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The BBC TV programme Bargain Hunt continued its series of items on Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire this week, with a look at a superb set of early 18th century chairs which were most probably commissioned by the Leigh family, who built and owned Stoneleigh, from the Cabinet Makers to George I, Moore and Gumley. The chairs are thought to date from 1715-1725.
These chairs, of carved walnut, have survived en suite, and are still on show for visitors to see today.
James Moore and his partner John Gumley specialised in richly carved pieces of furniture, particularly mirror frames and tables. James Moore was a highly skilled worker in gesso. This was a mixture of chalk and size that was built up in layers on a wooden ground, carved in low relief and gilded, and you can see his work in evidence on these chairs. Here you can see a close-up of the carved top rail of the chairs, which have been carved with the arms of the Leigh family, and their baron’s coronet…
The two arms chairs have beautifully carved arms,
that splay outwards,
and which had been gessoed and guided with bell flower motifs and which terminate in this deliciously elegant curlicue
The centre of the frame supporting the seat of the chairs is decorated with more of Moore’s gilding, in the form of the Leigh cypher:
But the glory of them to me, as a once keen needleworker, is the original early 18th century needlepoint which covers the seats and backs of all the chairs
You might also like to see another chair that was featured: an 18th century hail chair, plainly carved
but painted with the Leigh family crest, of a Unicron:
Jane Austen’s keen eye must surely have noticed these interesting chairs when she visited Stoneleigh in 1806. For those of you in the UK, the programme is available to see for the next five days on the BBC’s iPlayer and you can access it here.
Over the next few weeks- before the Winter finally leaves us free to travel about the country again, I thought you might like to undertake some virtual armchair travelling with me to places and houses with Austenian connections, and also to look at some books- new and old- that will aid us on our perambulations.
Today I want to share with you some shots of Stoneleigh Abbey from a recently BBC Bargain Hunt programme. Stoneleigh Abbey was inherited by Jane Austen’s kinsman, the Reverend Thomas Leigh in 1806 and she visited it with him when he went to “stake his claim”. I thought you might like to see them for they demonstrate Stoneleigh’s development, from medieval Cistercian Abbey to Palladian Palace.
We are very familiar I think with this view of the West Wing of the Abbey, below:
But this is, of course, only one aspect of the building: the rest is Elizabethan, and the remnants of the medical Cistercian Abbey are incorporated into the Elizabethan house, which abuts the new West Wing.
(©Frank Knight INternational)
This drawing, above, shows the lesser known view of Stoneleigh- from the air admittedly, but also from the north-eastern aspect. It clearly shows where the new West Wing, built between 1720 and 1726 by the architect Francis Smith of Warwick, joined the old 16th century house.
Here, below, you can see the North front of the Abbey, with the stone West Wing,
abruptly tacked onto the 16th century local sandstone building. The first Leighs to live at Stoneleigh were Thomas Leigh and his wife, Alice Barker. Here they, below, both are in portraits that are on show at Stoneleigh:
Alice was the heiress to Thomas’ business partner, Sir Rowland Hill. On the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 the Abbey had reverted to the ownership of the Crown, and was then given by Henry VIII as a gift to his brother-in-law, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. It was left neglected and by 1561 when Thomas Leigh inherited this and the Adlestrop estates through his wife, the Cistercian Abbey was a roofless ruin. The Leighs rebuilt it and enlarged it, and by 1626 the inventories of the estate show that the Abbey had grown to be the largest house in Warwickshire and, even though it was of a somewhat plain appearance, it had 70 hearths for fires. It was to this house that Charles I sought refuge when he was refused entry into nearly Covernty and which resulted in Thomas and Alice’s grandson, another Thomas, being ennobled by the grateful king.
This is a clearer picture of the Elizabethan North Wing, and gives a better impression of how the 16th century building looked prior to the 18th century additions.
This is the East Wing of the Abbey, and this was the part of the Abbey that Mrs Austen , Jane’s mother referred to in her famous letter written from Stoneleigh to her daughter -in-law, Mary in 1806:
The house is larger than I could have supposed. We can now find our way about it, I mean the best part; as to the offices (which were the old Abbey) Mr Leigh almost despairs of ever finding his way about them. I have proposed his setting up directing posts at the Angles.
So you can see, that prior to the improvements of the 18th century, the Abbey was large but not particularly grand in appearance. The additions made by the 3rd Lord Leigh transformed the buildings into a very different house.
