Downton Abbey HEATS UP

January 5, 2015 at 11:26 am (entertainment, estates) (, , )

Julian Fellowes, stop reading over my shoulder!!

Last night Downton Abbey was ablaze – thanks to a cinder setting Lady Edith’s room on fire.

downton fire1

Emma Austen wrote about a very similar night: in October 1834, on the eve of sister Fanny’s marriage to the Rev. Richard Seymour!

The Smiths had recently moved into Mapledurham House (the wedding was the first “event” after the move); Emma, Edward and the children arrived in the morning hearing the news of the fire. In a letter she wrote, it “thank God did no personal harm – tho’ it has caused great alarm & confusion”.

Unlike Downton, Mapledurham’s cinder smouldered — an ‘insufferable smoke’ woke Mary (Lady Smith), who roused the household. “It was got under by the perseverance of the servants &c in about an hour”.

downton fire2

“The servants were very active & by means of wet blankets extinguished the fire — Engines came from Reading but it was out.”

In the aftermath, Emma’s diary tells us, “The floor of the room & a picture were burnt & the wall & ceiling smoked  the house a good deal injured by fire”.

Only next week will tell viewers if Downtown Abbey survived the conflagration with as little damage.

Advertisements

Permalink Leave a Comment

Mapledurham House – its secret past

January 12, 2013 at 9:55 am (diaries, estates, europe, history, news, places, research) (, , , , , , , , , , )

mapledurham_newspaper

Mapledurham House (near Reading) was the last home Mamma (Mrs Augusta Smith) would inhabit. She and her unmarried children moved here in 1834. The first family event was to be a wedding uniting Fanny Smith with the Rev. Richard Seymour. The night before the wedding was spent, however, fanning the flames of a fire!

Mary, Lady Smith, saved the house by alerting everyone to smoke. Emma Austen‘s diary relates the story.

Working on my Pinterest boards (you can find us by searching Emma Austen, if you’d like!), and responding to a comment about my little Mapledurham House thimble, I searched once again for pictures to post – and found this article from The Telegraph, published in 2011.

According to Damien Thompson, Mapledurham was a “safe house for fugitive priests”. “Mapledurham House kept a genuine secret during the Tudor persecution and … its current owners, John and Lady Anne Eyston, are still making discoveries. The most recent priest hole, for example, lay undiscovered until 2002 — though it’s in such an inaccessible upper bedroom that it can’t accommodate crowds of tourists. The hole is hidden underneath a sliding hearth, and it might better be described as an elaborate escape shaft. ‘Family legend had it that there was a priest hole in the bedroom fireplace – but we didn’t realise that for years we were looking at the wrong fireplace, not the hidden original…’.”

Now if only I knew which bedroom Mary shared with Eliza. It was next door to a “large sitting room up stairs”. A crack in the hearth, and smoldering embers, caused the “insufferable smoke,” which woke Mary at four in the morning. Emma ends the diary entry, “The floor of the room & a picture were much burnt & the wall & ceiling smoked  the house a good deal injured by fire. Sir John Seymour arrived.” Richard Seymour’s diary recounts that his “beloved” Fanny woke him at “4 1/2 AM  the house being on fire  Two hours of the deepest anxiety followed…” Surely not the start to their wedding day the couple had envisioned!

Maybe it was a Priest Hole rather than a “crack in the hearth”….

* * *

Visit Mapledurham!

mapledurham_website

Permalink Leave a Comment

An Island Alone?

October 20, 2010 at 9:45 am (a day in the life, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Ever feel like your out there on your own? As another winter begins to descend, and early (early!) mornings come thanks to local airport noise (long, looonnnnggg story there; boring to everyone but me), the thoughts crowd around in the dark that few would wish to contemplate: the jobs that got away; the life I used to have when days were “better”; getting older; having older parents.

My saving grace: the Smiths and Goslings. They aren’t my “family”, but they have become “my family”. I long to find out their movements, to piece together all their individual puzzles, to fit their lives, dreams and thoughts into some pattern that points up their times as well as their lives.

Jacky from Maidstone has recently given much food for thought in the shape of an astonishing letter to Maria, the youngest Smith of Suttons daughter. The correspondent is the mother of a young man who has simply never found anyone — other than Maria — that he could love and wish to marry.

