Saturday, March 7, 2015

Stradbroke Castle, Part 1

So in my last post, I wrote about being careful not to over-describe things, and instead letting the reader's imagination do the work. I hope that has been the case not only for characters, but also for the spaces they inhabit.

Of all the spaces, none, of course, could be more important than Pemberley, and it's Pemberley that I've put the most active effort into not describing, beyond what Austen has already given us. I actually have a floorplan of Pemberley that I've mocked up, because I came to realise that in order for me to be consistent as a writer, speaking of a large house, I needed to ensure that I had the geography straight in my own head. Rooms exist, and they are gotten to by going through other rooms (this would have been the era before hallways in the main public spaces, although I have put them in the residential wings), but beyond that, a brief description of the library (basically establishing it as your "standard" amazing old library), and the colour of two drawing rooms, I have tried to be vague and leave Pemberley to everyone's imagination, because I suspect we all have a Pemberley that exists in our own heads, and my last wish is to contradict it.

But I do happen to have a real interest in the evolution of English architecture and interior design. So I hope you all will forgive me a little indulgence at Stradbroke Castle.

Stradbroke is based on two different real-world locations: Skipton Castle, in the lovely town of Skipton, and Speke Hall, outside of Liverpool. Skipton Castle is a rarity in a land filled with English Heritage-managed ruins: a fully intact medieval castle. Interestingly, though, although the castle survived and kept its roof (the primary reason for its survival), the family's living area migrated to a "new" Tudor-era addition beside the castle.

A mix of the medieval (left) and Tudor (right) sides of Skipton Castle. 

I liked the idea of this old castle that had at some point been essentially abandoned by the family, used perhaps still for its kitchens and some servants quarters, but left behind for its primary living spaces. But I decided to mix it instead with a timber-frame house more like Speke Hall:

The spectacular timber-frame facade of Speke Hall. 

In the story, Georgiana goes to the Great Hall, which would have been a staple of either a medieval or Tudor house of this size, and cannot find her family there. She is informed by a butler that they are in the drawing room, which was newly decorated by Lady Ellen and her niece.

Here is where we come into a tremendous change in interior decoration. Those tremendous great halls, where lords of the manor feasted in front of those who served them gave way to smaller, more intimate spaces, but still ones which were heavy, dark, and tremendously masculine, even if there were fewer dead animal heads on the walls.  

At Speke Hall, a good example of these dark, Jacobean interiors, where heavy wood panelling is complemented with heavy wood furniture.

When Georgiana finds her family in the newly redecorated drawing room, it is decidedly modern, rather like its counterpart at Speke (a total revelation, after the rest of the house). And with its modernity comes femininity -- the touch of the countess and her daughter-in-law. 

Light, decorated plaster, wallpaper, and far more feminine furniture: the drawing room at Speke Hall.

Why was it that Lady Ellen took so very long to redecorate, when Lady Caroline Harrison seems determined to burn as much money on decoration as quickly as possible? Beyond that particular clue, there are some other hints in A Change of Legacies, but the whole story will be awhile in coming.

If you're interested in learning more about Georgian interiors and home life, an era in which women gained some measure of control over their homes, if nothing else, I recommend "At Home With the Georgians," a three-part series with Amanda Vickery. Unfortunately it's only available on DVD, but the trailer is on YouTube (and below) and you might be able to find more clips there with some digging.

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