“One of the Loveliest Places Possible – Endsleigh” : an introduction

House closer

Today the original Endsleigh Cottage is a 16 bedroom luxury hotel.

“We saw yesterday one of the loveliest places possible – Endsleigh – the Duke of Bedford’s, about twenty miles from here”. Thus wrote Queen Victoria in her diary on 14 August 1856.

The result of the work of Humphry Repton and Jeffry Wyattville this truly beautiful estate on Devon’s border with Cornwall is still lovely today. It’s a private and secluded place which has been remarkably well-documented in the estate accounts still kept at Woburn Abbey home the Dukes of Bedford the original developers of Endsleigh.

The  Picturesque taste was popular in England between 1790 and 1840 and Endsleigh is one of its prime examples.

Repton first visited Endsleigh in 1809 and he encouraged the development of a more ‘natural landscape’ than the formality of Capability Brown. Repton proposed the buildings and Wyattville designed them. The main ‘cottage’ dates from 1810 and the subsidiary buildings 1812-1816.  Endsleigh was his first large scale work which was a collaboration with Georgina second wife of the 6th Duke of Bedford.

Whilst at Endsleigh I read her fascinating story in the book “Mistress of the Arts: The Passionate Life of Georgina, Duchess of Bedford” by Rachel Trethewey (Headline Review, 2003).

Endsleigh map

Within limits as a guest I could walk within the estate, down to the Tamar River and in the formal gardens close to the house. I also took tea one afternoon and enjoyed inspecting the various manmade features of the landscape which include a Swiss Chalet, a Shell Grotto and a Dairy. More about the Chalet and the Dairy in future posts.

Endsleigh map close-up

Stepping down the track from the house to the river a stream and muddy path made it impossible to go beyond the former swimming pool so I headed to the river bank and followed it downstream as far as possible. Eventually a notice on a gate prevents you going any further.

Former swimming pool

 The Former Swimming Pool

River Tamar

The peaceful River Tamar

 

Tamar path

River Tamar and Path heading downstream

I returned along the path until I found a track leading up, up, up the valley side to a footpath which I hoped might lead to the Swiss Cottage. It didn’t; but I did find the memorial stone commemorating the spot where the 12th Duke was found dead in 1953.

Memorial to 12th Duke of B

Memorial wording

I’d read about this tragedy in another book “Endsleigh: the memoirs of a riverkeeper” by Horace Adams and edited by Clive Murphy [Braunton : Merlin Books, 1994]. I had the impression that Adams spoke or answered questions about his long life working first for various Dukes of Bedford and later for the Fshing Syndicate that took over the ‘cottage’ when the Bedfords needed to raise Death Duties. Murphy just transliterated Adams’s words to the page.

Fishery Cottage

Fishery Cottage overlooking the Tamar Valley

I didn’t manage to get more than a glimpse of the Swiss Cottage but nearby is Fishery Cottage at one time the estate home of Horace Adams. It’s now up for sale. Horace would be staggered – by the price and by the elegance!

From the main drive it’s possible to go into the formal gardens that surround the Hotel. They are now still beautifully maintained by about half a dozen full- and part-time staff. I didn’t make a note of the numbers of gardeners during the Bedfords’ tenure but there were probably around 5o.

Shell Grotto

A rough path leads to The Shell Grotto set on a cliff high above the river.

The grotto

The Shell Grotto

House view

View of Endsleigh from Shell Grotto

With the rise of the Romantic Movement in the 18th century and the return of the great explorers, building grottoes became increasingly fashionable … Some took the form of artificial underground caves;  others were built above ground in some picturesque spot deep in the woods or overlooking a beautiful view. The chief ingredients remained the same. They must be dark, have water, preferably a cascade or spring and be decorated with shells and minerals. … The grotto at Endsleigh is a rather late example … It is believed that the original intention was for it to be decorated with shells and minerals from Devon and Cornwall. … Obviously this scheme was not carried out as the grotto is full of tropical shells and corals. … It has been lately carefully restored and other shells and minerals have filled the gaps where the originals had crumbled away.” Patricia, Viscountess Boyd, October 1984 [Adapted from the description in the grotto]

Garden bower

Tamar Valley from the Grotto

From the Grotto and formal gardens I returned to the main drive and behind the house are the former stables.

