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It became clear on reading some of the comments posted to my last article on Burghley House and Pride and Prejudice that the concept of the Ha-ha was something of a conundrum to a few of us, and so I’ve written this post to clarify what is meant by one.

Basically it was a hidden boundary, a sunken fence, separating park from garden on an estate. This is the very large one at Grimsthorpe Castle, which has since had its retaining wall raised a little for the safety requirements of the 20 and 21st centuries.

As you can clearly see, the installation of a ha-ah prevented the livestock in the park -cattle, deer, sheep- from encroaching on the more elegant and refined part of your estate. It kept nature at a respectful distance, if you like. You could still view your beautifully landscaped rolling acres from your house, but the inhabitants of that park would not bother you in your part of the garden, nor would they leave any evidence of their existence for you to tread in while wearing your  expensive shoes,and offend your delicate sensibilities

The ha-ah is mentioned by Jane Austen, notably in Mansfield Park, during the chapters which deal with the revealing trip to Southerton. She uses the formal wilderness and its retaining ha-ha as a recurring liet motiv of restraint for the women in the novel, notably Fanny Price, who is forced to stay confined in that part of the garden within its retaining walls,

A few steps farther brought them out at the bottom of the very walk they had been talking of; and standing back, well shaded and sheltered, and looking over a ha–ha into the park, was a comfortable–sized bench, on which they all sat down.

Chapter 9

…watching the goings-on of the two pairs of would-be lovers, Miss Crawford and Edmund Bertram

After sitting a little while Miss Crawford was up again. “I must move,” said she; “resting fatigues me. I have looked across the ha–ha till I am weary. I must go and look through that iron gate at the same view, without being able to see it so well.
Chapter 9

and then Maria Rushworth and Mr Crawford,who, had he been a Deb’s Delight in the 1920s, would no doubt have been dubbed  N.S.O.K. ( Not Safe On Knolls)

Yes, certainly, the sun shines, and the park looks very cheerful. But unluckily that iron gate, that ha–ha, give me a feeling of restraint and hardship. ‘I cannot get out,’ as the starling said.” As she spoke, and it was with expression, she walked to the gate: he followed her. “Mr. Rushworth is so long fetching this key!”
Chapter 10

It is an ingenious device precisely because  it is virtually undetectable from the house.

This is the view from Boughton House in Northamptonshire looking towards a very large sunken fence or ha-ha. Can you spot it? I thought not.

If you care to look at this photograph above showing the view from one of the ha-has at Cottsebrooke Hall, the one which separates an old wilderness from the modern formal garden, you can see that, at close quarters, the ditch is noticeable but if you compare it with the Boughton picture, you can see that effect lessens the closer you are to the house. I confess was delighted when I found this ha-ha overlooking a formally planted wilderness because it seemed to reflect the state of affairs as described by Jane Austen at Southerton, and some people are of the opinion that Cottesbrooke was her inspiration for Mansfield Park itself. Of course my speculations were all dashed when I realised this  ha-ha was a relatively modern creation and did not exist when Jane Austen was writing Mansfield Park in the early 19th century. Ah,well…..back to reality.

Do notice that the ditch gradient  is constructed in such a way as to prevent the livestock being able to breech the gap between the park and the retaining wall, and therefore they are prevented from grazing near to the house.

This clever drawing by Felix Kelly of a side section of the construction of an ha-ha shows how the ground is scooped away from the retaining wall. The ground is then levelled off to be the same height as the retaining wall and, at a distance, the gap becomes less noticeable.  And to  some unobservant walkers, it must have come as something of a surprise, hence its  name.

Before the introduction of the ha-ha, the only method of keeping livestock in the park separate from the gardens was by visually intrusive means of control, that is, fences and walls. But the beauty of the ha-ha, the almost invisible boundary ditch, is that looking out onto the gardens and further into the park surrounding a grand house you simply cannot notice it. It is not at all visually intrusive but it is totally effective in keeping the park animals away at a safe distance .

This is another much older ha-ha at Cottesbrooke Hall, and it separates the pleasure gardens surrounding the house from the park. Below is the view from the ha-ha looking out toward the park and surrounding village in the distance (please ignore the fabuous plant fair taking place in the foreground)!

