Sunday, 27 February 2011

Strawberry Hill Villa Part One

Horace Walpole
Horace Walpole, the 4th Earl of Orford was a great admirer of his contemporary, Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington, proclaiming him to be the very “Apollo of the Arts”. However, when it came to building and decorating their own villas, they were poles apart in style although geographically relatively close to one another in what is now present day Greater London. At Chiswick House Boyle celebrated the strict classicism of Ancient Rome and Greece. For his part, Walpole was drawn towards the Gothic tradition of the Northern hemispheres. Like Boyle, Walpole was something of a Renaissance man in that he was a politician, a writer, (his book the Castle of Otranto is deemed be the first Gothic novel) a historian, a publisher and an antiquarian. Despite his wide range of interests Walpole correctly divined that his villa at Strawberry Hill would prove to be the greatest monument to his memory.

Unlike Richard Boyle, who had a grand Jacobean mansion already standing on the estate upon which he proposed to build Chiswick House, Walpole’s site at Twickenham housed a modest cottage when he purchased it in 1748. It was this cottage that he greatly expanded into the Gothic castle of his dreams. Boyle was influenced by ancient temples and ruins from the classical world. Walpole drew inspiration  from medieval cathedrals, abbeys even tombs. Thus, the tomb of Edward the Confessor inspired a chimney piece in the house and the fan vaulting in the Gallery was a direct crib from Henry VII’s chapel in Westminster Abbey. Another key difference between the two buildings is that Chiswick House is infused with a strict adherence to classical principles over mere comfort. Consequently, the internal stone spiral staircases made no concession to the wide cumbersome hooped skirts worn by fashionable women of the period. By contrast, although the villa at Strawberry Hill is not furnished, the interior and exterior have a sense of playful theatricality that cannot help but raise a smile at the sheer untrammelled exuberance of it all.

Marble Hill House
One of Walpole’s friends was the former mistress of George II, Henrietta Howard who had built her own villa at Marble Hill several decades before Walpole started work on Strawberry Hill.  It conformed to the classical ideal of the period. Nevertheless, Horace encouraged her to embrace the Gothic in the form of a folly in her gardens built in the style of a medieval chapel. Regrettably the folly has not survived into the 21st century. Henrietta and  Horace were such close friends that when she died in 1767 Walpole was moved to declare “‘I have lost few people in my life whom I shall miss so much.”  Horace drew heavily upon her reminisces of her earlier life at court when he came to write his own memoirs about the reign of George II. In the original preface to this work, published posthumously, is his extraordinary convoluted request as to how the manuscript should be treated after his death:

"In my Library at Strawberry Hill are two wainscot chests or boxes, the larger marked with an A, the lesser with a B. I desire, that as soon as I am dead, my Executor and Executrix will cord up strongly and seal the larger box, marked A, and deliver it to the Honourable Hugh Conway Seymour, to be kept by him unopened and unsealed till the eldest son of Lady Waldegrave, or whichever of her sons, being Earl of Waldegrave, shall attain the age of twenty-five years; when the said chest, with whatever it contains, shall be delivered to him for his own. And I beg that the Honourable Hugh Conway Seymour, when he shall receive the said chest, will give a promise in writing, signed by him, to Lady Waldegrave, that he or his Representatives will deliver the said chest unopened and unsealed, by my Executor and Executrix, to the first son of Lady Waldegrave who shall attain the age of twenty-five years. The key of the said chest is in one of the cupboards of the Green Closet, within the Blue Breakfast Room, at Strawberry Hill, and that key, I desire, may be delivered to Laura, Lady Waldegrave, to be kept by her till her son shall receive the chest.
(Signed) Hor. Walpole, Earl of Orford. "August 19, 1796."  

Such a covenant meant Horace felt he could write freely about the controversial personalities at the heart of the court of King George II including his own father, Sir Robert Walpole.

The work on transforming the original cottage into a Gothic masterpiece at Strawberry Hill began in earnest at the end of the 1740s. It was not completed until 1776. Horace relied on architects, both professional and amateur, and his own singular taste to render the gothic castle of his imagination into a reality. 