What makes this of great interest?

Henry Wilder wrote similar sentiments to Mrs Smith regarding Augusta. It was a letter, when I first deciphered it, as I sat beside the windows at the Hampshire Record Office (Winchester, England), that tore at my heart. It was obvious that Henry had had a relationship with Augusta; that something or someone had intervened (I suspect some Wilder parental interference, but have not discovered anything concrete as yet); and here he was, a couple years later, talking about his inability to forget Augusta. He’s now wondering if Mrs Smith will find out if Augusta still has feelings for him.

Now there are several mildly “star-crossed” lovers in these extended families. The most extreme “disapproval” I have yet come across involves Richard Seymour’s sister Dora. Richard’s diaries (on microfilm at the Warwickshire Record Office) is quite plain in the disapproval of Dora’s family after she engaged herself to the Rev. Mr. Chester. Richard – a docile man in such matters – was pressured to put pressure on Dora to break off the engagement. The end was achieved; yet not in the long-run. Dora did ultimately marry the Rev. Mr. Chester.

[an aside: if I could track down the current whereabouts and the owner of Richard Seymour’s diaries, then I could get a COPY of the microfilm from WRO…]

So, back to Maria. The date of this letter is 1835. Mrs Catherine Odell, the writer, had obviously NOT been in touch with the family for some time. She mailed her letter to Tring Park; the Smiths had moved from Tring to Mapledurham House in October 1834 (the first “event” held there: the wedding of Fanny Smith to the Rev. Richard Seymour of Kinwarton). Also, Mrs Odell addressed her letter to “Miss Maria Smith”. That alone would have gained Maria’s ire! In one letter she quite obviously had chastised a sibling for not giving her her due: as the “eldest” single Smith sister she was now entitled to be addressed as “Miss Smith”.

In this period, the eldest son or daughter or Mr Lastname, Miss Lastname. Other, younger, siblings had their first name appended, thus, as we find in Jane Austen: Mr Ferrars but Mr Robert Ferrars; Miss Dashwood, Miss Marianne Dashwood; Miss Bennet, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, Miss Lydia Bennet, Miss Kitty Bennet, Miss Mary Bennet.

If we take the Bennets (since there are so many of them!), with the marriages of Lydia, followed by those of Jane and Elizabeth, than the elder of the two left single would assume the title “Miss Bennet”.

That was what happened with Maria Smith: In October 1834, elder sister Fanny married Richard. And Eliza Smith, the next unmarried Smith sister, married in January 1835. So with that event, little Maria finally became Miss Smith — the three events (move, and two marriages) unknown to Mrs Odell in Ireland.

But what makes the letter so extraordinary is that Mr Edward Odell’s pleading is done by his mother! She writes that he could never marry anyone but Maria (to the sadness of his family, she is quick to point out); that Edward will come into his elder brother’s estate (though ‘why’ that would be so, I don’t yet know); that Edward already had an income of £600 (an amount perhaps exceeded by money given to Maria to live, for all I know; certainly, in a letter to Augusta, Mrs Smith intimated that she NEED NOT MARRY, as she had income enough to live, and live comfortably, I’m sure).

One personal favorite: Mrs Odell says that her son would willingly live anywhere; and that Mrs Smith could live with them should she need to be taken care of. Mamma Smith?! in need of care?! from a son-in-law’s household? She is the most “matriarchal” matriarch I have ever come across!

The story behind Mr Odell, which may or may not have impacted the “welcome”: A Mr Odell (I suspect Edward rather than his unnamed elder brother due to a Harrow connection), longtime friend of Drummond, enticed Drummond to visit Italy much against Mrs Smith’s inclination. There are many mentions of interviews, letters, letters from Mr Odell even — in which Mrs Smith digs to find out about Drummond’s illness and death.

So, in the end, the big question is: Would Mr Edward Odell have stood a chance with Maria? was there family pressure to dissolve any relationship? Was Maria herself uninterested? Only time will tell; or else I may never know the answer to those questions!

But you see, you few who read these musings, what occupies my mind — so happily occupies my mind!

Permalink Leave a Comment