One piece of the medieval abbey does survive today: the Gatehouse.
Even Humphrey Repton, engaged to effect improvements to the grounds and buildings by Thomas Leigh in 1809, was impressed by its antiquity: he wanted it retained for
…circumstances which add much to that impression so grateful to those who delight in whatever is ancient and venerable and therefore worthy to be retained in these days of upstart innovation ..
Which is an interesting sentiment from the man we presume Jane Austen was criticising when he was recommending that the avenues at Mr Rushworths’ friend, Smith’s estate were to be cut down:
Mr. Rushworth, however, though not usually a great talker, had still more to say on the subject next his heart. “Smith has not much above a hundred acres altogether in his grounds, which is little enough, and makes it more surprising that the place can have been so improved. Now, at Sotherton we have a good seven hundred, without reckoning the water meadows; so that I think, if so much could be done at Compton, we need not despair. There have been two or three fine old trees cut down, that grew too near the house, and it opens the prospect amazingly, which makes me think that Repton, or anybody of that sort, would certainly have the avenue at Sotherton down: the avenue that leads from the west front to the top of the hill, you know,” turning to Miss Bertram particularly as he spoke. But Miss Bertram thought it most becoming to reply—
“The avenue! Oh! I do not recollect it. I really know very little of Sotherton.”
Fanny, who was sitting on the other side of Edmund, exactly opposite Miss Crawford, and who had been attentively listening, now looked at him, and said in a low voice—
“Cut down an avenue! What a pity! Does it not make you think of Cowper? ‘Ye fallen avenues, once more I mourn your fate unmerited.’”
He smiled as he answered, “I am afraid the avenue stands a bad chance, Fanny.”
Mansfield Park, Chapter 6
As Sotherton was most decidedly based on Stoneleigh, you can see how very important was that visit Jane Austen made there in 1806, and also that its blend of ancient and modern-ish buildings must have impressed themselves on Jane Austen’s imagination.
Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire was, in my opinion, one of the most important houses Jane Austen ever visited. Instead of staying in a modest country gentleman’s seat, such as Godmersham, when she visited Stoneleigh in 1806, she was catapulted into a much higher sphere: Stoneleigh was and still is one of the architectural wonders of the 18th century. Even the stern Mrs Austen was wondering in her admiration of it:
The house is larger than I could have supposed. We can now find our way about it, I mean the best part; as to the offices (which were the old Abbey) Mr Leigh almost despairs of ever finding his way about them. I have proposed his setting up directing posts at the Angles. I expected to find everything about the place very fine and all that, but I had no idea of its being so beautiful.
(See : Letter to Mary Austen, James Austen’s wife, August 13th, 1806)
I think its influence onJane Austen and her writings was incalculable and very important. No longer lived in by the Leigh family- it has been converted into a series of separate dwellings – the state rooms are still on show to the public during the visiting season. The BBC show Bargain Hunt visited the Abbey last week, and I thought you might like to see some shots from its detailed description of the plaster decoration in the Saloon.
The theme for the plaster decoration was the Labours of Hercules, a fittingly neo-classical subject for the Hall, as it was then called, when it was being decorated in the 1760s.
The ceiling shows the infant Hercules strangling the snakes which Juno had sent into the room where Hercules and his twin brother, Iphicles were sleeping.
Over the six subsidiary doors in the Saloon
are roundels which
depict the individual labours of Hercules.
The decoration over the the North Fireplace( there are two in the room) depicts the theme of Choice.
It shows Hercules , standing against a tree in the garden of the Hesperides.
Will he decide to follow the difficult and craggy path to the Temple ?
Which is being indicated by the sternly helmeted figure of Virtue, or,
will he succumb to the easier path and seductive comforts offered by the voluptuous figure representing Sloth
who points to a Palladian mansion where all earthy pleasures are surely to be found…
The Herculean theme is continued in the fireplace itself.
The caryatid supports are figures of Hercules
wearing his lion skin. It is a wonderful room and I have always enjoyed visiting it. Being able to look at the magnificent plasterwork in detail like this, is a treat.
If you go here you have a few more days left in which to see the programme-on the BBC iPlayer, for mostly UK residents only, I fear. The Stoneleigh items appears approximately 20 minutes into the programme.
