Mistress of the House: Great Ladies and Grand Houses, 1670-1830 (book #89)

Rosemary Baird, 2003.

Baird is the Curator at Goodwood House. There’s an interview with her about this book here (RealPlayer).

Guardian review
Observer review.
Independent review.

All these reviews are mixed, a bit unfairly I thought, though amusingly a line is used on the back of the book from the Independent review wch is not meant terribly positively: “The information pours from her pen like water from the fountains of Versailles” – cutting the next line “There is material for a dozen books here, too much for one.”

Quotes Mary Delany: “This morning I have been busied with idle visitors … dull as cats and mute as fish” (ellipses in Baird).

I like Elizabeth Montagu’s letter to her friend Elizabeth Carter describing her architectural changes to Sandleford Priory, 1765:

Mr Adam, I assure you is an admirer of the Gothick, but he says it is too expensive for us, so my dear Athenian maid – you will be a la greque as you ought to be, & I assure you there is a stately owl who almost every night solemnly paces over the bowling green … Mr Adam will contrive us an admirable apartment below and two good apartments above the stairs. (ellipsis in Baird)

Because of the wall/1811 story, I’ve been a bit obsessed by eighteenth century wallpaper for a while. (No, I get out quite enough as it is, thanks.) There are a couple of interesting mentions of aristocratic women taking thought for the wallpaper of servants’ rooms. Here’s Mary Blount, Duchess of Norfolk, making notes in 1766 for the ongoing rebuilding and redecoration of Worksop Manor (see links one and two):

The attics were a source of some urgency: housing the servants was an essential priority before visitors could even be countenanced. The Duchess always thought of the occupants and their different levels in the hierarchy: one garret was to be hung with tapestries, and ‘Her Grace’s woman’s Room’ was to have an ‘english paper green and white mock flock’ and to be ‘same colour with the furniture’. In the attics on the south side there were some especially pretty schemes, such as ‘yellow Indian paper flower’d’ matched by ‘Yellow Damask bed window curtains and chairs’.

And here’s Elizabeth Montagu again, writing to her surveyor, Leonard Smelt, about his apartment in the new Montagu House (the site of wch I lived near for a while), asking him what paper his wife would like in her room:

one of the same pattern [as the fabric that Elizabeth Montagu had chosen for the room] or a grey, or one with flowers on grey ground, some of that sort I have seen very pretty

– bearing in mind of course that Smelt, who had been a tutor for the royal children, was not precisely a servant. (I think this is him, though Elizabeth Montagu isn’t mentioned; and I think he is the person this ode is to. Odd, the number of owls I’ve come across in writing these notes.)

Found some interesting stuff about the restoration of Worksop Manor Lodge, wch is evidently a different building to Worksop Manor, though probably built at the same time by the same architect (see here). There’s a vivid Telegraph article about the state it was in in 2000. In 2002 it was bought on impulse (see here and here) by a couple who had grown up in council houses, and who planned to restore it. The couple evidently did some work on the house but sold it in 2007, and there was an arson attack later the same year. There’s a brief note on Derelict Places showing the level of disrepair it was in in 2008 or later. (/digression)

The index is not very good – for instance, there are references to servants throughout the book, but only one reference in the index, to a three-page section wch doesn’t in fact contain much about servants. But the notes and bibliography are good, and the book has pictures.

Another digression. In failing to find a good link for “a la greque” I found this pome:

Mushrooms a la Greque

Half-way through the washing-up
I wondered if I’d invented you.

All the places we made love
have been pulled down
or converted into something healthier.

I burnt your letters, lost the ring
and, you not being photogenic,
I own no out-of-focus Polaroids.

Even last night is down the drain.
The mushrooms a la greque
an irritation in the u-bend

or something stirring in the colon,
urgent for release.

Sarah Maguire, from the ‘Back in Print’ collection Spilt Milk.

I like the equation of the end of a relationship with a dodgy meal.

And that really is the end of today’s digressions. No wonder I’m behind with blogging.


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