Faced with bare and weatherbeaten stone castle walls today, it is easy to forget that medieval kings and queens favoured vibrant colour schemes to adorn the interiors of their castles, placing richly embroidered tapestries and hangings on the walls and painting furniture was painted in bright colours. Additional colour streamed through stained glass windows. At the Tower of London a chantry and bedroom in St Thomas Tower have been staged as they might have looked during the reign of King Edward I.

In keeping with the medieval theme, the internal walls of Strawberry Hill are brightly coloured and Walpole made a prominent feature of the antique stained glass he installed in the gothic windows.
Dr John Dee
Today I listened again to a radio adaptation of  ‘The House of Doctor Dee,’ a novel by one of my favourite authors, Peter Ackroyd. The latter has a keen interest in history and a recurring motif in his novels is his belief, as stated in an interview with the Observer newspaper in 1994 that “there are certain people to whom or through whom the territory, the place, the past speaks. “  Ackroyd is fascinated by the way apparently disparate people are linked through time and space. John Dee, the eponymous hero of Ackroyd’s novel was a celebrated if somewhat notorious 16th century mathematician, astronomer, astrologer and magician who personally cast the horoscope for Queen Elizabeth I in 1558 to divine the most propitious date for her coronation. After the radio play had ended I searched for more information on Dr Dee and discovered that several of his artefacts have ended up in the British Museum. One of them is a pre-conquest Mexican “shew stone.” Made of highly polished volcanic glass, Dee used this mirror as a fundamental part of his magical rituals. The case, specifically made to hold the mirror, contains a label in Horace Walpole's own handwriting as he had acquired the item in 1771.Walpole describes the mirror as 'The Black Stone into which Dr Dee used to call his spirits ...'.According to the Strawberry Hill Catalogue kept at the Lewis Walpole Research Library at Farmington (part of Yale University) the 1774 attribution is as follows:
 “It is curious for having been used to deceive the mob by Dr. Dee, the conjurer, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. It was in the collection of the Mordaunts earls of Peterborough, in whose catalogue it is called, the black stone into which Dr. Dee used to call his spirits. From the Mordaunts it passed to Lady Elizabeth Germayne, and from her to John last duke of Argyll, whose son lord Frederic Cambell, gave it to Mr. Walpole.”

Lady Elizabeth Germayne was none other than the same Lady Betty Germaine, who spent so many years as a favoured house guest at Knole. Her name has been given to the closet containing a collection of blue and white china there. Drayton, the palatial mansion she bequeathed to one of the younger sons of her Knole hosts, was visited by Walpole during the latter years of her life. He described her house as being "covered with portraits, crammed with old china," part of which probably found its way into the closet at Knole. Listening to yet another radio play, I discovered that Lady Betty had another far more notorious visitor to her London townhouse; the infamous womaniser Giacomo Casanova. In his memoirs, Casanova recalls meeting up again with Pauline, one of his English conquests at Lady Betty’s house, not that Lady Betty would have been aware of his less than gentlemanly designs on one of her female guests.
 “For a fortnight I saw nothing of her, but I met her again in a house where Lady Harrington had told me to present myself, giving her name.  It was Lady Betty German's, and I found her out, but was asked to sit down and wait as she would be in soon.  I was pleasantly surprised to find my fair friend of Ranelagh in the room, reading a newspaper.  I conceived the idea of asking her to introduce me to Lady Betty, so I went up to her and proffered my request, but she replied politely that she could not do so not having the honour to know my name.
"I have told you my name, madam.  Do you not remember me?"
"I remember you perfectly, but a piece of folly is not a title of acquaintance."
I was dumbfounded at the extraordinary reply, while the lady calmly returned to her newspaper, and did not speak another word till the arrival of Lady Betty”.
Regrettably Casanova gives no description of either Lady Betty’s house or personage being too preoccupied with his beloved Pauline.
Anne Seymour Damer
Unlike Casanova Horace Walpole was no womaniser but he did have a number of close platonic female friends including the sculptor Anne Seymour Damer, to whom he bequeathed Strawberry Hill upon his death. As well as being an accomplished sculptor, Anne’s other claim to fame is that she shares the same birthday as the Brimstone Butterfly. Despite receiving the impressive  sum of £2,000 a year to maintain Strawberry Hill Anne ended up passing the house on to the aristocratic Waldegrave family. The 6th Earl auctioned off the contents of the house in 1842 and his widow, Lady Frances inherited the by then empty and increasingly derelict Strawberry Hill in 1846.
19th Century additions