The Chapel at Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire, above, has long been considered to have been Jane Austen’s inspiration for the chapel at Sotherton in Mansfield Park. She visited the great mansion in 1806, which was inherited by her cousin, the Reverend Thomas Leigh, and I have written about her visit and the grounds before, here and here.
The Chapel and its communion table were featured in Friday’s edition of Bargain Hunt on BBC One and I thought you might like to see some pictures of both the Chapel and the table, taken from that programme.
The Chapel is a most beautiful, austere double height room, with very little ornament, as you can see. This is the view from the family gallery. It is all very similar to the way Mr Rushworth’s Sotherton’s chapel was described in Mansfield Park:
Fanny’s imagination had prepared her for something grander than a mere spacious, oblong room, fitted up for the purpose of devotion: with nothing more striking or more solemn than the profusion of mahogany, and the crimson velvet cushions appearing over the ledge of the family gallery above.
No wonder then that Fanny, who had been imagining something more Gothic and dark, full of banners and ancient tombs, was rather disappointed in the cool elegance of the Chapel at Sotherton:
“This is not my idea of a chapel. There is nothing awful here, nothing melancholy, nothing grand. Here are no aisles, no arches, no inscriptions, no banners. No banners, cousin, to be ‘blown by the night wind of heaven.’ No signs that a ‘Scottish monarch sleeps below.’”
“You forget, Fanny, how lately all this has been built, and for how confined a purpose, compared with the old chapels of castles and monasteries. It was only for the private use of the family. They have been buried, I suppose, in the parish church. There you must look for the banners and the achievements.”
“It was foolish of me not to think of all that; but I am disappointed.”
Mansfield Park, Chapter 9
In 1763 Stoneleigh’s owner, the 5th Lord Leigh, decided to refurbish his mansion and engaged William Gomm, the cabinet maker of Clerkenwell in London, to provide 150 new pieces of furniture. The finest piece he made for the house was the communion, or altar table designed to stand below the beautiful reredos in the chapel, which can be seen below.
The table, which was created and delivered to Stoneligh in 1764, is now in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, but is now on long term loan to Stoneleigh so that it can be seen and appreciated in its original setting:
The table is made of mahogany, thickly veneered over an oak carcass: you can see the underside of the table, below
It is beautifully carved…
in the rococo style…
The legs are festooned with garlands of flowers…
and all four legs are carved form a solid block of mahogany which would originally have been 15 inches wide, 15 inches deep and 32 inches high.
The central section of the table’s apron, which hangs below its top surface, is dominated by a beautiful carving of a cherub, which very cleverly echoes the plaster-work cherubs
that decorate the Chapel. These are set around the organ which can be seen in the first floor family gallery. which over looks the main body of the chapel. There were made by the Worcester stuccoist, John Wright when the chapel was first built.
The intricate decoration on the legs and apron of the table was very calculatedly done: it was meant to be seen below, from the level of the floor, as people would have been kneeling before it, in order to take the sacrament. The table would have been elevated on the slight dias as it stood before the reredos. The view the congregation would have had therefore was considered very carefully by Gomm.
The bill for all the items of furniture made by Gomm is still in existence.
The total cost of the 150 pieces of furniture was an astounding £818 and 9 shillings…
and we know that the table cost £31, 10 shillings. This is an astounding amount, especially when you consider that in 1806 Jane Austen inherited £50 from a friend of the Leigh Perrots, and was consequently able to live well on that amount all through 1807, even being able to afford the luxury of hiring a piano for her use when she lived in Castle Square, Southampton. Taking all this into consideration, you can begin to gauge just how expensive that table was.
But it is virtually certain that Jane Austen would have seen this table and may even have taken communion from it, as the family used the chapel during the time they stayed there. The evidence from Mrs Austen’s letter to her daughter-in-law, Mary dated August 13th, 1806 and which gives a great detail about their visit, tells us that:
At nine in the morning we meet and say our prayers in a handsome chapel, the pulpit &c now hung with black…
If you would like to see the original programme you can do so via the link on this page, if the BBC iPlayer is available to you. The programme is available to view for the next five days.
Last week we visited part of the grounds of Stoneleigh Abbey, and now we continue our tour with a glimpse into the walled kitchen garden.
The gates to the garden are in need of some restoration and when I visited the walls, suffering from damp, were also were being repaired.
The ever practical Mrs Austen, writing to her daughter-in-law Mary, was very impressed by the kitchen garden and the vast amount of soft fruit it produced:
I do not fail to spend some time every day in the kitchen garden where the quantities of small fruits exceed anything you can form an idea of.
