Aug 29, 2012

Final part of this series – Jane Austen, Stoneleigh, Spooky goings on and Good News for DI Dylan followers!

The subtle, soft, and dark swelling ambient drone of the air conditioning fan filled the quiet room.  The door opened and the light  curtain swayed to it’s breeze, in the half-lit hotel room. This was going to be no ordinary day…

Breakfast eaten and the sun barely broken through the clouds, we set off on our journey to Stoneleigh Abbey – for those who wish to read more than this ‘snapshot’ here is the link to the internet site www.stoneleighabbey.org

Stoneleigh has featured in the BBC’s ‘The Land Girls’ with scenes being shot in the stables but more importantly it has a family link to Jane Austen.

The place is most remarkable considering the Red stone walled building of  The Gatehouse

 

This  dates back to the 12th and 14th centuries during the time when the land was occupied by Cistercial monks and was used as a hospitium (guesthouse0, giving alms and shelter to weary travellers and was teh secluded Cistercian society for 400 years. Charles 1, Queen Victory and Jane Austen have passed under this archway as well as Bob and I :-)  …

The Abbey was founded in 1154 when Henry II granted lands to a small community of monks. The Abbey Gatehouse built by 16th Abbot, Robert de Hockele. In 1535 the last Abbot surrendered estate to the Crown at the dissolution of the monasteries. Estate subsequently granted (in 1538) to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk.

And to the other side. 

The gateway for little people?

A close up of the very Shakespearean staircase and balacony!

What was to greet us as we turned was quite unexpected for in 1561 William Cavendish sold the estate to a city merchant, Sir Roland Hill jointly with Sir Thomas Leigh.

Sir Thomas Leigh – Don’t you think he looks abit like Bruce Forsyth? ( The present Lord Leigh is a direct descendant of Sir Thomas Leigh.)

Thomas Leigh dies to be succeeded by his son, Thomas and Stoneleigh Abbey is described as a ‘roofless ruin’ but in 1561 substantial alterations  are made to the mediaeval buildings and much 17th century work survives. Sir Thomas Leigh, grandson of the 2nd Thomas, entertained Charles I.

In the days of the Stuarts the Leighs were ardent Royalists. It was in Stoneleigh Abbey that King Charles I. found a resting-place in 1642 where his majesty met with a warm and loyal welcome and right plenteous and hospitable entertainment from his devoted subject Sir Thomas?

Some of the circumstances of his story curiously tally with those connected with the Royalist owner of Stoneleigh Abbey, and certainly the romantic attachment of the Leighs, as a family, to the Stuarts would have appealed to the imagination of the author of ‘Waverley.’ So strong was this attachment, we read, that from the time of the flight of James II. down to the very close of the eighteenth century the Lords Leigh, of each  succeeding generation, kept aloof from all public affairs, refusing even to attend the meetings of Parliament. They lived in complete retirement, amid the memories of former times, and surrounded by portraits of the fallen family. Among these there was a likeness of King Charles I., by Van Dyck, which, during the troubled times, was painted over with flowers, and which was only discovered in 1836 by some one who saw Charles 1. eye ‘peeping out’ through one of the flowers!

 The Great West Wing of the house that greeted us through the Gate house we’ve just walked through. What a surprise! When Stoneleigh Abbey was inherited by Edward, the third Lord Leigh, in 1710, went to Italy and returned full of ideas and enthusiasm to recreate at Stoneleigh something of the classical architecture that had impressed him on his tour – the result was the West Wing, an imposing Baroque structure. Edward chose Francis Smith of Warwick as his architect. building began in 1720, and, by the time work was finished six years later, the final bill was more than £3,000. A  portrait of the architect holding a pair of compasses still hangs in the Staircase Hall.

 

You can see part of the 12th and 14th century Abbey that is still ‘attached’ today to the more modern wing. Most of the older part of the building appears to have been sold off for private dwellings but during our tour we were lucky enough to be shown into the private dwellings dining room (lined with Spanish leather, as we would with wall paper today).

The Jacobean House forms part of the original twelfth century Cistercian Abbey building. The main feature of the room, and what gives it its name, is the sixteenth century leather wall covering on two walls. The coverings are Spanish, made in Cordoba, and are thought to have been brought back by Thomas Leigh 1st when travelling on business. Originally there were thirty-six panels of which thirty-two still remain.

 

 

We were shown the library.

My stomach flipped as I walked over the threshold. My heart dropped into my stomach. I shivered at the chill, but a wave of heat went through me from my head to my toes and I thought I was about to faint. I grabbed hold of Bob as we listened to the tour guides speech, although I hardly heard a word. As we stepped from the room she came over to me. ‘Are you feeling alright,’ she asked. As I stepped outside of the room I felt fine. ‘She’s probably hungry,’ said Bob. She smiled. ‘It often happens in that room,’ she said, and stopped, turned and spoke to the group. ‘Lord Leigh used to do these tours, his two Rotweillers would never step over that threshold,’ she said, pointing to the library entrance. Jane Austen’s mother said of that room. ‘The room is for Heroine’s only. What she meant by that we will never know.’ She nodded knowlingly and we carried on.  But what was for sure the feeling in that room was from another time and a non too happy time either.

Chandos Leigh created the library out of the former state bedchamber and its closet, with two round arches cut through the separating wall. This satisfied his scholarly interests and created a ‘male domain’ of the kind deemed to be essential in the 1830’s. The beautiful bookcases are made of Coromandel – an unusual form of rosewood.    

In 1858 Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited Stoneleigh. They spent many an hour in the Gazebo which has just restored to it’s original condition. I wonder what romantic thoughts they had from this superb vantage point on the River Avon which was re-routed by Humphry Repton in 1809 to create a lake effect nearer the house?

The local community still play cricket on the cricket pitch. http://www.stoneleighvillage.org.uk/clubs-and-organisations/stoneleigh-cricket-club/

And to the stables and riding school built in 1819  by C.S.Smith in Red sandstone.

Jane Austen had family connections through her mother’s family. Her visits to Stoneleigh are often relflected in her writing. Here you can read about how http://www.stoneleighabbey.org/jane_austen.html

We returned to our hotel very touched by our visit to Stoneleigh and I’m sure we will return.

A message awaited me on the computer on our return to the hotel. What an end to our tour!

Thank you Chris and Ged at Waterstones Huddersfield – you made our day! We don’t mind being sandwiched between those best sellers! :-)

Till next time!

Carol & Bob :-)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

  • This was fantastic. Thank you so much. I have my first book launch and signings etc next February, so will be acting on all your advice.

    • Hi Pauline!

      Thank you for taking the time to comment on the blog. It is always great to get feedback. Good luck with the book launch. If you think we can help in any way please feel free to contact us.

      Best wishes,

      Carol & Bob

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