Stables

There’s a plaque in the stables commemorating the laying of the foundation stone by her four eldest sons.

Foundation stone

The Foundation Stone above the arch is nearly covered with ivy

Foundation stone words

There is an arboretum with little bridges crossing streams and which contains unusual trees from around the world. But after further garden exploration in the damp weather and on slippery footpaths with the light beginning to fade even in the early October afternoon it was a relief to take tea in the library at Endsleigh Hotel.

Time for tea

Time for Afternoon Tea

Elizabeth Gaskell’s House and Home

GH Blue Plaque

In the 28 September Arts and Books supplement to The Independent on Sunday I was pleased to read about the imminent opening in Manchester of the former home of Elizabeth Gaskell – more commonly known as the novelist Mrs Gaskell. Her Cranford books have been serialised on TV recently. But there is much much more to Mrs Gaskell and her writing than this rather cosy drama portrays. I recently read “Ruth” and for a novel written by the respectable wife of a Unitarian Minister it is really quite an eye-opener but an excellent read. Read a resumé here. In addition two excellent miniseries of her books ‘North and South‘ and ‘Wives and Daughters‘ were first broadcast on BBC TV in 2004 and 1999 respectively.

I straightaway headed to the house website and read this :

Tuesday, October 14, 2014 – 14:30 to 16:00

Book Launch: Carolyn Lambert ‘The Meanings of Home in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Fiction”

Book

Join us for the launch of Carolyn Lambert’s new book ‘The Meanings of Home in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Fiction’. Lambert explores how Gaskell challenges the convention of the Victorian home as a place of safety in her novels. In particular she illustrates her theme through the importance of homelessness in Gaskell’s work. Lambert’s book draws not only on the novels but also Gaskell’s letters and non-fiction writings and has recently been shortlisted for the Sonia Rudikoff Prize for the best Victorian book by a first time author.

A tour of the house and refreshments are included in the ticket price. Copies of the book will be on sale at a special price.

Gaskell House

84 Plymouth Grove, Manchester

So I booked a ticket for the talk and for the train and yesterday set off for Manchester. I’m afraid I don’t find Manchester any easy city to get around. Perhaps I don’t know it well enough. I eventually found a bus that would take me to Plymouth Grove and which  dropped me off outside number 84.

Welcome to Gaskell House

Carolyn’s talk took place in the Gaskell’s sitting room – yes, the very room in which Charlotte Bronte hid behind the curtains in order to avoid being seen by guests! Photography is allowed and we could sit on the comfy chairs, sofas and chaise longues. I was told that items covered in perspex were original to the house and had been gifted or lent by various donors or galleries and the rest of the furnishings and fittings were either of the period and style of the house during the time when the Gaskells had lived there or were reproductions.

Sitting room

The comfortable, relaxed sitting room

Carolyn began her talk with a resumé of Mrs Gaskell’s life. I have lifted this from the House website :

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell was born in 1810 and lived at 84 Plymouth Grove with her family from 1850 until her death in 1865.

“To begin with the old rigmarole of childhood…” Wives and Daughters

She was born as Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson in London in 1810. A year later, on the death of her mother, she was taken to live in Knutsford, Cheshire, with her aunt, Hannah Lumb. The arrangement was a happy one – she was to refer to her aunt as “my more than mother” and was to use Knutsford as the inspiration for her fictitious town of Cranford. Knutsford also became ‘Hollingford’ in Wives and Daughters.

In 1832 Elizabeth married William Gaskell, the assistant minister at Cross Street Unitarian Chapel in Manchester. Their third home was a large house near open fields – 42 (now 84) Plymouth Grove. Here they grew flowers and vegetables, and kept a cow, pigs and poultry. The House was always bustling and the family entertained a stream of visitors, including many eminent people. Gaskell connections included such people as the Wedgwoods, the Darwins and the Nightingales, but girls from the Sunday School also came to the house regularly, as did William’s students and fellow clergy.”

