Last time we talked about early tourism; well, we cheated a bit and took pilgrimage to be a tourist activity which is a bit of a stretch really. But hey, who’s counting. And then we talked about people who loved to travel around our country in search of old stuff – the rather odd folks known as Antiquarians.
This time then let us consider the tourism that replaced the medieval pilgrimage, and its essentially elite nature. And follow through to how we then all ended up trawling round country houses hoping the tea room is next so we can have a bit of Carrot cake, a cup of tea and get back home.
Now, I need to start though by setting expectations. I think I may have regaled you before about how my sister managed expectations before her friends met her little brother for the first time, by painting me in the worst possible light, so that when I appeared without blood on my lips and snot on my shirt, they were pleasantly surprised. So let me also manage your expectation; what we are not going to do is get into the highlands of Victorian travel and leisure – though there is definitely a few episodes there which I have on my list to write at some point. In fact, I am going to finish where all great art ends up actually – in Loughborough, right at the very start of that age. Just so you know what to expect.
I want to remind you before we get into it of our three inconvertible truths:
- Buildings from the past should generally be preserved, they can teach us of how our ancestors lived, or for their artistic and cultural value
- Getting out into the countryside is a good way of refuelling the batteries, both for exercise and/or by appreciating the beauty of the natural world
- Travel is both educational and recreational, it can broaden the mind and be fun
So, I can get a bit more into the fact that these were not, in fact, incontrovertible truths in the days of yore, when furry creatures and all that. For starters, people were at one stage far from keen to preserve all those old ruins lying around – washed up monasteries, redundant castles and all. In general, Gothic was not prized by the time we get to the Elizabethans. Here is our Henry Wootten, having a go at Gothic architecture, the style of the past, the days dominated by the ‘haughty nobility’ as others would have it, the age of barbarous feudalism:
‘for the natural imbecility of the sharp angle itself, and likewise for their very uncomeliness, ought to be exiled from judicious eyes and left to their first inventors, the Goths or Lombards, amongst other relics of that barbarous age.”
So…not a good thing then. Salisbury Cathedral, pshaw, knock it down. There’s a bit of a blame game going on in the name; the style of pointy arches and the flight to the sky is here by Wootten named after the peoples, Lombards and Goths. Now these peoples were on the renaissance naughty step, what with their fury jackets, axes, black eye shadow and all, held responsible by the renaissance for that worst of all possible crimes – the destruction of the classical world. Bad Goths, Naughty Goths. Now it’s not universal; Francis Bacon for example, who seems like an increasingly solid sort of bloke to me, was very sympathetic to old buildings and the Gothic style –
it is a reverend thing to see an ancient castle or building in decay
Francis, or Frannie as he is known affectionately in the Crowther household, is an interesting example of the forward thinking in the scientific method, while being thoroughly traditional in terms of social responsibility and heritage. But as a general trend, Frannie baby aside, it is the modern that was admired at the time, and tired, pointy old post classical stuff like the Gothic to be ignored and denigrated.
Similarly, the attitude towards Nature at this time and for a while yet, is thoroughly negative. Almost nobody in their right minds would go to see the Peak District in the 17th century for example; Daniel Defoe described it as a ‘houling wilderness’ and probably shuddered as he did so and took a nip of whiskey to calm the nerves. There was a similar attitude in Scotland by lowlanders towards the highlands, there was nothing like the reverence and wonder in which it is held now. Back then – it was a scary, threatening place and people died there
The Highlands are but little known even to the inhabitants of the low country of Scotland, for they have ever dreaded the difficulties and dangers of travelling among the mountains; and when some ordinary occasion has obliged any one of them to such a progress, he has, generally speaking, made his testament before setting out, as though he were entering upon a long and dangerous sea voyage, wherein it was very doubtful if he should ever return.
The thing that drove those that could, gentry and nobility visiting gentle and noble friends, to go and see country houses in the 17th century was to see the conspicuous display of wealth and taste; the very latest thig darling, the all new symmetry of the Elizabethan and Jacobean prodigy houses like Theobalds and Burghley. The formality and structured layout of the gardens – which reflected not the triumph and beauty of wildness and nature – but nature’s conquest. I guess the point is that we are now used to nature being, relatively speaking, at our command. I mean now we are realising quite what an illusion that is, but in parts of the world at least Nature appears to have been trained and ordered towards producing reliable crops, and famine banished by humankind’s science and commerce. Such was still not the case in the 16th and 17th century, nature could and frequently was, a killer, red in tooth and in claw. So it was small wonder that nature, untamed, was less something to be celebrated, and more feared, and its control and formalisation to be enjoyed in safety. They came also to wonder at the intricacy and complexity of the devices and secrets wound into and around the classical design, such as Tresham’s rule of the trinity at Triangular Lodge. But while the conspicuous display of wealth and modernity of the building took the breath away, it was really the contents that the visitor sought.
By and large, the contents they came to see were of two sorts. One was thoroughly traditional, and along the lines of celebrating the august nature of the inhabitants; reams and reams of portraits of the grand, illustrious and worshipful famous forebears. The paintings on display were almost exclusively portraits; there to convey the status of the owner’s connections and relationship not just with forbears but with famous and powerful figures of the current day. As far as your barbarous Englishman and woman was concerned, the quality of the execution was entirely beside the point, and no one bothered to mention the name of the painter; good lord that would be like having Dave and Kieran sign their names at the bottom of Crowther bedroom wall the decorated. There was none of the intellectual curiosity about style and form and art. This is all status, and art was to deliver a perfect representation of reality, not the inner soul or anything daft like that.
