specifically, pugilism, along with men’s only clubs, are examples of male homosociality during the Regency.

Homosociality.  Like the more recent term bromance.  A distinction, mind you, from those relationships that are of a romantic, or sexual nature.

One of the things my heroine wrestles with is the prodigious desire on the part of men to socialize with other men.

Why should it matter that men do things together?

Because Diana was curious.  As am I.

Regency painters – Part One

Oath of the Horatii - Jaques-Louis David, 1784

At the time of my story Notorious Match, painting, along with the other fine arts, was transitioning toward Romanticism.  Think Turner and Constable.  In the next few posts, the blog will concentrate on painters of the Regency period and how their visual interpretation of subjects greatly affected their audience in England.

Neo-Classicism was in full force by the time of the Regency in England.  Paintings were eschewing the rococo manner so beloved by the ancienne regime to become more commonly executed in a formal, restrained manner, using classical subjects ranging from mythological figures to Corinthian columns.

Like previous styles of painting, and future ones to come, neo-Classicism was eventually taken over by the political movement of the times.  At the height of his power, Napoleon discovered an affinity for the symmetric, incisive nature of the classical heroic movement and used it to demonstrate his own personal power and that of the Republic.

He chose for his portrait painter Jacques-Louis David, a major contributor to the stylistic painting of this period both in France and England.  David had rejected the earlier passion for indolent aristocrats riding beribboned swings, pursuing love and other nonsense among flowers.  He hated rococo, you see. So much better to paint great gods of Olympus and sturdy mortals of Rome imposing order by sword and mighty oaths.

By Jove, it makes one want to get to one’s bootmaker and demand a pair of dashed sandals.

David was an ardent supporter of the French Revolution and had been favored by Citizen Robespierre, before the fellow got himself guillotined.

Napoleon at the St. Bernard Pass - 1801

It was David who executed the famous, but dreary pencil sketch of a grim Marie Antoinette awaiting Madame La Guillotine.  He voted as a member of the General Assembly to have Louis XVI executed.  It was alleged he participated in the death of the young dauphin after the boy was forced to testify against his mother on several crimes, including incest, to secure her execution.

It was not as easy to execute women in those days, you see.

One of David’s great friends was the revolutionary Paul Murat, an architect of the Terror.  The artist was so distraught when Murat was found murdered in his bath, he painted one of art’s great masterpieces, immortalizing him and the revolutionary for all time.

“(It was) a moving testimony to what can be achieved when an artist’s political convictions are directly manifested in his work.”  Boime, Albert (1987), Social History of Modern Art: Art in the Age of Revolution, 1750-1800 volume 1, Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, ISBN

Napoleon commissioned David to create the giant Coronation mural as well as the famous Marengo painting (above).  The painter died an exile from France after Napoleon’s defeat, run over by a carriage.

From Notorious Match:

Diana asked Griffin about his family.

“My father left Wales for France after some scandal,” he told her.  “A scandal I’m sure your grandmother, Lady Nellie, can better explain than I.  In any case, I never knew him.  He married my mother, the daughter of a minor noble, but left her for Paris after I was born.”

“Who raised you?” Diana probed.

“Mostly my grandfather.   My mother was killed when I was ten.  During the Revolution.”

Diana’s eyes widened.  “Oh, Griffin.  Was she—”

“No, she was not a victim of Madame la Guillotine,” he explained, matter-of-factly.   “Instead, my mother was hung.  For conspiring to murder the revolutionary Jean-Paul Murat.”

“Good God.  Wasn’t it Charlotte Corday who stabbed him in his bath?  The one they call the Angel of Assassination?”

Griffin nodded.  “My mother and Charlotte were schoolmates in Caen.  When Charlotte was arrested for killing Murat, my mother went to Paris to beg for her freedom.  She was warned to stay away on penalty of death.  But she could not.  It seemed incomprehensible to her, you see, that her beloved friend should be executed for killing one man to save one hundred thousand.”

The Death of Murat, 1793

Tremont – The Elizabethan Prodigy

Montacute House - licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 by Mark Robinson

Before the events told in Notorious Match, Lord Griffin Montgomery was forced to sell his Welsh estate that had been bestowed on his family by the Conqueror.  William I rewarded Roger de Montgomerie, Griffin’s Norman ancestor, with the marcher earldom of Shrewsbury along with Tremont and other estates throughout western England and Wales.