She then went on to discuss some of the aspects of home touched upon in the Gaskell novels as well as in Mrs Gaskell’s own life. (Interestingly, she was a keen traveller and some years spent only half the year at home). The home in the novels symbolises security, it’s where relationships develop, it’s a place for creativity and self-expression. But she also wrote about homelessness and the role of servants. Elizabeth Gaskell was ambivalent about Manchester and was torn between family and a longing for the rural environment. Her large house looks rather incongruous these days amidst modern buildings and areas of wasteland on Plymouth Grove but when she was living and writing here it was rural area and the house had a long garden stretching back down Swinton Grove but now built upon by flats.

There wasn’t time in the end to do the full tour – so I will have to return on another occasion and make a more full report of the house but I did peep into ground floor rooms :

Dining Table

The Dining Room

Gaskell writing desk

Mrs Gaskell’s Desk at one end of the Dining Room

William's study

William Gaskell’s Study

William portrait in study

William Gaskell

and refreshments were served downstairs in the basement tea room and bookshop (new and secondhand).

Tea room

The Tea Room

Pertinent quotations from Mrs Gaskell add a touch of humour

Quote 1

 

Quote 2

And in the Ladies Loos :

Ladies' quote

As the instructions for finding a bus that would take me back to Piccadilly Station didn’t work out I was thankful for one thing about Manchester – taxis with lights were easy to hail and thus I made my way back to the train and thence to my own home in comfort.

GH Rear view

Rear of Gaskell House

 

 

 

The Dovegreyreader Tent at Port Eliot Festival

NB This post was prepared back in July during the Port Eliot Festival

Ready for the off

Welcome to the Dovegreyreader Tent at Port Eliot Festival!

It’s an Aladin’s Cave of quilted, patchwork and knitted hangings and of crocheted and sewn bunting: all stitched with love and care.

Quilt

 All Her Own Work

What writer could not feel relaxed in these surroundings, plumped down on the comfy couch with DGR (DoveGreyReader, alias Lynne) quietly and humourously encouraging them to speak about their work? It’s a far cry from the usual literary festival round of upright chairs, microphones, spotlighting and a hushed audience. We did have microphones and the spotlight (sun) shone all the time. We weren’t able to turn down the heating but we offered our guests a fresh cup of tea served in china teacups.

Table

The Festival itself is not all literary. There’s music and food and comedy and a Flower and Fodder Show. The FFS is open to all attendees and beyond. We were encouraged to make a tea cosy for the Fortnum and Mason competition and ‘we’ submitted an entry to the Flower Show. Yes, I, even I, who can neither sew nor knit nor crochet made a tea cosy. And here it is:

The Cosy

My Tea Cosy … on a theme of Tea Sayings

And we had an entry in the Flower Show – the theme was One Lump or Two. Fran made this beautiful display with knitted contributions by Liz. Designer Jane Churchill awarded it Second Prize. Well done, Fran!

P1140344

Each of our guests received a well thought-out gift for taking part. Needless to say it was handmade with care and relevant to the topics discussed. Our Knit Angel, Liz, produced the knitted or crocheted gifts. In addition the ladies received a quilt block again in a design connected with their topic and made by Lynne.

P1140293

Helen Rappaport (author of Four Sisters) received Sister’s Choice Design

P1140292

Helen also received Four Sisters of her own

Comfortable, informal, relaxed  and inspiring – and all in glorious colour!

It is easily overlooked that what is now called vintage was once brand new!

NB This report was prepared back in July during the Port Eliot Festival

programme

And that includes me! I spent yesterday afternoon at Port Eliot. I went straight there on the train from Par Station. Alight St Germans for Port Eliot. From the station it’s a mere few steps to Never Never Land the Festival. For many months now I have been wondering whether I am going to “fit in” at a festival and whether I will really be any help as I neither knit nor crochet nor sew nor flower arrange. After one afternoon I still felt as if I was an observer and not a participant. Even though I had a wristband that said “Port Eliot Festival Crew”.

DGR Tent

I think I will be quite safe from full festival conversion in the Dovegreyreader Tent. I already knew a couple of people and have now met four new ones including the very welcoming and hospitable Dave, the Dovegreyreader’s husband, who makes the tea and hands out food and generally turns his hand to anything that is required of him.