Painting is an art; because it imitateth natural things most precisely and is the counterfeiter and the very ape of nature
Wrote Richard Haydoke, in 1598. Along with portraits would be the normal trappings that displayed the wealth and power of the inhabitant – rich tapestries, marble busts, all of which were on display at the royal palaces. It would take the development of collecting, particularly with Henry of Arundel from the 1620s, to get the idea of art for art’s sake rolling.
However, the 17th century brought another attraction to the contents of the great houses, and it reflects the growing interest and prestige attached to science and knowledge of the wider world which was increasingly opening up to the English. I speak of the ‘Curiosity’. Just to combine the art and curiosity thing, Thomas Platter wrote home to Basle from the fabulous Henry VIII creation of Nonsuch palace about a portrait of Edward VI he saw there; It had a very long nose. Given the focus of Tudors on their iconography, this seems rather remarkable, but there was a game. So there was an iron bar provided nearby the picture
If you lengthen this bar for three spans and look at the portrait through a little hole made in the plate…you find the ugly face transformed into a well-formed one
Like most 16th century and early 17th century visitors, Thomas wanted to be amazed and impressed by all that was rare and costly. And to enthusiastically satisfy this demand came the phenomenon known by the Italian term of Virtuoso, described by the Earl of Shaftesbury as
‘real fine gentlemen…lovers of art and ingenuity
A real fine gentleman had the leisure and resources to travel and collect, and travel between England and the continent in the 17th century was getting easier. If you had travelled – well you added to your prestige of course.
And if you had travelled you came into contact with the mores and habits of the leading cultures of the day, and one of those was to be found in the Studioli of the Italian Princes -like Francesco de Medici. The Studiolo was a small room, deeply private room for the great lord and lady, often lavishly decorated, dedicated to reading, studying and writing and the most special painting and unusual artifacts. For Francesco, his studolo had a purpose – to demonstrate his immense power over all things, natural and artificial. In 1580, he converted the top floor of his palace, the Ufizzi into a showpiece for his magnificent collection – after all, there’s not much point having a magnificent collection unless everyone knows and sees that you have a magnificent collection.
The purpose of other studioli was more scientific. So let me take you to the company of a gentleman of the glorious Italian City of Verona. Francesco Calceolari was an apothecary, used to shelves and cure cupboards stacked with stuff, bottles, fossils, arcana. And he was a naturalist used to collecting plant and animal specimens for his concoctions, sure to extend your life and all that, and a teacher to. So Francesco opened a museum for his students which contained 11,000 fruits, minerals and animals. They were displayed to use for practical research; but also, yes to excite wonder and delight.
Now since many of these collections were purposefully made public, they were the target for English collectors and real fine gentlemen, because ‘real fine gentleman’ meant you had the resources to wander about aimlessly at your leisure rather than enjoying the dignity of labour to stay alive, and also some spare cash in pocket to collect, to collect and amass rare and splendid collections. You could them bring them home, and show them to your friends and clients and hopefully patrons, build your reputation as a virtuoso and thereby your social status and standing in society. To be described as one of the virtuosi became part and parcel of the image of the gentleman. One Henry Peacham in 1634 waxed lyrical about the possession of such objects
The possession of such rarities by reason of their deadly costliness, doth properly belong to princes, or rather to princely minds
Henry Peacham was such a brown noser.
The English royals, whose palaces were the main target of foreign visitors as we heard last week, were keen to display their princely wares. So at Windsor, there was a unicorn horn – unicorns were quite popular actually; we’d probably recognise their paraphenalia as coming from narwhals; Queen Elizabeth’s bedchamber sported a stuffed Bird of paradise which was popular – almost as much as the mirror in which her ancestor
Henry VII was able to see what he wished; but this mirror broke in pieces of itself when the king died
A magical tradition all the more useful for now being uncheckable, The Duke of Pomerania-Wolgast was shown three bloody marks supposed to be the erstwhile property of Henry VII.
But well-off individuals and gentlemen were not far behind the royals, and built their own collections; the closet of the great country house was pressed into service to store all this stuff and show them off to favoured visitors, just like the Italian Studioli. Others were more obviously public; the master of the game was probably MP and Cecil’s protégé, one Walter Cope, knight of the realm, knighted by James I on his way south to pick up his new kingdom in 1603, and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. At his house at London was the most astonishing collection. There were, amongst other things, and in no particular order; if you understand the allusion, you might wish to imagine yourself watchin the conveyor belt of prized in the Generation Games with Brucie a allusion that dates and places me horribly:
- 2 Sea Horse teeth
- A rhinoceros horn
- An embalmed child
- A Chinese cap made from Goosefeet
- An Indian canoe
- A round horn which had grown out of an English woman’s forehead
- Clothes from China, Arabia and Java
- A little fish which held up stops ships from sailing
How may of those can you remember?
Or there was the Tradescant collection at the Ark in Lambeth, showed off with wild abandon by John Tradescant, a merchant who travelled widely to Russia and the Barbary coast. Or there was the collection of Robert Hubert near St Pauls Cathedral, and open to the public every afternoon for the payment of a fee, or to private parties who wanted to see the real stuff behind the public cabinets.
