Tag Archives: nineteenth century

Press release: Preservation trust to acquire Wentworth Woodhouse

The following is a Press Release made by Save Britain’s Heritage. This is fantastic news and totally tips the balance in favour of a more local, regional and national plan of action which benefits so many. As before, fingers crossed for the future! Many thanks to readers of this blog for highlighting the link especially (see below for the full link).

3 February 2016

Press release: Preservation trust to acquire Wentworth Woodhouse

SAVE is delighted to announce that agreement has been reached with the Newbold family on the purchase of one of the finest and grandest historic houses in Britain, Wentworth Woodhouse.

The property will be purchased by the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust (WWPT) and will continue to be open to the public.  The public opening of the property will be supported by the National Trust for the first five years. It is hoped completion of the sale will take place within two to three months.

The £7m pledged for the acquisition includes a £3.575m grant offer from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, and grants from the Monument Trust, the Art Fund, Sir Siegmund Warburg’s Voluntary Settlement and the John Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust. Pledges and donations have also been received from many individual members of the public. SAVE and the trustees of the WWPT extend their warmest thanks for all pledges and support received.

The long term strategy is for the public to visit and enjoy all the most interesting parts of the property while restoring the others for revenue-earning uses such as events and holiday lets with business units in the stables. Traditionally a historic house of this size would have required a vast endowment.  This business model will provide a substantial income stream intended to cover both running costs and periodic bouts of repair.

Extensive repairs will be phased over 10 to 15 years allowing time for funds to be raised and the work to be carried out in phases while the property is opened to the public.

The Trust will build on the pioneering work of the Newbold family in opening the house to pre-booked visitors for the first time on a regular basis.  An annual Clifford Newbold lecture will be held to mark the work of the Newbold family in opening the house to the public.

The trustees of the new WWPT are: The Duke of Devonshire, Lady Juliet Tadgell, Sir Philip Naylor-Leyland, Julie Kenny (Chair), Timothy Cooke, Martin Drury, and Merlin Waterson.

For more information please contact Marcus Binney or Mike Fox at SAVE on 0207 253 3500 or mike.fox@savebritainsheritage.org, or Julie Kenny, Chair of WWPT, on 01709 535218

 

Notes to Editors:

The Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust has been established to secure the long term future of Wentworth Woodhouse.

SAVE Britain’s Heritage has been campaigning for historic buildings since its formation in 1975 by a group of architectural historians, writers, journalists and planners. It is a strong, independent voice in conservation, free to respond rapidly to emergencies and to speak out loud for the historic built environment.

Press release issued by SAVE Britain’s Heritage

70 Cowcross Street, London EC1M 6EJ

Registered Charity 269129

Tel. 020 7253 3500  Email office@savebritainsheritage.org

www.savebritainsheritage.org

Follow SAVE on Twitter: @SAVEBrit

Donate to SAVE via Justgiving

 

Full Press Release here:

http://www.savebritainsheritage.org/docs/articles/03.02_.16_Press_Release_-_Preservation_Trust_to_Acquire_WW_.pdf

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Filed under In the News, restoration, The Destruction of the Country House, The running of the country house

The World Monuments Fund – Wentworth Woodhouse is back in the news

Country: United Kingdom Site: Wentworth Woodhouse Caption: The Palladian east front Image Date: 2010 Photographer: Marcus Binney/World Monuments Fund Provenance: 2016 Watch Nomination Original: from Watch team

The Palladian east front, copyright, Marcus Binney/World Monuments Fund

A few days ago the World Monuments Fund released its list of 50 Watch Sites for 2016 from across 36 countries. In line with their own statement these sites are ‘at risk from the forces of nature and the impact of social, political, and economic change’. Sites included are Rumiqolqa, Andahuaylillas, Peru, Boix House, Manila, Philippines, Petra Archaeological Site, Wadi Mousa, Jordan, National Art Schools, Havana, Cuba, and the Averly Foundry, Zaragoza, Spain. There are two British sites included – Moseley Road Baths in Birmingham and Wentworth Woodhouse near Rotherham.

I have written about Wentworth Woodhouse on several occasions, most notably here and here, and its social history here. That the site has been included by the WMF in their Watch List is merely a step further along an incredibly long journey towards its restoration and also recognition for its role in the cultural landscape of England as well as further afield.

Known as the largest privately owned house in the UK, its palatial frontage at 606 feet/180 metres ensures Wentworth Woodhouse’s visual impact is truly established. Yet, its struggle for attention has been a long time coming with one blog in 2011 describing it as ‘the greatest house you’ve never heard of’ due to a lack of high drama and a more northerly position compared to the likes of Petworth or Chatsworth. As far as the first is concerned, a lack of fuss and melodrama should be considered as natural a sentiment as the still waters that run deep since its present owners have invested a great deal of emotional effort and financial resources over the past 15 years to drag the house into a fit state for public tours. For the second,  Wentworth Woodhouse fell foul of a combination of sour attitudes towards the north and an industry which literally clawed away at the landscape. Uniting the two in the demise of its structure (both architecturally and socially) was the general disregard of Wentworth Woodhouse’s symbolism; its political and aesthetic investment made by several families for over 250 years. And while it was talked about in academic circles, the increasing lack of access rendered it underappreciated and understudied – something the WMF readily acknowledges.

Its palatial grandeur may very well jar with many as elite and pompous. There is too much of it for sure which is why there is difficulty in maintaining it in the present climate, but Wentworth Woodhouse is not without use. The plans of the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust is to see the most significant interior spaces of the house opened to the public, while other areas would be turned into residential units, and other spaces to be used commercially as venues for hire.

