English Drawing Room

by Donna Hatch

                        Petworth House

Few rooms are as quintessentially English as the Drawing Room. The very word Drawing Room inspires a host of images, doesn’t it? “Drawing room” is a shortened version of the term “Withdrawing room” for that time after dinner when ladies withdrew to allow the gentlemen to discuss manly pursuits not considered proper in mixed company such as politics, sports, news, etc. By the Regency Era, the term had shortened to simply “drawing room.”

                       Polesdon Lacey

During the day, a British host or hostess often received guests in the drawing room or parlor. During chilly months, they partitioned off one end of the room with screens to keep in the warmth, and gathered together near the hearth. When not entertaining, ladies went to the drawing room of paint or sketch, sew or tat, do crafts such as glue ribbons or feathers on hats, or shell or beadwork, write letters, or keep journals. Evenings when British families stayed at home together, they gathered to read aloud or silently, play music or games, or simply talk–all in the drawing room.

For entertaining, they opened up the entire room and filled it with guests dressed in their finery, enjoying drinks, making business deals, making matches (also often business deals), and delighting over the latest on dits.

                                        Petworth House

 

The drawing room also served as a ballroom for those houses without a dedicated ballroom. If the dance occurred spontaneously, servants—and sometimes guests—moved furniture to the edges of the room and rolled up the carpets to allow room for dancing.

For formal balls, all this preparation was done ahead of time, with chairs placed against the walls and perhaps a few small tables where ladies might leave their reticules or fans or shawls while they danced. Married and older ladies generally occupied these chairs so they could gossip with their friends while the younger folk enjoyed the often vigorous dances.

                        Chawton House Hall

If a house or castle did not have a formal drawing room, the great hall, also known simply as the hall, served this purpose just as well.

Can’t you just imagine these rooms filled with ladies dressed in silk ball gowns dancing with gentlemen in their fine tailcoats?

Advertisements

Jane Austen Centre, Bath

The charming doorman of the Jane Austen Centre

When I visited the Jane Austen Centre at 40 Gay Street in Bath, I was unprepared for the “wow factor” I experienced. I entered their permanent exhibit in this Georgian home with high hopes of geeking out about one of my real-life heroines, a woman who defied the odds and met success as an author in an era when women were viewed as little more than baby machines or governesses, and when nice girls didn’t write and publish books.

However, this delightful place did more than feed my fan-girl hunger. From the doorman with his friendly smile, who, by the way, is the most photographed face in the UK, to the charming and lovely costumed guides who adore (worship?) Jane as much as I do, this is the ultimate destination for Jane-ites.

To educate and pique the interest of those who are not true fans of Jane Austen, the tour began with a movie highlighting Jane Austen’s life and career. Knowing more about her helped my husband have a greater appreciation for her and her influence on me as well as my writing.

Then the guides took us through the various exhibits describing her life, her family, her books, and how she first got published. She was ahead of her time in many ways, and ended up doing what is now known as indy publishing for her first few books.

Jane lived in Bath twice. And though many historians claimed she disliked her times there, it is irrefutable fact that her stays in Bath influenced her writing, and mostly in a positive way.

Do join me for a spot of tea.

Oh, Mr. Darcy!

There’s a place to try on authentic re-creations of Regency clothes for a photo shoot.

I swooned under the piercing gaze of the delicious Mr. Darcy!

Their gift shop, complete with a costumed cashier, was a fun place to browse tempting souvenirs. Yes, I indulged. I bought a lace fan, a bookend silhouette of Jane, some super fancy chocolates, and gifts for friends. Good thing I had limited luggage space or I might have come home with more!

They also have a tea shop where anyone can pop in and enjoy a spot of tea.

Do you enjoy Austen-era romances and Regency historical romances? Check out my novels, novellas, and short stories on my bookshelf or my Amazon author site.