Most collections of course were not so showy and public; but stayed in the closet of the grand house for private viewing. But increasingly those visitors might include any kind of gentlefolk of the right order, not just your dinner companions and chumps, and well-heeled gentry folk might apply to the housekeepers of big houses to see said collection. Tradescant’s collection would end up in the hands of one Elias Ashmole; and would form the core of the Ashmolean Museum, founded in Oxford in the 1680s, and still going strong.
By 1680 though, the mood had changed. We the People are so fickle are we not? The virtuosi with their cabinets of curiosities had become something of an object of fun; the butt of Thomas Shadwell’s 1676 play ‘The Virtuosi’ and its pseudo scientist Sir Nicholas Gimcrack. I mean it died hard; who would not be fascinated to go and see the hat that had belonged to the chambermaid of Pontius Pilate’s wife? I mean – don’t even bother to tell me the price of the ticket – I’m there! But mockery is a pretty tough enemy to overcome, and there was plenty of ammo in the weird and wonderful collections when laughter ripped away the veil of wonder and credulity. So the virtuosi became increasingly to be seen as cranks, weirdos and con merchants. But in terms of the tourist trade, the subject of our podcast, the age of the virtuosi was not wasted; it filled country houses with interesting stuff to go and see and people would go! But by the late 17th Century, the mood changed, and people wanted to go and see something else – to see art and architecture rather than science. Why? Who? How has this happened?
If we are going to name names – which obviously is always a noble pursuit – then Henry Howard, the 17th century earl of Arundel is probably right up there, alongside his royal boss, Charles I. Arundel travelled widely in Europe, and worked a network of agents hard at work to gather a collection of drawing and art work; and in so doing convinced Charles Stuart that such a collection was a way of enhancing the prestige and dignity of a great man; Charles of course would become a famous patron of the arts and well informed collector of art, until his efforts were cut short by an incident with a large axe. At the same time, we have the arrival in town of a famous tradition – the Grand Tour. By the early 1700s scores of young, landed Englishmen were crawling over the artworks of Italy in particular, shepherded by worried looking with tutors, tasked with both educating them and keeping them out of trouble, or at least out of serious trouble. It probably tells us something that such tutors became known as ‘Bear leaders’. There’s loads written about the Grand Tour, it’s a bit of a hoot which will last well into the 20th century, and of course I suppose Inter railing might be the modern idiom? Maybe not – when you pick up your rucksack and head for the train station, you don’t re-appear 6 months afterwards with crate loads of artwork from the classical world, you come back instead with stories of dodgy hostels and hopefully things you can’t tell your parents. In the 18th century – you did just that, and displayed them proudly in your country pile.
And when you’d proudly installed in in said pile, people like Celia Fiennes and Caroline Libbye Powys came to see them. Celia and Caroline are handy examples of the changes that happen in the 18th century, which is when tourism really kicks off – for a certain section of society anyway, and also shines an ever so slightly more positive light on changing opportunities for women, though to a limited degree it has to be said.
Celia Fiennes then,was the Non conformist grand-daughter of Viscount Saye and Sele, and was made famous by the publication of her journeys, the records of her travels all around England in the 168os and 1690s. She went to
Regain her health by variety and change of air and exercise
She sounds a bit like my mother convincing small children of the healing properties of deep breaths of fresh air. Either for health or more likely as a wayof getting bloody children out of her hair, the jury is out on that question frankly. She loved the curious and the new did Celia, she took with her that tradition that newness and cleverness was what you were after. So Haddon Hall, a glorious pile in Derbyshire and one of my personal favourites is a delicious combination of the Medieval Castle with renaissance additions. For Celia it was
A good old house…but nothing very curious.
Sao – bit of a let down, nothing curious. She went to Chatsworth did Celia, and admired particularly the Gardens being laid out by the Frenchman Grillet. Now the gardens had lots of oddities and innovations and things to look at like that – though still in formal walks; one of the things she particularly admired was an artificial willow
The leaves bark, and all looks very natural…and all of a sudden by turning on a sluice it runs from every leaf and from the branches like a shower, it being made of brass and pipes…but in appearance is exactly like a willow
We’ll come back to that willow. Anyway, innovation was the thing still, curiosity, invention, modernity but now the gardens were definitely part of the attraction; she generally dismissed the relics of the past like ruined abbeys or the gothic – new stuff, that was the thing.
What made Celia’s health programme possible, though was partly an older tradition I keep mentioning, the hospitality thing. So Celia would simply tip up at a grand house, get herself a room at an inn nearby and toddle along to the house in confident expectation of admission. So, when she went to Bretby in Derbyshire in 1698 she turned up when the family of the Earl of Chesterfield were in residence, and actually throwing a wedding. For which circumstance the phrase ‘not actually a good time’ springs to my mind. But not a bit of it. The laws of hospitality dictated that She be offered a glass of wine by the housekeeper, and shown around – although she wasn’t able to get into the drawing room where you know, there was a party was going on – but was delighted by the Velvet bed in the bridal chamber, so she certainly wasn’t complaining at her reception.
Things have changed if you are ever down our way; anecdote alert, we have someone locally who lived in South Africa for a long while and was telling me of her exasperation of the English resistance to dropping round for a chat and staying for hours. I was able to advise her that this is a myth; we are really very open to neighbourly visits – as long as she lodges an application by triplicate for consideration 3 weeks ahead of her intended visit. Surely that’s friendly enough isn’t it? Possibly I confirmed her view of English rubbish ness, I could be wrong.