She was, understandably,a little distressed by the waste:
This large family with the assistance of a great many blackbirds and thrushes cannot prevent its rotting on the trees.
The kitchen gardens are now the private gardens of the owners of the many homes in the Abbey.
There are over five acres of walled gardens,
The garden contains 5 acres and a half.
all subdivided by walls to provide ample micro-climates and space for the growing of fruits; pear,apple and soft fruits would have been trained along the walls, and also grown in hot houses.
Her you can see how the land sweeps suddenly away from the walled garden and slopes down towards the Avon. This photograph was taken from the first gate to the walled kitchen garden
As was the case with many of these very grand estates, they were virtually self sufficient in food, and while the kitchen garden provided green stuffs , vegetables and fruit, there were stew ponds, for fish , venison from the deer in the park, dovecotes,etc. Mrs Austen simply marvelled at it all:
The ponds supply excellent fish, the park excellent venison; there is also great plenty of pigeons, rabbits, & all sort of poultry, a delightful dairy where is made butter, good Warwickshire cheese & cream ditto. One man servant is called the baker, he does nothing but brew & bake. The quantity of casks in the strong beer cellar is beyond imagination: Those in the small beer cellar bear no proportion, tho’ by the bye the small beer may be called ale without a misnomer.
And that ends Mrs Austen’s impressions of the Abbey grounds.
But there are other things to see, if we retrace our steps back to the gatehouse. The Conservatory, above and below, was a 19th century addition to the house, looking over the Avon, and which can now be hired for receptions or weddings.
It is surrounded with slightly municipal style gardens which are also later additions to the grounds and were not there when the Austen ladies visited.
Walking back towards the gatehouse you can clearly see the startling junction of the West Front of the house with the old Abbey buildings.
Humphrey Repton embellished them with the pointed finials and balls made from the local sandstone.
If you compare it to this engraving of the Gatehouse dating from 1817, you can clearly see that very little has changed from the time Jane Austen visited….I should imagine it appealed to her sense of history, and her liking for ancient buildings…
I think Stoneleigh had an enormous effect on her as a writer, introducing her to the grandeur and the practical intimacies of the workings of a very great estate. Far grander than Godmersham, for example.
This is the other side of the gatehouse, the one you see as you approach the Abbey….
To complete our tour we shall visit the Stables which were not built at the time of Jane Austen’s visit.
The Stables and Riding school were built between 1815 and 1819 and were designed by the Birmingham architect,Charles Samuel Smith.
They are built in a semi circular horseshoe pattern, which was influenced by the design of the kennels at Belvoir Castle,which were and are used to house the hounds of the Belvoir Hunt.
No horses are kept here now…..but at the time they were built they were at the cutting edge of stable design.
With individual loose boxes, a covered riding school and space for housing carriages.
This is an old photograph of the very grand Leigh carriage which would have done service from Stoneleigh.
I do hope you have enjoyed it.
In the dark days of winter it is sometimes pleasant to look back on summer travels. Last August I was lucky enough to make another trip to Stoneleigh Abbey, in Warwickshire, the ancestral home of the Leigh family. Continuing the Jacobite theme begun by Sunday’s post on Charles I, I thought it was the opportune time to share some of my photographs with you.
Stoneleigh Abbey is a magnificent building, still surrounded by a park and grand gardens, some part of which would still be familiar to Jane Austen should she visit today.It is no longer the home of the Leighs, and is, in fact, now made up of a series of very smart ,multi-occupancy dwellings.
I propose not to go into much of Stoneleigh’s history here-I’ll explore that in another post- but today and in the next post I thought we could take a tour of the grounds in the company of Mrs Austen.
When Jane Cassandra and Mrs Austen visited Stoneleigh in 1806 it was to accompany Mrs Austen cousin, the reverend Thomas Leigh to claim his mighty and slightly unexpected inheritance of the Stoneleigh estate. The Austen ladies had been visiting him at his home at the Rectory at Adlestrop in Gloucestershire when he heard he ought to go and stake his claim to the estate on the death of Mary, sister to Edward, the fifth Lord Leigh, who had died in 1786. As Jane and Cassandra Austen were travelling together, no letters passed between them, so we cannot read their impression of the visit. But there is still in existence a rather marvellous letter from Mrs Austen to her daughter-in-law, Mary,James Austen’s wife, that is full of lively detail .I’m going to quote relevant parts of the letter as we virtually stroll around the grounds.