Rear dove grey tent

The decorations were just finished when I turned up and it was time for a cuppa and sandwich – most welcome but I felt I had done nothing to deserve them.

There’s a big programme of events (in both meanings of the word); the festival bookshop is right next door to us; there is food everywhere; there are stalls selling vintage stuff and there will be events all over the place.

 

Vintage deckchairs

Get it here

 

Love Lane Caravans

 

More vintage stuff

 

More vintage

 

Old buttons and stuff

 

Old maps

Somewhere near the heart of Port Eliot House is the Big Kitchen – just as somewhere near the heart of the festival is a passion for food. Over the weekend, local chefs and foodie legends give talks and demonstrations, celebrating all aspects of food from planting and growing to prepping and eating.”

Vintage Airstream

 

Lemon Jelli

My first taste was a delicious Gumbo from Strawbridge & Son BBQ Smokehouse which I took back with me to the B&B.

BBQ Smokehouse

Also there are many many campers. From in front of the house you see a sea of tents of all shapes and sizes and colours … but I’m glad that’s not me. I will take the train back to my B&B each evening. Being vintage myself I am past that sort of thing!

Sunny PE

Port Eliot Festival

It is all great fun and I couldn’t wait to get back today and to get started …

Railholiday

As I made my way to the station I noticed you can even stay in a vintage railway carriage at St Germans station.

Great for Rail fans

 

 

 

In Daphne’s Corner of Cornwall

OS Map

On my walk ‘Strolling hand in hand with romance‘ I visited the church in which Daphne Du Maurier married Major Tommy “Boy” Browning in July, 1932. I’d visited the Daphne Du Maurier Centre in Fowey and seen one of her former homes nearby in my only previous visit to Cornwall in 2008.

 

Daphne Du Maurier Centre

The Literary Centre in Fowey in 2008

unnamed

Daphne Du Maurier’s former home (1942-1943) at Readymoney Bay

But I hadn’t realised that I would come across so many other  Du Maurier connections in my small corner of Cornwall and during such a short visit.

For a start when I drove into the village where I was staying I noticed that it features The House on the Strand in its sign. And when I asked my hostess about this she declared “This IS the house on the strand!”.

Tywardreath

I decided to find out more and came across this walk and the following :

Tywardreath means “House on the Strand”, as the village was once surrounded by tidal waters on all sides bar the east, and the ground beneath the church was a creek.

A Benedictine Priory was founded here soon after the Norman Conquest, and the possessions included the church, St Sampson’s Chapel at Golant and huge nearby estates. The monks were a corrupt, drunken and dissolute bunch as described in du Maurier’s [time travel] novel; knowing it was true adds to the fascinating reading.

Bumblebee Farm

Bumblebee Farm, alias The House on the Strand …

Priory Lane

… is on Priory Lane, Tywardreath

In fact archaeologists were visiting the site that very Saturday to ascertain exactly where the Priory stood and what remains might be found on the farm’s land.

Bumblebee

The House on the Strand from the Village Road

Then at the Festival I heard talk that Port Eliot House itself had been Daphne’s inspiration for Manderley the house featured in her most famous book : Rebecca.

Port Eliot front

Port Eliot House in Festival Spirit

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited. No smoke came from the chimney, and the little lattice windows gaped forlorn. Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me.” [Opening lines to Rebecca]

Port Eliot - rear view

Rear of Port Eliot House

Daphne Du Maurier was a prolific writer. She produced novels and volumes of short stories, five biographies and her own autobiography. The place Cornwall held in her heart and the inspiration it provided was captured in many of her books. Her special connection above all was this small estuarine area where by chance I happened to stay.

Four Speakers at Felixstowe Book Festival

Felixstowe Book Festival

This annual event takes place on the last weekend of June each year. Well, I say each year but last year was the first and this year the second time that the event has been held. In 2013 I was in Switzerland but it sounded good from the reports so this year I combined a visit with family in Norwich with a weekend  of books at Felixstowe in Suffolk.

“A weekend by the sea for all who love to read”. I’m afraid the weather in Felixstowe on both days was appalling – constant rain almost throughout – but at least I wasn’t regretting being inside – although picnic lunch outside in the hotel garden and walk to see the sea might have been nice!