Anyway, Celia found the old traditions of hospitality alive and kicking. In her notes on Bretby she references ‘admired by all’ so she’s clearly not alone in dropping in for a nose around. She was also a sign of something of a bit of a bit of an alternative to the rage for the Grand Tour, for the wonders of the Low Countries, France and Italy. Possibly she was a bit unusual, but Celia was an enthusiast for home travel, for the staycation, in a way that would have warmed the hearts of Leland, Stow and Camden, declaring that travel
Would also form such an idea of England, add much of its glory and esteem in our minds and cure the itch of over-valuing foreign parts
Unlike earlier visitors such as those from the continent, Celia has firm opinions about the architecture she’s looking at. We are looking at a change of culture – now the idea of art for art’s sake rather than a world populated by curiosities, is making an appearance.
‘None of the windows are sash’,
‘which are the only thing in my opinion it wants to render it a complete building’,
she’s not keen on garret windows projecting over roof tiling, that sort of thing. She’s the kind of person who knows a Dutch Gable when it buys here a round in the local.
By the early years of the 18th century, the activities of Celia and her like were attracting the attention of others. There was a lot more to seen it has to be said. John Vanburgh, the bloke who foisted the hideous, bling strewn pomposities that are Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace on the nation noted in 1708 that
‘all the world are running after buildings as far as they can reach
Daniel Defoe, another part of the antiquarian tradition with his Tour through England and Wales remarked that
Even while the sheets are in press, new beauties appear in several places, and almost to every part we are obliged to add appendices…of fine new houses…
The country house visitor was becoming common enough to be something of a figure of fun – always the sign of success of course.
In the vacant season of the year
Some Templar gay begins his wild career
from seat to seat o’er pompous scenes he flies
views all with equal wonder and surprise
till sick of domes, arcades and temples grown,
he hies fatigued, not satisfied, to Town
There’s a lovely Dickens quote from much later, so doesn’t really belong here but I must do so or I’ll forget. Things have moved on by Dicken’s time of course, but his characters the family of Mr and Mrs Guppy maybe face the same essential problem:
As is usually the case with people who go over houses, Mr Guppy and his friend are dead beat before they have well begun. They straggle about in the wrong places, look at the wrong things, don’t care for the right thing’s…
I know that feeling so well. I get it whenever I step through the portals of a museum – the British Museum for example. Just outside the door I am young, vibrant, thrusting and dynamic, fired with intellectual curiosity and a certain animal charisma it would be impossible to ignore. As I step over the threshold I am converted almost immediately into a brain dead zombie that wants nothing more than a bun, nice cup of tea and a bit of a snooze. I do not know what it is.
The growth in people wandering was still very much informal and managed under the old hospitality rules; visitors would be allocated some guide from the household, but there were few guidebooks or any such, visitors were free to interpret what they saw on their own terms, picking themselves around the gardens or house.
Aids and guides do begin to appear though to serve a new market. Strip maps start from 1675 in Ogilivy’s Britannia – a map showing a specific tourist route, but it’s really not til the end of the 18th century and John Carey that these really take off. But there are other changes taking place encouraging the likes of Celia as 17th century turns to 18th; there are more places to see, as discussed; there’s more in them by way of art; and now the prevailing culture of the upper classes is beginning to demand that you demonstrate your acquaintance with art and architecture, as part of the general desire to demonstrate lack of oik-ness. Now obviously this extends to the people going to look at the various piles; but it is also very true of the owners of said piles, the great gentry and peer. They wanted you to come and visit them. I know – I men seriously? Extraordinary.
I mean on the one hand, the great and the good on their big estates were backing away from their local communities, gaps and social differentiation were growing. This is a topic on which I am sure we’ll have a future podcast, but estates were now being constructed where road were moved so that the smart set didn’t need to have any oiks in their eyeballs, village sometimes grubbed up entirely because they were in the wrong place for the new construction, or indeed simply got in the way of a nice view; big parks laid out with walls and a road at the edge as the common people were therefore kept a discreet distance from the big house and its occupants. But that didn’t mean they didn’t want to show off their new piles to the right people – far from it.
The thing is that the social dynamics were changing over the 18th century. Let us start with the idea of politeness; the phrase ‘polite society’ feels like a bit of a horrid joke and does sound a little gross; however, it is a thing. The 18th century saw a transformation of English society – can I say unlike any other before it? Probably ever is too big a word, given the 20th century but consider what is going on. We have population growth that busts the normal 5 million ceiling; a growth of urban population that fuels industrial growth; the arrival of a far wider range of consumer products from international trade, colonialism, slavery and empire in the form of tea, sugar, porcelain, calicos. The Gentry do very well of it – the Middle classes do very well indeed. The debate about how far the labouring classes benefit is endlessly debated to and fro, and they are very much not joining the leisured classes, but what seems to have been established beyond argument – which with historians is always something of an achievement – is that England was a high wage economy by comparison with elsewhere in Europe. There is other stuff we’ll come to, but the point here is that English society is much wider, and broader and more varied than it was. The natural, given, and expected dereference to nobility was not now something on which the aristocracy could rely. They had to earn it, to prove they were worthy of it, show their special breeding and culture. The traditional basis for their political influence, their tenantry, remained important, but it became important now for the nobility to develop a wider ‘interest’ across polite society, a group of clients if you like, an affinity, by entertaining, exercising patronage by giving jobs and favours. Informality and mixing across elite classes became more common, as aristocrats sought to cultivate their reputation and ‘interest’.