On approaching Stoneleigh from the Coventry to Warwick Road, you first see the two low built, Grecian style lodges at the entrance to the Stoneleigh estate, below. They were not built when Jane Austen visited: they were later additions to the estate in 1814. Thomas Leigh commissioned Humphrey Repton to improve Stoneleigh as he had done at Adlestrop along with his nephew James Leigh, and there is one of Repton’s famous Red Books still in existence there, complete with all his beautiful plans, though some were not carried out-the subject of another post.
The approach from the lodges leads to a very elegant bridge which was designed by Repton and again would not have been known to Jane Austen.
A magnificent avenue of trees leads to the medieval gate house.
The gatehouse is a relic of the Abbeys origins. As you have probably guessed from its name Stoneleigh was originally an abbey, inhabited by an order of Cistercian monks.More on this fascinating building in the next post…
Mrs Austen seems to have been quite taken aback by the size and grandeur of her cousin’s new surroundings:
The house is larger than I could have supposed. We can now find our way about it, I mean the best part; as to the offices (which were the old Abbey) Mr Leigh almost despairs of ever finding his way about them. I have proposed his setting up ‘directing posts’ at the Angles…
This is the famous West Front of the house,which was designed by the equally famous architect, Francis Smith of Warwick. No wonder Mrs Austen was suitably impressed.
This is an odd sort of letter. I write just as things come into my head. I will now give you some idea of the inside of this vast house, first premising that there are 45 windows in front (which is quite strait with a flat roof) 15 in a row.
You go up a considerable flight of steps (some offices are under the house) into a large hall…
I expected to find everything about the place very fine and all that, but I had no idea of its being so beautiful. I had figured to myself long avenues dark rookeries and dismal yew trees, but here are no such melancholy things.
The first two tall windows on the first storey on the left of the house above are now in the State Bedroom where Queen Victoria was entertained later in the 19th century, but this was the room most favoured by the Austens when they were staying there because of the view it afforded down to the river Avon.
….on the right hand the dining parlour, within that the breakfast room, where we generally sit, and reason good ’tis the only room (except the chapel) that looks towards the river.
The Avon runs near the house amidst green meadows bounded by large and beautiful woods, full of delightful walks.
The elegant stone balustrades facing the river were not in existence when Jane Austen visited….
The view to the other , the facing bank shows some of the plantations,and how they were cleared by Repton to create interesting viewpoints.
Here is a video of the sweep from the river up to the house, showing the water meadow on the facing bank. It was rather windy when I visited- you are forewarned
The Avon winds though the grounds….
and it is indeed very pleasant to walk through the shade of the trees on the riverside…
Here is another video of this part of the river side, again it was terribly windy so I do apologise in advance for the noise …
We walk a great deal, for the woods are impenetrable to the sun even in the middle of an August day.
The boathouse is a Victorian addition and would not have been at Stoneleigh when Jane Austen visited…and it is badly in need of repair….
If you leave the river and return towards the house and the Walled Kitchen Garden you come to one of Humphrey Repton’s garden buildings. It is of a rustic style,with a thatched roof,and was being repaired last summer…
The pattern of the tracery of the internal ceiling made from twigs and branches carefully cut and placed is very pleasing…
It boasts a very rustic bench running along the internal wall…..
Behind the rustic garden building are the walls of the kitchen garden….
Which we will consider in more detail in the next post…..
Today is the 30th January and in Jane Austen’s lifetime it was known in the Anglican Church Calendar as the Feast Day of St Charles the Martyr. It referred to the beheading -the regicide- of King Charles the First in 1649.
This is The Calender of Saints and Feats Days from my copy of The Book of Common Prayer dating from 1761 and printed by John Baskerville for Cambridge University.
Jane Austen was a fierce Jacobite, as readers of her History of England know quite well. She was a strong supporter of the Royal House of Stuart, of which Charles I was a leading member. Indeed it was though his support of Charles I ,who was rescued entry into the city of Coventry that Jane Austen’s ancestor, Thomas Leigh of nearby Stoneleigh, shown below, was ennobled in July 1643, becoming thereafter known by the title, Lord Leigh. There can be no doubt, surely, that Jane Austen’s strong Jacobite feelings were influences by her family history.
