Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Eighteenth-Century Common.

I’m not all that fond of doing massive copy and paste exercises for my blog, but I felt that this was a great opportunity for advertising this admirable project.

I have been following the Enfilade blog for some time, not because of its obvious acknowledgement towards an architectural feature found in many country houses, but more because its aim is to share activities, publications and exhibitions with all those who hold an interest in eighteenth-century art and architecture. As a serial newsletter in the form of a blog, I get to find out what events are taking place almost all over the world. Most recently, their newsletter informed me of a massive project still under construction; The 18th Century Common. This is the sort of thing I really like, and it deserves a mention.

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(Source: Enfilade)

One aim of Enfilade has been to help bridge the divide between academics and a much larger world also interested in the eighteenth century. While the site is intended to serve scholars, I’ve always hoped to make others welcome here, too. With that spirit of inclusiveness in mind, I’m especially excited to hear about The 18th-Century Common. The following announcement from Jessica Richard appeared on the C18-L listserv. -Craig Hanson at Enfilade

 

The following is a brief statement about the project by Jessica Richard (Wake Forest University) and Andrew Burkett (Union College).

I want to announce and solicit contributions to a new public humanities website called The 18th-Century Common which will debut at American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. The 18th-Century Common is a joint project of scholars and students of the long eighteenth century at Union College and Wake Forest University and is funded by the Wake Forest University Humanities Institute.

The aim of the website is to present the published work of eighteenth-century scholars to a general audience. Our initial focus is Richard Holmes’ popular book The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science (2009). This book captured the imagination of the general reader, but it omits the more complex contexts that scholarly accounts offer. We hope to provide general readers an accessible view of those contexts, and to move beyond Holmes’ book to the wide range of eighteenth-century studies. The site will feature short versions of published scholarship written for a general audience, as well as links to related resources, texts, and images around the web for readers who want to explore further.

We think this is the beginning of an exciting opportunity to reach the interested nonacademic, nonstudent readers who made Holmes’ book a bestseller, to “translate” what we do and to reach out beyond the academy as digital platforms in the humanities make particularly possible.

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So if you have an ounce of interest in the eighteenth century, I suggest you register for information when the project goes live and then wait and see what else you can learn.

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The East India at Home Project – University College London 2011-2014

          As I mentioned in my post on Thinking About the Country House, there has been a great deal of interest in this subject area over the last two years or so. Present excitement is reflected in television shows like Downton Abbey which portray upstairs/downstairs divides and socio-economic themes of Britain in the early twentieth century. Such is public interest in these elements of country house living, that many houses open to the public feel the need to show their ‘secret’ rooms and dark domestic quarters for a short time each year.

          There has also been a flourish of interest in the grander apartments, perhaps to counterbalance the austere or the uncharacteristic calm of the kitchens, pantries and nurseries. Restored pieces of furniture are celebrated and entire rooms have been in receipt of funding in order to return them to a key moment in their history. This sort of activity has eventually led a few British academic institutions to consider the thought processes of country house owners in creating their homes. This has in turn prompted debate on the wider position of the country house, in Britain particularly, through themes of trade, politics and even military presence.

          The University of Warwick’s three year project on The East India Company at Home, 1757-1857 is one of these resulting debates. The main purpose of the project is to explore the significance of the country house in an imperial and global context by uniting relevant houses, families, and material culture by means of one detailed study. Funded by the Leverhulme Trust and led by Professor Margot Finn, in the Department of History at Warwick, the project ‘seeks to work in collaboration with family and local historians, curators, academics and other researchers to illuminate Britain’s global material culture from the eighteenth century to the present.’

          It has become quite a large undertaking, and so far the project team have amassed a great deal of material to present on their website. Arguably, some of it is rather more general country house reference material, but nonetheless, for anyone interested in British country houses, this is a must-see.

The project has five main objectives:

i) to produce a series of interlinked case studies,

ii) to situate the Asian goods that furnished Georgian and Victorian homes,

iii) to illuminate the ways in which material culture helped to mediate wider historical processes

iv) to assess the ways in which Asian luxuries incorporated within British country houses expressed regional, national and global identities,

v) and to integrate academic and museum-based research on the global genealogies of British country house interiors.

         It does sound very long-winded for anyone outside academic study, or with a general interest. What the website for the project can do, however, is provide a platform for further reading. For example, over the term of the project there will be a series of published studies on individual houses. The first ‘went live’ this week – Swallowfield Park, Berkshire. With separate sections to leaf through, and a full PDF of the case study to download, there is plenty to get into. Crucially, the study is comprehensive enough to include histories of architecture, family, design, and fine art. There are several pages to navigate through, and the illustrations are wonderful! Especially as the house is now owned by Sunley Heritage, a company which converts country houses into luxury apartments.

Swallowfield Park, Berkshire. (From the East India Company at Home project website)

         Clearly there are a lot of minds working on this project, and a lot of thought has gone into making this fully accessible. It may be academic, but this has not made it exclusive or entirely high-brow. I would even suggest that many more academic institutions could take heed of this method of promoting similar research, as it would definitely benefit those hungry to discover more about specialist areas of heritage study. 

Links:

East India Company at Home (full link) http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/history/ghcc/research/eicah/about/

The East India Company today http://www.theeastindiacompany.com/

Swallowfield Park on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swallowfield_Park

Sunley Heritage – Swallowfield Park http://www.sunleyheritage.co.uk/SP_index.cfm

Geffrye Museum, London. The Histories of Home and the Warwick project http://historiesofhomessn.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/the-east-india-company-at-home-1757-1857/

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Filed under Architecture and Design, Building the Country House, Men and the Country House, Recommended Literature, Women and the Country House

Women’s History Month.