19th century additions
Lady Frances led quite an extraordinary life in her own right. She married four times: the first two husbands were also brothers. She was a widow twice over when she married for a third time at the age of 26, her third husband then being 62. Her fourth husband was a Liberal politician and Lady Frances used the fortune she had amassed from her marriages to promote his career. She had already embarked upon her plan of restoring Strawberry Hill to its former splendour before this final marriage. Subsequently, it became a lavish backdrop for her role as one of the leading political hostesses of the Victorian era. Consequently, there is a whole wing of the house, including a chapel, which I inititally erroneously attributed to Horace Walpole instead of Lady Waldegrave.

Like Horace Walpole and Anne Damer before her, Lady Waldegrave had no children and her widower sold Strawberry Hill in 1888. In 1927 the villa became St Mary’s, a Roman Catholic Teacher Training College. In 1958 work was carried out to remove some of Lady Waldegrave’s additions and restore the north elevation to how it would have looked in Walpole’s time. In the 21st century the Strawberry Hill Trust was set up with the task of restoring Walpole’s villa and opening it up on a permanent basis to the general public. To that end they negotiated a 120 year lease from the Catholic Education Trust. More recently, with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund they were able to embark upon an ambitious and still continuing 9 million pounds programme of repairs and renovation, enabling them to open the doors to the public in October 2010.  Henceforth, Strawberry Hill will re-open on an annual basis in April. It was thanks to the Aviatrix that I first got word of the dramatic change in Strawberry Hill’s fortunes. There was a real fear as recently as 2004 that the house was fast in danger of becoming a ruin again. Before last October it had only been possible to visit the villa by appointment. Intrigued at the prospect of visiting a place we had both heard so much about but had never visited in person,  we made our way to Twickenham and to Strawberry Hill on an unexpectedly fine autumnal Day.

Monday, 21 February 2011

The Banqueting House, Whitehall

It has been several years since the Brimstone Butterfly has alighted at the Banqueting House, Whitehall. Last Friday I had another chance to pop in to see Inigo Jones' masterpiece. On my very first visit as a schoolgirl I witnessed with awe my friend Cristobel mount the English throne until I launched a coup d'état and told her to get off it as I wanted a turn sitting on the red velvet chair beneath its canopy of state.

The original palace of Whitehall dates back to the reign of Henry VIII. Cardinal Wolsey had built a sumptuous residence for himself near Westminster which he named York Place. This residence rivalled the palaces of the king himself for sheer opulence. Henry was quick to help himself to York Place just as he had to Hampton Court when Wolsey fell from royal favour. Henry renamed the palace Whitehall and set about enlarging the palace and pleasure grounds to include a cockpit, bowling green and tennis court. I was once fortunate enough to view an extant turret and walls of the double storey covered Tudor tennis court, complete with large leaded window, concealed within a modern office complex. That was when modern Whitehall regularly threw open its doors to the public as part of the London Open House weekend. Security considerations have probably been the reason why I have not been able to gain access in more recent years.
James I in front of the Banqueting House
It seems when Tudor monarchy wanted to entertain foreign ambassadors and put on a show they had a temporary banqueting hall erected built of timber. Clearly they had not forgotten the fabulous temporary hall of timber and glass Henry VIII had built for the Field of Cloth of Gold, to get one over the King of France, who had to make do with a mere tent, albeit one fashioned from the finest materials and no doubt furnished with an equally splendid interior. After all, a king like Francois I, who kept Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" on display in his bathroom at Fontainebleau, was hardly likely to skimp on things affecting his own creature comforts.