To learn more about Jane Austen, visit these places:

Welcome to Jane Austen – www.janeausten.co.uk

https://www.janeausten.co.uk/embed/#?secret=XHV4JU0H5O

https://www.biography.com/people/jane-austen-9192819?_escaped_fragment_=

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000807/bio

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jane-Austen

Following Jane Austen’s footsteps in Chawton House

Chawton House is an Elizabethan manor in the village of Chawton in Hampshire, England. Formerly the property of Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Austen Knight, it is now is managed by the National Trust and open for tours. I couldn’t hardly wait to visit this historic site during my research tour in England.

The current Chawton house was built by the Knight family in the 1580s on the site of a medieval manor house dating back to the 1200s.  

The Knights were not quite in the class of gentlemen, but rather yeomen, which is a step below, but still considered respectable, ranking higher than the working class since they owned property with tenants. During the Elizabethan era, the Knight family embarked on the construction project for much of the present-day Chawton House. 

The 17th-century house was constructed of flint with a tile roof and stone dressings. The three gabled-south side has two storeys and an attic. It also possesses a famous library with an impressive number of books which were an expensive commodity in those days. Today many of those volumes are priceless. What makes this library so unique is the number of tomes written by women poets and novelists, and those written by men who were what people today would consider feminist they way they glorify women warriors. I wonder if they inspired Jane Austen in some small way.

Some good-looking guy keeps photo bombing my pictures. Oh, wait; that’s my husband 🙂

 Today’s entrance hall was once the great hall. Screens to help cut down on drafts originally stood along the great hall near the door, but later descendants walled off a walkway or passageway to keep the great hall warmer. 

                                  Buckets in the entrance hall.

When I first walked in, I noticed buckets along the ceiling. Apparently, they were stored there in the event of a fire; the residents could quickly form a bucket brigade.  

In later years, the Knight family was plagued by a lack of sons, and so many males who were not direct descendants inherited the house and property over the generations, each changing their birth surname to Knight to assume ownership of the property. The Knight family adopted Edward Austen, one of Jane Austen’s older brothers. Adoption was a very rare event in those days, and it is not known exactly why they chose Edward as their adopted son. However, he also changed his surname from Austen to Knight and inherited the estate. 

My gorgeous husband who is 5’8″ illustrates just how low the doorways are.

Jane Austen stayed in this house on and off during her life. When Edward inherited the estate, he allowed his widowed birth mother and unmarried sisters, Jane and Cassandra, to live in a cottage nearby. It is here where Jane seemed most happy and enjoyed the most success as an author. 

                  The dining room at Chawton House

Chawton House was considered one of the big houses in the area. However, I was struck by its humble nature compared to other stately homes I toured during my visit to England. The rooms are small, dark, and cramped, with very low doorways. The floors on the upper levels slope dramatically. Still, compared to the cottage where Jane lived the last several years of her life, as well as the tiny and primitive tenant homes that must have been on the estate, it probably seemed grand, indeed. The house is full of quaint and charming rooms, many of which are furnished with the same furniture Jane and her brother used. I couldn’t help but reverently run my hand over the very table where Jane dined during her visits. 

Today’s estate on which Chawton house resides is approximate 275 acres. The grounds and gardens are lovely! I could have spent hours exploring them despite the record heatwave England suffered during part of my visit. The grounds offer a combination of a wilderness through which paths meander, and more formal gardens. Natural lawns spread out in all directions where animals graze, contained by discrete ditches cut into the hillside known as ha-has which are virtually unseen from the house. The grounds also have terraces, stone stairways, a profusion of flowers and flowering shrubs, fruit trees and shade trees, and comfortable places to sit and enjoy the great outdoors.

Edward’s house and garden made an impression on Jane Austen and seem to have influenced her novels, especially Emma. Some scholars believe Mr. Knightly’s Donwell Abbey was based upon the Knight family’s Chawton House. Perhaps this is why Jane chose the surname of Knightly for her fictional hero, who, by the way is one of my favorite Austen heroes. 

Tony & Julie Roberts in the back lawn of Chawton House. They are such a cute couple!

