Yesterday, I had great fun at Kelmarsh Hall’s second annual Country House Book Day.
Kelmarsh Hall, in Northamptonshire, is a beautiful, small Georgian house,designed by Gibbs and Smith of Warwick, and has much in common stylistically and in size with its near neighbour Cottesbrooke Hall.
It is surrounded by parkland
the parish church
and a walled kitchen garden in the process of being restored.
In addition to the fine surroundings yesterdays Book Day provided entertainment about houses and gardens with lectures being given by leading garden writers and historians to small but rapt audiences.
Amid these beautiful and fitting surroundings I went to listen to Amanda Vickery give her talk Out of the Closet: Love Power and Houses in the Eighteenth Century. It was as ever a virtuoso performance from Professor Vickery, author of the very interesting and rightly lauded book, BehindClosed Doors, and The Gentleman’s Daughter. She gave a talk full of riveting information and good humour. She told us about the universal need for a home,and what this need says about us and about those who lived in the past ; how difficult it is to write about the home of the poor or even the middling sort for unlike the homes of the elite, few homes or artefacts from these classes survive into the 21st century; how responsibility for the different areas of a home were delegated between the sexes and how lack of a home was considered degrading for both spinsters and bachelors, those poor unmarried souls who had failed to achieve that most desirable consumer object-a home of one’s own. She also discussed the concept of taste as defined in the 18th century and how this was viewed by the differing classes, ranging from the elite to the shopkeepers who supplied consumer goods to all classes. In all it was a marvellous bravura performance, totally enjoyable and very informative. If only all history lecturers were like this as my teenage daughter wistfully remarked at the conclusion to Professor Vickery’s talk. Ah yes…if only….
If you go here you can downlad a podcast of a similar lecture Professor Vickery gave, the 2008 HarperCollins History lecture: I don’t think you need ITunes in order to play it, so I do hope many of you who cannot physically get to hear Professor Vickery talk will do this as it will give you a very good idea of her good humoured and intensely interesting style.
After the lecture I had the opportunity to take tea with Professor Vickery and amongst other matters of important Austen-related gossip, she told me that she had been commissioned by the BBC to make a three-part television series based on Behind Closed Doors .I won’t give away details here but you can be assured that when more information is available I will pass it on.
Quit unexpectedly, I also met Professor Vickery’s husband, John Styles,Research Professor of History at the University of Hertfordshire and author of one of my favourite books, The Dress of the People.
If you go here (and scroll almost to the bottom of the page)you can listen to a short podcast by Professor Styles about the Foundling Hospital and its collection of textiles which formed a great part of the evidence he used in his book to decode the types of fabrics worn by the ordinary and the poor in the eighteenthcentury. I understand that he is going to be curating an exhibition of these textiles soon,which will be held in Bloomsbury Square, London at the Corum Foundation’s Founding Hospital Museum. I will of course let you know more details about this exhibit when they become available.
In all it was a wonderful day (and the English summer weather was kind for once!) and I am glad for this opportunity to share it with you.