Category Archives: The Nostell Project

News on the Nostell Priory Project, exhibition and publications!

‘Wonder! Wonder! Wonder!’ The experimental philosopher comes to Nostell Priory

Having been greatly entertained by the recent series of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell on BBC One, it reminded me of something I stumbled across a while ago when still researching the social history of Nostell Priory in Yorkshire. Needless to say, the suitably impressive Yorkshire locations chosen by the BBC for the drama meant I would also be wasting a golden opportunity to show some hidden connections to both the themes and backdrop of the series.

Filming at Oakwell Hall. From The Huddersfield Daily Examiner (15 May 2015).

Filming at Oakwell Hall. From The Huddersfield Daily Examiner (15 May 2015).

The drama is an adaptation of a book of the same name by Susanna Clarke and much of the reviews highlight the work as historical fiction and fantasy. Set in the early nineteenth century, the theory and practice of magic is the very heart of the tale and allows Clarke to subvert traditional systems and social frameworks such as class and industry: the north of England is mystical not industrial and the black servant may yet be destined to be a king. On a wider scale even Englishness itself is toyed with.

The drama is set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars and the Battle of Waterloo more specifically. The latter saw its 200 year anniversary only recently on the 18th June. Therefore there is obviously something immensely topical about the timing of the production. And yet, there is intentional English patriotism which sees the English Army and Navy look for ever more inventive ways to defeat the niggling French enemy of old. Here’s where Strange and Norrell attempt to give English magic a firm platform from which it can be taken seriously once again.

I’m all for an eerie tale of make-believe set against gritty real life and the human condition, moral codes and physical frailties. I think it helps us see the past better. And so, it made me recall a snippet I read in the Leeds Intelligencer dated 12 December 1786 about a Dr. Katterfelto who had been to stay at Lady Winn’s at Nostell for 5 nights and had therefore missed an engagement in town. That engagement was to be his first lecture in Leeds and one which was to have incorporated the varied themes of ‘philosophical, mathematical, electrical, magnetical, optical, physical, pneumatic, hydraulic, hydrostatic, proctic, and styangraphic art.’ In other words, he was experimental!

18th-century contemporary print of Gustavus Katterfelto

18th-century contemporary print of Gustavus Katterfelto

Gustavus Katterfelto was Belgium-born and had been keen to make a name for himself in London using his Solar Microscope with which he claimed the ‘insects’ causing the flu pandemic of 1782 could be seen. By 1784 his shows had attracted royalty. However, Katterfelto wasn’t so great at handling fame when it did catch up with him. The public inevitably raised concerns about the freedom given to his ‘insects’ and whether they were implicit in spreading the flu. Such bad press persuaded Katterfelto to publicise the death of his ‘insects’ in some terrible accident. Within days Katterfelto had suddenly been struck with the flu himself…or so he wanted people to believe. He took to travelling north to Yorkshire and frequently visited Whitby. Throughout the region he attempted to sell elixirs and perform conjuring tricks in the form of lectures in order to maintain an air of scientific capability and mysticism hinting that his powers and the black cats with which he entertained had demonic origins.

katterfelto balloon

The new mail carriers, or Montgolfier and Katterfelto taking an airing in balloons. From The Ramblers Magazine, 1784. The British Museum.

Sabine, Lady Winn (nee d’Herwart) was of Swiss French origin and had come to Nostell Priory in the mid 1760s as the wife of Sir Rowland Winn later the 5th Baronet. Although vivacious and carefree, Sabine struggled to connect with Rowland’s extended family and was perpetually concerned with health matters especially those associated with aging. When Rowland died in an accident in 1785, Sabine withdrew from public life and became reclusive. Katterfelto’s presence in her adopted land must have presented her with a cause to reclaim something of her former self.

Without doubt it was Sabine’s hypochondriac nature that made Katterfelto so attractive a guest. And just like Jonathan Strange and Norrell his occupation brought hope as well as wonderment. Here is a simple snippet, an apology for absence reported in the local press, but Katterfelto would have been well-received at Nostell Priory by the  the reclusive Lady Winn. There is nothing unbecoming or untoward about the meeting – Sabine is difficult to analyse for sure but during her widowhood suffered greatly from sheer detachment – this strange conjurer was something of a curiosity. He came from the continent like Sabine, and had also experienced high society which he too had chosen to dismiss. For five nights they would have discussed these, the borders between conjuring and science, and the study of disease and general maladies.

Having studied Sabine for a long time, I admit it is difficult to see her as a truly compassionate creature. There is something frivolous about her personality. Yet, I like to think that her guest offered a mix of magic and awe, but also philosophical debate which had been dismantled from her social life since the untimely death of her husband. And here is the human condition laid out in similar fashion throughout Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Human frailties – disease, madness, mortality, and loneliness are challenged but to win is to come at a heavy price. We hope that magic can exist when really it is the imagination which provides the best means of survival.