The Hall at Wentworth Woodhouse, copyright dine.co.uk

The Hall at Wentworth Woodhouse, copyright dine.co.uk

There is business to be gained here and if done imaginatively, Wentworth Woodhouse can easily provide a great many with inspiration and an appetite for cultural learning. A troubling trend in under-funding of the arts in Britain continues especially where hard graft is necessary, but let’s not dismiss old practices as entirely elitist. There are stories to be told and worlds which are massively overdue attention from younger generations. There are skills which can be gained from research and practice and Wentworth Woodhouse can provide all this and more.

The List http://www.wmf.org.uk/wmf_watch/ and the project vision https://www.wmf.org/project/wentworth-woodhouse

The Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust including ways to pledge support and the proposed plans http://www.savewentworth.co.uk/

http://www.savebritainsheritage.org/news/campaign.php?id=327

Local reactions http://www.rothbiz.co.uk/2012/02/news-2549-wentworth-woodhouse-coal.html and http://www.rothbiz.co.uk/2015/10/news-5540-wentworth-woodhouse-on-world.html

http://blogs.artinfo.com/artintheair/2015/10/20/world-monuments-fund-announces-2016-watchlist/

The list as seen from across the Atlantic (spot the error in the name…!) http://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/most-endangered-monuments-in-the-world/29/

And lastly, one to watch out for? http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/downton-abbey/11819080/Black-Diamond-Downtons-real-life-rival.html

A must-read: Bailey, Catherine, Black Diamonds: The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty. (2008)

 

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Filed under Architecture and Design, Building the Country House, In the News, restoration, The Destruction of the Country House

‘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

Genre: The Country House Novel – the Social House

Downton-Abbey-Season-1-downton-abbey-31759161-333-500Without doubt, the social country house has become the version of the country house most would recognise currently due in the main to Downton Abbey. It is almost impossible to avoid the series if you like country houses just a little bit because it pops up in internet searches left, right and centre! Its popularity is something which I want to look at in a later post. Yet its content is typical of the social house regardless of how much gloss is placed on the presentation. If the casual viewer can command a good knowledge of servant hierarchies, household politics and daily routines then the programme has done more than merely entertain. Forget the table settings, the beautiful costumes and the fine furniture; this is all about human interaction.

*******

This, the third of three posts looking at the literary country house explores some of the themes presented by staging the house as a location for social discourse. Previous Genre posts here have addressed the country house poem  and the country house as haunted house. The social house however, is where the genre really takes off.

Returning to John Lucas and more specifically Blake Morrison both writing for The Guardian (February and June 2011 respectively), it is possible to see how popular this aspect has become in recent years.

There are two distinctive definitions of the country house in its social guise. The first a solid symbol of artificial hierarchies to the extent that it has become inextricably linked with British class distinctions and notions of ‘knowing one’s place’ throughout history. As Stevens expresses in The Remains of the Day, ‘It has been my privilege to see the best of England over the years, sir, within these very walls.’ Lucas notes, ‘Country houses are nothing if not a symbol of upper class hegemony: the novel provides an apparatus through which this can be examined, sometimes humorously, sometimes with gentle satire.’ This is certainly true of the works of Thomas Love Peacock for example, particularly Headlong Hall (1816) and Nightmare Abbey (1818). In academic circles this is the traditional country house novel, and the true definition of the genre. These works acknowledge greatness and elite authority even if they mock its eccentricities.

Film still from The Remains of the Day with Anthony Hopkins as Stevens - longstanding butler (1993. Novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989).

Film still from The Remains of the Day with Anthony Hopkins as Stevens – longstanding butler (1993). Novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989).

The social house is a commentary upon the political and cultural scene using gender and race (and class) as the tools for negotiating the main narrative. The other definition and a more refreshing approach sees the social house as more about perceptions of the human condition – past and present. Morrison concludes his article with, ‘What the contemporary novelist finds in country houses isn’t greatness but loss, failure and everyday human struggle, writ large.’ It does not have to be about servants and masters or inheritance and title. The country house in this instance is attractive because it is a convenient box in which to place any number of people and their experiences and desires. From here the author can construct plots concerning deception, family breakdown, heady romance or illicit sex, isolation and the inevitability of aging. In much the same way that the haunted house works with its dark corners and dusty attics, the social house plays host to everything from dinner table talk to hushed liaisons within any and every room, garden and outbuilding.

Cover for the first UK edition of A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh (Chapman and Hall, 1934)

Cover for the first UK edition of A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh (Chapman and Hall, 1934)

The role of the haunted house is mysterious; its aging walls suffocating and passages misleading. The role of the social house is slightly more mobile because authors can deposit their characters there and unravel the tale ‘on site’ or they can establish it as a silent asset. The latter sees the country house assume the characteristics of one of the other players, usually a previous owner as in Forster’s Howard’s End (1910) or even Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (1945). The house might have some stoical presence that the human players severely lack, or it might represent resignation; a fate driven by alimony and unwanted inheritance as suggested in Waugh’s A Handful of Dust (1934).

It is the ‘on site’ stories which hold so much fascination for readers though, and many are drawn to the narratives which focus on personal or wider historical events. Descriptions of the house provide a force which is either repulsive or magnificent for the key characters but is nonetheless a place which ultimately controls their motives, behaviour and consciousness,

Morning sunlight, or any light, could not conceal the ugliness of the Tallis home – barely forty years old, bright orange brick, squat, lead-paned baronial Gothic, to be condemned one day in an article by Pevsner, or one of his team, as a tragedy of wasted chances.                                           (Ian McEwan, Atonement, p. 22)

The wasted chances are as much about the architectural structure as they are about the emotional development and perceptions of freedom made by the inhabitants. As readers we might wonder how we would react to a character’s experience as it unfolds upon the page. Do we relate to it immediately? Does it fill us with disgust or passion? Or do we long to be involved as more than observer?