Their country houses, gardens and estates were now an important way of giving out messages about the inhabitants and their taste, status and political affiliations; they were increasingly intended to be seen, and had to be seen, to communicate those messages and therefore visitors were to be encouraged to take away and spread the message of Lord and Lady X’s greatness. Visitors meanwhile though also had to demonstrate that they were indeed part of said polite society, this was their chance t be part of Lord and Lady X’s greatness; they would then have the appropriate cultural calling cards, but the onus was more on the owner of the country house to open the door and have something worth seeing.
The design of country houses changes, because they had to reflect not just the latest fashions and architectural taste – taste is an important word, oh lord don’t hit the wrong button on taste, social death that. The new polite society was characterised by easy, affable behaviour, a knowledge of ‘taste’ or current fashions, social skills and avoiding ‘enthusiasms’ such as religious fervour. The tradition was the formality and structure and symmetry of the Renaissance house, with formal gardens; the perfect renaissance house was designed around the symmetry of a central hall and Grand chamber, with 4 identical apartments off them. It reflected the values of 17th century society and the deference to and distance from aristocracy. But in this new, informal world of the 18th century where nobility had to attract its affinity, and mix with gentry and upper middle classes, that old structure and formality began to seen as a little ridiculous, old hat and stuffy. So House design changes away from the old symmetry to – although it is worth noting that Robert Walpole’s Houghton Hall, built in the 18th century, does precisely that. But you know, these things change unevenly. The new style is more based around entertaining – circular arrangements of rooms, allowing groups t gather and converse, and move on to other rooms with other groups to mix and so on. All much more informal – artfully so, of course.
Outside the same change was reflected. Tthe contemporary writer Stephen Switzer emphasised a contrast between the more formal inner garden and the sweep of the beautified estate land beyond. The designer William Kent was part of a process to lay out gardens and landscapes in a new irregular, artfully informal style, with a series of circular walks and a variety of focal points rather than the formal, axial lines and avenues from the 1730s and 1740s. Increasingly, large parks had curvilinear lines, serpentine outlines and drives; everything was carefully designed to appear ‘natural’.
Now you may therefore be picking up a couple of fundamental changes to those attitudes we talked about way back when at the start of this meandering, wandering podcast – about attitudes to nature. The last famine where people died for lack of food occurred in England in 1623, and was relatively regional. It appeared that nature had been tamed. Meanwhile all those young bears touring round Europe came back with paintings and artifacts, but also with a passion for all thing Italianate – landscapes of artists such as Poussin or Claude Lorrain. Nature, slowly began to be seen less as a houling wilderness, and more as something, impressive, awesome – or to use Wordsworth’s words, the sublime, something which formed a relevant backdrop to enhance the grand houses and historical sites they were visiting. Or the travels they were making.
All of these changes have an impact on the visitors, their behaviour and numbers. Let me introduce you to another inveterate traveller, Caroline Girle, or Caroline Lybbe Powys. Caroline was born in 1738 and by 1756 had started doing a lot of touring around – and would keep journals of her visits until about 1808. She was of that social group that profited mightily from economic growth; her father was a surgeon and small landowner, she married Philip Lybbe Powys of Hardwick House in Oxfordshire. These upper bourgoise, if that is a proper description saw their wealth grow on average by 150% over the 18th century, 5 times the national average. They, in short – were in possession of a bob or two, and Caroline was in possession of the time and money to travel.
She chose her own country as her canvas, and was part of a bit of a reaction to the Grand Tour, Italian and French is best attitude of the upper crust. One commentator complained that the
Universal rage for Foreign Travel has long occasioned an unaccountable neglect of the beauty and wonders of our own country
Lybbe Powys herself shared the same view and added to it travel as a cure for laziness, which is a scandal obviously.
She was also at a time when travelling in England just became way easier; Toll roads improved coach travel, sprung coaches made travel more comfy, the infrastructure of county inns developed to support travellers. At the start of the 18th century it took 4 ½ days to get from London to Manchester; by 1800 it took just a day. The names of the coaches are a bit of a hoot; The Protector; The Era; The Enterprise; The Plymouth Fly. They are names of an age full of confidence in progress, commercialism, pride in the achievement being made. Of course travellers still moan like topsy about how painful it all is, but even an inveterate moaner like John Byng in the later 18th century was also aware of how things have changed – and also that they were part of a massively expanding stream of travellers attracting the title of ‘tourists’ – a word which was quite new in the 1780s and 90s, and which had yet to take on a negative connotation. The word sightseers, a rather more prejorative term, doesn’t enter the language until the 1830s. John Byng celebrated that
Our Island is now so explored, our roads in general, are so fine, and our speed has reached the summit
As an aside before we get back to Caroline Libby Powys, not everyone was convinced all this travelling around was such a good idea. The radical and patriot William Cobbett related a story in 1826, when trying to find his way to Ludgarshall, and 4 miles away from his destination found himself a little lost, and so asked for directions from a local inhabitant. The Good lady looked at Cobbett blankly. She’d never heard of the place. Cobbett almost fell off his horse, and kept digging into the life of his clueless local. It transpired the furthest she’d manged to get from her place of birth was Chute, a village 2 1/2 miles away. Cobbett concluded this was a great thing, and that
‘the facilities which now exist of moving human bodies from place to place are amongst the curses of the country, the destroyers of industry. Of morals and, of course, of happiness
Libby Powys would not have agreed. Her travels give a small insight on occasion into the way tourism to country houses had grown; when she visited Wilton House, admittedly one of the bigger draws, in 1776, she noted 2,324 other visitors had already been that year; by 1784, Horace Walpole was seeing about 300 people every year at his house at Strawberry Hill, in about 70 groups. The word Flounder will be used, gentle listener. We’ll come to that.
