Have you heard of Lacock or Tyntesfield?
Do you know where they are located? What is noteworthy about these two places?
Lacock and Tyntesfield are two stunning National Trust properties in England, chosen from time to time as locations for film and television productions. Doctor Thorne, a three-part British television series recently shown on ABC TV (Australia), used Lacock and Tyntesfield in some of its scenes.
The 2016 Doctor Thorne production by Britain’s ITV network is based on a novel of the same name by Anthony Trollope (1815-1882). Published in 1858, Doctor Thorne was considered by Trollope as one of his finest works. It was the third volume in a 6-part series known as Chronicles of Barsetshire. The script for the television series was written by Julian Fellowes, who also created and wrote the scripts for Downton Abbey and Gosford Park.
Doctor Thorne: The story
The story is about Frank Gresham, son and heir of bankrupt landowner Mr Francis Newbold Gresham senior of Greshambury Park Estate. Frank is in love with Mary Thorne, the penniless niece of Doctor Thomas Thorne. Doctor Thorne and Mary live in Greshambury (Lacock). The tale reveals the social pain and exclusion in that day caused by illegitimacy and marriage outside one’s social class. It also exposes the timeless relationship between money and morality and the tragic results of alcoholism. Young Frank, despite finding out about Mary’s illegitimacy, still wants to marry her. The match is vehemently opposed by Frank’s mother, Lady Arabella, who insists that Frank “must marry money” or all will be lost. Little does she (or anyone else but Doctor Thorne) know that Mary is heiress to Sir Roger Scatcherd’s considerable wealth. Sir Roger, Mary’s uncle on her mother’s side, owns Boxall Hill Estate (Tyntesfield). The story, set in England’s fictitious “Barsetshire”, also sheds light on electioneering and the carry-on that accompanies political campaigns. The political husting scene in the fictitious market town of Barchester was also filmed in Lacock.
Do you follow film and television adaptations of 19th century English romance novels such as Doctor Thorne?
I must confess: I am a 19th century English romance novel tragic and I look out for contemporary film and television productions based on them.
I am a fan of Jane Austen (1775-1817), whose six major novels were published in the early 19th century. I have read all six, my favourites being Pride and Prejudice (1813) and Emma (1815). Both have been made into feature films and television series more than once. The film “Pride and Prejudice” (1995) used the streets of Lacock for some of its scenes and the film “Emma” (1996) used a Lacock house as the Highbury house.
From the Victorian period spanning the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), I love the works of the Brontë sisters, William Makepeace Thackeray and Thomas Hardy. I’ve read Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë, 1847), Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë, 1847), Vanity Fair (William Makepeace Thackeray, 1848), Far from the Madding Crowd (Thomas Hardy, 1874) and Tess of the d’Urbervilles (Thomas Hardy, 1891), to name a few.
Each of these stories has been adapted for film and television, with varying degrees of success.
Even if you are not attracted to this kind of drama, do you appreciate the period costumes worn by the characters and the magnificent houses and gardens and medieval townships used as settings in these productions?
During a holiday in the United Kingdom in 2013, my husband Tony and I visited Lacock and Tyntesfield.
Like the many visitors to properties such as Lacock and Tyntesfield, Tony and I wandered through the grounds, inspected the buildings, viewed the objects on display, and tried to take it all in. We took lots of photographs, many of which I include in this story. There is so much to see and learn about the history, inhabitants, rise and fall, restoration and usage of each property.
We also visited many museums, galleries and exhibitions, two of which are relevant to this story.
In the TV series Doctor Thorne, did you notice the dresses worn by Mary Thorne, Lady Arabella and the other “well-bred” ladies?
At the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London and a fashion exhibition in the Assembly Rooms in Bath, we viewed (and photographed) the kind of outfits and accessories worn by the romantic heroines of England’s fictionalised past.
At the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London, we saw examples of dresses, accessories and undergarments worn by “ladies” of the Victorian era, similar to those worn by Mary Thorne and others in Doctor Thorne. Fashion in the 19th century benefited from advances in technology, including the invention of light sprung steel. In the 1860s the cage crinoline, consisting of a sprung steel frame covered with wool and linen, replaced heavy layers of petticoats and allowed women’s dresses to become even more voluminous. These crinolines were very popular and were produced in their thousands.
At the same time, research and development in the chemical industry led to the discovery of artificial dyes and these were used to produce brilliantly coloured fabrics. Fabrics such as silk, satin and velvet, often richly embroidered, were a popular choice.
While in Bath, Tony and I attended a special exhibition celebrating the 60th anniversary in 2013 of the founding of the Laura Ashley label. The exhibition was set up in the lavish Ballroom of the historic Bath Assembly Rooms (now owned by the National Trust). Two centuries previously, Jane Austen graced this Ballroom. Called Laura Ashley: The Romantic Heroine, the exhibition was a room full of Laura Ashley’s 1960s and 1970s cotton print maxi-dresses!