Cover for Ian McEwan's Atonement (unknown publishing date)

Cover for Ian McEwan’s Atonement (unknown publishing date)

Interestingly, the greatest wealth of literature absorbed with the social house seems to be confined to a particular era – the twentieth century. The nineteenth-century country house novel is to some extent restrained by tradition. Contemporary nineteenth-century authors were writing about a world which had changed very little in centuries; the characters are therefore the focus (including the house as presence) and the plot is devised around the nuances of social interaction. From the dawn of the twentieth century, the country house was on its way to decline. During the second half of the century hundreds of houses had been demolished and their estates built upon. Authors like Waugh and Forster were well aware of this shift and their novels are commentary on the coping mechanisms made by owners as they faced threats to lineage, financial security and their cultural values.

Moreover, authors of the modern country house novel – those making appearances in the twenty-first century – are eqaully attracted to the vanishing Belle Epoque with its grand parties and bustling households. The Downton Abbey effect reinforces this and the social house is marketed as the literary Highclere. I like what Lev Grossman in Time Entertainment (May 2012) says, ‘The paradox of the English country house is that its state of permanent decline, the fact that its heyday is always behind it, is part of the seduction, just as it is part of the seduction of books in general.’

Cover for Kate Morton's The House at Riverton (Pan,  2007)

Cover for Kate Morton’s The House at Riverton (Pan, 2007)

But this probably says something more about the present human condition. Houses and people have a symbiotic relationship which is emotionally complex. The house is the static body which grows old, it has seen a great deal of life and death, and every occupant has left their mark. That its heyday is behind it only reinforces this poignancy. When we visit a well furnished, well curated house we stand to look at the paintings. Offer a visitor the chance to visit the drab cellars or offices and the attention immediately turns to the people who used these spaces. When that world no longer exists in the way it was meant, or its ending is nigh we cling to its memory. The existence of people or otherwise is how we formulate similar narratives. So for an author of the country house novel in the twenty-first century, the social house maintains its grip because people are always full of surprises. The country house is the tool chosen for concealment or liberation of these stories.

References and suggested reading:

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (1814).

Ned Beauman, Boxer, Beetle (2011).

Isabel Colegate, The Shooting Party (Penguin Classics, 2007)

Lord Julian Fellowes, Snobs (2004).

E. M. Forster, Howard’s End (1910).

John Galsworthy. The Country House (1907).

Linda Gillard, House of Silence (2011).

Mark Girouard, A Country House Companion (1987).

Rumer Godden. China Court: the Hours of a Country House; a novel (1961).

Alan Hollinghurst, The Stranger’s Child (2011).

Kazuo Ishiguro, Remains of the Day (1989).

D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover (privately printed, 1928, full text 1960).

Henry James, The Spoils of Poynton (1896).

Malcolm Kelsall, The Great Good Place: the Country House and English Literature (1993).

Virginia C. Kenny, The Country House Ethos in English literature, 1688-1750: Themes of Personal Retreat and National Expansion. (1984).

William Hurrell Mallock. The New Republic; or, Culture, Faith and Philosophy in an English Country House. New York (1878).

Ian McEwan, Atonement (2001).

Kate Morton, The House at Riverton (2008) and The Distant Hours (2010).

Thomas Love Peacock, Headlong Hall (1816), Melincourt (1817) and Nightmare Abbey (1818).

Jane Sanderson, Netherwood (2011).

Tom Stoppard, Arcadia (1993).

Giles Waterfield, Markham Thorpe (2007).

Evelyn Waugh, A Handful of Dust (1934) and Brideshead Revisited (1945).

Lucie Whitehouse, The House at Midnight (2008).

Links:

John Lucas in The Guardian, full link http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2011/feb/01/country-house-novel

Blake Morrison in The Guardian, full link http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/jun/11/country-house-novels-blake-morrison

The country house in modern culture http://arts.nationalpost.com/2012/01/17/downton-abbey-and-the-cult-of-the-english-country-house/

Lev Grossman in Time Entertainment full link The Tragedy of the English Country House | TIME.com http://entertainment.time.com/2012/05/02/the-tragedy-of-the-english-country-house/#ixzz2qYzpD2Yx

Book review blog including Rumer Godden’s China Court http://www.essbeevee.co.uk/2013_04_01_archive.html

The Country House Myth in The Remains of the Day http://www.postcolonialweb.org/uk/ishiguro/ed9.html

A fantastic link which helps summarise the genre entirely http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/english_literature_in_transition/v053/53.1.larabee.html

A wider view http://splendidlabyrinths.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/country-house-literature.html

Perhaps do a course? University of Leicester http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/english/postgraduate/madegrees/ma-option-modules/en7222

Country House Conference focussing on film and television, Newcastle University http://countryhouseconference.wordpress.com/

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Filed under Men and the Country House, Servants, The Destruction of the Country House, The running of the country house, Women and the Country House

The Servant Hierarchy

This post is very much overdue! Besides the fact that this particular post should really get an airing before I finish the last part of Genre which will discuss the social country house, I find I’ve not included a plain and simple breakdown of the country house servant hierarchy! That’s without a mention of the incredibly persuasive Downton Abbey….

Therefore, the following is a list of servants predominantly from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, and a very brief note of duties for those respective positions.

I have included an average of annual wages or salaries for positions throughout the centuries where possible* taking into account rising costs, but it is important to note that these could be vastly different between houses, and the demands of particular families.  I have omitted references to other allowances such as beer, general perquisites like clothing or livery and board wages (a sum given to the servants who reside when the family are not at home for the season for example), and also the obvious increase in wages based on experience and length of employment. They are therefore intended as a guide only.

The Servant Hierarchy for a large household - late nineteenth century (BBC images)

The indoor servant hierarchy for a large household giving an impression of particular departments – late nineteenth century (BBC images)

Female servants.