Earl Roger’s sons spent a good deal of time fighting the Welsh.  One had succumbed to an attack of Viking pirates on the shore not far from Tremont.  In my story, an estate was established there by a cadet branch of the Montgomery family.  The nearest town is Machynlleth, a real place referred to locally as “Mach” and where one can view fighter jets careening through the Welsh hills as they perform the Mach Loop here.

Griffin’s grandfather, Baron Montgomery, was the last of the family to reside at the estate when he died in 1814.

A year later, Diana, the Countess of Northam, proposed buying it back.

Griffin pivoted to face her.  “Buy Tremont?  Why the devil would you do that?”

Diana raised her eyebrows, clearly puzzled.  “If it’s your pride at issue, I won’t give you the money.  I’ll have the lawyers get it back.  There’s probably some contingency they can find, some forgotten entail or other legal condition that defeats the conveyance.  Most estates have them, to prevent such a sale in the first place.”

The enormity of what she proposed, that any resource be spent on the very place he associated with his iniquity, stunned and upset him.  He tried to restrain those feelings only for them to manifest in his jaw, which ached from being clenched.

“You’ll do no such thing,” he retorted, his voice harsh.

Diana visibly recoiled, the hurt he had dealt her impossible to take back.

Griffin’s Tremont is an Elizabethan prodigy house. Its exterior reminds me of Hardwick Hall, which has an abundance of windows characteristic of the prodigy’s so-called Lantern style. At night, with candles and torches blazing, the great wall of windows would be lit up like lanterns, hence the name. Another house featuring this extravagant style is my favorite, Montacute House, pictured above. You may remember it from 1995 movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, the house where Marianne fell ill.

Tremont’s interior, however, is based upon the remarkable Cassiobury Park, ancient seat of the Earls of Essex.  It was extensively rebuilt by the first Earl of Essex in the seventeenth century in honor of the restoration of Charles II.  He hired Hugh May, one of the commissioners for the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire, to extend the house and fit it up on the inside for an expected visit by His Majesty.  The visit never came, but the expectation was glorious, nevertheless.

May hired the master carver Grinling Gibbons, a Dutch Quaker who was executing the Baroque style in intricate wood carvings that can be seen in Hampton Court, Blenheim and St. Paul’s Cathedral.  He carved many of the fittings at Cassiobury, such as overmantels, cornices, moldings.  It was thought that the main staircase was also his work, and like Cassiobury, Tremont has a magnificent central staircase that is a great, rolling thing of exceptional beauty containing intricate scrollwork that defies modern craftsmanship.

detail - Cassiobury Park staircase

Cassiobury Park was doomed as the twentieth century began.  The 7th Earl of Essex died after being run over by a taxi.  The 8th Earl put the house up for sale since the nearby manufacturing center of Watford was expanding and the parkland of Cassiobury was needed for the “natural” expansion of the town.  All of the fittings, including the carvings, were stripped from the house and sold at auction.  Cassiobury Park was demolished in 1927.

The carved staircase was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and on display today in gallery 518.  There it was discovered the carvings were more likely attributed to Edward Pearce, an English carver with a name rather less dramatic than Grinling Gibbons, but just as talented.  Additional images of this masterpiece are available at the museum’s website here.

Oddly, the present heir-presumptive to the earldom of Essex is a retired grocery clerk in Yuba City, California.

Regency nudes

the Mazarin Adonis

Presently, Diana and Griffin came to the conservatory that served as a transition from the house to its parkland.

Lord Montgomery seemed to find something wanting.  “Where is the statuary?  Most great country houses have a room full of the stuff.”

“Are you a coinnosseur?” Diana asked.

Griffin opened the door for her to step through.  “It depends on the subject.”

He followed her to the railing of the flagstoned veranda overlooking an ornamental lake.  “I believe the dowager countess had an affinity for statues.  Northam Park would not be complete without a nude of your namesake, the goddess of the hunt.”

Griffin’s teasing was not without basis.  They had seen the virgin huntress executed in every conceivable media throughout their inspection of the estate.  Moreover, he was quite correct that her grandmother had been a patroness of the arts.   Lady Nellie, as she was affectionately called, once supported the noted painter and bluestocking Angelica Kauffman.