Despite this, the drill had really not changed. Essentially, just like the medieval traveller, you presented yourself at the gate, the housekeeper met you, and if you were appropriately heeled and embued with the proper class and taste – and now with greater latitude as noted above – you would be admitted. Often it might be sensible to send a letter ahead to get some sort of warning, but really you didn’t expect a problem. There was a sense of outrage when Caroline found she couldn’t book into her first choice of inn one day, because it was full. John Byng had a nasty mishap at Wroxton Hall when – horror of horrors – he was refused admittance! How dare you
Very rude this, and unlike an old courtly lord!
His outrage suggests also how unexpected this was. Arthur Young records that Lady Strafford ‘retired from her apartments’ when he appeared at her door being shown around by her servant so he could have a good gander. These days even in a National trust house you don’t get to go everywhere which, (open Rant) is a bit annoying; because without that, you don’t really understand how a country house works in its totality and after all I do own it, or at least the nation does (close rant).
It has to be said that the servants that show folks round get something of a raw deal in terms of reporting; ‘the surly porter, the avaricious housekeeper’ William Manor complained about; or the folks that just plain had no idea what they were looking at and couldn’t care less. We are not talking professional tour guides here. Though sometimes that played for the tourist; your servant might be pretty relaxed about all this old stuff lying around. Byng met one of those at Haddon who said casually
And some, sir will desire to take away pieces of armour
That I should like to do too (said Byng)
Why then sir…there is a sword hilt…said to be worn by the Vernons in the wars of France
And so I Instantly carried it off
Seriously, please don’t do this at home or try it in front of a National trust volunteer. I’m not sure who was worse, the servant or Byng. No doubt money changed hands, because money always changed hands, and it did get wearisome. I realise paying a large slug at the gate these days can be painful, and it can be a large slug these days. But at least it’s then done. The process of tipping housekeepers and servants, tended to expose visitors to a constant dribble. In fact when the housekeeper at Warwick, Mrs Home, dies in 1834, it was revealed that she’d earned £30,000 over the years from showing folks round. That, ladies and Gentlemen, is the modern equivalent of £1.4m. Horace Walpole once remarked that his housekeeper made so much money showing his customers round, that he was minded to ask her to marry him so he could recoup the cost of building the place.
The numbers were now encouraged by an industry springing up to support it in the form of guidebooks. The first were detailed books on individual properties – though just the larger houses really, so maybe the top 20 had detailed treatises available. Some of them were eminently put downable – the one on Wilton was 150 pages long. It’s not until the early 19th century that the word guidebook is actually coined, and until the mid 19th century until the compendium type guidebook appears under the imprints of Murray, Black and Baedeker. Alongside, Daniel Paterson in the 1780s produces strip maps for tourists. The concept is useful I guess, especially given the lack of maps generally; but slightly worrying philosophically, but then so are guidebooks I suppose. The Strip map laid down a route and the points of interest. Outside of the objective, they had no interest, don’t wander off piste and see what you can see. Essentially – they list what is worth knowing, in the opinion of the author, on the way to the target destination. The spirit of enquiry and curiosity that had inspired the original travellers appeared to have proved inadequate in the end, and needed a helping hand.
Walpole’s attitude reveals a sort of love-hate relationship with the people he called his customers. He received so many visitors – ‘dowagers as plenty as flounders’, he remarked – that he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
The first time a company came to see my house I felt…joy. I am now so tired of it that I shudder when the bell rings at the gate
Actually, maybe it’s more of a hate-hate relationship. The numbers were getting so high, that around the turn of the century, tradition starts to turn into regulation; in 1784, Walpole introduced a ticket system – visitors had to apply in advance and were directed to the housekeeper to arrange a time and date; the opening season was defined as May to October, one party a day. Children were not welcome. And anyway, what child enjoys wandering around county house? That’s rhetorical really, but if you do have an answer, an annotated 18th century style calling card would be most suitable rather than the normal postcard.
The kind of customers that arrived by the mid-century and beyond were different to those like Celia Fiennes. It was no longer enough to seek novelty, big and exciting, wonder at status and lineage. Now it was important to demonstrate that you had excellent taste; to be critical. Make a judgement. I therefore thought it was a bit of a hoot when I came across Libbye Powys response to the very same Grillet constructions at Chatsworth, that man made Willow tree 50 years later, to contrast it to the previous approach:
The waterworks, which are reckoned the finest in England, were all played off, may be said to be more grand than pleasing, as there is a formality in them, particularly the grand cascade, which takes off every idea of the rural scene they are supposed to afford one, and a kind of triflingness (if I may make a word), in the copper willow tree, and other contrivances beneath the dignity of the place.
Not impressed with the mechanical tree then. And landscape – now that’s an important part of the whole visit, she wanted landscape, rural scenes, informality, not grandeur and structure. By this stage, Vanburgh and the baroque are consigned to the outer darkness by Horace Walpole, Alexander Pope and Defoe – it was too foreign too authoritarian, too tied up with Stuart court taste – and good riddance I say. Still maybe better the villain you know and all that because now it was the grim austerity of Palladianism which ruled. The cognoscenti tried very hard to help the tourist, by providing them with advice about how to judge art and architecture – and beware this isn’t a game, whoop whoop this is not a drill; if you really wanted to insult somewhere, you criticised their taste.