Housekeeper. The housekeeper was the undisputed head of the female staff. Such a role demanded a huge array of responsibility and the best character was dependable, prudent, sensible, and honest. Known as ‘Mrs’ regardless of marital status, a good housekeeper was probably a terrifying woman to work with if you were young and inexperienced, since she would have been expert in balancing her managerial duties with the skills to influence the social interaction of a large household. (Wage: 18th century – £15; 19th century – £30; 20th century – £50 upwards)

Cook.  The image of a blowzy woman shouting orders at young kitchen maids and errand lads is probably most synonymous with the female cook. Not as prestigious as the male cook or chef, the female cook was nonetheless gifted and sought out for her sophisticated practical knowledge. Crucially, she had immense power over the reputation of her mistress when it came to entertaining and feeding guests. (Wage: 18th century – £12: 19th century – £40; 20th century £60 upwards)

Head Nurse/Nanny. The use of these terms is dependent upon the perception of the roles in any particular household as well as the age of the children. Modern-day perceptions of a nanny most likely come from the 19th century middle-class stereotype who was a stern and efficient outsider. In the country house the term nanny was used more affectionately for a long-standing female employee who had previously been in charge of the youngest children. (Wage: 18th century – £8; 19th century – £25; 20th century – £30)

Housemaid. Put simply, the housemaid was the cleaner of the country house, or any living arrangement, and her duties were endless making hours long. Her less attractive duty was of course the emptying of the chamber pot into a slop bucket. In larger houses there would be more than one house maid, known as a second and third housemaid or a small number of under housemaids. Regular live-in housemaids were supported at weekends or ‘busy periods’ by outside help. (Wage: 18th century – £5; 19th century – £15; 20th century – £25)

Kitchen maid/Cook maid. Often very skilled women or with the ambition to be so, they were part of the team of females overseeing everything in the kitchen department from cleanliness and efficiency to food preparation as well as answering to the demands of the dining table on a daily basis. (Wage: 18th century – £4; 19th century – £14; 20th century – £25)

A Laundry Maid Ironing, c.1762-85, by Henry Robert Morland (1716-1797) Tate Collection.

A Laundry Maid Ironing, c.1762-85, by Henry Robert Morland (1716-1797) Tate Collection.

Laundry maid. It was not uncommon for many houses to employ outside help in the form of a washerwoman and her family, day staff, or a laundry man who also outsourced the work (the latter was more common in later years), but the skilled laundry maid was a blessing if she excelled in the practicalities of steaming, pressing and goffering. (Wage: 18th century – £5; 19th century – £14; 20th century – £20)

Nursemaid. This was the nursery support who had the less pleasurable duties to attend to including washing nappies and removing any other soiled items from sight. Where the household required a wet nurse, the nursemaid also attended to her needs as well as ensuring the entire department was kept clean. (Wage: 18th century – £4; 19th century – £12; 20th century – £20)

Dairy maid. The 18th century image of a buxom maiden flirting with stable boys or the tenant farmer’s son added to the romance of the dairy maid and her rural freedoms. In reality she stood to support the network of employees connected with country house self-sufficiency. A woman in this job knew how to churn butter, to recognise the perfect creams for eating and how best to use the milky by-products for a variety of ingredients in the kitchen. This role became less crucial to the country house structure by the 20th century due to the impact of large-scale dairy farming and the ease at which produce could be bought from the open market. (Wage: 18th century – £5; 19th century £12; 20th century – £15)

Plucking the Turkey c.1776, by Henry Walton (1746-1813) Tate Collection.

Plucking the Turkey c.1776, by Henry Walton (1746-1813) Tate Collection.

Scullery maid. A country house maid-of-all-work whose routine revolved around supporting the kitchen maids with fetching and carrying, scrubbing, washing and scouring pots, pans and the kitchen generally! Her duties consisted of whatever the other staff (mainly the kitchen maids) thought fit within that department. (Wage: 18th century – £2 10s; 19th century £6; 20th century – £12)

Other roles. Storeroom maid: The support for the housekeeper in maintaining the vast stores of linens, foodstuffs and household supplies; an early role which seems to have all but disappeared by the middle of the 19th century. Still room maid: A wonderfully practical role which demanded a certain amount of knowledge and skill in distilling and preserving – part of the housekeeper’s domain. Casual staff: These are often neglected in many secondary sources, but it would be impossible to run a large establishment without some extra external assistance. Not unusually, female casual staff were engaged in work at the house supporting the housemaids and kitchen staff and entries in household account books might list them as the ‘charwoman’ or ‘Saturday’s woman’.

Male servants.

Estate steward/Agent and House steward. The key administrative role and one particularly necessary when the master of the house had to attend to business elsewhere. The stewards and/or agent saw to processing almost every aspect of management for the family and its affairs, communicating with lawyers, architects, suppliers, tenants, and other family members. Depending upon the size of the estate these positions may have been fulfilled by one person. However, an estate usually consisted of different property across a region so an agent might have had responsibility for more than one estate steward. On smaller estates the house steward performed all these duties as one. (Estate Steward/Agent Wage: 18th century – £40; 19th century – £120; 20th century – £200 upwards. House Steward Wage: 18th century – £35; 19th century – £80; 20th century – £100 upwards)

Man-Cook/Chef. A male cook held great esteem for a household, greater still if he was a French chef. The master of the house made it his business to enquire about a good chef and seek references out. As head of the kitchen department, the male cook or chef demanded enthusiasm and hard work from his support staff and was probably not unlike the sharp-tongued chefs seen regularly on TV in modern times. (Wage: 18th century – £30; 19th century – £80; 20th century – £150 upwards)

Male Servants at Petworth in the 1870s. (copyright National Trust)

Male Servants at Petworth in the 1870s, including the chef, footmen and butler. (Copyright National Trust)

Valet/Groom of the Chamber. The better paid equivalent of the lady’s maid, the valet was the companion of the master of the house and saw to every personal need. Like the lady’s maid, the valet helped dress and style his master, accompany him, liaise with the other servants, and attend to the private domestic arrangements of his employer.  (Wage: 18th century – £20; 19th century – £50; 20th century – £120 upwards)