But her grand passion was for the unadorned figure, sculpted in the manner of classical antiquity.

Lord Montgomery would not be so bold if he knew what her grandmother’s collection consisted of.

Diana raised her eyebrows in pretended severity.  “We keep all the nudes in London.”

“A pity.”

Diana looked away from his interested stare as if embarrassed, her finger artlessly tracing an invisible line along the railing.

“Yes, it is,” she eventually replied.  “You see, Grandmama was in the habit of commissioning likenesses of young men she admired.  There are at least two male nudes that bear a striking resemblance to yourself.”

“Good God,” he exclaimed.  “You must be joking.”

“Really, my lord.  It was only your face Grandmama used, I’m persuaded.”

“You minx.”

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Who can forget that marvelous scene in the 2005 movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice featuring Pemberley’s sculpture gallery?  The gallery (pictured above) was filmed at Chatsworth, a real location Austen notes in her novel.  The scene is infused with the strong contemporary feel of the Regency and its desire for beauty.

The sculpture collection was assembled in large part by the sixth Duke of Devonshire, the Bachelor Duke.  He shared a passion for art with the Prince Regent.

Venus and Adonis – Antonio Canova (circa 1820)

In my book, Northam Park is in every way comparable to Chatsworth, except it does not have a sculpture gallery.  His Grace makes a couple of appearanced in Notorious Match as he and Diana are about the same age.  At one time, before Griffin returned to England, it was thought the heiress to Northam and the duke might make a match of it.  But it became clear they would not suit.

Griffin is the exact opposite of His Grace.  He has lost his own estate, Tremont, and has no fortune.  Moreover, he is a mere lord.

Yet he has the face of a sculpted Adonis.

There can be only one Diana

Presently they came to Northam Park’s vaunted Tapestry Room.   Its walls were entirely covered by specially commissioned tapestries from the Gobelins tapestry weavers of Paris.  Griffin seemed quite taken with one in particular.

Drowning of Britomartis – wool and silk tapestry (circa 1547)

“Oh, that bloody thing,” Diana swore under her breath.

Griffin’s excessive scrutiny of the woven masterpiece made her uncomfortable.  Not because the goddess of the hunt wore a short tunic, baring her legs, striding toward the sea to save her fellow virgin from the amorous king of Crete.   It was the memories of it that she had held as a girl, childishly imagining herself to be just like the huntress.  Free, independent and disdainful of mortal men.  How naive she had been.

A mischievous light came into Griffin’s eyes.  “It must be gratifying to have so many, er, exquisite renderings made of one’s namesake.”

Diana huffed.  “I had nothing to do with the inspiration.  If you must know, my grandfather purchased it at auction in Paris.  It had been commissioned by Diane de Poitiers.”

Griffin’s smile deepened.  “The mistress of the French king?”

The devil.

“Precisely so.”

To have a Gobelins tapestry, let alone a room full of them, was a mark of distinction in Regency home decor.  Gobelins Manufactory began as a group of Flemish weavers established by the first Bourbon king of France, Henry IV.  They set up shop in Paris in the environs used by a family of dyers from an earlier century called the Gobelins.  The name stuck and the Gobelins enterprise became the royal factory supplying the French monarchy until it was shut down in the Revolution.  The restored Bourbon dynasty revived production and today it is operated by the French Ministry of Culture.

Newby Hall has a marvelous tapestry room that is well-presented in the 2007 movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.  See this link for an excerpt from the movie.  The room is featured at 8:15.

Croome Court tapestry room

There is another tapestry room that used to reside in Croome Court, Worcestershire.  It was removed from the neo-Palladian country house by the owner, the ninth Earl of Coventry, and sold.  Note the lovely neoclassical ceiling designed by Robert Adam, executed in 1763 for the sixth Earl.  It has been reconstituted for display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Today, Croome Court is most noted for its grounds, designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.  The house itself had been owned by a succession of groups including a school and Hare Krishnas before it was finally acquired by the National Trust from the Hare Krishnas,  After extensive restoration work, it too became open to the public for the first time in 2009.

Will She or Won’t She?

“Good God,” Griffin breathed.