Last year a couple of book group friends attended and this year a couple more: me and Diney Costeloe. Elaine (Random Jottings), who lives at nearby Colchester has been one of the volunteer helpers each year.

Diney Costeloe is a member of our group and a published author. It’s hard to write about a talk given by someone you know and like and whose books you believe deserve much more attention than they have been given. This was her first book festival talk although she has done author signings and book group discussions. Diney chose to talk about her ‘writing story’ with humour and anecdotes but also adding some of the frustrating struggles authors face trying to get published these days. I’ve read all her books and they are gripping stories each one brings to our attention an often neglected aspect of the First or Second World War.

The Ashgrove

theashgrove

Eight ash trees were planted in 1921 as a memorial to the men from the village of Charlton Ambrose who were killed in World War One. Now the Ashgrove is under threat from developers, and the village is torn between the need for more housing and the wish to preserve the memorial. Rachel Elliott, a local journalist, is reporting the story and uncovers a mystery… eight men and nine trees – in whose memory is the ninth tree and who planted it? As she researches the memorial a diary and letters are given to her and as the story they tell unfolds Rachel discovers her own links with the past and with the Ashgrove itself and this makes her determined to save the Ashgrove as a memorial to all the men who lost their lives.

A fictional telling of the shooting for desertion in WW1.

Death’s Dark Vale

Death's Dark Vale

“When Adelaide Anson-Gravetty discovers she is not who she thought she was, her search for her true family leads her to the convent of Our Lady of Mercy in St Croix in northern France.

The defeat of France brings German occupation to the village, the nuns are caught up in a war that threatens both their beliefs and their lives. Involved with the resistance and British agents, Adelaide and the sisters truly walk in the shadow of death as they try to protect the innocent from the evil menace of the Nazi war machine.” [source]

Fiction on the theme of the wartime resistance movement in France and involvement of British agents.

Death’s Dark Vale has links to some of the characters in The Ashgrove but both books can be read independently. In fact I read them in the opposite ‘order’.

Evil on the Wind

Evil on the wind

“It is Germany 1937. Fear and betrayal stalk the streets. People disappear. Persecution of the Jews is a national pastime. Her home destroyed, her husband arrested by the SS after an anti-Jewish riot, Ruth Friedman is left to fend for herself and her four children. Homeless, she is forced to live on her wits to protect her family. She alone stands as their shield against the Nazis. Where should she go? What must she do? Is Kurt alive? Wherever she turns, Ruth is faced with indifference, hatred, cruelty. Living with the rising tyranny of the Nazis and their determination to make their Reich Jew Free, Ruth and her family run a desperate race to escape the Nazi terror as it marches inexorably to its ‘final solution’ of the Jewish Problem.”

About the Kindertransport mission before war was declared on Germany.

One of the Festival themes was The First World War so I was interested to hear Jeff Taylor talk about The First World War in East Anglian Fiction. Like Jeff I’m interested in place in fiction. Here is what the Festival Guide says about Jeff and his theme:

“The First World War had a presence in East Anglian fiction almost as soon as the war began and this continues into the present day. From the work of H.G.Wells through to that of children’s author Michael Foreman, Jeff will summon a roll-call of imagined characters who reflect the reality of the time. Jeff wrote a long-running column on East Anglia’s rich literary heritage in the Eastern daily Press.”

Jeff told us that when first approached he only wanted to speak about R H Mottram’s ‘The Spanish Farm Trilogy’ but the festival had suggested he broaden the talk to include all East Anglian literature so towards the end, after his piece on “What if … ?” books, he rather rushed through more recent books with a 1st WW theme but managed to include Diney’s The Ashgrove which was partly inspired by Colchester’s Avenue of Remembrance.

Although I made a few notes of books to follow up Jeff offered to send a booklist to anyone who cared to leave there email address with him.

Alex Munroe is a jewellery designer and maker. I’d never heard of him but booked the talk on the strength of the enthusiastic blog piece that arrived from the festival a few weeks ago. He’s written ‘Two Turtle Doves: a memoir of making things’.