This look was described by fashion editor Felicity Green in the Daily Mirror on 1 January 1970 as “soft-core femininity” and “Victorian type demureness”. Laura Ashley’s vision was for women in the 1960s and 1970s to feel like the romantic heroine of early 19th century fiction, or one of Thomas Hardy’s heroic country maids. I recognise these kind of outfits as similar to those worn by Elizabeth Bennett in “Pride and Prejudice” (1995), Emma Woodhouse in “Emma” (1996), or Bathsheba Everdene in “Far from the Madding Crowd” (1967, 2015).
Greshambury and Barchester in “Doctor Thorne” = Lacock
Lacock is a medieval village in the county of Wiltshire, 3.7 miles (about 6 km) south of Chippenham and 15 miles (24 km) north east of Bath. It is situated by the River Avon.
The village dates from the 13th century. It consists of many well-preserved stone buildings and distinctive stone and half-timbered whitewashed houses.
The National Trust has owned Lacock Village and Lacock Abbey since 1944, when Matilda Talbot donated the property to the National Trust and opened it to the public. Miss Talbot continued to live at Lacock Abbey as a tenant until her death in 1958, after which the National Trust took full control of the property. Today the property includes Lacock Abbey, Lacock Village and the Fox Talbot Museum.
Lacock Abbey is a mixture of architectural styles, reflecting the tastes and interests of its various owners and occupants during its 800 years’ history.
The abbey was founded in 1232 by Ela, Countess of Salisbury, as an Augustinian Convent for Catholic nuns. She inherited the land from her father, Earl of Salisbury. Ela herself became a nun and later the Abbess. The medieval cloisters, internal courtyard, Chapter House, Sacristy and Warming House, all on the ground floor, retain much of their original appearance. They reveal what life must have been like in that time. It is claimed that Lacock Abbey is one of the most complete medieval convents in existence today.
From these photographs, you may recognize Lacock Abbey as the location of sequences in two Harry Potter films: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002). The large cauldron, located today in the Warming House, should also be familiar to Harry Potter film buffs. Made in 1500 in Antwerp, the Lacock cauldron may have been used by the nuns in the kitchen or as an ornament in the garden.
Between 1536 and 1541, under King Henry VIII’s regime and his dissolution of the Catholic monasteries, the assets of Lacock Abbey were seized, the nuns forced out and the property sold.
In 1540, the abbey and its surroundings were purchased by Sir William Sharington (1495-1553). He turned the abbey into a family home. He demolished the abbey church and used its stones to build the bakery, brewery and stable around the outer courtyard. He added a three-story octagonal tower, tall Renaissance chimneys and a strongroom in which to store his treasures.
The Lacock Church of St Cyriac, at the end of Church Street in Lacock Village, was built on the site of a former Norman Church. The current church was constructed in the 14th and 15th centuries. Sir William Sharington’s Renaissance-style tomb lies in St Cyriac’s Church.
The next owner of Lacock Abbey, John Ivory-Talbot (1691-1772) made many changes to the house in keeping with his preference for Gothic Revival architecture. In 1754-55 he had a medieval-style Great Hall added in place of a smaller hall; the architect was Sanderson Miller. The Great Hall inside features a grand high ceiling, coats of arms decorating the ceiling, numerous sculptures adorning the walls and bespoke carpet. An impressive external staircase provides access to and from the abbey grounds. Above the fireplace are sculptures of Ela (centre) and two nuns, and in the centre of the ceiling is the Talbot shield (a red lion rampant on a gold background).
Perhaps Lacock Abbey’s most famous owner-occupant was William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877), scientist and inventor. He is known as the “Father of photography”. In 1835, Fox Talbot chose the latticed “Oriel Window” in the south gallery of the abbey as the subject for his experiment to produce an image with his camera where all the tonal relationships are reversed. The term “negative” was devised later (in 1839) by Sir John Herschel to describe this kind of image. A small piece of paper, slightly larger than a postage stamp, is on display at Lacock Abbey as evidence of this milestone in photographic history. The first photograph using Fox Talbot’s “negative” was produced in 1840. The Fox Talbot Museum, a tribute to the life and work of W H Fox Talbot, is the only specialist photography museum in the United Kingdom. Fox Talbot made Lacock Abbey his home and, like his predecessors, left his mark on the property.
The Lacock Primary School, funded by William Davenport Talbot (W H Fox Talbot’s father), opened in the village in 1824. The Talbot family shield on the building marks the date. The school was supposed to be opened in 1821, to mark W H Fox Talbot’s 21st birthday, but this was not to be. The school still operates today, under the name Lacock C of E Primary School.
The last private owner of Lacock Abbey, Matilda Talbot (1871-1958), was the granddaughter of W H Fox Talbot. She is perhaps the real-life heroine of the story of Lacock Abbey, in that she opened up and donated this magnificent property to the public.
