In an attempt to get our money back from this National Trust membership in record time, and before they close for the winter, Bookhound and I have been slowly working our way around all the local properties. It occurs to us that the Downton effect must have had a significant and positive impact on NT visitor numbers and that wouldn't include us...no of course not... what do you make of the new series??
No spoilers in comments if we can help it, but Bookhound suspects that Bates's revenge will be a dish best served roasted... a nice well-fed joint of pork... think about it...
We've done the local houses before, but this feels different, and we have taken to buying up the guide books in charity shops for 20p and reading them before we go. With renewed interest and a bit of informed viewing, along with time to look properly, we are seeing plenty that we may have missed, and in the case of Saltram House, barely twenty miles from us here, well for some reason we had never visited.
Isn't that always the way.
But we needed a break from digging and the cupboards were bare, so we hit on this stupid idea of a visit to Saltram followed by one to Sainsbury's, spitting distance from each other, two birds with one stone etc..except after the event neither of us felt like a supermarket trip whilst awash with Georgian England. It was all compounded in awfulness because 'that' Sainsbury's seems to have gone right down the pan these days. Clearly part of the plot with a National Trust visit is to stay in the reverie that the properties create for as long as possible.
Saltram, built in the mid-eighteenth century and situated on the banks of the River Plym, was owned for some time by John Parker, created Earl of Morley in 1815, and very Jane Austen-esque it is too.
It was Jane Austen who had piqued my interest in the house some time ago with this discovery in her letters when I was searching for references to Emma following that read.
From the Countess of Morley...Wednesday 27 December 1815
To Miss J. Austin [sic]
I have been most anxiously waiting for an introduction to Emma, & am infinitely obliged to you for your kind recollection of me, which will procure me the pleasure of her acquaintance some days sooner than I shd otherwise have had it - I am already become intimate in the Woodhouse family, & feel that they will not amuse & interest me less than the Bennetts, Bertrams, Norriss & all their admirable predecessors - I can give them no higher praise -
Yr much obliged
and Jane Austen's reply to the Countess of Morley..Sunday 31 December 1815
Accept my Thanks for the honour of your note & for your kind Disposition in favour of Emma. In my present State of Doubt as to her reception in the Wortld, it is particularly gratifying to me to receive so early an assurance of your Ladyship's approbation. - It encourages me to depend on the same share of general good opinion which Emm'a Predecessors have experienced, & to beleive that I have not yet - as almost every Writer of Fancy does sooner or later - overwrtten myself.
I am Madam
Your Obliged and faithful Servt
Frances, Countess of Morley, the daughter of a Norfolk surgeon, brought no money into the family but was much-loved, took to the Earl's son by his first marriage as if her own, bore him two more children and became one of the most accomplished personalities of the day...
Frances was a gifted water-colourist too, much-evidenced by the paintings we saw..
along with those by Angelica Kauffman, one of the great unsung women artists, a contemporary of Plymouth-based Sir Joshua Reynolds, and of course greatly eclipsed by him.
In keeping with my quest for textiles I spied this quilt, sadly a recent addition but exquisite all the same..
I love the kitchens in these grand houses and Saltram's is fascinating, not least for the vast, and apparently chimney-less range which sits squarely in the middle of the room.
We've taken to asking the room stewards as many questions as we want on these visits. They've all swotted up on their subject and talk with a love and fascination for the houses, so it seems a pity not to use them, and thus we discover that the range has a very clever system of underground flues, whilst the fire has pipes for heating the water and a system of gears and fans which in turn rotate the roasting spit.
Clever these Georgians eh.
When you think it would have been here that meals such as this, when the family dined en famille, were prepared...
'...consisting generally of a dish of Fish by itself which is handed about the Table, then a made dish and small roast etc. and two enormous covers of Vegetables, then perhaps a Rabbit and a Tart follow'd on the Cloth by 3 or 4 dishes of fruit, bad port wine and claret...
When the boat needed to be pushed out for guests 'Turtle accompanied by ice lime Punch' was frequent fare, and you can readily imagine it being served up here...
I can get quite carried away imagining who might have stood at this magnificent (to me) copper-lined sink doing the clearing up afterwards..
Scouring the Saltram library shelves for that first edition of Emma proved fruitless...long gone, but we did find a well-read second edition of Pride and Prejudice in its three volume format...
China cupboards hold endless and priceless fascinations of pattern and colour...
...and I wouldn't mind a dig around in the garden here for some 'findings' , something is bound to have been broken and turfed out of the back door surely...
Mind you this all pales into insignificance when you then visit Port Eliot, as Bookhound and I did last week, to talk about Festival 2014. Whilst many National Trust properties are a conglomeration of objects brought in from outside, you know that everything you lay eyes on at Port Eliot is original, has always been there and in use by the family for several hundred years.
After what we all agreed has been a welcome and restful gap year (you can read about 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 here ) Port Eliot Festival 2014 dates are already set for July 24th to July 27th, and the dovegreyreader tent will be there again, same place, same format and very excited we are about it too. Watch this space for more news as and when, and to get a flavour of 2012 have a look here, blink and you'll miss it but do pay attention at 1:17 (the choir making merry at the dgr tent and me conducting in my spotty wellies) and 2:18 (Robert Macfarlane talking and us all listening).