Happy Birthday, Augusta Wilder!

February 8, 2011 at 9:53 am (people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

by Frenchie (Photobucket)

In a family with NINE children, never mind the in-laws, the Smiths of Suttons celebrated many birthdays over a calendar year. And today, February 8th, celebrates the birth of the first of those nine: Augusta Smith. Born the year after her parents’ March 1798 marriage, Augusta was “on the way” by the time her mother, also Augusta Smith, finished penning her delightful diary for that year. Alas! no — yet? — diary for 1799. But the thoughts Augusta/Mamma has about becoming a mother exist in the diary we do have. And thanks (once again!) to Mark Woodford, I’ve examined and been able to mull over these thoughts of hers.

But my birthday gift — to myself (birthday last week) and to Augusta Smith Wilder — was the unearthing of a letter, written in 1824, and penning by my Two Augustas! It pre-dates a letter to the same recipient which Angela in Alberta has transcribed.

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How does YOUR Garden grow?

November 27, 2010 at 11:56 am (books, estates, places, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

For quite some time now I’ve known of the existence of a letter from Humphry Repton to Charles Smith (the father) of Suttons. Yes, the “great” Repton had been consulted about the Smith Estate! The date of the letter is January 1808.

What was the Smith family like in 1808? Emma was just six years old, and would turn seven in September. Eliza (later Lady Le Marchant) was a mere babe in arms — born just 2 and 1/2 months ago. Augusta (Mamma) Smith’s letters written around this time are just a delight to read because, when written to the older children — Augusta, Emma — she talks so charmingly of the other children, her own parents, their Papa.

Anyway, yesterday I was looking up the online Austen ‘exhibit’ at the Morgan Library in NYC; and took a look at their online ‘exhibit’ for Humphry Repton. Now, Repton is a name known to me, but beyond the faint knowledge that he was hired at Suttons, I’ve not really (yet) delved into his side of the ‘business’. The Morgan changed all that!

Earlier this year they had two of Repton’s “Red Books” on display. These books are what cyber-viewers can now take a look at. I simply cannot imagine being wealthy enough to hire a man who produces such items in the hopes of gaining my business! But then I’m not from a “landed” family in 19th-century England. The above is taken from Repton’s Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, published in 1803 — you find Sutton’s mentioned on page 16. (The University of Florida has an online copy of this invaluable document.)

Hmmm…, Jane Austen has her Mr Rushworth, in vol. 1 of Mansfield Park discuss the improvements made to a “Mr Smith’s” property:

“‘I wish you could see Compton,’ said he, ‘it is the most complete thing! I never saw a place so altered in my life. I told Smith I did not know where I was. The approach now is one of the finest things in the country. You see the house in the most surprising manner. I declare when I got back to Sotherton yesterday, it looked like a prison — quite a dismal old prison.’

…’Your best friend upon such an occasion,’ said Miss Bertram, calmly, ‘would be Mr. Repton, I imagine.’

‘That is what I was thinking of. As he has done so well by Smith, I think I had better have him at once. His terms are five guineas a day…. Smith’s place is the admiration of all the country; and it was a mere nothing before Repton took it in hand.'”

[read Austen’s Repton mentions: Mansfield Park, 1814 edition; a ‘by the way’: Compton, the name Austen gives Smith’s estate is a familial name belonging to the Smiths of Suttons… Coincidence?? or had she been remembering conversations with Mrs Chute of The Vyne?]

These “Red Books” are amazing! The drawings, the overlays that foretold what the proposed ‘improvements’ would look like. The prose, which lay out his thoughts and evaluations of your property.

Well, take a look for yourself: Repton at the Morgan.

Oh! I want just such a book about SUTTONS!!!!

Searching for more of these little red books, I find that the “Red Book” made in 1791 for Claybury (then owned by the Hatch family) still exists. The Smiths often visited the Abdys, who inherited, at Claybury. What a treasure Repton has left behind, never mind what pride he must have taken in presenting his work in this manner.

Needless to say, if anyone’s attic or closet turns up a little “Red Book” about Suttons, Essex, Seat of Charles Smith, esq — come find me!!

further readings:
See Repton at Dagnam (another estate the Smiths often visited).
Read about Repton and these “Red Books”; listed are several well-known properties, including Stoneleigh Abbey.
Sheringham Park has its “Red Book” on display (National Trust). It was published in facsimile in 1976 by Basilisk Press.
Oulton Hall’s Red Book is mentioned here as being in the West Yorkshire Archive, as well as some published in Country Life (1987).
A 24-page PDF of Hampshire’s Historic Parks & Gardens.

In the end I could not help but include this tidbit from the Hatchlands’ Red Book, for it so makes me think of Pride & Prejudice:

“In the situation of a house, its aspect ought to be the first consideration, and not the views it may command: a good aspect is a perpetual source of comfort to the inhabitant; while a fine view is rather a transitory subject of admiration to the stranger.”

Though I will say, even an ‘inhabitant’ enjoys the transitory admiration of a view every once in a while, I just think of Darcy and Elizabeth: a stranger perhaps when she views the park from the windows, but soon to become mistress of all she surveys! Little things sometimes explain volumes about a small, short passage in Austen’s novels.

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Buying a Slice of Suttons

July 9, 2008 at 11:07 am (estates) (, , , )

Even spending time behind the wheel (how I hate those roundabouts!), I could not locate Suttons, the Smith estate which papa Charles Smith purchased (reportedly, for £15,725) in 1787. It was sold out of the family in the 1950s.

A healthcare facility at the time of its closure in early 2002, the building and its seven acres was put up for auction. The auction guide estimated a selling price in excess of £1.6 million and described the property as:

‘a substantial detached Grade II listed former care home… Second floor: 8 rooms (all with bathroom/shower facilities), Mezzanine floor: 3 rooms… First floor: 11 rooms… Ground floor: 14 rooms, kitchen…, Basement: Boiler room, games room, sauna, kitchen, lockers, shower/WC. … for refurbishment and conversion back to residential use – 10 flats’.

Five of those ten flats are now [July 2008] up for sale, through Savills in Chelmsford (Essex); asking prices begin at £375,000. If only the exchange rate was two pounds to one dollar (instead of the other way ’round)…

For those of you with a heavy purse, here’s an exterior shot (which can be found at www.savills.co.uk).

As a side note of interest, in the 1851 census, Mary’s brother Robert Gosling has listed the following household staff at his country estate Botleys (near Chertsey, Surrey):

coachman
underbutler
two footmen
two grooms
one ‘helper’
a Swiss governess
housekeeper
two lady’s maids
two nurses [they did have many, many children]
two laundrymaids
three housemaids
a dairymaid
three kitchenmaids
a nursemaid

Twenty-four staff; and some must have lived out or not been home that night (for instance: there’s an underbutler, but no butler? kitchen maids but no scullery maid, and – especially – no cook? no gardener and his staff?). Ten years later and the family are resident at No. 5 Portland Place; the head count that night: “only” 17. Hmmm… gotta watch some old episodes of Upstairs, Downstairs, I think.

 

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