The beheading of King Charles was seen by many of his supporters as a form of religious martyrdom. The Cult of King Charles the Martyr began not long after his death, with relics of his body being preserved and some of them were later reputed to have performed miracles and to possess healing powers. As Sophie Dicks wrote in the catalogue to an exhibition of relics of King Charles held at the jewellers,Wartski last year, The King’s Blood, and which she curated:
There are varying accounts of the crowds reaction to the execution( of King Charles-jfw) but what is certain is that relics were gathered and in the years following the king’s death his supporters would ascribe healing powers to them. Use of the relics was seen as a substitute for the healing power of the King’s Touch in life. There was certainly a brisk trade in vials and boxes said to contain his blood and hair varying from the magnificent to the humble and memorials were fashioned from even the most obscure of material including peach stones…Andrew Lacey in his study of the cult of King Charles the Martyr has identifed the king as ” the only post-Reformation monarch to be credited with healing powers after his death‘
Here is a memorial ring dating from the 17th century,which commemorates King Charles.
You can see that the reverse of the ring, below, is enamelled with a skull and the date of his death as 30th January 1648 due to the operation of teh Julian and not teh Gregorian calendar, ,and also has a quotation from Romans 8:37 “More than conquerors“.
Jane Austen as a devout Anglican would have taken part in the day of religious ceremonies commemorating his death. Before we look at the wording of these services, it might be a good idea to remind ourselves why he was commemorated.
The Monarchy was restored in 1660 when King Charles’ son, Charles II, resumed the throne after the Interregnum. Charles I was canonised ( he was the last saint to be canonised by the Anglican church) and his name was added to the ecclesiastical calendar for the anniversary of his death, so that services could then be held to commemorate his death. The idea was to create a day that could be observed as a day of national mourning for the dead king who was considered by his supporters to have died in defence of his religion.
This situation continued until 1859 when the feast day was removed from the Calender in the Book of Common Prayer. The Society of King Charles the Martyr was formed not long after this took place and the aims of the society are to work for the reinstatement of the feast day in the Book of Common Prayer. As their website declares their main aim is to :
Work for the reinstatement of the Feast of S.Charles in the Kalendar of The Prayer Book from which it was removed in 1859 without the due consent of the Church as expressed in Convocation (The Feast was restored to the Kalendar in the Alternative Service Book of 1980 and a new collect composed for Common Worship in 2000).
Here are the pages from the 1761 Book of Common Prayer showing the forms of Morning and EveningPrayer to be said in commemoration of Charles I, as they were said during Jane Austen’s life time. Do remember you can enlarge all these pages by simply clicking on them in order to read the fine print:
The day and services are still commemorated by members of the Society of St Charles the Martyr today. I thought you might be interested to see them,as they are rarely performed today.
A treat for you all ( at least I hope it is accessible to all…..fingers crossed, but I am never quite sure of the vagaries of the workings /accessibility of the BBC iPlayer). Today on Radio 4 there was a delicious programme presented by Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen on Humphrey Repton and the English countryside.
With thoughtful comments by Stephen Daniels of Nottingham University ( author of THE most authoritative book on Repton) and Jenny Uglow, this is a great 15 minute programme giving an over view of Repton and his attitude towards the countryside and his clients. Here, below, is one of Repton’s illustrations showing the before and after views from his own cottage from his book Fragments on the Theory and Practise of Landscape Gardening(1816)
Jane Austen is referenced: mainly because she referenced Repton in Mansfield Park, having second hand experience of Repton and his ways after he was instructed by the Leighs at Adlestrop in Gloucestershire,
and at Stoneleigh, in Warwickshire, below, which I visited again this summer.
Luckily, in my opinion, his excessive schemes for Stoneleigh were not all executed, see the scheme from the Red Book Repton prepared for the Leighs, below-do note the Gilpinesque grouping of cattle in the foreground to the left of the watercolour….
…but we shall return soon to Repton, Stoneleigh Abbey and Adlestrop as I think its very interesting to see exactly how he altered both places.