When it came to holding grand receptions, the Stuart kings wanted to build a permanent structure that would also serve to announce to the world at large the arrival of a new dynasty on the throne of England. The first structure King James I had built was destroyed in a fire so he promptly commissioned his surveyor of works to come up with a new design. The king’s surveyor of works was none other than Inigo Jones, who also designed the Queen’s House at Greenwich, the king’s grandiose present to his own spouse, Anne of Denmark. Both buildings had been inspired by Inigo Jones' visits to Italy and by the scholarly tomes written by that great Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio. Their joint contribution to neo-classical architecture in England is celebrated at Chiswick House by the two statues representing them on the steps leading up to the front portico.

Jones’ double cube Banqueting House is two stories high, 110 feet in length and 55 feet wide. The pillars of the undercroft bear the weight of the Hall above which owes more to Ancient Rome and Greece than to the medieval Great Halls of England with their hammer beam roofs and gothic windows, one of the finest examples of the latter being the Great Hall at Hampton Court. The exterior of the building was refaced with Portland stone in the 19th century but in keeping with Inigo Jones’ original design. Unfortunately this meant that the effect of three different hues of stone on the façade as planned by Inigo was lost forever.

The Banqueting House was completed by the end of March 1621. According to the guidebook, the undercroft was the scene of raucous drinking parties between James and his male favourites and hangers-on. One pastime they would not have indulged in would have been cadging a smoke off one another. James was a virulent anti-smoker and even published a pamphlet lambasting the habit in 1604 called “A Counterblaste to Tobacco” in which he roundly condemned the weed as being:

"A custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomelesse".
By contrast to what took place below in the undercroft out of side of prying eyes the upper hall, reached by a flight of elegant stairs, was the scene for more sedate pastimes such as grand receptions for foreign ambassadors. It was also where hoi polloi got the chance from the upper gallery to gawp at the king dining in public. To ensure they stayed at more than arm’s length the gallery could only be accessed by separate external stairs. In more recent years an internal staircase was built to link the ground floor of the hall with the gallery but  it was not open to the general public when I popped by, although I did spy a female member of staff seemingly sorting out furniture in the gallery, perhaps for an evening event. Court entertainments known as masques, that early mixture of opera, dance and theatrical spectacle so beloved by the Stuarts, were also held here. Inigo Jones found himself roped in to produce stage designs for court masques in collaboration with the noted playwright Ben Jonson.  A recurring theme of such masques was the world plunged into chaos until the Stuart monarchs restored harmony and order to the world. It was a conceit which found full expression in the ceiling panels. King Charles I, son of James I, commissioned Rubens in 1635 to glorify his father and the House of Stuart in a sequence of 9 paintings which culminated in a central painting showing James ascending into Heaven. Other panels signified the union of Scotland and England with the accession of the Scottish Stuarts to the throne of England or else promoted, in allegorical form, the divine right of kings. Something that is not obvious from the digital images alone is that each individual painting was not produced on a single panel as might be expected but on a series of panels.

It can be no coincidence that Parliament chose to erect a scaffold outside the Banqueting House upon which to execute King Charles I on Tuesday 30th January 1649. The hapless monarch was forced to walk under the Rubens ceiling which exalted his own family and the divine rights of kings before stepping out of  a window on the second story to face his own frail mortality on the block outside. A year later this accountof the king's final hours was published in London by one Peter Cole, whose address was given as being "at the sign of the Printing-Press in Cornhil, near the Royal Exchange."

" About ten in the morning the King was brought from St. James's, walking on foot through the park, with a regiment of foot, part before and part behind him, with colours flying, drums beating, his private guard of partizans with some of his gentlemen before and some behind bareheaded, Dr. Juxon next behind him and Col. Thomlinson (who had the charge of him) talking with the King bareheaded, from the Park up the stairs into the gallery and so into the cabinet chamber where he used to lie.  (It is observed the King desired to have the use of the cabinet and the little room next it where there was a trap door.) Where he continued at his devotion, refusing to dine, (having before taken the Sacrament) only about an hour before he came forth, he drank a glass of claret wine and eat a piece of bread about twelve at noon. From thence he was accompanied by Dr. Juxon, Col. Thomlinson and other officers formerly appointed to attend him and the private guard of partizans, with musketeers on each side, through the Banqueting house adjoining to which the scaffold was erected."