Horace Walpole in his essay On Modern Gardening (1770) patriotically attributed the introduction of the ha-ha as a garden features to the English landscape to the famous gardener, Charles Bridgeman, partner of the equally famous Henry Wise (although the French might have something to say in dispute here: there is an example of an ha-ha at Versailles that predates Charles Bridgeman. It was also used elsewhere in landscape gardens in Europe) :

But the capital stroke, the leading step to all that followed was (I believe the first though was Bridgeman’s) the destruction of walls for boundaries, and the invention of fosses- an attempt then deemed so astonishing , that the common people called them Ha! Has! to express their surprise at finding a sudden and unperceived check to their walk.

One of the first gardens planted in this simple though still formal style was my father’s at Houghton. It was laid out by Mr Eyre, an imitator of Bridgeman…I call a sunk fence the leading step for these reasons. No sooner was this simple enchantment made, than levelling, mowing and rolling followed. The contiguous ground of the park without the sunk fence was to be harmonised with the lawn within; and the garden in its turn was to be set free from its prim regularity, that it might assort with the wilder country without. The sunk fence ascertained the specific garden, but that it might not draw too obvious a line of distinction between the neat and the rude, the contiguous outlying parts came to be included in a kind of general design: and when nature was taken into the plan, under improvements, every step that was made pointed out new beauties and inspired new ideas….

You could, of course  see it -the retaining wall was very noticeable- if you were walking in the park looking towards it (and the house) for the ground sloped sharply away from it as you can see in these photographs of the ha-ha at Burghley House .

Note this  is not faced in red brick as at Cottesbrooke, but in the locally quarried limestone. Below is a close up of the wall, which was recently (and expensively ) renovated

Here you can see that the ha-ha at Burghley is  curved

and that the ditch slopes dramatically away from the retaining wall, but then rises to its height…

The further away from the ditch you are, the less noticeable is the gap.

So you see, by adding an ha-ha to the landscape, the eye could rove freely beyond the immediate garden to the park onto the surrounding countryside,whilst keeping the animals away from the house and its pleasure gardens.

As we have seen in on our previous two posts about Burghley as the setting for  Rosings in the 2005 production of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightly, Burghley House was used as the setting for Lady Catherine’s Drawing Room and her Dining Room.

The park was also used for one shot in the film. Burghley Park is a real park with herds of deer, so Mary Crawford would no doubt approve. The park wall is over 5 miles in circumference and the park has an acreage of 1,400 acres. It was landscaped by Lancelot ‘Capability ‘ Brown whose intriguing portrait by Sir Nathaniel Dance, shown below, is part of the collection at Burghley House.

We see the West front of the house in the scene in Pride and Prejudice when an agitated Mr Collins is urging Elizabeth and Charlotte to hurry and not keep the formidable Lady Catherine waiting ….

This is the magnificent oak tree the trio are seen approaching in the park

And here is the West Front of the house…

With its Gilded Gates …..

Of course, in reality, the Collins party would have found it rather difficult to walk directly across the park to the West Front..because of the ha-ha that separates the ornamental gardens from the park…..

It sweeps round in a curve, separating the oak tree from the dangers of being eaten by the deer- still to be found wandering freely the other side of the ha-ha.

The main entrance to the house is protected by these fabulous wrought iron gates…

which are decorated with the gilded crest of the Cecil family

And they still maintain a sentry box…..which is truly redundant these days

for the gates are operated electronically,and not opened by a retainer,patiently waiting within it  for guests to arrive, upon hearing the trumpet sound at a distant gate.

The ground to the north of the house slopes away quite dramatically towards the river Welland, and it was here on a bright  sunny morning  in 2004, that  I in the company of my two children auditioned for parts as extras in the film. We didn’t get the parts and were sad. My daughter’s English Master was however, successful,and can be seen in the Meryton Ball screen wearing a spectacular painful and odd-looking wig.

However some time later I met the screenwriter of Pride and Prejudice, Deborah Moggarch, who consoled me in my failure to achieve fame on the  big screen by explaining that the director wanted a certain “look” for the Meryton scenes. Hogarthian was the style he wished to promote. According to Deborah we were obviously too nice looking to be included in the rough rabble that made up the company at the Meryton Assembly  (!) Needless to say my daughter took great delight in informing her English Master of this interesting snippet of information.

The entrance for visitors to the house which leads to the old  kitchen, did have a small exhibit of costumes from Pride and Prejudice during  the year the film was released.

Mr Darcy’s fine wool breeches and coat were on display as well as Elizabeth Bennet’s rather run down green linen dress…

This had a homemade tatting edging to the neckline and was darned and mended in many places.

