Spring Fling in Tring (2014)

September 18, 2015 at 11:53 am (a day in the life, books, diaries, entertainment, estates, history, people, research) (, , , )

Note: This article was published in the most recent JASNA News (Jane Austen Society of North America’s newsletter), in an abbreviated form. The pictures (by Mike in Tring; thanks, Mike) looked GREAT! But the story I wanted to tell was only half-told.

Here is the story of my Spring Fling (last May, 2014) in a place that is THIS YEAR celebrating it’s 700th anniversary (chartered in 1315), Tring in the county of Hertfordshire, England.

Tring Welcomes You

In the Shadow of James Edward Austen

The recipient of the (in)famous “piece of ivory” letter, Jane Austen’s nephew James Edward Austen authored two late-in-life books: Recollections of the Early Days of the Vine Hunt (1865) and A Memoir of Jane Austen (1869; 1871); and served as the subject of a memoir by daughter Mary Augusta Austen Leigh (1911). In concentrating on his wife Emma Smith — one half of my “Two Teens in the Time of Austen” project — it’s easy to overlook the young husband who joined the predominately-female Smith household on 16 December 1828.

Tring church b-w

The wedding ceremony took place in the parish church of Tring; Edward was to serve as curate until the Austens left in November 1833. His stipend: ₤20 per annum. “The place must have a curate,” wrote Emma’s sister Fanny Smith, “as there are three churches to serve”.  With an income of £850 a year (not counting the stipend, earmarked for Edward’s own substitute when he had to be away), the couple had the opportunity to build a nest egg by living with Emma’s large family at Tring Park, a substantial estate once owned by great uncle Sir Drummond Smith. Five sisters and two brothers, under the watchful eye of the widowed Mrs (Augusta) Smith, provided Edward Austen with a bustling household that he came to adore. Edward’s superior, the Rev. Mr. Charles Lacy, was an unmarried man (though with an intended), only three years older than himself, who had held the living for nearly ten years. The Smiths all commented favorably on their vicar’s preaching, conversation, and singing. Edward looked back on the Tring years, during which the Austens welcomed their first three children, with great fondness.

Present-day Tring Park

Present-day Tring Park, altered by late-19th-century additions (by Rothschild).

During the wedding breakfast, the servants had danced in the hall. The day I visited Tring Park (now a performing arts school), the pale light of a rainy English day filtered through the super-sized window on the far side of the stair well, weakly illuminating the hall that echoes still with notes from violins and dance. My tour guide, Mike, was able to show the nooks and crannies thanks to school being out for the week. The soft rain dampened thoughts of tramping the grounds, so we ventured no further than the small church where Edward Austen “did the duty,” to use the phrase Edward used [see uppermost photo]. Vestry Minutes for September 1832 marked a milestone in the church’s history: “The Revd J.E. Austen proposed on the part of the Miss Smith’s [sic] of Tring Park to present the Church with an Organ.” A vote was moved, seconded – and passed! Mr Lacy was tasked with conveying the news to Emma’s sisters. Mike and I had hoped to glimpse the little organ, as it may still exist – but the church of Long Marston was unfortunately closed, except for service.

Wigginton Church b-w

The third church – at Wiggintonwas open to visitors! Described by Mary Austen Leigh as “a scattered village on a picturesque common,” it was in the “damp and cold little church” at Wigginton that chills caught while preaching and teaching affected Edward’s throat to such an extent that his voice grew weak and was never again the same. His diary entry for January 13 (1833) places him in Wigginton, and ends in the remark “I did no more Sunday duty on account of my throat”. His ability to read aloud, his family’s “evening enjoyment” since Edward “could always make the characters, to use his Aunt Jane’s expression, ‘speak as they should do,’” was also affected. During months of inactivity, Edward Austen cut keenly-observed silhouettes, now published as Life in the Country with Quotations by Jane Austen (2008).

Life in the Country

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A Little History: Tring Park

July 6, 2015 at 11:15 pm (diaries, estates, history, jane austen, jasna, places, research, travel) (, , )

We shall see, in the next month or two, if an article I wrote for JASNA-News, the bulletin of the Jane Austen Society of North America, gets published. Otherwise, you may hear about my visit, last May, here on Two Teens. Meanwhile, I invite readers to VERSAILLES TO VICTORIA, a fabulous website talking about architecture & history of “Beautiful places”. Like: Tring Park!

tring-church-and-town

Readers hopefully remember that one of the estates Emma Austen knew as a girl, and lived in as a new wife and mother was Tring – the former home of her great uncle Drummond Smith. Tring has a special “Austen” connection, in that it was in the little parish church that Emma married James Edward Austen. And their first children took their first steps in the rooms of the mansion. A recent “find” among letters is one that pointed out the return of Mamma and Maria (Emma’s mother and youngest sister), in a trip of Mary 1835. The family had moved to Mapledurham in October of 1834! Yet here was a couple of people – and a couple of letters – talking about missing their former home.

