In Conversation with Charlotte Frost

April 16, 2011 at 9:59 am (books, estates, news, people, places, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Writer Charlotte Frost, whose biography of Sir William Knighton, bart will be of interest to those desiring a good read about Regency-era England, is our guest. She’s talking about her book, her research experiences, and her interest in Knighton and his family. Join us!

Q: Is there a tale behind your interest in Sir William Knighton?

Charlotte Frost: Yes, but I’m afraid it’s not especially worthy or uplifting. I had never heard of Knighton until the then owners of his Blendworth home commissioned a new garden, and I was asked to help with research. We discovered that it was Knighton’s son who laid out the grounds but, in the process, I realised that much of what had been written about his father (‘my’ Knighton) was flawed. With just average care and attention I could do better. And, although Knighton had almost fallen out of history, in late Georgian England he was a man to be reckoned with. He was overdue for a new biography, and I wasn’t going to let him slip through my fingers.

Q: Have you a favorite “find” — something unusual, or satisfying — that you uncovered; something you wish you had uncovered?

CF: It was especially pleasing to find documents created before Knighton became famous, when no one had a motive to distort the information. As for information I wished I’d uncovered, we need to know more about Knighton’s wife, Dorothea. How did Knighton meet her? Did her family have reservations about him? Did she secretly yearn to be recognised as an artist? Do any more of her paintings survive?

Q: Readers tend to think books just happen; how long did your research take? how long the writing phase? the publishing phase?

CF: It was one thing to accumulate research but quite another to impose order on it, so I took an MA to acquire some academic backbone. After that I knew exactly what I wanted. I set out the whole book in note form in a Word table and just worked through it. As the manuscript neared completion I started submitting proposals and sample chapters, but after a few months I realised that if I wanted the book published, I would have to self publish. At first I was disappointed not to be accepted by a mainstream publisher, but now I’m delighted that things worked out as they did. My publishers, Authors OnLine, have treated me like royalty. Nothing has been too much trouble for them.

Q: Did you find the Knighton Memoir a help, a hindrance, a bit of both?

CF: The Memoir‘s chronology is misleading because the author — Dorothea, by then Knighton’s widow — was more interested in the contents of the letters she selected for publication than the dates on which they were written. And the Memoir is easy to criticise because it contains what Dorothea wanted us to know, not what we’d like to know. But once I realised that each letter was there for a reason, the Memoir became my invaluable friend.

Q: As a biographer, did you make a conscious choice to present Knighton’s story without resorting to a great deal of letter quotes (ie, from the Memoir)?

CF: Yes. This is a good read, not an academic text where I need to present evidence as though my life depended on it. On a very few occasions I have used Knighton’s own words because I could add nothing useful to them, but otherwise my job was to analyse the letters, not repeat them.

Q: As fellow writers, we both know you sometimes sacrifice sections for the good of the narrative; was there any story, observation, account that you wish you could have kept?

CF: I applied a ‘two strikes and you’re in’ rule. This meant that I omitted several deaths among Knighton’s extended family that had no bearing on the narrative, but included trivial items that had later consequences. Knighton and his family would rightly have considered my omissions a distortion, and been upset by them. I also omitted the Blendworth earthquake of 1834 which came at an especially bad time for Knighton and his family and troubled everyone in the vicinity, but which was irrelevant to the narrative. On a lighter note, I was sad to lose the tea kettle that Knighton received from his former tutor, the surgeon Astley Cooper.

Q: Were illustrations easy to track down?

CF: The illustrations in the book are mostly ones that I came across by chance, and which struck me as more succinct than any written descriptions I could come up with. I’m not good at working with images. I get sidetracked by notes on the back, and miss vital information in the image itself.

Q: What was it like to do research at the Royal Archives?

CF: A privilege, and unlike any other archive. Researchers have to be accompanied at all times — yes, even to the loo — which I envisaged would feel regimented, but in practice it meant that we joined the archivists for lunch and were included in their routine. We were all made welcome. I wonder who’s sitting at my little table now, and what they’re researching?

* * *

We’ll leave Ms. Frost in the Royal Archives for now…

Part II will appear shortly. In the meantime, I invite you to read about her book, Sir William Knighton: The Strange Career of a Regency Physician. Also, search this blog for more on the book, Sir William, and how he relates to the Smiths & Goslings.

We invite reader participation! Feel free to post your own questions or comments for Charlotte Frost here.