Charlotte Collins’ grey linen dress was also on display and I was interested to see that the patterned fabric of her under dress was very similar to a real sample of an early 19th century fabric,

which can be found in Barbara Johnson’s Album of Styles and Fabrics, kept by the Victoria and Albert museum,and available as a facsimile.

This album is a magical survivor, a  record kept by Barbara Johnson,of all her clothes from 1746 until 1821,with fashion plates inserted amongst the fabric samples. Her piece of a blue spotted muslin of 1812 is very similar to the design worn by Charlotte Lucas.

The park at Burghley is open to the public all year round,even when the house is not open. It is a wonderful place to walk,and indeed I am just back from a bracing walk there this morning. I do urge you all to visit Burghley even if you were not enamoured of Pride and Prejudice 2005. It’s a marvellous day out (and the Orangery restaurant is pretty good too)

Next in this series, Kirkby Hall as used in Patricia Rozema’s Mansfield Park.

Last week we talked about Burghley House and its fantastic  Heaven Room which was used as the location for Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s drawing-room at Rosings in the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

Today we are going to consider another room at Burghley, whose rose garden is  shown above and whose magnificent oriel window in the great hall is shown below….

The room that merits our attention this week is the Bow Room which served as Lady Catherine’s dining room at Rosings in the 2005 film.

This is another of Burghley’s many painted rooms. It was created in 1697 by Louis Laguerre, the French artist, who was also Louis XIV’s godson.  He appears to have been an altogether more personable character than Verrio about whom  we wrote last week, and, unlike Verrio, no tales of scandal and debaucheries are  told about Laguerre at Burghley today.

The room is, as you can see, quite dark. It faces north and while these painted rooms worked well in sunnier climes, as seen, no doubt, by teh 5th Earl of Exeter on his Grand Tour of Europe, the decoration does cast rather a gloom in the cold Lincolnshire light. The room was originally designed by the 5th Earl as a State Dining Room, but its chilly aspect meant that it gradually fell out of use: the kitchens were a long way away and the food was invariably cold when it reached the hungry diners waiting in this room! Eventually it evolved into a second billiard room and then into a music room until 1990 when the painted surfaces of the room were extensively restored. The room is now fitted up for display and the dining table is set up as it would have been for a formal dinner during the Victorian era.  The West wall, below….

And the East wall, compete with fireplace, again below, show scenes from the lives of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony.

The south wall, which can be seen behind Lady Catherine when she sits at the head of the dining table depicts The Conduct of Scipio Towards His fair Captive

The room now contains articles that had to be removed or put out of shot during the filming of Pride and Prejudice: this bust, below, of the Duke of Wellington would have been highly anachronistic for a film set in 1796, when he was merely a colonel serving in the Netherlands and India.

And this magnificent 19th century silver racing trophy , together with, on the window sill, a silver model of the 3rd Marquess of Exeter as Colonel of the Northamptonshire Regiment, made in 1888, were not seen in the film.

We did see a plethora of footmen( just what  exactly is the correct  collective noun for a group of footmen?) which is reflective of this section from Chapter 29 of Pride and Prejudice that describes the initial dinner at Rosings attended by Elizabeth Charlotte and Mr Collins-but note, not Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam:

The dinner was exceedingly handsome, and there were all the servants and all the articles of plate which Mr. Collins had promised; and, as he had likewise foretold, he took his seat at the bottom of the table, by her ladyship’s desire, and looked as if he felt that life could furnish nothing greater.

As to the dinner being exceedingly handsome, it was certainly very lavish in this production. And in what was most probably a deliberate move, the dinner is shown to be  slightly old-fashioned. Do note the  peacock pie to the right of Lady Catherine at the far end of the table, below:

Peacock pies were very popular throughout the 17th century till the mid 18th century, as part of courtly shows of expense and luxury. The one below made by Ivan Day of Historic Foods is typical of the 17th century : the head and tail feathers were always used to decorate such a pie, not only because they were spectacular, but because their presence  also indicated what meat was to be found inside the pie.

The latest recipe I can find for a peacock pie is in John Thacker’s book,The Art of Cookery written in 1758

Here is the recipe which you can enlarge by clicking on it.

Thacker was the cook to the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral and their hospitality was courtly, lavish and legendary. But ever so slightly old-fashioned  by 1796 the date the film was set ( and also the date when Jane Austen wrote  First Impressions which was to eventually become Pride and Prejudice in 1813).