People like Edmund Burke wrote treatises on how to think, in 1757 in his Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our idea of the Sublime and the Beautiful; there are criteria gentle listeners, there are criteria. The Great for example – capital G added by the podcaster – should be dark and gloomy for example, beauty light and delicate.
So Caroline Libbe Powys’s journals are rather different to those of Celia Fiennes; much more focus on matters of taste and architectural form rather than novelty. I read that the Duchess of Northumberland, also an avid culture vulture, constructed her very own questionnaire to remind herself of the right questions to ask. It had a mere 150 points, which is of course paltry, and if I happen to see any one of you trawling round a country house, I expect to see something significantly more impressive. Jus’ saying’.
Libbe Powys also took on the search for Wordsworth’s sublime nature with enthusiasm – gloomy is one of her favourite words – as an 18 year old in the Peak District she is impressed by the Peaks and describes them as gloomy constantly, and that, I understand now, was not intended as an insult. Her journals though are very much more eclectic – she goes to see everything, local lead workings, talks to the miners and owners about their lives and work; she is a sponge. She goes out onto the peaks walks and climbs and enthuses. And she is without doubt of that much more relaxed, informal atmosphere, typified by the Spa town. At 18 she’s at the tiny spa of Matlock, and glorying in the lack of formality, talking to all and sundry, peers to bourgoise – I say tiny, but they manage to rustle up a 100 for supper. So not so small
This is the start of the glory days for the Spa, and this presents the perfect opportunity for the young and if I may say thrusting shedcaster to launch out onto the subject, like a gazelle into the waiting majestically sweeping plains. I am going to resist though, for I fear your brains must now be dribbling out of your ears. So let me summarise that this is a time of enormous expansion of Spas during the 18th century. Between 1700 and 1750, 34 were established, and by 1815 the number had risen to 173. There was a great range – from the major centres at Tunbridge Wells, Bath and later Cheltenham, to the smaller provincial settings of Matlock. The original attraction was originally medical, and the support the waters received from the medical profession remained important, but their popularity, and that of seaside resorts like Brighton, was increasingly social, affording the young and their anxious parents an opportunity to find suitable marriage partners. The investment of provincial towns and entrepreneurs in bath rooms, assembly rooms and local facilities such as libraries, theatres, and the building of accommodation was also enormous.
Compared to bending the knee to medieval magnates, the Spas were an extraordinary opportunity for mixing across the elite, I mean it may not look like it to us now, but everything is relative and back then – well for some it was just disgusting. Here, for your delight and delectation, is the novelist Tobias Smollett, in the voice of one of his characters Jeremy Melford
Yesterday at the pump room, I saw a broken-winded Wapping Landlady squeeze through a circle of peers, to salute her brandy-merchant…and a paralytic attorney of shoe-lane…kicked the shins of the Chancellor of England while his lordship…drank a glass of water at the pump
Probably Tobias was exaggerating for effect – people do that you know – but the point holds. Peers mixed with the newly confident middle classes, and could expect respect and deference, but not the reverence of yesteryear.
Spa society was also highly regulated by the Masters of Ceremonies like the famous Beau Nash at Bath of course, with a programme of organised events; and while they increasingly catered for the middle classes, they continued to reinforce the cultural hegemony of the noble elite. These shared rituals of behaviour, restricted access only to members of ‘polite’ society, and again helped reinforce the unity of the new broader elite; and very actively excluded the labouring classes, who might be inclined to drop their H’s. The 18th century was an era of a deepening social and cultural divide.
Though, permit me a quick side noodle, which I have no doubt will be the subject of multiple shedcasts in the future, before we say goodbye to Caroline Libbe Powys. Her diaries and other private diaries show that the elite women played leading roles in the growing and vibrant round of public events acceptable for women empowered by the expansion of ‘polite’ society, travelling, provincial assemblies, spas and pubic entertainments. Caroline herself in a later diary also makes clear her own strong views that women deserved better access to education. Rather than playing to a narrative of Georgian women struggling to free themselves from increasing, recently imposed restrictions, the restriction of women to the domestic sphere, her life can be seen as part of gains by Georgian elite women to participate in public life, on which Victorian women would later build. But anyway, more of that another time, for of course when it comes to attitudes to the sexes Victorian Britain can be lemon-suckingly painful – but there are multiple perspectives is the thing.
Now then, I think there might be one more tick we just need to complete before mentioning Loughborough – and don’t pretend, I know, for a certain fact that you have been waiting for Loughborough and my home town’s favourite son.
I think I should start with Strawberry Hill House, Horace Walpole’s pad at Twickenham; the fact that I have never visited is a crime almost equivalent to the fact that I have never been to Sutton Hoo. Here, by 1776 Horace built his gothic revival house which looks extraordinary, and spawned a little movement of strawberry gothic – Shobdon church also looks like a hoot. The revival of interest in gothic went hand in hand with the romantic movement, and a new way of looking at landscape. To this we might turn to one William Gilpin, who rebelled against the very manicured landscapes of the likes of Capability Brown. We do rather lionise capability Brown and his parkland landscapes all very green with copses and clumps; and they are pretty to look at, though I wonder whether these days they are really very biologically diverse, there is a lot of grass and maybe we’d be better to rewild most of them, but that’s another debate.