My friend and fellow Regency Author, Julie Roberts, and her husband Tony, were so kind to offer us their hospitality during this portion of our trip to England, and to bring us to this historic location. I will always appreciate their generosity.

Our friends, Tony & Julie Roberts sitting with my husband and me in their son and daughter-in-law’s backyard. We had a lovely visit with our attentive and gracious hosts!

 

Sources:

My visit in June of 2017, the Chawton House Guide, and Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bath, Time Traveling to Rome or Georgian England

by Donna Hatch

When Rome occupied England, the quaint English town now known as Bath was a hub for social, religious, heath, and recreational activities. The sick–those who could afford it–flocked to the healing mineral waters of a warm natural springs. They sought cures, or at least relief, from all manner of health complaints such as palsy, arthritis, gout, skin diseases including leprosy, and many chronic and terminal illnesses.  It seems that both genders bathed together, some clothed, some not. I’ll leave it up to your imagination to decide whether they stayed focused on getting relief from their ailments.

The engineering that went into creating the spa two thousand years ago is truly mind boggling. There are many rooms and a complex system of pumps and pipes that carry the water from the main spring to other parts of the elaborate Roman structure.

I might have been tempted to bathe in a shallow tub of the mineral water if I’d been allowed, but I would never have gone into that enormous pool of murky green water that occasionally bubbled unless I was desperate. It was also kinda creepy not being able to see the bottom. Still, I had to admire the workmanship that went into the design and construction of the building, and the fact that such an ancient structure remains. It is truly a testament to those who lived and worked here so long ago. In the midst of that venerable structure, I imagined people long gone visiting the spa. In the waters, some frolicked for pleasure, and others simply immersed themselves hoping for a miracle. All of them walked or were carried across the rocks that still bear the wear marks of thousands of feet.

Today, the original bath is open for tours but not for bathing so as to preserve its structure. Visitors are admonished not to even touch the water. Modern bath houses provide visitors the opportunity to bathe in the warm mineral waters that many agree has healing properties. Unfortunately, England was in the throes of one of the worst heat waves on record during my visit, so a warm bath lacked its usual appeal.

After the Romans pulled out of England, they abandoned this unique area to the ancient Saxons and Normans. Later, Christian churches arrived.

During the Georgian Era, Bath became a fashionable resort town. People came here to “take the waters,” a Georgian term meaning bathe in the warm mineral pools.

“Taking the waters” also meant to drink water from the Pump Room, which became a gathering place to socialize and flirt, as well as drink the water they believed had additional healing properties if ingested. Inside the Pump Room is a lovely, antique pump that squirts out water in a continuous fountain to allow those with the desire to sample its offering. The Pump Room I visited was a new version built in 1777 to replace an older one originally constructed in 1706. Apparently, the excavation process of this new Pump Room led to the discovery of the Roman Temple.

In case you are wondering, I did not drink the water when I was there. Remembering its green, murky origins a few feet below, not to mention its smell of Sulphur and its reputation for tasting awful, was enough to discourage my sense of adventure. I suppose if any of my characters ever drink the water, I will have to get more detailed second-hand accounts of its taste.

But let us return Georgian society in Bath. With the arrival of the wealthy, some of whom only stayed for the summer, and others who made Bath their permanent home, beautiful homes and neighborhoods cropped up, including The Circus, a circular-shaped neighborhood of beautiful townhomes, and Royal Crescent, an even more upscale set of luxury mansion-style townhomes in the shape of a crescent as its name suggests. I toured one of these townhomes, Number One Royal Crescent, which is a glimpse into life as a wealthy, Georgian gentleman.

                                         The Royal Crescent

 

Jane Austen lived in Bath for several years with her family. While many claim that Jane disliked living in Bath, a large portion of two of her novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, took place in Bath which she portrays as an exciting and lovely place.

Bath Abbey

 

Beyond enchanting, Bath has a timelessness about it. Walking the streets, I easily imagined myself a character in a Jane Austen novel. Strolling along the river, having afternoon tea in the Pump Room, prowling the streets,  and exploring the Roman Baths creates a sense of having time traveled. With each step I took, I could almost see images of those who’d trod those cobbled paths before me including kings and queens, lords and ladies, and poets and authors including our beloved Jane Austen.