So these men are intellectually alluring as well as captivating in their occupation. What the book and BBC adaptation alludes to so well is the setting and the involvement of the elite in the promotion and manipulation of these characters. Lady Winn plays host to Katterfelto, but she is intrigued by him in the same way any number of wealthy individuals are in the early episodes of the TV drama. Like Mr. Norrell, Katterfelto is invited into sumptuous town houses and country residences. He put himself on display and attempted to champion something loosely based on academic theory and practice.

Dancing for Lost Hope – or in the Great Hall at Wentworth Woodhouse.

Though Nostell doesn’t feature in the BBC drama adaptation of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, it struck me that the Yorkshire locations are linked by fine threads. We see furniture made for Nostell in the bookshop (a withdrawing room at Temple Newsam), and the immense facade and austere interiors of the mighty Wentworth Woodhouse – a political base for the Rockinghamites and close friends of the Winn family. Indeed, the majority of locations are interlinked somewhere because they are in Yorkshire and therefore neighbours. Norrell is a Yorkshireman in full stereotype; he is stubborn and earthy, cautious yet outspoken. I wonder what Katterfelto thought of Yorkshire in the end, afterall, he didn’t leave – he died in 1799 and was buried at Bedale Church!

Further reading:

David Paton-Williams, Katterfelto: Prince of Puff (Leicester), 2008

Links:

Gustavus Katterfelto http://www.geniimagazine.com/magicpedia/Gustavus_Katterfelto and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustavus_Katterfelto

http://www.obscurehistories.com/#!katterfeltos-live-insects/c1t0t

Jonathan Strange, Mr. Norrell and their creator author Susanna Clarke https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Strange_%26_Mr_Norrell and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susanna_Clarke

BBC locations for Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/2y60xGs7C1QpyLkx4zBpcPl/where-was-jonathan-strange-mr-norrell-filmed

General overview of locations for Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell http://www.creativeengland.co.uk/story/where-was-bbc-drama-jonathan-strange-and-mr-norrell-filmed-

Filming in Yorkshire http://www.creativeengland.co.uk/story/i-love-filming-in…yorkshire

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Filed under In the News, The Nostell Project, Women and the Country House

The News for the New Year: an Exhibition for Nostell Priory.

Sir Rowland Winn, 5th Baronet and his wife Sabine Louise Winn in the library at Nostell Priory, 1770.

Sir Rowland Winn, 5th Baronet and his wife Sabine Louise Winn in the library at Nostell Priory, 1770 (copyright National Trust Collection).

Over three years ago the archive of the Winn family of Nostell Priory, Yorkshire were put into the ownership of the West Yorkshire Archives Service* under the jurisdiction of Wakefield Metropolitan Council as part of an Acceptance in Lieu grant.

I was still floating about in a post doctoral haze and was in need of something new to get my claws into.

I had written about Nostell Priory, especially Sabine Winn, the wife of the 5th Baronet (both pictured above) and her role as household manager including her relationship with the Nostell servants. So, wherever I went, whoever I spoke with, whatever I wanted to research, Nostell Priory was always there – looming.

Not surprisingly, the thought of being able to make a complete fuss about the importance of keeping the Winn family papers in Yorkshire was going to be very high on my agenda.

Together with the expertise of a senior academic from the University of Leeds, in May 2010 research began for an exhibition (and book) to be held at the house commencing in 2015. The working title for this is ‘From House to Home’, and will focus on two generations of the family – Sir Rowland Winn, 4th Baronet and his son the 5th Baronet and his wife.

Our ambitions are grand, to be sure, and we are hoping to show how rich these papers are. Nostell Priory is associated with famous names in architecture and design including Thomas Chippendale, the Adam Brothers, James Paine, as well as fine art by Kauffman, Zucchi and Brueghel. Yet, the Winn family papers also reveal several interesting layers in social and cultural history. The exhibition will therefore highlight many themes associated with country house living in the eighteenth century and attempt to show the relationships the Winns had with their architects, suppliers, extended family, and staff, as well as demonstrate the eccentricities of particular family members and how they came to be perceived by society.

Ultimately, the exhibition will encourage visitors to think about how an elite family like the Winns made their mark in the cultural landscape of the period at regional and national levels through their consumer tastes, shopping habits, sociability, and of course, their house.

*********

My intention is to provide updates here as the project progresses, and any comments and questions are welcome, so long as they’re constructive!

*The papers are of great importance to the nation, their location at the West Yorkshire Archives Service (WYAS) however is something the region is understandably proud of given the associations with well-known names. The papers were recently voted as one of the Archives’ treasures by the public and archive staff, and in May 2012 the WYAS received a £37,000 grant to complete and improve the Winn family papers.

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Filed under Architecture and Design, Building the Country House, Collections, The Nostell Project