Homage to Diana - Annibale Carracci (circa 1597)

Diana paused as he stopped in his tracks.  Swallowing her impatience, and her hunger, she looked about her as Griffin did, trying to see Northam Park through his eyes.  She supposed he was right to be astonished.  The first-time visitor to the mansion had little warning of its riotous interior.  Not when its exterior was executed in forbidding Palladian style, with its straight lines and rigid symmetry.

Here in the great saloon, and throughout the house’s state apartments, Rococo reigned.

To look at it will put your eyes out, her grandmother, the dowager countess, would say.

Griffin craned his neck to take in the lighthearted, delicate playfulness of intricate, flowing lines, shells, leaves and trees carved in plasterwork that seemed to float through the saloon.  The elegant carvings cascaded across the high ceiling and down pale yellow walls in intricate white traceries.  He went to the carved stone chimney piece with its life-size nude wood nymphs supporting the mantelpiece.

Griffin gestured to the large bas-relief above the mantle of a beautifully sculpted scene from Greek mythology.  In it, the hunting moon goddess considers a gift of white fleece held aloft by the nature god .

“I never noticed Diana and Pan were so popular.”

Diana rolled her eyes.  “Try being named Diana.  Then you notice it every time.”

“Well?” Griffin asked.

“Well, what?”

Griffin’s smile was half-sided.  “Does she accept the gift or not?”

Diana straightened her skirt and looked toward the door.  “It depends on what Pan wants in return, I suppose.”

Northam Park’s interior plays an important part in Notorious Match.  There is a lot of symbolism, both intentional and otherwise, that the characters encounter during their sojourn at the country estate, beginning with the aforementioned saloon.

The saloon is derived from the French Grand Salon — a room of state for receiving visitors.  It was a style set during the Restoration in England and initially attached to the more medieval great hall before replacing it almost entirely by the time of the Regency.  Northam Park’s saloon looks very much like the one at Hagley Hall in Worcestershire, the subject of last week’s post.

Ruin of Sutton Scarsdale

The Rococo interior is marvelous.  It can put your eyes out.

The picture to the right is from the ruin of Sutton Scarsdale, discussed in an earlier post.
You can see the remains of the Rococo plasterwork that still clings to the shell of what remains from this once monumental country estate.

A Viscount and his Pyjamas

“The first reports from Hagley Hall were grim.  At 3:15 a.m. on Christmas Eve in 1925, a servant girl’s screaming alerted the household that the imposing mid-eighteenth-century house, with its elaborate Rococo interiors, was on fire.  The blaze, which had been caused by a defective flue, spread so quickly that Viscount Cobham was forced to escape in pyjamas, gumboots and an overcoat.  Fortunately, the rest of the family, guests and servants all escaped unharmed, but the fire raged on.”

–Giles Worsley, England’s Lost Houses – from the Archives of Country Life (2002) page 39

Hagley Hall - photographed by Richard Rogerson, licensed for reuse

I modelled most of Northam Park’s interior after that of Hagley Hall in Worcestershire.  Both houses have Palladian exteriors in disciplined, classical straight lines.  Hardly a hint of what lies on the inside, never failing to surprise the first-time visitor to these country houses.

More on Northam Park, Diana and her guest next week.  The story of Hagley Hall’s destruction warrants its own post today.

Hagley Hall’s mansard roof had caught fire from a defective chimney flue, pouring molten lead into the house.  Amazingly, guests and neighbors mounted a spectacular salvage effort, going into the burning structure to save priceless treasures.  By the time it was over, the state apartments, including the library, hall and dining room, had been ravaged, their interiors open to the sky.

Lord Cobham went ’round the neighborhood, taking inventory of what had been saved and was stored temporarily.  These included two thousand books, over one hundred paintings, including four famous Van Dyck portraits and four rare Shakespeare collections that had survived in the basement.  Even the tapestries had been saved, cut from their mountings as the fire raged on.

Fortunately for my project, Lord Cobham vowed to restore the mansion.  Click on the link to go to the website for this beautifully preserved English country estate.  Today Hagley is a masterpiece of meticulous restoration, still the glorious country estate of the viscountcy, but under a threat of a different kind and equally destructive.

For a recent report on the condition of Hagley Hall, including a lovely photo of the restored library and the present viscount, click here.