          The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in paying tribute to the generations of women whose commitment to nature and the planet have proved invaluable to society.   (Taken from The Library of Congress website for Women’s History Month)

          Women’s History Month is not something generally celebrated in Britain – we are an apathetic sort by nature – and the idea of having a single month every year out of a whole twelve of them seems a little odd to celebrate 50 (or more) percent of the world’s population. Still, the country house and its relative subject areas are perfectly ripe for discussion on great female contribution. Not all wives and daughters were submissive creatures housing simple notions of motherhood and companionship, many could be forthright individuals who made life interesting for themselves and all around them. Furthermore, female servants were not always young delicate nymphs with idle streaks, as some were resilient country women who were proud hard-working people living away from their families and friends. There were women who grew up in a country house and made a difference to the wider world, but Women’s History Month has at its heart the celebration of female strength and diversity.

          In all my research over the years, several of those I’ve written about require greater attention. Often there are insufficient records to allow for deeper exploration, and you have to imagine what these people were like without documented proof. A favourite example however, was a woman called Isabella Ingram nee Machell (c.1670-1764) an heiress from Sussex who lived at Temple Newsam in Leeds as wife to the third Viscount Irwin (1666-1702) and her personal maid Mildred Batchelor. Some of Isabella’s personal papers have survived to this day and reveal Isabella to have been a somewhat diplomatic character; an interventionist, as well as intelligent, earnest and pragmatic. Mildred was her female companion who she may have employed once established in her Leeds home. She too was earthy, diplomatic and intelligent.

Isabella, Viscountess Irwin, nee Machell (1670-1764) attributed to John Closterman.

          Isabella was married to Arthur Ingram in about 1685, and although their families probably secured the match, their relationship was incredibly affectionate. Her portrait depicts her as fair and beautiful following not only the contemporary conventions of beauty, but even those of today. The portrait of Arthur shows him to have been a robust sportsman surrounded by his hounds and meaty game. These pictorial depictions are not far from the characters offered up by the surviving documentation. There was an air of refinement about Isabella which Arthur did not have, and their correspondence suggests their relationship was definitely based on opposites attract.

          Isabella and Arthur had nine sons until Arthur’s premature death in 1702. As a trustee and executor of her husband’s estate she was able to live at Temple Newsam. She chose not to remarry, perhaps in order to keep a close eye on her sons’ affairs. Isabella kept meticulous accounts, and scrutinised the daily household account books, signing each yearly summary. Her own pocket book demonstrates a careful nature, but also highlights her small extravagances such as losses at the card table, the purchase of ribbons and lace, and fine shoes. On the other hand, she was charitable and generous with those around her and would assist in the payment of a servant’s funeral expenses, or the cost of nursing a sick servant using her own cash. Isabella was also typically practical for an elite housewife of the time, and she got involved in the general running of the house, as well as monitoring the estate activities.

          Isabella had just become a mother again at the time of her husband’s death, and for a while she became very dependant upon her closest friends and most reliable servants. As well as the steward John Roades, Mildred Batchelor was one of these, and eagerly stepped up to help her mistress in household affairs. In particular, Mildred gave Isabella support when it came to the personal needs of the nine boys: arranging for their transport to school and ordering their clothing and laundry. There are surviving scraps of correspondence between the two women, and although they contain important notes concerning the health of Isabella’s sons or general household matters, there is a friendly tone to them. Their friendship was certainly strong, even when Mildred left service to marry John Roades in 1707. The following year she had a child for whom Isabella offered herself as godmother, and Mildred was never far away if her old mistress required some assistance.

          By 1718, Isabella decided to give up her residency at Temple Newsam after the marriage of her second son to a daughter of the Earl of Carlisle at Castle Howard. From her new home in Windsor, Isabella could manage the schooling of her younger boys but still remain in contact with her family in Yorkshire. Her sons held her in considerable awe and she could be extremely ill-tempered if crossed. Isabella even threatened the older boys with litigation in order to protect the interests of the younger ones. A quarrel with her second eldest son over payments of legacies to his younger siblings angered Isabella and she made her feelings clear in every which way possible. She even annotated a letter intended as a conciliatory device by the Temple Newsam steward with, ‘Friendly advice to give up my just writ from an ungrateful son wholly governed by ye proud house of ye Howards who never served anybody but for their own interest’.

          Isabella lived to be 94 years old. Perhaps this longevity could be put down to plenty of tea drinking in her lifetime, as her accounts testify to her varied consumption of several types of tea. With the birth of nine children, she was certainly a strong woman though, and definitely a formidable character. If you were fortunate to find good footing with her, she was undoubtedly a friend for life. Mildred Batchelor remained in Yorkshire, but it is likely she stayed in contact with Isabella after the latter moved to Windsor. There is patchy correspondence after this date, and whilst Isabella maintained her personal accounts and left documentation behind, Mildred disappeared into obscurity. Her life was more conventional in that she worked, became a wife, and then a mother and supported her husband. It could be suggested that Isabella allowed Mildred a brief historical presence in her surviving records, but this is no bad thing. The two women supported each other for several years, indeed Mildred was Isabella’s ‘right-hand woman’, so perhaps Isabella has been able to repay her with a different kind of longevity.

          Isabella was not a compliant submissive creature. Mildred was not a flighty servant girl. The women were great companions of similar ages who existed in each other’s lives when they needed each other the most; a country house enabled their partnership to evolve.

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