Tuesday, 25 April 2017

A-Z Challenge 2017 - Houses, some real, some not - 'U'

U - Uncle Tom's Cabin and ?

From Uncle Tom’s humble cabin to Brideshead Castle, fictional dwellings have often played a vital role in a novel’s success..

During the American Civil War, President Lincoln is reported to have said to an author, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!”

The author was Harriet Beecher Stowe; the book, once advertised on a poster as “The Greatest Book of the Age”, was Uncle Tom’s Cabin written by Stowe in an angry reaction to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.


 Full page illustration by Hammatt Billings for Uncle Tom's Cabin [First Edition: Boston: John P. Jewett and Company, 1852]. Shows characters of Eliza, Harry, Chloe, Tom, and Old Bruno.
George Orwell described Uncle Tom’s Cabin as “the supreme example of the ‘good bad’ book…..also deeply moving and essentially true.” 


Like the book multiple film versions have told the story of the fleeing slaves, the death of little Eva, and eventually the death of Uncle Tom at the hands of the evil Simon Legree. It is more difficult to visualise the cabin of the title as it only features in an early chapter of the book entitled “An Evening in Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. 

The description of it and its contents shows how sparse it was: “The cabin was a small log building, adjoining the master's house. The front, covered by a large scarlet bignonia and a multiflora rose, left hardly any of the rough logs visible. Inside, a bed in one corner was covered with a snowy spread; and by its side was a piece of carpeting; that corner was the drawing-room.

“In the other corner was a humbler bed, designed for use. Some brilliant scriptural prints and a drawn, coloured portrait of General Washington adorned the wall over the fireplace. A rough bench was situated in the corner. A table with rheumatic limbs, covered with a cloth, and brilliantly patterned cups and saucers, was drawn out in front of the fire.”

[The above text is taken from my article, 'Houses in Fiction', published in The Lady magazine in October 2008.]


And now to the ? I could have written about another house for U. Can you recognise it from this extract?

"Suddenly there shot along the path a wild light, and I turned to see whence a gleam so unusual could have issued; for the vast house and its shadows were alone behind me."

Monday, 24 April 2017

A-Z Challenge 2017 - Houses, some real, some not - 'T'

T - Tolethorpe Hall


Tolethorpe Hall, Little Casterton, Rutland
(By Dave Crosby - 22 June 2013 - CC BY-SA 3.0)
This is the venue of the Rutland Open Air Theatre, the 'home' of the Stamford Shakespeare Company.

This June they will be performing 'A Midsummer's Night Dream' and 'Much Ado About Nothing'.

The first manor house on the site was built by the Norman de Tolethorpe family in the 11th century The setting of the hall overlooks parkland with the River Gwash running near by.


I cannot say that I have ever visited the hall, but before we left the area in the early 1960s I had helped to clean out the Gwash further upstream. I also played cricket against the Tolethorpe Park team.

The Stamford Shakespeare Company acquired the then near derelict hall in 1977. I'll confess that we have also never been fortunate enough to attend any of their performances.

For more details of this year's programme visit http://stamfordshakespeare.co.uk/ and don't forget to book dinner in Tolethorpe Hall itself.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

A-Z Challenge 2017 - Houses, some real, some not - 'S'

S - Saddlers Cottage


Saddlers Cottage, High Street, Ketton
This is the house in the Rutland village of Ketton in which I was born, eighty years ago next month.

The house of grey Portland stone and roof of Collyweston slate still retains its old character. I remember it in the 1940s and 1950s when the front had a grey wooden fence, a garden gate and a double gate across the drive at the left. It was fun to swing over them from one side to the other.

On either side of a concrete path to the front door were lawns each with diamond-shaped flower beds in their centre. At nine or ten, I had to cut the edges and woe betide me if I snipped off any flowers. They were in more danger from flailing sticks used to swat bumble bees attracted by the asters.

A rambling rose covered the head-high, wire fence between the lawn and drive. A small gate from the drive near the house opened onto a stone path crossing the front to the lawns and flower beds. Right of the house was a short path from the pavement into the garden of the landlord; he kept a beady eye on us especially as our Airedale, Punch, had killed his cat when it trespassed on ‘his’ lawn.

The drive up the left continued to the back boundary fence and contained a gate through which you could enter a stonemason’s yard – but only if he wasn’t there; he wasn’t keen on kids pinching his apples and plums from trees which were covered in the dust from the monuments and gravestones he made.


Those houses you can see in the background on the left are where that stonemason's yard used to be, The tree on the left is the apple tree I used to climb.