Two Turtle Doves

It’s out soon in paperback but I’ll be requesting the library buy it. He told us that he thought if his friend Edmund de Waal can write a book … then so could he (tongue in cheek). He was very self-effacing but also very funny.

Alex Munro signing

Alex Munroe meeting members of the audience and signing his book

 Elaine’s daughter Helen McCarthy spoke about her new book on women diplomats.

diplomats.jpg

“Helen’s book, Women of the world: The Rise of the Female Diplomat, is the first serious attempt to explore the place of women in British diplomatic life since the 19th century. The two World Wars cast women as new players on the international stage. In this fascinating talk Helen traces their influence and experiences as wives, patrons, experts and eventually as diplomats in their own right. Helen is Senior Lecturer in History at Queen Mary, University of London and previously was a Research Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge. Her first book was The British People and the League of Nations.” [Festival Notes]

All the events I attended were held in the Orwell Hotel and a couple of rooms were available for tea drinking and a local bookshop set a stall.

I stayed at a lovely old rectory B&B in the Suffolk countryside just beyond Sutton Hoo (NT) near Woodbridge.

The Old Rectory

 

A Sussex Tea Garden, a Long Man and a Landmark Priory : Litlington and Wilmington

Last year Simon over at Stuck-in-a-Book lent me his copy of  ‘Tea is so Intoxicating’ by Mary Essex which is one of several pen names of romantic novelist (and my brother-in-law’s Godmother!) Ursula Bloom.

One thing I especially loved about the book was the choice of chapter headings. Shall I quote them all here?

1. Tea for Two,and Two for Tea

2. I do like a Nice Cup of Tea

3. For all the Tea in China

4. The Cups that Cheer but not Inebriate

5. Everything Stops for Tea

6. Cold Tea may be Endured, but not Cold Looks (Japanese Proverb)

7. Tea and Scandal

Written in 1950 it is basically the story of a London couple who set up a Tea Garden in the South of England but the marriage is not a success.

P1130717

Anyway, when Fran told me that Tea Gardens were a particular feature of the East Sussex countryside around Laughton I knew, should the weather remain sympathetic, that I would have to take my Swiss friends to one of these minor Sussex institutions. So, after the walk on Sunday at Firle Beacon and the visit to Firle village we headed for Litlington Tea Garden.

Litlington tea garden

In the Tea Garden – there are a few sheltered places should the weather turn inclement

We were in luck – the day remained warm and dry. We ordered cucumber sandwiches to be followed by scones and jam and accompanied by plenty of tea.

cucumber sandwiches

From Litlington it was just a short drive to Wilmington. Here is the famous Long Man carved into the chalk hillside many centuries ago. Here also is Wilmington Priory another Landmark Trust property.

The Long Man Info

Wilmington Long Man

After tea and scones and jam we were ready for a little exercise so parked up in the small car park on the edge of Wilmington and walked about the half mile or so to the bottom of the hillside upon which he is marked out. The nearer you get to him the less of him there is to see. Still, it was a nice walk.

Approaching the Long Man

Approaching the Long Man

Close up

We Reach The Long Man

The enigmatic Long Man of Wilmington attracts many theories but provides little evidence to back them up. Now outlined in stone, he was formerly carved in the chalk of the hill. His first definite mention was as late as 1710, but the monument was old then. A picture drawn by bored monks, commemoration of the Saxon conquest of Pevensey, a Roman soldier or Neolithic god opening the gates of dawn. The ‘Long Man asking the traveller – like the Sphinx – to solve the dark mystery of its own origins’.” [Wealden Walks]

Wilmington Priory

Wilmington Priory

“The remains of a once highly regarded Benedictine Priory Wilmington Priory was a cell of the Benedictine Abbey at Grestain in Normandy. It was never a conventional priory with cloister and chapter, the monks prayed in the adjoining parish church where the thousand-year-old yews are testimony to the age of the site. The Priory has been added to and altered in every age and some of it has been lost to ruin and decay, but what is left shows how highly it was once regarded.” [Landmark Trust website]

Rear of Wilmington Priory

Rear of Wilmington Priory

Ruined Priory

The Ruined Priory

WP garden

Wilmington Priory Gardens

1000 year old yew

The 1,000 Year Old Yew Tree in the Churchyard