Butler. That lovely rosy-cheeked stereotype with well-polished mannerisms and clipped speech has the possibility to exist outside fiction. The butler was responsible primarily for the cellar goodies and would have needed an extensive knowledge of alcoholic beverages, ‘the charge of Wine and Liquors’ and most aspects of dining and entertainment. In smaller households, the butler replaced the valet in his duties. (Wage: 18th century – £10; 19th century – £50; 20th century – £70) Underbutler. (Wage: 18th century – £6; 19th century – £35; 20th century – £60)

Footman. Part of the ‘butler’s pantry’ department, the footman’s duties were deliberately light on labour – laying the table, answering the door, waiting at table and accompanying family when travelling on foot and by carriage. The key role of any footman was to aid conspicuous consumption through their expensive livery uniform, refined mannerisms and general appearance; the latter being a fundamental attribute in gaining employment. How tall they were for example dictated their annual salary, and a hopeful footman standing at over 5′ 10″ could command a respectable wage (18th century – £8; 19th century – £30; 20th century – £40).

Coachman. Just like the footmen, the coachman added a touch of conspicuous refinement whilst the family moved around or entertained. A good coachman would be sought after for his knowledge of coach maintenance combined with a general equestrian understanding – the mechanics of road travel. His undoubted successor into the 20th century was the Chauffeur who similarly would have had knowledge of car maintenance as well as acting as a medium for projecting family wealth. (Wage: 18th century – £12; 19th century – £40)

Success! 1881 by Samuel Waller (1850-1903) Tate Collection

Success! 1881 by Samuel Waller (1850-1903) Tate Collection

Head groom. Less conspicuous than the previous roles, but nonetheless a part of the network of specialist servants who communicated directly with their master or mistress. In reaching the position of head groom, dedication and ambition were key, and it is not unusual to see men undertaking this role after years of experience in the stable department beginning their career as a young postilion. (Wage: 18th century – £12; 19th century – £45)

Postilion. A strange role, and one which is rarely included in secondary sources despite it still existing in formal parades, particularly in Britain. The postilion rode the left horse of a pair if there was no coachman, or the front left horse if more than a pair in order to ‘drive’ the horses. Young men or boys were usually employed in this role as they were light and therefore created less strain on the horses pulling the carriage. (Wage: 18th century – £5; 19th century – £12)

Gardener. There were shifts in gardening trends over the period which demanded different horticultural knowledge from country house gardeners. As a highly specialist role, the most common thread would certainly have been the knowledge of produce – the more exotic the better. With this a gardener could sway the reputation of his employer; pineapples, apricots, grapes or oranges were inviting and added a great deal of variety to the dining table both at home or away in London. (Wage: 18th century – £10; 19th century – £60; 20th century – £100 upwards)

Gamekeeper (‘Keeper’). This seems to have been quite a perilous role for many. The Gamekeeper stood in an awkward place between his master and the preservation of game on the estate (deer, pheasant, rabbits etc.) and the local community who understood these creatures to be part of their share. Poaching was clearly as old as private landownership itself, but with the growth in popularity in the late 18th century of skilled marksmanship and the rights of search and arrest, suddenly preservation was as much about human life as it was game. (Wage: 18th century – £10; 19th century – £50; 20th century – £80 upwards)

Other roles. Hall boy or House boy/Page. Basically an aspiring footman who had shown steady ambition in another servant department. Typically an adolescent or younger. Porter. Similar to the hall boy or similar, though most likely carried out by an older male given the extent of duties and the nature of these – mainly building security. Casual staff: Unlike the female equivalent these roles would have been considered artisan rather than mere cleaning and char work. Journeymen and tailors for example sought to apply their skills at the country house and perhaps set up some informal contract to which they could return when required. Responsibilities might include repair of furnishings or specialist cleaning.

* Figures have been adapted from primary source material (Castle Howard, Temple Newsam and Nostell Priory MSS) and secondary sources (see below). These must not be taken as exact figures. Details of annual wages or salaries throughout the period are difficult to gain for several reasons, though mainly because amounts varied so vastly between estates and houses and often some positions are hard to identify. By the 20th century many positions had disappeared or been replaced by modern equivalents and thus wages were altered to reflect this shift. In this respect, I have omitted the 20th century wages for those occupations which had altered irretrievably by that point; Coachman, Head Groom and Postilion. Moreover, when servant numbers dwindled during and after the First World War, wages increased dramatically to entice prospective employees.

Links:

Arley Hall, Cheshire including list of wages 1750-90 http://www.arleyhallarchives.co.uk/staff.htm

Beautifully observed US description of country house servants with Dollar conversion of wages http://www.waynesthisandthat.com/servantwages.htm

The Great House (including servants) on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_house

The Victorian Servant http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/agunn/teaching/enl3251/vf/pres/davis.htm

The 18th century maidservant, according to Daniel Defoe http://myladyweb.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/maidservants-in-18th-centurya-necessary.html

The ‘Downton Abbey’ Servant http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/the-servants-quarters-in-19th-century-country-houses-like-downton-abbey/

References and recommended literature on the subject:

Samuel and Sarah Adams, The Complete Servant. (1830)

Eileen Balderson and Douglas Goodlad, Backstairs Life in a Country House. (1982)

Mrs. Beeton, The Book of Household Management. Facsimile edition. (1982).

Jill Franklin, ‘Troops of Servants: Labour and Planning in the Country House 1840-1914’. Victorian Studies, vol. XIX, number 2 December 1975.