In the meantime, here is the link to the programme and I do hope you enjoy it. You have 7 days left in which to listen again :)
Have you ever wondered what the great State Bed of Stoneleigh Abbey looked like, especially after reading Mrs. Austen’s atmospheric description of it contained in her letter to her daughter in law, Mary Austen, wife of James? She wrote the letter during her stay at Stoneleigh( along with Jane and Cassandra) in the summer of 1806,and the letter is dated Wednesday, August 13th 1806:
On the left hand of the hall is the best drawing room, within that a smaller; these rooms are rather gloomy brown wainscoat and dark crimson furniture; so we never use them but to walk thro’ them to the old picture gallery. Behind the smaller drawing room is the state bed chamber, with a high dark crimson velvet bed: an alarming apartment just fit for a heroine; the old gallery opens into it; behind the hall & parlours is a passage all across the house containing 3 staircases & two small back parlours.
I adore the way Mrs Austen lets her fancy run away with her, imagining Gothic Horrors of the Catherine Morland variety for the occupant of the great bed in the
rather alarming apartment
That bed no longer exists, so we are left to our own imagining. Would it look like this terrific creation, newly restored and returned to its original home at Boughton House, the Northamptonshire home of the Duke of Buccleuch?
Or this one, used as Mr Darcy’s bed at Pemberley in the BBC’s1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and which can still be found at Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire, and is very stately as it was used by Queen Adelaide?
It certainly would not have resembled this one- used for Queen Victoria’s visit to Stoneleigh in 1858.
This room was not the State Bedchamber at Stoneleigh to which Mrs Austen referred: it was then the breakfast parlour and was frequently used by the party at Stoneleigh it was the only one of the rooms which afforded wonderful views down to the River Avon:
…on the right hand the dining parlour, within [that is, beyond the dining parlour-jfw] that the breakfast room, where we generally sit, and reason good ’tis the only room (except the chapel) that looks towards the river.
It may however have resembled one of these:
Queen Caroline’s State Bed of 1715 or this, below, the Raynham Hall State Bed which was acquired for Hampton Court Palace in 1993
And it has to be admitted that it looks very similar, in construction, to the bed in the Blue Bedroom at Belton House, used also as Mr Darcy’s bed at Rosings in the BBC’s 1995 adaptation:
Both of these beds -Queen Caroline’s and the Raynham bed- are written about in minute detail in the book I am reviewing today, State Bed and Thorne Canopies: Care and Conservation by Val Davies (which to be honest could have been alternatively titled: Everything You Have Ever Wanted to Know about State Beds But Were Afraid to Ask).
I do realise that recommending this book might be a step too far for some of you. It is a very,VERY detailed and specialised book about the care and conversation of state beds and throne canopies -which are all installed at Hampton Court Palace or Kensington Palace. More of a care manual than anything else. And of course not many of us have to care for these objects on a daily basis….But if you have ever seen one of these magnificent constructions and wondered how they are put together, how the sculpted head-boards covered with damasks, passementerie and feather are created, how the curtains and tassels are preserved and cleaned, then this book is for you.
Val Davies the author, worked in the Textile Conservation Studio at Hampton Court Palace for 20 years, and while there learnt how to care for the magnificent structures. And also how to restore them after the fire at Hampton Court in 1986 damaged some of them in a rather desperate way. The excellent text is clear, and the illustrations (particularly the line drawings in the glossary section) allow you to understand exactly how these beds were designed, made, dismantled and installed in the palaces.
A short history of the role of state beds in country homes and palaces is included but the majority of the book explains, example by example, and step by step, how the seven state beds and three throne canopies are made and how they can be preserved for the future. The photographs (which could have been a little larger-this is my only gripe about the book) are beautiful. And sometimes give you glimpse of the bed that only the occupant would have seen, as below, where we are shown a view of the inside of the tester in Queen Charlotte’s State Bed, which dates from 1772-78.
The factual basis to the fairy tale of The Princess and the Pea is finally revealed, with the revelation that many, many mattresses are used in these stately beds. This photograph from the book shows the four mattresses that make up the sleeping area of Queen Charlotte’s State Bed.
Bed bugs ( a common complaint of the late 18th /early 19th century housewife if the evidence of the remedies to deter them in my cookery books of this era is any thing by which to judge) are also dealt with. We learn that the Royal Household in 1814 employed one Mr Tiffin as
“Bug Destroyer to his Majesty and her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales.”
That does take the gilt off the gingerbread slightly doesn’t it? Ah, well…To conclude, this is a very different book from the norm, but a fascinating one and one I would recommend to any of you who have been entranced by these magnificent constructions still to be found in many an English country house today. Reading it will allow you to indulge your fancy and envisage which of these amazing beds the State Bed of Stoneleigh Abbey would have resembled.