With the execution of the sovereign and the earlier execution in 1645 of the king's own Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, Dr Juxon discreetly retired into private life. Following the Restoration he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by the late king's eldest son, Charles II. Reminders of Juxon's archbishopric can still be seen at  the Old Palace Croydon   notably in the carved blackamoor heads decorating the pews in the chapels. 18 years later on Friday 19th June 1663 Samuel Pepys refers to Juxon's recent demise  in his diary:
"Lay till 6 o’clock, and then up and to my office, where all the morning, and at noon to the Exchange, and coming home met Mr Creed, and took him back, and he dined with me, and by and by came Mr Moore, whom I supplied with 30l., and then abroad with them by water to Lambeth (Palace) expecting to have seen the Archbishop lie in state; but it seems he is not laid out yet." It is to be hoped that he treated the corpse of the archbishop with more respect than that of a medieval queen. When invited on a private tour of Westminster Abbey on Februray 23rd 1669 he wrote:

"and here we did see, by perticular favour, the body of Queen Katherine of Valois, and had her upper part of her body in my hands. And I did kiss her mouth, reflecting upon it that I did kiss a Queen, and that this was my birthday, 36 year old, that I did first kiss a Queen".
The Brimstone Butterfly cannot lay claim to kissing any king or queen on the mouth, living or otherwise, although she did kiss a Tsar when she was made Tsarina for the night in Russia

With the return of King Charles II to the throne the Banqueting House was again used for royal receptions. The diarist John Evelyn was present when the Russian Ambassador appeared before the king on the 29th December, 1662:

 "Saw the audience of the Muscovy Ambassador, which was with extraordinary state, his retinue being numerous, all clad in vests of several colours, with buskins, after the Eastern manner; their caps of fur; tunics, richly embroidered with gold and pearls, made a glorious show. The King being seated under a canopy in the Banqueting-house, the Secretary of the Embassy went before the Ambassador in a grave march, holding up his master's letters of credence in a crimson taffeta scarf before his forehead. The Ambassador then delivered it with a profound reverence to the King, who gave it to our Secretary of State … Then came in the presents, borne by 165 of his retinue, consisting of mantles and other large pieces lined with sable, black fox, and ermine; Persian carpets, the ground cloth of gold and velvet; hawks … horses … etc. … Wind music played all the while in the galleries above."

John Evelyn also described a less than happy visit to the Jacobean undercroft on 19th July, 1664 where he took park in a lottery with Charles II, his wife Catherine of Braganza and his father's widow, Henrietta-Maria: 
"To London, to see the event of the lottery which his Majesty had permitted Sir Arthur Slingsby to set up for one day in the Banqueting House at Whitehall, I gaining only a trifle, as well as did the King, Queen-Consort, and Queen-Mother, for nearly thirty lots; which was thought to be contrived very unhandsomely by the master of it, who was, in truth, a mere shark." 

The Banqueting House stopped being used as a reception saloon and became instead the Chapel Royal after the rest of the palace of Whitehall burnt down in 1698. In the late 19th century it was in danger of being divided up. Fortunately it was spared such a fate and became a museum instead, which itself closed in the 1960s. Nowadays, like so many other historic buildings, the Banqueting House pays its way by serving as a stylish venue for concerts, conferences, weddings and receptions.

The Banqueting House, Whitehall is to be found opposite Horse Guards Parade, though it is probably best neither to attempt to sit on the throne nor smoke a pipe lest you attract your own counterblast from the staff on duty.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Pinning down the Brimstone Butterfly: 200 posts later!

Somewhat to my surprise I have reached my 200th post. When I first started writing this online journal I simply saw it as being an anonymous repository for my thoughts and views on a range of topics as well as being a welcome outlet for my more creative side. I was encouraged to set up a blog by friends who enjoyed reading my post on other websites. Consequently I have not hesitated to expand on posts I have used elsewhere on occasion.