Anyway, William Gilpin at the end of the 18th century was more interested in the wild, romantic – and the picturesque. He wanted the tourist to let their imaginations run free and loose, it was about roughness and beauty.
But if we let imagination loose…the imagination can plant hills; can form rivers and lakes in the valleys; can build castles, and abbeys
Gilpin was celebrating nature in a slightly different way to the search for the sublime, and asking the tourist to interact more actively with the environment; though it is quite alien to the naturalism of today, if that’s a word. One example of this is the Claude glass. The Claude glass was a tinted glass you could hold up to your eye and look through at a landscape, suitably framed to enhance its romanticism. Hmm, not sure about that, but I suppose the modern equivalent might be all the weird camera filters people use.
Along with this though, was the revival of interest in the Gothic. The ruins of Abbeys like Tintern, Fountains and Reivaulx were perfect for the picturesque mentality; and actually it is even said, rather dodgily, that tourism was started by Gilpin’s eulogising of Tintern Abbey. And it is indeed beautfiul and impressive. Rather than the formality of Renaissance gardens and the triumph of man over nature, or even the manicured tamed and idealised landscape of capability Brown and Henry Repton, they represented the reverse – the triumph of nature over man. And with the increasing move to informal, asymmetrical design of country houses, Gothic architecture was suddenly exciting and intriguing again. The Victorians of course went wild for it. Wild. There’s a revival of interest in folklore, the study of British antiques became fashionable once more. In fact it goes beyond the picturesque with the Victorians, to what has been described as its Ethical phase – Pugin and Ruskin exalted it as the very embodiment of architectural purity and seriously it’s impossible to spend more than a few minutes in an English town without seeing a bit of Victorian mock goth revival. And as someone said to me once, as you walk through a town, look up – above the eye line is often where the Victorians played their wildest architectural fancies and flourishes.
From there it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to the final tick, ladies and gentlemen – we are almost there I wist. With a revised passion for the gothic came a desire to preserve; people began to worry that all these old buildings were disappearing, in a blizzard of modernity, but also the industrial revolution. I mean there is resistance – people object to the cleaning up of sites to improve access, which was rather the death of the picturesque ruin – but preservation gains ground quickly, these things must be protected before they are lost. Alongside it comes an astonishing change in attitude; which does not seem astonishing to us but entirely natural and obvious – but was far from that in William Gilpin’s day of the late 18th century.
Because all these buildings were owned by private people – of course they were, who else, even if it was the Crown sometime. So here was the revolutionary idea:
A legal right the proprietor has to deform his ruin as he pleases (but the refined court of taste does not consider an elegant ruin as a man’s property…but as a deposit of which he is only the guardian…A ruin is a sacred thing
From Gilpin’s assertion that owners are simply guardians of a shared heritage, lies a bright, golden thread which we absolutely must not follow here and now to William Morris, the Society for the Protection of Ancient buildings in 1878. This was founded as a furious response to the much lauded Victorian architect who was restoring Tewkesbury abbey. Or as Morris put it, destroying Tewkesbury Abbey. Thence to the Commons Preservation Society, to the housing reformer Octavia Hill, and to the foundation of National Trust. Another day, good people, another day.
One more thing then, though again just a mench because it is an entire subject of itself o which I fully intend to cast. All of the above excludes the labouring classes, well, after the medieval Pilgrimage it does. All this wandering around was by definition an elite activity – the working family had no time, and no money to do any of it. Until we get to the 19th century, and real wages finally begin to rise from mid century, and working class agitation forces government and employers to accept that they also had a right to leisure time and from the 1860s there is an increasing slew of working time legislation. And then there are the railways, and cheap travel.
Thomas Cook was a Baptist preacher and member of the temperance movement who arrived in Leicester in 1841 at the age of 34 ish. He started a travel agency – I mean he didn’t know that’s what he was doing, what he was in fact doing was organising trips from Leicester to temperance meetings at Lougborough. 1 shilling each for the return journey. That seemed to go well so he organised cut price excursions to the Great Exhibition and they went well. And then, da da da dah, it was the turn of the Country House. Groups of 300 working class excursionists to the likes of Chatsworth, Belvoir, Burghley; with Brass bands, crocket, archery and drink – non alcoholic, open brackets close brackets. Their owners agreed they should come, but looked on with terror. The Hand Book for Belvoir contains a series of rants against those visitors that abused the ‘privileges extended to the mansions of the nobility’ and warned them not to nick stuff or tread on the flower beds; despite that all seemed to go relatively well – in 1857 the housekeeper at Burghley
‘assured Mr Cook that she had not witnessed nor heard of a single act of rudeness or indiscretion’.
And so we are launched on the path that will inevitably reach it’s cultural height on the sun loungers of Europe, and the eternal struggle to reserve the best spot before the Germans do so. Instead of ending on such as practical note Ian Ousby calls country house visiting the ‘triumph of democracy’ which seems a little high to me, but you know, there is a point to make that visiting our heritage does bring people together and share in the same history.
That is all folks. A slightly idiosyncratic, empirical coverage I have to say, and if I had 50p for every time I promised another shedcast series through these two shedcasts, I would have well over £2.50. That for the time, however, it is, and I hope you enjoyed it, odd though it was. I must thank you all from my heart for being members, it is a joy for me without doubt. Good luck everyone and have a great week.
 Hunter, James. Last of the Free (Kindle Locations 2966-2969). Mainstream Publishing. Kindle Edition.