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April 23rd 2014

The Englishman’s home is his castle …..

It was most certainly no academic lecture that Lynn gave us on Shakespeare’s (presumptive) birthday, but a most personal talk on castles, palatial houses, manors, converted abbeys – all those “stately homes” Victorian poet Felicia Hemans praised in the 19th century

  ’The Stately Homes of England,
How beautiful they stand,
Amidst their tall ancestral trees,
´O’er all the pleasant land’

and Noël Coward made fun of in the 20th

  To prove the upper classes
Have still the upper hand.

In fact, it was Lynn’s most personal tour mainly around Gloucestershire and Greater Manchester, very often connected with specific periods of her life.

he made us discover hidden jewels:

Did you know that Henry VIII’s last wife (right, the one who, according to the famous mnemonic device “divorced, beheaded “ .... SURVIVED) is buried in SUDELEY CASTLE near Winchcombe, Glos? When staying with her sister, Lynn used to visit it and admire the former queen’s tooth and lock in the castle.

Or did you know that the Empress Elizabeth of Austria spent a night at BRAMALL HALL near Stockport? Well Lynn discovered that at an early age, well before she discovered Austria. Be honest: did you know that the Gunpowder Plot is to have been planned in ORDSDALL HALL, Salford, Greater Manchester, near the church where Lynn’s grandmother was married and next to the place where her father was born?

Of course, you know that Edward II was killed (or was it an accident?) at BERKELY CASTLE, Glos and that the castle is the oldest to be continuously owned and occupied by the same family (since Plantagenet times!).

But you may not know that CASTLE HOWARD is the oldest “Baroque” building in England. Yet everybody knows it as the setting of the TV and the cinema editions of “Brideshead Revisited.”

To say nothing of those other places that have become world famous because they were used as locations for successful TV series: HIGHCLERE CASTLE, which we all call Downton Abbey or LYME PARK, which will forever stay the “Pemberley” of the 1995 BBC series Pride and Prejudice (that’s right – where Colin Firth as Mr Darcy took the famous swim in the pond!).

There was no TV and no cinema in the 19th century but Pre-Raffalite paintings have made KELMSCOTT MANOR near Faringdon, Oxfordshire equally famous: it is the background of the Water Willow painting by D.G. Rossetti.

Yet there are other places like FOUNTAINS ABBEY near Ripon, North Yorkshire, a ruin since Henry VIII had monasteries destroyed, but often visited by Lynn on bike rides and FOUNTAINS HALL next to it, built with the stones of the monastery and often visited by the present Queen’s family, when her parents were still Duke and Duchess of York.

Or there is NEWBY HALL, not far away, built by Sir Christopher Wren and once occupied by a Lord Grantham, later ambassador to Vienna, where his son was born.

And, to make it quite clear, it was not only nobility that had stately homes built but also merchants who became rich through the East India Company like the Cockrell brothers, which explains the Neo-Mughal architecture of their SEZINCOTE HOUSE in the Cotswolds. Sadly enough, though, some people’s riches were again based on the slave trade as was the case with Yorkshire West Indies trader Edwin Lascelles who became 1st Baron Harewood (HAREWOOD HOUSE near Leeds, West Yorkshire).

But what would castles be without ghosts? Well it was at CLEGG HALL near Rochdale that Lynn confessed to have developed her passion for history because of some wicked uncle still said to haunt the premises. And this is where she brought her talk to a close adding that she regretted not having been able to raise the modest amount of half a million pounds when the place was put on sale after some restoration work.

Thank you so much, Lynn, for all that information, which, of course, also included slides of the interiors as well as of the exteriors of the places dear to you. I think you have given us ideas for our next visits to Britain.

Annemarie Kirchner

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