In my very first post I explained why I had chosen to name my blog “The Brimstone Butterfly”. I was inspired by a photograph I took in the summer of 2009. As I walked around the Hertfordshire countryside I chanced upon a wonderfully coloured butterfly feasting on knapweed. On that particular day there were myriad brimstone butterflies fluttering around the fields close to my friends’ house in Hitchen. My attempts to take a photograph of them were constantly thwarted by Ellie, my friend’s late lamented greyhound, who I was dog-sitting at the time. Every time I managed to get near enough to get a close-up a boisterous Ellie would bound over to me, causing the insect to take flight. Later, I found myself intrigued by its name, brimstone having rather satanic overtones for such a glorious insect. I also liked the idea of a butterfly flitting from one subject to the next without apparent rhyme or reason as I am wont to do.

One of the biggest influences on my blog was an early post which led to the Guardian newspaper commissioning me to write an article for them. Having had friends praise the quality of my writing, it gave me the confidence to send on spec the broadsheet an outline for an article based on my experience of being trapped in a house fire, which I had taken from one of my posts. A week later I found myself corresponding with one of their editors, Emma Cook, and expanding my post into a full page article. Very little was changed by Emma except a couple of lines at the beginning of my article to put it into greater context and a line removed at the behest of the Guardian solicitors. Although I have a print copy of the article it can also be found on the Guardian archive. The Guardian article led to the BBC getting in touch with me to invite me on to one of their Saturday Live Radio 4 broadcasts as a studio guest. Again, thanks to the internet, my dulcet tones can still be heard (about 35 minutes in) on the podcast.

I now tend to imagine that I have an editor silently reviewing my posts before I publish them. Thus I try to limit myself to a maximum number of words per post, which is why descriptions of my visits to stately homes are usually in instalments. I always endeavour to give a flavour of a place from my own personal perspective. Thus, the 16th century wooden spiral staircase at Eastbury Manor House with the large time-worn gaps between the treads rather intimidated me, as you can tell from my voice on the soundtrack.

Unfortunately I managed to lose a multitude of photos and videos when my PC crashed last summer. Luckily the ones on my blog were saved and I also had copies of digital images dating from before 2007. I have been able to reuse some of the latter on my web site. Occasionally they will demonstrate how a location has changed over the years: an example being Chapel Court at Hampton Court Palace, which was turned in a Tudor privy garden two years ago. Before that it had served as a private garden for the grace and favour apartments. My images captured both gardens. Other examples include the statue of Bacchus in the cherry gardens at Ham House. In October the statue had already been covered to protect it from winter frosts and snow. An earlier film showed it uncovered. Likewise, the display in the Duchess of Lauderdale’s stillroom had been significantly greatly altered since I had first filmed it.

Buying a digital camera proved invaluable for my blog. It has enabled me to capture images with the kind of detail I often miss with the naked eye. As far as possible I try not to include images of other visitors or ensure that they are not readily identifiable.  Costumed guides are fair game but I ask permission if they are on their own. I adopt the same approach towards friends.

I love to gem up on earlier accounts of the places I visit or of their occupants. British History online has proved invaluable for providing a wealth of such local history. Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn loved to hobnob with the great and the good of their eras so their respective diaries are a great source of gossip and obscure information. Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders, produced his own travel guide in the early 18th century and I have consulted other now online guides dating back to earlier centuries. Guidebooks bought at the specific location are prime reference material as are the guides of course. The latter are usually more than willing to talk at length, the more so if there are not many other visitors around.  I place a great importance on tracking down the original source for any quotes I use.  Search engines are a must for such a task. The arrival of the likes of Project Gutenberg has similarly proved a boon now that I no longer summon have the resources of the British Library at my disposal. Dragging my light from under a bushel, I have an almost photographic memory for the kind of references I scatter liberally amongst my posts. The internet merely ensures that I can confirm the veracity of a comment I have drawn from memory. If I am not certain as to the reliability of an account I revert to declaring “It is thought” or words to that effect.