Juliet Gardiner, The Edwardian Country House. Channel 4 Books (2002)

Jessica Gerard, Country House Life: Family and Servants, 1815-1914. (1994)

Jessica Gerard, ‘Invisible Servants: The Country House and the Local Community’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, LVII, pp.144-148. (1984)

Mark Girouard, Life in the English Country House: A Social and Architectural History. (1978)

Hannah Glasse, The Servant’s Directory or Housekeeper’s Companion. (1760)

Peter and Carolyn Hammond, Life in an Eighteenth-Century Country House: Letters from the Grove. (2012)

Christina Hardyment, Home Comfort: A History of Domestic Arrangements. National Trust. (1992)

J. J. Hecht, The Domestic Servant Class in Eighteenth-Century England. (1956)

Bridget Hill, Servants: English Domestics in the Eighteenth Century. (1996)

Pamela Horn, Flunkeys and Scullions: Life Below Stairs in Georgian England. (2004)

Pamela Horn, Life Below Stairs in the 20th Century. (1980)

Pamela Horn, The Rise and Fall of the Victorian Servant. (2000)

Lesley Lewis, The Private Life of a Country House. In Association with The National Trust. (1997)

Dorothy Marshall, ‘The Domestic Servants of the Eighteenth Century’, Economica, number 9, pp.15-40 (April 1929)

Pamela A. Sambrook, The Country House Servant. In Association with the National Trust. (2004)

Pamela A. Sambrook and Peter Brears, The Country House Kitchen: 1650-1900. (2010)

Amanda Vickery, Behind Closed Doors: at Home in Georgian England. (2009)

Merlin Waterson, The Servants’ Hall: A Domestic history of Erddig. (1980)

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Filed under Recommended Literature, Servants

Deene Park, Northamptonshire

deenepark-large

Deene Park, Northamptonshire (Deene Park website banner)

Deene Park, Northamptonshire is the ancestral home of the Brudenell family with whom the property has remained since 1514 when it was acquired by Sir Robert Brudenell (1461-1531).

Admittedly, this is an utterly self-indulgent piece! My own ancestors lived in the adjacent hamlet of Deenethorpe and were employed on the Brudenell estates from the 18th century. Though I have explored plenty of parish registers for the area, and I’m yet to view the relevant papers pertaining to estate workers, I do know that I hail from typical agricultural labouring stock and the odd shepherd! But that’s quite enough of that.

Deene Park has a far more diverse history. The manor of Deene belonged to Westminster Abbey and from 1215 the manor was let to various families including the Colets and Lyttons. Though Brudenell had legally gained ownership of the manor in 1514, Westminster Abbey was still able to subject it to a fee-farm rent of £18 per year which the family continued to pay until 1970, when the Church of Commissioners sold it to them for under £200.

Undoubtedly, the best thing about Deene Park is its irregularity and very obvious combination of different architectural and decorative styles. The appearance of present day Deene is the result of six centuries of expansion, development and remodelling with the earliest part existing as remnants behind the East front outside wall. Likely this was part of the original small manor house or ‘grange‘ connected to Westminster.

The guidebook for Deene Park notes how each generation seems to have made alterations and additions to the house. As much of the early Brudenell capital came from landownership and roles in government office, building work could be rather piecemeal. Yet, the more substantial alterations can be tied to particular events in the Brudenell lineage such as marriage, inheritance or ambitions for superior titles within the peerage.

Sir Edmund Brudenell (copyright Deene Park)

The first of these to truly impact at Deene was the marriage of Sir Edmund Brudenell (1521-85) to Agnes Bussy, daughter of John Bussy of Hougham in 1539. This union was celebrated by both families in its early years and represented the ideal match sought out by elite families in order to expand capital. Though Agnes was not phenomenally wealthy at the time of her marriage into the Brudenells, she was set to inherit her family’s vast estates in Lincolnshire, Rutland and Derbyshire upon her father’s death.

Deene (renamed Deene Hall by this point), took on much of its present size and footprint during Edmund’s time and large-scale building work began in the 1570s. Yet, his motives for expansion would certainly have been twofold. The Brudenells and Bussys fought hard over Agnes’s inheritance after her father died in 1542; husband and wife quarrelled, cousins schemed, and Agnes was often forced to borrow ready cash from family members. On the outside things appeared more orderly and during the construction of the new house, Edmund was sure to decorate his new house with Brudenell and Bussy heraldry and insignia.

Sir Edmund Brudenell was also declaring his power in the Northamptonshire countryside, and he was not alone. Northamptonshire was a popular county in the 16th century for the established and expanding gentry alike. As quoted by Joan Wake in The Brudenells of Deene (1953), a contemporary of Sir Edmund Brudenell noted, ‘the fertility, good air, pleasant prospects, and convenience of this Shire in all things to a generous and noble mind, have so allured nobility to plant themselves with the same, that no Shire within this Realm can answer the like number of noblemen as are seated in these parts.’ Indeed, Northamptonshire is often referred to as the county of ‘Squires and Spires’ due to its vast numbers of country seats and churches.

Location of Deene Park, Northamptonshire and surrounding areas including Corby to the south west and Oundle to the east.

Location of Deene Park, Northamptonshire and surrounding areas including Corby to the south west and Oundle to the east.

Quarries near Corby and further east provided a plentiful supply of very good building stone for Brudenell, and it is no coincidence that houses at Rockingham, Apethorpe, Kirby and Southwick were also making their mark in the landscape during this period.

The next eras of substantial building work at Deene came in the early 17th and 18th centuries when Sir Thomas (1578-1663) and George (1685-1732) were eager to secure themselves notable titles and a good reputation respectively. Sir Thomas was created Baron Brudenell in 1628 (a title which he bought for £6,000), becoming Earl Cardigan in 1661 because of his Royalist support during the English Civil War. George Brudenell, 3rd Earl of Cardigan was the stereotypical young elite gentleman who had experienced the Grand Tour and a life of suspiciously licentious quality whilst away, but made solid attempts to overturn this behaviour shortly after coming of age in 1706.

Both Brudenell men were passionate about art and architecture and were certainly the product of a sophisticated education thought compulsory for the male heir in a time when culture was regarded as the signifier of wealth.