The Fox Talbot family grave is located in the Lacock cemetery.
Boxall Hill Estate = Tyntesfield
Tyntesfield is located 8.2 miles (about 13 km) west of Bristol and near the village of Wraxall, North Somerset, England.
Tyntesfield comprises a grand Victorian Gothic Revival country house, private chapel, gardens and park. Since 2002, the property has been owned by the National Trust. It houses one of the National Trust’s largest single collections (50,000) of personal, household and collectable items.
In the late 1700s “Tyntes Place” was a modest estate owned by John Tynte, one of the Tynte baronets (a baronet was a member of the British aristocracy). In 1813 Tyntes Place was sold to the owner of an adjoining estate who replaced the old farmhouse with a Regency-Gothic mansion.
In 1843 Tyntes Place was purchased by William Gibbs (1790-1875) who renamed the property “Tyntesfield”. William Gibbs was a wealthy businessman and religious philanthropist who contributed to the building of 19 churches in England, including Keble College Chapel, Oxford. William and his wife Matilda (“Blanche”) were deeply religious, devout members of the Church of England. They were keen supporters and sponsors of the Oxford Movement, a precursor of Anglo-Catholicism.
In 1863, Gibbs began a rebuilding program to remodel the house on Tyntesfield in Gothic Revival style. The Gothic style was an expression of Gibbs’ religious beliefs. Gibbs employed John Norton, of Bristol, as the architect for the build. The end result is a grand house with steep sloping roofs, turrets, pitches and gables. Two types of Bath stone were used. The exterior of the building features naturalistic carvings of flora, fauna and exotic medieval beasts. On the gable above the main entrance are the Latin words: “PAX INTRANTIBUS SALUS EXEUNTIBUS”, which translated is, “Good will to those who enter. Fare well to those who depart.”
The interior of Gibbs’ Gothic-style house features fancy timber carvings, lace and lattice work. These are evident in the cloister or entrance hall. The adjacent room that houses Tyntesfield’s large library boasts a magnificent high, raked, timber ceiling. The hall at the centre of the house is 43 feet (13 metres) high. It features a huge decorative Gothic fireplace. A staircase featuring wrought ironwork handrails leads to the first floor gallery, which is bordered by the same wrought ironwork.
William Gibbs’ most remarkable addition to Tyntesfield is its private Chapel. This dramatic building, designed by Arthur William Blomfield, was modelled on Sainte-Chapelle, Paris. It was constructed between 1872 and 1877 on the north-eastern side of the house. It features a mosaic floor, richly coloured and gilded wall mosaics, stained glass windows, flowering brass chandeliers and filigree wrought ironwork. Unfortunately, it was never consecrated.
With the death of his father in 1875, Antony Gibbs (1841-1907) took over Tyntesfield. He commissioned further modifications to the house, including changes to the hall and an extension to the dining room. Henry Woodyer was the architect. The dining room still has its original Japanese-inspired imitation Spanish tooled leather wallpaper. It was during Antony’s time that electricity and a service lift were installed in the house.
Four generations of the Gibbs family owned Tyntesfield and made changes to the house in keeping with their tastes and interests. George Gibbs (1873-1931), 1st Baron Wraxall, was the third member of the Gibbs family to own Tyntesfield. George had the Drawing Room redecorated in bold Renaissance style. The last owner was Richard Gibbs (1928-2001), 2nd Baron Wraxall (“Lord Wraxall”). Richard replaced the carpet in the Billiard Room. One of his favourite rooms was the Oak Room, which he used as a private retreat, sitting room and study until his death in 2001. He tried to maintain the property and keep it in a good state of repair, but in vain. It proved to be too costly. It was after Richard’s death that Tyntesfield was subdivided and sold.
The grounds of Tyntesfield are beautiful and transport visitors back to the Victorian era. There are wooded parks, expanses of lawn, footpaths, wide driveways and stables. There are terraced gardens on the southern side of the house, a wide sculptured tree-lined path on the western side, an orangery, kitchen garden, aviary, summer house and rose garden.
It is ironic, given this story’s focus on 19th century English romance literature, that Tony and I concluded our visit to Tyntesfield in the rose garden! Our visit was during Summer, and the roses and lavender were spectacular, in full bloom, and abuzz with bees. I had never seen such enormous bees!
The conclusion of the matter
Did Mary, the heroine of Doctor Thorne, end up marrying Frank Gresham? And did young Frank “marry money” as his mother Lady Arabella demanded?
Anthony Trollope, in the final chapter of Doctor Thorne, put it this way:
And thus Frank married money, and became a great man. Let us hope that he will be a happy man. … At Boxall Hill the young couple established themselves on their return from the Continent. … Lady Arabella has not yet lost her admiration for Mary, and Mary, in return, behaves admirably. Another event is expected, and her ladyship is almost as anxious about that as she was about the wedding.”