As you can see the wooden fences have gone, replaced by those stone walls. There are no gates. It had no name.

Now a nameplate (not visible in the photo) proclaims it to be 'Saddlers Cottage'. My father's family were saddlers before the motorcar came along.

Friday, 21 April 2017

A-Z Challenge 2017 - Houses, some real, some not - 'R'

R - Ragley Hall

Ragley Hall, the ancestral seat of the Marquess of Hertford, is located in Warwickshire, eight miles west of Stratford-upon-Avon.


Ragley Hall, Alcester, Warwickshire
(18 August 2007, ex geograph.org.uk - by David Fiddes - CC BY-SA 2.0
Designed by Robert Hooke in Palladian style, it was built in 1680 for Edward Conway, 1st Earl of Conway.

Later its parkland was laid out by Capability Brown.

During WWI and WWII the hall was used as a military hospital.

!982 saw it used a location in the TV series of 'The Scarlet Pimpernel.' 

It 'became' the Palace of Versailles in the BBC Doctor Who TV series of 2006.

Ragley was also one of the earliest stately homes to be open to the public.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

A-Z Challenge 2017 - Houses, some real, some not - 'Q'

Q - Quarry Bank House

The Irish born industrial entrepreneur Samuel Greg built this house for his family in 1800.


Quarry Bank House
(Styal, Cheshire - 8 August 2013, ex geograph.org.uk, by David Dixon - CC BY-SA 2.0)
This year will be the first time the public will be able to explore the house.

In 1783 Samuel Greg had built a cotton mill, Quarry Bank Mill, on the River Bollin in Cheshire.

Quarry Bank Mill, Styal, Cheshire
(18 April 2015 by Francis Franklin - CC BY-SA 4.)
Quarry Bank Mill is one of Britain's greatest industrial heritage sites which shows how a complete industrial community lived.

A recent Channel 4 TV series entitled 'The Mill' was inspired by the Gregs and Quarry Bank.

The estate, Quarry Bank House and the Mill are now National Trust properties and open to the public.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

A-Z Challenge - Houses, some real, some not - 'P'

P - Preston Hall

Preston Hall and Park overlooks the River Tees at Eaglescliffe. The Preston Hall Museum and its surroundings in 100 acres of beautiful park land which has undergone a make-over as the result of a Heritage Lottery Grant.


In addition to the winter gardens at the right, the museum houses displays of art, which normally includes Georges de la Tour’s famous Dice Players, armour and social history. 

Exhibitions show visitors what life was like in the 1800s with craft workers in a typical local street of the1890s. The street includes the shop of John Walker from Stockton; Walker was the inventor of the safety match.


Permanent attractions include an aviary, riverside and woodland paths. The Butterfly World  contains hundreds of butterflies from around the world and even some meerkats.

You may ride on the Teesside Small Gauge Railway or take a trip on the river to Yarm and Stockton aboard the pleasure boat, the Teesside Princess.

The park is an ideal place to walk a dog. Other facilities include safe surface play area for children, crazy golf and a café.

The walks by the river and the Quarry Wood Nature reserve are havens for wild life. 


Grassy areas are perfect for picnics and if you have a piscatorial bent the banks of the Tees provide pleasant spots for plumbing its depths.

[This is an edited post from the first A-Z Challenge I entered in 2011]

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

A-Z Challenge 2017 - Houses, some real, some not - 'O'

O - Osborne House

"It's impossible to imagine a prettier spot."

That's what Queen Victoria said of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.


North face of Osborne House, IOW
(CC BY-SA 3.0) 
The Osborne estate was in the hands of the Blachford family from 1705. Robert Pope Blachford  adapted an existing house there in the period 1774 to 1781.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert initially leased that house from the Blachford family before buying it in 1845. As it was too small for them Albert commissioned the master builder and developer, Thomas Cubitt to advise him.

Work on a new house began in 1846, the old house was demolished in 1848 and the new Osborne House's main wing was completed in 1851.

Prince Albert died of typhoid in 1861 and Victoria never really recovered from his death. She was to die at Osborne in 1901.

Neither Edward VII nor any other royal family member wanted the upkeep of the house and estate so , in 1902, he gave Osborne to the nation.

The house and Victoria and Albert's private rooms were sealed on Edward's orders but have been open to the public, with Queen Elizabeth's permission, since 1954.

English Heritage became responsible for management of Osborne in 1986. Since then other parts have accessible to the public as well, including the beach where Victoria used to bathe.

{ The majority of this post has been sourced from English Heritage's Osborne site.}