With finances also enriched through beneficial marriage, Thomas added the distinguished crenelated tower to the north-east corner at Deene as well as similar decorative aspects to the north wing during much of the 17th century, and added a chapel sometime before 1640. George and his wife Elizabeth (née Bruce) were instrumental in making drastic changes to the interiors at Deene which had grown dated by the time of their residence in the early years of the 18th century. Modernisation took place in the principal rooms, a new staircase was put in, sash windows were added where appropriate, the Great Hall was repaved, new cellars were constructed and marble chimney pieces were put in – amongst many other things.

The alterations of the early 18th century did not stop with the house, as the 3rd Earl also turned his attention to the gardens at Deene. No doubt influenced by the changing trends in garden and landscape design, he sought to enliven the grounds with then quite fanciful features – sadly, the canal, stone bridge and kitchen gardens are the main remnants of this period.

Deene and the Brudenells stretch much further afield too. Two periods are significant here; the marriage of Francis Lord Brudenell to Lady Frances Savile in 1668, and the character and ambition of James 7th Earl of Cardigan during the middle of the 19th century.

The first is essential knowledge for any University of Leeds student who has ever resided in Headingley, Hyde Park or Kirkstall. The Saviles were extensive landowners in Leeds and much of Yorkshire by the 17th century. Sir John Savile was elected the first Alderman of the Borough of Leeds in 1626, and much of the Leeds coat of arms is based the Savile family’s own arms. The marriage of Lord Brudenell to Lady Frances saw two families unite their vast landed wealth and the Brudenells absorbed much of what Frances brought with her as part of the settlement. Today, these areas of Leeds are riddled with street names easily connected to the Brudenells and Saviles: Cardigan Road, Brudenell Street/Grove/Avenue, Savile Drive and sites such as Cardigan Fields, Brudenell Primary School and the Brudenell Social Club.

A fashionably whiskered James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan in the uniform of the 11th Hussars (1860s?)

James 7th Earl of Cardigan is perhaps better associated with the Charge of the Light Brigade of 1854 during the Crimean War and there is a great deal of accessible material to read on the subject. Yet, it should be noted here that his role in this military campaign, and in the words of Joan Wake, ‘that brief twenty minutes which raised his status from that of the most notoriously unpopular officer in the British army to one of imperishable renown’ had certainly impacted at home. This ability to change public opinion also existed in the years beforehand.

Criticised for his harsh and abrupt nature towards his officers many had begun to feel demoralised and belittled by his apparent relentless chastising and frequent punishments. This reached a crescendo in the spring/summer of 1840 when Captain John Reynolds served a bottle of Moselle before it as decanted, causing Cardigan to reprimand Reynolds the next day. Reynolds’s written reply was seen as inappropriate by Cardigan who was already involved in matters surrounding a duel he had had with a junior officer. Such was the frustration involved that Reynolds was placed in open arrest and by the autumn of that year Reynolds was tried by court martial. The episode became known as the Black Bottle affair.

At Deene during the same year, the gulf between the immensely wealthy Brudenells and those living and working on the estates was growing ever wider. Cardigan had used his power and personal finances to wriggle his way out of bad form with his officers, but between September and November 1840, the papers attacked him, calling him ‘captious and tyrannical’. By February the following year this had all changed. The large majority of people of nearby Deene, Deenethorpe, Stanion, and Glapthorne were suddenly in receipt of a ‘quartern loaf and ale’ each. This may not have been a first, but the papers were sure to make a great deal more of this gesture than they had done previously.

Interestingly, successive gestures were not issued in Cardigan’s name, but that of his first wife Elizabeth’s.

Deene Park is the product of the ambitious, often ruthless, but very typical landowners of their time. The Brudenells are perhaps a very good example of how the elite have functioned over the centuries, and how marriage, inheritance, and title have all created pivotal moments in a family’s history. The house has simultaneously been the silent backdrop and active player for all of these. And this is what makes Deene an intriguing place, but its steady presence in the Northamptonshire countryside has almost kept it out of mind for many. Though rich in country houses, the county clearly has its favourites, and Deene could be one of them. Yet, coming from an academic background, I have only ever been aware of studies which focus upon Lamport Hall, Kirby Hall and Kelmarsh Hall. There is something alluring about Deene because of this obvious absence.

Poignantly, my ancestors made the decision to move out of Deenethorpe (and Northamptonshire altogether) in the 1880s, and I know it was not easy. I have been the first to look back, and I am sure to continue my own story.

Links:

Deene Park website http://www.deenepark.com/

Deene Park on Wikipedia with good references http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deene_Park

A bite size history http://www.touruk.co.uk/houses/housenorthants_deene_park.htm

Northamptonshire on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northamptonshire#cite_note-15

Statement of Nene Valley Association for the areas covering Oundle and Thrapston, including notes on the topography and history of the area http://www.east-northamptonshire.gov.uk/downloads/00200_-_Nene_Valley.pdf

Famous Brudenells http://freespace.virgin.net/brudenell.forum/famous.html

References:

Joan Wake, The Brudenells of Deene. (1953)

Deene Park. Guidebook (1998)

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Filed under Building the Country House, Collections, Spotlight On ....

Genre: The Haunted House

The Ash Tree Illustration by George Chastain

The Ash Tree illustration by George Chastain (The Twilight Zone 1981)

‘… there were no more mysterious occurrences … no rings on the bells, no raps, no footsteps, no more curious incidences of any kind. The house continued to … “behave itself” ‘.             (The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters, p. 386)

After a lapse of a few weeks, I have finally been able to return to the literary country house. My last post on this topic is here, and concerned the country house poem. Here the focus is how the country house can play host to something more supernatural and chilling, and ultimately more claustrophobic.

