Rachel wrote the definitive book, Mistress of the Arts, about Georgiana Duchess of Bedford and our local environs here around Endsleigh, now a hotel but once the Duke and Duchess's holiday 'cottage', and we were lucky enough to hear Rachel talking about the book at Endsleigh too, here a few extracts from a 2010 blog post...
'...Mistress of the Arts the reason we all know locally that years ago it took someone from the village three days to plump up all the feather mattresses when the Bedfords were planning a local sojourn in their holiday cottage.
Fascinating then to hear the background to the writing of the book, the countless phone calls around the museums to check the existence of letters from Georgina which unearthed some really unexpected gems, including the love poetry of one ardent admirer of the Duchess (one of many it seems).
Lord Holland fired with the sort of imagination you'd want an admirer to possess when he manages to capitalise on the shortage of words to rhyme with Duchess, and so settles frequently on 'crutches'.
The research proved an invaluable insight into Regency life with marriage for dynastic reasons, for life and for the heir and the spare, but infidelity rife and accepted practice.
In the end, after fruitless trips to Ireland and the archives of the Abercorn family, into which Georgina's daughter had married, it was the Devon Records Office that produced the research jewels for Rachel Trethewey, an archive of every bill and receipt for monies paid out by the Bedfords in the construction of Endsleigh.
In total £120,000, the equivalent of £4 million today.
Within those records fascinating details...
Georgina joined the Tavistock Subscription Library
Her favourite scent was Esprit de Rose
She regularly bathed in asses milk
But all was not lost on the research trip to Baron's Court in Ireland, the seat of the Abercorn family. Here were revealed the sketches by Edwin Landseer, almost certainly Georgina's lover (yes, another one) and whilst poetry may not have been Edwin's bag, art was and the sketches revealed an intimate, tender and sensuous evocation of their love, much like a photo album. The drawings seemed as fresh as the day they had been drawn and in the words of Rachel Trethewy, the 'distance between the past and the present evaporated'.
Georgina, exiled from Endsleigh by the family after the death of the 6th Duke, died in Nice in 1853, sadly a trip to Nice could not locate her grave.
Rachel and I met on several occasions thereafter and had also done an event together at Dartington, with Justin Picardie, on Justine's book Daphne (Daphne du Maurier),so it was good to hear from Rachel last week with news of her latest book and the offer of a copy. As both a historian and a journalist Rachel's research is always diligent and thorough, and will translate into a highly readable account so I was on tenterhooks waiting to see this one.
In February 1918, when the First World War was still being bitterly fought, prominent society member Lady Northcliffe conceived an idea to help raise funds for the British Red Cross. Using her husband’s newspapers, The Times and the Daily Mail, she ran a campaign to collect enough pearls to create a necklace, intending to raffle the piece to raise money. The campaign captured the public’s imagination. Over the next nine months nearly 4,000 pearls poured in from around the world. Pearls were donated in tribute to lost brothers, husbands and sons, and groups of women came together to contribute one pearl on behalf of their communities. Those donated ranged from priceless heirlooms –one had survived the sinking of the Titanic – to imperfect yet treasured trinkets. Working with Christie’s and the International Fundraising Committee of the British Red Cross, author Rachel Trethewey expertly weaves the touching story of a generation of women who gave what they had to aid the war effort and commemorate their losses.
Those of you who live in the South West may also have seen Rachel talking about the book on BBC Spotlight.
Any book published by The History Press is a pleasure to read and to hold because their production values are high, so I have made a start and am deeply engrossed in something I knew nothing about. Indeed Rachel apparently knew very little either until she saw the World War One commemorative exhibition at Port Eliot in 2014. The exhibition featured information about the pearl, donated by Emily, Countess of St Germans in 1918, which had once belonged to the Empress Josephine. As I read I am finding so many connections to other names which have cropped up on here down the years too, not least Ettie Desborough and her son Julian Grenfell.
Much more about Pearls Before Poppies to come, but I thought I'd tip you the wink for those who like to get their library reservations in before word travels too far and the list is a mile long.