November 2017 – The Stately Homes of England Part 1
As many of you know, earlier this year I spent three glorious months in England and Scotland (with a side trip for a week to Belgium!). I thought I’d do a few My Favorite Things columns about some of the wonderful old houses I visited in pursuit of settings for my romances. If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll have already seen these but it’s always worth seeing a pretty photo again, isn’t it?
First up is glorious Audley End, a Jacobean mansion in Essex that is currently under the care of English Heritage. This one’s been on my list for ages but it’s quite difficult to get to via public transport. Luckily I have a wonderful writing friend in Anna Sugden who was kind enough to drive me there. It was spring so there were daffodils everywhere and the fruit orchard was a fragrant mass of blossom. The house is surprisingly small but is full of exquisite detailing, especially the plaster work in the major rooms. And the gardens are just lovely. We were lucky enough to do a two-hour garden work which gave me lots of ideas for high jinks in future stories.
My next stately home is one I feel very lucky to have seen as it’s only open a few days a year. Kingston Bagpuize (fondly called Bagpuss) near Oxford is one of those gorgeous dolls’ house manors that were such a feature of the late Stuart period. I went there with one of my favorite writers, the wonderful Nicola Cornick, who I think is even more obsessed by these glorious old houses than I am. The family still lives in the house which always adds an extra something to a visit – and clearly I felt at home. Check out all those pictures of me sitting around pretending I’m the lady of the manor. Again, quite a small house but packed with atmosphere and with beautiful gardens.
My final mansion for this installment is glorious Bowood House, the home of the Marquess of Lansdowne, and my companion in crime once again was Nicola Cornick.This lovely house in Wiltshire is classic Georgian with interiors by Robert Adam and a magnificent park designed by Capability Brown. It was only built a few years after Kingston Bagpuize but had a completely different feeling. Bowood was full of fascinating bits and pieces, including the costume Lord Byron wore for his famous portrait in Albanian Dress, and some lovely 18th century dresses and china. It’s also where Joseph Priestley discovered oxygen in 1774 (so we could all breathe easy during our visit). There’s a lovely gift shop and restaurant as well – I do like a good gift shop! One of the things that will blow your mind if you visit Bowood is that the substantial building is actually only a fraction of its original size. After the Second World War, three quarters of the building was demolished, leaving just one wing for the family to live in.