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.

Taking the Plunge

Prior to, and on into the Regency, the idea of bathing was connected to its medicinal value.  It was particularly valued for the salutary effect it had on one’s health, and not for the sensibilities of one’s neighbors.  By the eighteenth century, cold bathing had become quite the vogue.

The Regency Cold Bath

“Mr. Porter, who is an apothecary, was talking of the cold bath and the service it had done him by making him of a more strong firm constitution than before.  He says it is extremely good against the headache, strengthens and enlivens the body, is good against the vapours and impotence, and that the pain is little.  I have almost determined to go in them myself.”

–Dudley Ryder, London attorney, 1715

And much cheaper than Viagra!

A large country house like my character’s estate would not have been complete without an open air cold bath.  I modelled the cold bath at Northam Park after the one at Wynnstay in Denbighshire, pictured above.  A extended discussion of this building’s historical value is here.

Capability Brown included one in his landscape design for the Earl of Northam, commissioning the architect James Wyatt (1746 – 1813).  Wyatt was already a rival to Robert Adam by this time and had not yet entered his Gothic period.  He designed a classical pavilion for Northam Park’s gardens, distinguishing it with a portico echoing that of the great house itself, and supported by ornate Corinthian columns.  It overlooked a rectangular pit lined with stone.  The cold bath was large enough for swimming, nevertheless the temperature discouraged extended sojourns in its icy waters.  Afterwards, one could retire to the pavilion and change.  To enhance one’s feeling of accomplishment, refreshments would be served.  Just the thing for warming up.

The Countess of Northam, the main character in Notorious Match, would entertain guests to her estate with at least one trip to the bath house.  It was something of an outing.  Both sexes would bathe together, appropriately attired of course.

Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire plunge bath – prior to restoration

More examples of cold baths built and used during the Georgian and Regency periods are to be found here along with some very pretty photos of examples made out of grottos and gothic pavilions.

The various baths pictured in Jane Austen’s World are instructional, saving the naughty bits.