And now you can see more the place they so reluctantly left.

Austen_Edward-Carpenter

By 1835, Edward (pictured above) and Emma had moved into their own home. It is from this point that Emma – MY main source for information on her siblings – begins to have her own topics of conversation. Edward’s ill health, the illnesses of her children, the pregnancies of herself and four of her sisters. Edward felt the “Tring Years” to have been special; and _I_ firmly agree! With Charles and Mary off on their own at Suttons, it was everyone else hanging out together at Tring.

mary_emma_entry

TRING was also the beginning of this research project! The above diary entry (belonging to Mary Smith, Emma’s sister-in-law) was the first inkling I had that Mary’s family included Austen family members. Click on the entry to enter the World of Tring Park.

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Mystery portrait ID’ed: Queen Elizabeth I

February 18, 2014 at 2:27 am (british royalty, estates, fashion, news, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , )

Back in November 2013 I ran a lengthy post, hoping to ID a portrait which was a focal piece in a drawing – possibly sketched by eldest sister Augusta Smith – of some room that was wholly unidentified.

mystery lady and deer

click photo to read original post

In trying to find information about the ceiling medallions in Tring Park’s drawing room (still in situ!), I found this Hertfordshire website that I’m sure I have read before. Only, last evening, it took on new meaning! The description is all about Drummond Smith’s Tring Park, c1802:

The apartments are handsomely furnished, and in several of them there are some good paintings, among which we cannot avoid noticing a singular whole length of Queen Elizabeth, which hangs in the small drawing-room upon the right of the hall. This painting is not improbably a copy of that by Zucchero, which hangs in the palace at Kensington….

In my original post I was hoping against hope that it might have been a family member. BUT: I’ve now found an image of that very “singular whole length” portrait!

queen elizabeth

Major OMG!

Several books, like this one from 1802, describe the painting, identifying it as a Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, and one among several full-length portraits owned by Drummond (Emma’s great uncle; it is his baronetcy that Charles Joshua Smith, Emma’s eldest brother, inherited). Rather than Kensington Palace, its home is Hampton Court. But even this portrait carries some mystery: fascinating article by Francis Carr (a companion page can be read here).

So much is up for grabs: the portrait’s sitter – its artist – the date it was done. But my mystery has been solved: The room at Tring which once contained the portrait in the sketch being described as “the small drawing room upon the right of the hall.”

faces of QEI

NB: In looking for confirmation that it is indeed a portrait of QEI, I found this fab array of portraits:

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At Highclere for the Gardens & House

January 7, 2013 at 1:47 am (diaries, estates, europe, history, jane austen, people, places, research, travel) (, , , , , , )

My dear Emma Smith was a talented artist; her diaries are rife with tales of the industry of the Smith of Suttons sisters, their pencils scratching away at their drawings.

Watching the excellent television program, Secrets of Highclere Castle, with its peek inside the walls of the actual residence used in the series Downton Abbey, I had a flash of typing that name — Highclere — while transcribing Emma’s diaries.

highclere castle

Indeed, there is brief mention in 1829, the spring of the first year she spent as Emma Austen. She has been visiting Austen family, and within days of her visit to Highclere (27 May 1829) she is also noting a stay at “Mr Lefroy’s at Ashe,” where they entertained Edward Knight, Mr and Mrs William Knight, Miss Knight, and “Mrs. Cassandra Austen at dinner”.

Watching the special, I was rather surprised that the Carnarvon family tree includes a member of the Rothschild family. I haven’t seen a lot about Almina Wombwell / Lady Carnarvon, but her father, Alfred, was the second son of Baron Lionel de Rothschild — who in 1872 purchased Tring Park, the rented estate the Austens (Emma, Edward and their first children) shared with Emma’s mother Augusta Smith and her unmarried children.

lady carnarvon

Read about the book Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey
at Enchanted Serenity of Period Films.

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Need Help: Susannah Smith, nee Mackworth Praed

May 1, 2012 at 2:02 pm (diaries, history, news, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I have been thinking of letters and diaries these last couple of weeks. Some diaries are in the 1810s; others propel me forward to the 1840s; and the letters have been as early as the 1790s!

Today I want to make a special appeal to anyone who might have knowledge of letters written by or to Susannah Smith, the wife of Thomas Smith of Bersted Lodge.

Susannah and Thomas married in 1800; Thomas was a brother of Joshua Smith of Erle Stoke Park, so he was Augusta (Mamma) Smith’s Uncle and therefore a great-uncle to my Emma.

This close-up is from a miniature that recently sold at auction. How can you resist this face?!?