In an article for The New Statesman (2011), John O’Connell identified the country house genre as two distinct groups; the Gothic (the focus here) and the social.  This article is now exclusively for subscribers, but the overview is given by John Lucas in The Guardian from February 2011. Lucas himself states, ‘It’s dramatically useful to be able to force characters together in a physical space where they have little choice but to interact with each other. In this sense, the country house functions in much the same way as a pub in a soap opera.’ Yet the Gothic and the social country house did not just appear from nothing. There is certainly something which links the steady move towards privacy for landowners and their families, Acts of Enclosure, and extensive landscaping which suggests that the house itself became ever more remote and mysterious during the eighteenth century.

Of course the Gothic setting may not even be a country house. Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1765), Clara Reeve’s The Old English Baron (1778), and Mrs. Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) all play out within murky castle walls. Indeed Gothic originally implied medieval, but by the end of the eighteenth century its meaning had altered to incorporate the purely macabre, eerie and supernatural. The medieval element was not always important.

How the country house setting fits into the Gothic model is complex, and is as much the backdrop as it is a character. This is not about whether ghosts or the supernatural are real, but often about social commentary and the psychological and physical threats posed by others. For example the artificial relationships set out by the class system and patriarchal dominance, the paranoia of rightful inheritance, tyrannical masters seeking sexual deviance, or the consequences of inbreeding. Add to these the architectural decay of a world that once thrived or the intrigue of an ill-fated inhabitant brought to an early demise through murder or suicide and the scene is set for monsters and ghouls stepping forth to tell their tales.

The haunted house may simply be the desolate detached thing at the end of the road. Yet the country house (big or small) provides the writer with a greater variety of space, of past opulence, of dysfunctional families and their struggle to uphold pride and lineage. The dark corners, damp basement passageways and dusty attics are all places for secreting horrifyingly disfigured relations, ancestral sins, or discarded womenfolk.

Front cover for the Turn of the Screw, making use of an typically ethereal painting by Atkinson Grimshaw.

Front cover for the Turn of the Screw, making use of an typically ethereal painting by Atkinson Grimshaw.

Key authors of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries would certainly include the following: Edgar Allan Poe, ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ (1839),  Charles Dickens et al., The Haunted House (1859), J. S. Le Fanu, ‘Madam Crowl’s Ghost’ (1870), Charlotte Riddell, The Haunted House at Latchford (1872), Henry James, ‘The Turn of the Screw’ (1898), and M. R. James, ‘The Ash Tree’ (1904). All of these have different tales to tell, but the techniques are similar wherever you look. Ultimately, the haunted house is the static setting into which one or more characters are introduced in order to relate the tale to us as the readers. The madness and hysteria may have already existed before their mediation like in H. P. Lovecraft’s, The Rats in the Walls (1924). On the other hand this new character or characters may or may not be the trigger for the haunting as in the genre’s present day revival like Sarah Waters’s, The Little Stranger (2009).

Front cover for The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (first published 2009)

Front cover for The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (first published 2009)

M. R. James does not use this technique in ‘The Ash Tree’, but instead has his narrator pass on the tale as though it were stuff of legend or folklore. Yet, this too is common, especially in short stories. The period setting is therefore important and may be familiar to the reader. Supernatural suspense in the protagonist’s own present or recent past for example  might be provided by a tortured spirit, often with a message from the grave like in the late James Herbert’s The Secret of Crickley Hall (2006) or even Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black (1983). Also common is the retelling by the main character of their version of events (usually by firelight) to a contemporary audience.

The role of the haunted house has never really changed dramatically in literature over time, but it has seen a handful of revivals. The country house as haunted house however does not fit obviously into the social changes occurring simultaneously.  The interwar years see little production of ghostly tales, as the country house at that time became the social house model as noted by John O’Connell. Presumably this might have more to do with a dismissal of all things Victorian rather than a severe dislike of the supernatural tale itself. Moreover, demolition of the country house in the UK during the 1950s and 1960s does not seem to impact too heavily on the genre.

As a child I was probably reading haunted house stories produced during a wave of interest in Victoriana and past opulence in children’s literature. Many of my favourite authors like Robert Westall, Philippa Pearce and  Helen Cresswell knew how to twist the fate of an old mansion. Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden (1958) for one, is as much about a fantasy world as it is about the dismantling of a golden era. Today’s revival has been a few years in the making, but there is a wealth of novels and short stories to examine further. Perhaps the accessibility of the country house has aided this fascination; the layers of history witnessed in the blocked up doorways and windows, glistening mirrors that once held someone’s reflection, creaking floorboards, the maze of passageways, empty beds, and unnamed portraits…

Still from the 20 film of The Woman in Black (Cotter Hall)

Still from the 2012 film of The Woman in Black (Cotterstock Hall, Northamptonshire)

References and further reading:

John Boyne, This House is Haunted (2013)

E. J. Clery, The Rise of Supernatural Fiction (1995)

J. S. Le Fanu, In a Glass Darkly (1872)

Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic (2000)

Peter Haining, The Mammoth Book of Haunted House Stories (2005)

James Herbert, Haunted (1988)

Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House (1959)

P. J. Keating, The Haunted Study: A Social History of the English Novel 1875-1914 (2012 ?)

Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca (1938)

The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (1986)

J. B. Priestley, Benighted (1927)

John Sullivan, Elegant Nightmares: The English Ghost Story From Le Fanu To Blackwood (1978) and Lost Souls: A Collection of English Ghost Stories (1983)

Robert Westall, Ghost Abbey (new edition 2011)

Oscar Wilde, The Canterville Ghost (first published 1887)

Links:

The Ghost Story on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_story

The Gothic literary genre on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gothic_fiction

Haunted Country Houses in Country Life Magazine http://www.countrylife.co.uk/countryside/pursuits/article/153019/Top-10-haunted-country-houses.html

University of Sheffield, School of English course Literature of the English Country House http://soeblog.group.shef.ac.uk/mooc/

And last but not least, Horror Film Haunted Houses http://cinefantastiqueonline.com/2009/03/sense-of-wonder-hollywoods-most-haunted-houses/

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