Lady Catherine, who was played by Dame Judi Dench, is always shown in a sack dress( this purple confection was on show at Burghley House in the Bow Room tin 2005-6,and it was magnificent) which would also have be seen as old fashioned in 1796 . I can only conclude that the filmmakers wanted to depict Lady Catherine as grand and slightly set in her ways, which character traits were reflected in her choice of food and  of dress. Qutie a clever conceit, bearing in mind how stubborn the old bat could be…..

Once again I should like to thank the Burghley House Preservation Trust , the House Manager and the Room Stewards for all their kindness and assistance  shown to me when I visited Burghley to prepare this post.

Burghley House in Stamford, Lincolnshire was the location chosen to represent Rosings, Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s home in the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. It might at first appear to have been an odd choice. Rosings in the text is clearly referred to as a modern house-

It was a handsome modern building, well situated on rising ground

-all done no doubt to subtly throw doubt on the age of Sir Lewis de Boughs “noble” origins.  Burghley is so obviously an Elizabethan house, built in the late 16th century for Queen Elizabeth I’s loyal minister, William Cecil, and therefore could never have been thought of as “new” in 1796 ,when this adaptation was set.

However, it was convenient. It is to be found on the outskirts of the town of Stamford, which was the real town used as the setting for Meryton in the film (and which I have previously written about here and here)

In this first post of three about Burghley and Pride and Prejudice, I will write about one of the rooms used in the adaptation…the  Heaven Room.

This was the setting for Lady Catherine’s drawing-room at Rosings…

where Elizabeth is introduced to a rather formidable Lady Catherine in the company of Charlotte and Mr Collins…and unexpectedly meets Mr Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam , Lady Catherine’s nephews, who were also staying there…

…and where after dinner, we learn that Anne de Bourgh doesn’t play due to her delicate health…

But eventually Elizabeth is persuaded to play..though she does so  very indifferently and with a very bad grace….not performing to strangers, indeed.

The Heaven Room,where these scenes were filmed is simply an astounding room.  It is almost totally painted,

all the walls and ceiling,with roundels executed in grisaille over the entrances.

Seen in bright sunlight-as on the day I took my photographs- it all encompassing effect is almost overwhelming…

The gods and goddesses disporting themselves amidst tromp l’oeil columns and pediments, the sky seamlessly merging with the painted walls…

…a magically painted rainbow cutting through the scene on the right.

The room was painted by Antonio Verrio, the celebrated Italian muralist,who was patronised by  Charles II (my hero)and James II, creating painted interiors at Windsor Castle and Hampton Court Palace but who later fell out of court favour with the accession to the throne of William III.

He stayed at Burghley for some considerable time, painting these magnificent rooms, becoming part of the 5th Earl of Exeter’s social circle, even joining an informal gentleman’s private drinking club known as the Little Bedlam Club, based at Burghley and whose other members included the portraitist Sir Godfrey Kneller and the Earl himself. The club was well named in Verrio’s case ( the rules of the club are still on display in the Billiard Room in the House) for he was(and still is!!) known for causing havoc in the nearby town of Stamford running up tremendous bar bills and gaming debts and “wenching” in a rather George Wickham-like manner. intriguingly he included a portrait of himself in this room, and here it is in close up below….

He is shown without his usual Baroque wig , sketching while sitting in the forge of the cyclops, which you can see to the right of the centre section, shown below the falling rainbow.

Obviously it was logically too hot to wear a wig in such circumstances…

Choosing such grand and Baroque interiors certainly contributed to the impression of the grandness  of Lady Catherine’s social situation in this film, emphasising the social gulf between Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy’s family and relations, though a modern interior for the time would have been more appropriate, in my opinion.

I should like to thank the Trustees of Burghley House Preservation Trust , Phillip Gompertz, the house manager  and the room Stewards for all their assistance , kindness and for granting me permission of photograph the Heaven Room. And also for allowing me to reproduce images 2-5 in this post. Burghley is a magical house, with stunning interiors( more on these in the next post) marvellous grounds  and above all a happy atmosphere throughout all the house and the parts of the estate open to the public. If you can,  do go and visit, for its welcome is always warm and the contents are always amazing to see, with something new to discover on every trip.

Next in this series, The Bow Room, used as Lady Catherine’s dining room.

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