My interest in Bath began long before I visited this fascinating city. Five years ago I wrote my Regency Romance novel, A Perfect Secret, which has a few chapters that take place in Bath. Now I may have to write another book that takes place in this ancient and unique town just to relive my adventures there.

The Avon running under Pulteney Bridge

 

 

 

Sources:

My research for this post comes from personal experience as I toured Bath. However, you might enjoy these other sites for more information:

Taking Cure in Bath

The Lakes District and Slate Rock

Like the millions of visitors before me, the Lakes District instilled in me a sense of wonder and awe. The beauty of the area is balanced by a yesteryear charm, including unspoiled vistas, the multitude of lakes also called “meres” and “waters,” delightful names such as Windermere, Ambleside, and Loweswater, and the preservation of history. They even  have a stone circle called Castlerigg that predates Stonehenge.

There is something magical about this area. The colors are more vivid, the light more pure, the landscape more natural and more passionate than any I’ve ever visited. I could point my camera in any old direction with zero to no set up and capture a print-worthy image. Even the photos of me in the area turned out well, and that’s saying something!

Once of the many fascinating aspects of the area was the use of slate stones to build fences, barns, bridges, businesses, and pretty much any type of structure. When the early settlers found farming difficult due to the multitude of stones in their fields, they removed the offending elements, and like any enterprising settler skilled at making lemons out of lemonade, put these rocks to good use in constructing all their buildings. Slate rock was readily available, study, and durable—perfect for building material.

Today, the skill used to build these stone structures is in danger of becoming a lost art. They use a technique called dry stone. Builders literally use dry stones, with no mortar or cement to glue them together. Like a master puzzle solver, the specialist meticulously chooses each rock for its shape and size, and fits them together to create a strong structure that holds up to animals, weather, and even time itself.

A technique called stone cladding, is placing a thinner layer of stone to the outside of buildings. Unlike shingles, siding or stucco, stones never need painting and seldom need repairs or replacing. Some of the buildings also had a white exterior called pebble dash, which is similar to stucco but uses local materials.

Slate rock structures are just one of the many unique and memorable reasons I fell in love with the Lakes District of England. I fell in love with this beautiful part of England and fully expect to set at not so distant future novel in the magical Lakes District.

 

 

 

Americans vs Brits Book Giveaway

Win up to 14 American vs British eBooks!

You are invited to join this multi-author event and settle the question of which you love more–American romances or British romances. I was lucky enough to be invited to participate. My Regency Romance, The Stranger She Married, is included in this grand event. You might win as many as ALL the books in this promotion.

Enter the giveaway here: http://AuthorsXP.com/giveaway

(2) Grand Prize “Gift Baskets” of ALL eBooks!
(13+) Winners of Individual eBooks (randomly selected titles)

Read more about these authors and books below!

http://AuthorsXP.com/giveaway

Hurry! Giveaway ends August 21, 2017. Winners will be announced August 22, 2017.

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle June 2017

Windsor Castle is a worldwide icon for England. Built in the eleventh century, it has been in continuous use as a royal residence since William the Conqueror–the only structure that fits that description. To date, thirty nine royal generations have called this home. In recent times, Windsor Castle became more of a weekend retreat for the royal family, although formal events also occur here.

      Donna Hatch in front of Windsor Castle

William the Conqueror founded the castle and is credited for its original design, however, Edward III, Charles II and George IV all left their marks creating new sections and improving the exterior. Today it is as sumptuous as any stately home and befitting a royal family. As a visitor, I was not allowed to photograph the interior, unfortunately, so all my pictures are of the exterior.