Susannah had a twin-sister: Arabella, Countess of Mayo. She became a lady-in-waiting.

Knowing well that LETTERS were the bread-and-butter of life then, I suspect Susannah’s letters, at the very least to and from her sister, but probably also to others in the Smith’s extended family, must exist. Mrs Thomas Smith was of the generation who visited Tring Park to stay with Mr and Mrs Drummond Smith – and also visit Roehampton, where resided Eliza Gosling (Mrs William Gosling), sister to Mary, Mrs Drummond Smith. How wonderful it would be to read comments – even slightly negative ones! – about my Smiths & Goslings.

Even hints to possible whereabouts of some correspondence would be welcome! Published sources as much as manuscript sources.

* * *

UPDATE: it was stupid of me not to include more information on Susannah’s sister and brother-in-law. The Earl of Mayo had the familial name of BOURKE. Some places associated with the family include Naas and Palmerstown. The Praed family were also related to the Shore family, which produced the delightful publication The Journal of Emily Shore.

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A Young Lady of some education

October 8, 2011 at 12:21 pm (books, diaries, history, jasna, research) (, , , , , , , , , )

In working on some ideas for Emma, I’ve been reviewing a book I bought a couple months ago (and which was delayed about a month, thanks to US Customs…), Diary of a Betley Governess in 1812. Editor Mavis E. Smith had won me over with her earlier book on the Betley Hall household with the publication of Ellen Tollet’s diary of 1835.

My Emma — Miss Emma Smith — began her diary-keeping in 1815. Or, at least that is the earliest so far found! I do live in hope of more items, so why not hope for earlier diaries written by Emma, too? There is certainly talk of the schoolroom, their governesses, “holidays” granted for birthdays or visitors. The Smiths seem a happy family, with well-liked (loved even) governesses.

Then you read a book like that based on the unnamed governess to the four Tollet daughters of Betley Hall! I don’t know who to pity more: the girls for having this governess; or the young {presume…} lady given the task of educating four rambunctious girls?

Mavis Smith clearly has opinions on the strict governess, for she asks once or twice if the woman might not be a bit “unbalanced”. Yet, reviewing Mamma Smith’s assessment of her youngest child, Maria, which Jacky in Maidstone is lucky enough to own, don’t I find some choice comments made about this little scholar by her governess. For instance, written in December 1820, “Maria has shown more violence of temper, more irritability & impertinence I thought had belonged to her character; Miss Pond {the governess} has made frequent & strong complaints of her”. Yet my beloved Mamma follows up with these thoughts, “She {Maria} is not yet seven years old, & one cannot expect reason to be all powerful at that age.”

Any wonder why Mamma Smith is just a delight to know? From her diaries, and especially her letters, I have experienced many moments of laughter. (Mike H. at Tring Park School knows her “humour” as she describes the next tenants of Tring Park with some choice words!)

* * *

Off on another topic: The end of this week sees the much-anticipated JASNA AGM and the discussion of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, which was published 200 years ago (1811-2011). Wish me luck on presenting my paper! And I certainly hope I don’t get stuck at some airport, overnight, like I did last time I flew…

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Nothing So Lovely as a Tree

September 22, 2011 at 12:45 pm (history, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I spent last evening reviewing photographs Charlotte Frost had taken of Fanny Seymour’s sketchbooks (held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford University). Today, I sit at my desk (I call it “sitting in a hall, staring at a wall’ – but you’d have to see my ‘office cubicle’ to appreciate the poetry….), the window is high above the section of wall, and looking up don’t I see some tall, thin, green, leafy TREE — just like so many Fanny sketched!

I was suddenly transported back in time (c1830) and place (England rather than the state of Vermont).

Studying these drawings — mainly architectural (some of the Smith homes: Tring Park and Mapledurham; some homes of relatives: Castle Ashby, Coolhurst, Purley Hall; some surroundings: gardens, walks, villages) — makes me cast a glance back on my own art studies in college.

I have only two specimens in my collection (guess I didn’t care enough about still life or models to keep those studies) and really don’t recall how long it look me to do the most intensive one: a “collage” of various items all spilling over across the paper, one “scene” segueing into the next. I’ve always been rather proud of it, though. Proved — to me! — that I had at least imitative talent.

I’m dating myself here, but think of the campaign, “Can You Draw This Girl? You Might Have a Career in Art.” This was a correspondence course type of ad. I’m sure I attempted the girl or the “Bambi” deer, but I never sent anything in.

An Aside: Guess they are still around!

 

  • Art Instruction Schools — since 1914.
  • a student has actually posted an interesting “review” of the Schools; but also a complaint.
  • in a hunt for the “Can You Draw This Girl?” I came across Wikipedia‘s entry for the School.

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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!

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