25/08/2010

HAMPTON COURT IN HEREFORDSHIRE...



This is an old print of Hampton Court Castle, the magnificent building that inspired one of the main settings in the VV's novel, The Somnambulist.





This Hampton Court is in Herefordshire and has long stirred the VV's imagination - although in The Somnambulist it has been renamed as Dinwood Court. Very often, when a child, when travelling past in the family car she loved to peer out of the window, seeing the great arched iron gates, and behind them the long straight driveway which led to the house itself. 

And, this is how Phoebe, The Somnambulist's main narrator describes the view she sees, when arriving on a cold wet night, having travelled by train from London - "As we drove on past expanses of lawns, nothing prevented my view of the house – a central square tower above an arched entrance, castellated walls running either side, and so many windows, I couldn’t even begin to count – and each one unlit and unwelcoming. But, as the moon’s face broke through fast-scudding clouds, I saw something else that quite took my breath, the thing that was lying behind that house, spreading upwards and outwards for several miles: the dense, sloping woodlands that glistened like silver. And, being quite overawed, and sounding far more like Old Riley than me, I exclaimed, “Strike a light! What a wonder. I’ve never seen so many trees in my life.”

The interior of Dinwood Court has been much 'expanded upon' from that the VV came to know when Hampton Court was a private home; when she worked there as a cleaner during university holidays. Since then, the house - which was once bought by Richard Arkwright, famed for his Spinning-Frame - has changed hands more than once, with many original furnishings lost. But, the outward appearance, along with the great swathes of woodland behind, remain as you would see it now.


The orangery - now used as a cafe - was a Victorian addition to the main body of the house, the history of which dates back to the fifteenth century.The 'glass house' was designed by Joseph Paxton, famed for the Crystal Palace in London, in which the Great Exhibition was held in 1851.


The courtyard has several gargoyles which the VV rather likes, but Phoebe certainly doesn't  "...monstrous menacing features most of them had, and wide open mouths that still spewed with trickling twists of rain, draining from gutters and roofs above."



Today, you can visit the house and see what you think of the gargoyles and - if the weather is dry enough - also walk through the re-designed gardens which are exceptionally beautiful. The house is a popular venue for weddings, and should you wish to stay the night, details can be found on the Johansen's site.

The writer and historian, Catherine Beale, has written about Hampton Court in her book called Champagne and Shamblings.

More information can be found on the Hampton Court official website

04/08/2010

MARY SHELLEY'S CAUTIONARY TALE...

How strange it is to think that the subject of the VV’s previous post, with its scenes of abandoned adventure ships doomed to rot in the frozen Arctic wastes should reflect such a vivid image from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

And yet, that idea was conceived almost forty years before when, in 1817, Mary Shelley completed her gothic novel, what has since gone on to become one of the enduring classics of English literature. Frankenstein begins with a striking scene where a ship has been trapped in ice-bound seas and, much like the real-life Franklin and McClure, its captain and crew have set out to explore the frozen North  in the hope of achieving wealth and fame.
Mary Shelley’s stranded crew catch sight of a distant dog sleigh, driven by a man of monstrous size. He is closely followed by another desperate man who manages to climb on board the ship and then, when recovered sufficiently, begins to tell his story.
He is the tragic Victor Frankenstein, a scientist whose ambition and lust for knowledge has driven him to the edge of hell – a wonderful analogy of the future plight of those mariners who hoped to find notoriety, but instead found themselves in the nightmare grip of the treachorous North-West Passage.
Frankenstein is available to read online, accessed for free from Project Gutenberg.