The castle was originally meant as a fortress from which to defend from enemies but quickly became a place for the royal family to live and to entertain state guests. Though its first carnation, began in 1070 and completed in 1086, had outer walls built out of timber, Henry II had it re-walled with stone. Many monarchs left their mark in this impressive castle, however, it was King George IV’s vision who remade it into the lavish palace it is today. Never one to hesitate to spend staggering amounts of money on his own pleasures, King George IV (formerly the Prince Regent for which is named the Regency Era) created an almost fairy-tale-like quality that is today’s Windsor Castle.  Queen Victoria spent much time here, using Windsor Castle as her country retreat as well as a place to entertain state and foreign visitors, much as it is used today. During her reign, it also became a favored location for family gatherings, weddings, and celebrations.

Another major player in today’s castle décor was the fire of 1992.  It is ironic that the castle survived World War II bombings when so much of London was destroyed, only for such devastation to come from a fire. During a major rewiring project–at which time someone inspired soul had the wisdom to have most of the art and furnishings removed–a fire began in Queen Victoria’s Private chapel in the northeast corner of the castle. Investigators believe a curtain blew too closely to a spotlight, which caused an ignition over the altar. The fire spread with astonishing speed.

                        A Romeo and Juliet worthy window

While the world watched with breathless horror, 200 firefighters battled the blaze for 15 hours. In the typical indomitable spirit which defines the British, they began restoration immediately. During my visit, a kind tour guide standing inside Queen Victoria’s chapel showed me photos of the castle before, during, and after the fire and explained the tragic events that transpired there. I drank it all in, equally horrified and fascinated. Heart-rending video, as well as photos of just after the fire, and of how it looks now after the restoration can be viewed here. I wish I could have gotten copies of the before and after photos that I saw, but for some reason those were not available for the asking.

Today, most of the restored areas are even more beautiful than before the fire. St. George’s hall, a breathtaking medieval hall honoring knights, looks even better now than it did before the fire, with much lighter wood details on the ceiling than its twelfth century version. The workmanship was identical to medieval techniques, which satisfied the history nerd in me. According to the Official Souvenir Guide, “the castle is now in better condition than at any time for the last 200 years.”

I lingered in delight over the queen’s doll house filled with miniatures. I also basked in the beauty of the Queen’s drawing room where so many of my heroines from my novels would have taken their bows to the queen. The state rooms also invite one to linger and bask in the beauty and history, not only of the castle, but of the people whose heritage is so rich with tradition and honor.

                       Windsor Castle Moat Gardens

The gardens are lovely! Built in what was originally intended to be the moat but never served in that capacity, the gardens are a lovely refuge where I would loved to have lingered.

Fun crown detail on top of all the light posts

Now that I’ve seen it, I want to write at least one scene in a future book that takes place in Windsor Castle. Perhaps my hero or heroine are invited to Windsor Castle for some state function. Or perhaps for a secret mission. Hmmm. The possibilities are endless.

But for now, my hero and heroine have their hands full in my upcoming release,  Courting the Country Miss, coming soon. I’m very excited because this features characters from one of my previous books called Courting the Countess.

Here is the back cover blurb for my newest Regency Romance, Courting the Country Miss:

Cynical and broken-hearted, Leticia banishes dreams of marriage. When her childhood friend, Tristan, wagers he can find her the perfect husband, she hopes the challenge will coax him to forgo his devil-may-care lifestyle. Meanwhile, Leticia throws herself into forming her charity school but meets opposition—even from the people she’s helping.

Guilt-ridden that his past mistakes robbed Leticia of true love, Tristan vows to set it right, but match-making has its pitfalls for a repentant scoundrel. When he finds two ‘perfect’ gentlemen to court her, he discovers his own deep feelings for the lady.

Though Tristan seems to reform, Leticia doesn’t dare risk heartbreak with a notorious rake. When opposition for the school takes a deadly turn, can Tristan protect her from a madman bent on destroying their dreams and their lives?

Courting the Country Miss is available now from Amazon or directly from my publisher as well as other retail book stores.

Sources:

Most of this information came from the walking tour of London I took during my Regency Tour with Number One London Tours, plus my own observation during my visit. However, another source for further reading is Gaelen Foley’s excellent blog about Regency  Country House & Townhouse.