NB: this was part 1; click here for part 2

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Rev. Richard Seymour: 16 Feb 1832

January 16, 2011 at 1:55 pm (books, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Reading through letters and diaries for the early 1830s (I know, I know; I should be working about 15 years earlier than this!! I will get back to the 1810s…), I came across some exceptionally interesting news about Tring Church (St. Peter and St. Paul) and an 1832 connection with the four unmarried Smith sisters. This news I save for later, however…

But in looking through other diaries for the same year, I was searching through Richard Seymour’s published extracts (found in The Nineteenth Century Country Parson (1954), ed. by Hart and Carpenter), and just have to share two particular entries.

Richard, born in 1806, was therefore in his mid-20s in 1832; his diary shares many thoughts on the privileges his family enjoyed, contrasted to his desire to live a Christian life of duty and sacrifice. Was he idealistic, or simply young? His self-examinations can make for exhilarating reads, as in these entries (especially the second) from February 1832:

February 11: Drove Frances and Lizzy [his sisters] out to Codlington [sic: Cadlington]. Mrs. Morgan’s children’s dance. My conscience not at ease. Doubtful therefore whether I should have been there. I feel a great and I hope proper fear of being thought not to live up to what I preach. Shall avoid such things in future. May God mercifully guide me in my participation of those things which are perhaps lawful but not expedient.

February 16: While in the workhouse [his curate’s duty took him there] this evening the thought struck me, how different this scene from that of last night! [he had attended a ball at his father’s house in Portsmouth] There the handsome, well furnished and well lighted room. Here a cheerless, comfortless space with one small candle to throw its light on my book. There Youth and Beauty and affluence and careless hearts. Here the maimed, the blind, the halt, the aged, the sick, the deprived of reason, all, too, poor and destitute but for the aid of others. There the sound of music and revelry, mixed with the happy laughs. Here, the crying infant or the moan of the more aged. Most different indeed! His blessing upon my ministry, that these may become poor in spirit, as they are poor in this world’s goods, and that their heavenly and eternal prospects may grow brighter and clearer as their earthly hopes wax more dim and dismal.

Richard’s diaries are those which exist only on microfilm; I’ve blogged about them a couple times as they are among the great “missing” items; he married Emma’s sister Fanny in 1834. His sister Frances married Fanny’s brother Spencer the following spring; and eldest brother John (the Rev. Sir John Culme-Seymour, bart) later (in 1844) married the baby of the Smith of Suttons family, Maria. He and Fanny would live in the “remote” north — Warwickshire; Kinwarton to be specific.

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Cadlington Found!

January 5, 2011 at 1:59 pm (estates, people, places, research) (, , , , , , , , )

If you’ve ever wondered about the extended family and how “well off” they might have been, consider this: When Dora Knighton married her cousin Capt. Michael Seymour (following in the footsteps of his father, Sir Michael Seymour, Capt. Seymour was in the Royal Navy), their wedding present was … a home: Cadlington, in the county of Hampshire.

Mrs Augusta Smith writes Emma from Cadlington in 1838; this was, after all, the home of the brother & wife of both her son-in-law (Richard Seymour) AND daughter-in-law (Frances Seymour).

Not only were there two Frances Seymours* for a while, Richard Seymour also had a sister Dora (Dorothea, in both cases). To differentiate them, he always referred to his sister-in-law as Dora K.

[*Richard Seymour and Fanny Smith married prior to Frances Seymour and Spencer Smith. To Richard — and to her own family, Frances Smith Seymour was always Fanny; Frances Seymour Smith was always known as Frances. Little distinctions mean a lot when working with diaries, letters, and similarly-named family members!]

Dora Knighton was the daughter of Sir William Knighton. In 1838, Lady Knighton caused to be published two volumes of his memoirs (and you can find much information about their children): vol. 1, vol. II. The portrait of Sir William included on this website comes from this series of memoirs.

Dora’s wedding is the subject of ch. XXI in vol. 2:

“June 22nd, 1829.

On this day my beloved Dora was married, at eight o’clock in the morning, by the Bishop of Winchester, at Bendworth [sic] Church.

The feelings excited by resigning the care of one’s child to another, no one can express. It seems as if you were called upon to part with the best feelings of your nature. The ceremony to me was most melancholy. I wept bitterly; but the inward feelings were still greater. I proceeded to London at one the same day…”

An early 20th-century photo of Cadlington, where its dining room is called “opulent and impressive,” can be viewed here.

Cadlington has undergone some changes — turned into luxury flats (rather like Hassobury, the Gosling’s old estate in Essex). And the agent posted (long ago) an interesting flyer: cadlington house.

READ “Cadlington” Headlines:

By the way, Michael Seymour (contrary to the brochure’s claim) was a captain in 1829. See his biography.

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