Chenies Manor House in Bucks is an excellent example of how even professional historians can come unstuck from time to time. All being well, I hope to travel to the Tudor manor house of Chenies in the spring.(Revised 4 April 2011. I have now written my account of my visit to Chenies). I went with the Partridge and her siblings to visit this historic house one Bank Holiday. I remember hearing the guide pointing out where Henry VIII had stayed and the reason why one part of the complex had fallen derelict. A few years later Time Team paid a visit to Chenies. One of their archaeologists had produced the guide for Chenies I still possess. It had been produced in good faith based on the available archaeological evidence. Time Team came up with a very different interpretation of the site. They realised that the current buildings were built after Henry’s demise and therefore he could not have stayed in them. In fact they discovered the remains of what would have been his bedroom under the modern day car-park. Likewise, their interpretation for a ruined wing was that the house had once been a principal country seat for the Russell family. However over time it became less important and they rented it out until it served as a farm house. Consequently, with its change in use there was neither the need nor the means to maintain the splendid state rooms in which Tudor kings and queens and their retinue had been entertained and this part of the complex had been demolished. The latter was a very different account to what I had originally been told. As an amateur historian I strive to ensure my account is as accurate as I can make it, but I make no pretence that it is a work of rigid academic scholarship, the more so since even rigid academic scholarship can go awry.

Gadgets that have had a lasting influence on my blog as well as proving to be sources of unexpected amusement and entertainment are those that record statistics. They allow me to track where my readership is based, how they access my site and which posts attract the most attention. That was how I discovered the particular appeal of my visits to stately homes. Unfortunately I have nothing prior to May 2010.  I have ascertained that my posts on Dido Elizabeth Belle, Charlton House and Eastbury Manor House have all proved highly popular as has a post on the shop windows of Bond Street at Christmas. I am especially pleased about Charlton House and Eastbury Manor House as they are not that well known even within their respective localities so anything that brings them to the attention of a wider audience is to be welcomed. I am intrigued by readers from Finland who have been attracted to my alternative version of Finnish history. They do not seem to have been put off by my attempts to write playlets in Finnish, although I imagine their command of English is far superior to my command of Finnish if my relatives are anything to go by.I am tickled pink that some of my readers are based in the very places I write about. In the first instance I am sure they come to check what I have written about their august building. Nevertheless I find it gratifying that they often chose to stay to read posts about subjects which have nothing to do with their particular workplace.
Another way I find out more about my readers is through their comments, which I value as, prior to my accessing statistics, they were the only evidence I had that I was not writing in a complete vacuum. Sometimes those comments are passed on to me by friends, who have recommended the blog to colleagues. It is odd to think that colleagues of friends occasionally know far more about what has been going on my life than my nearest and dearest. I was touched by a recent comment about the Old Palace Croydon:

 “Thank you so much for writing this! I just stumbled upon it while I was searching for items on Sir Christopher Hatton, whom I knew had been made something important by Queen Elizabeth I at my old school, but I couldn't remember what. Lord Chancellor!

"How I envy the modern schoolgirl reading a book on Tudor history in the very chamber that those men who had helped shape it had also spent many an hour in quiet contemplation." Just to let you know, whenever I sat upon those windows to read, I always felt extremely privileged and grateful to be taught in such a historical building. How many people could say they went to school in a real palace, and were taught geography in Queen Elizabeth I's bedroom? Not many, I'm sure. I loved my time at Old Palace and always appreciated the chance to learn there. So did many of us. Maybe I'll go back for a tour, and perhaps lead one myself!”

My favourite posts have included those on Igtham Mote (the latter being one of the first places I wrote about in detail and which I intend to revise) and the post containing a video of Ellie the Greyhound. I was so glad I had downloaded a host of videos and images of Ellie onto her owners' pc as I lost mine when my own pc crashed.  
I cannot predict the lifespan of this Brimstone Butterfly. As I said at the start, I am amazed that the site has lasted so long. I still have a backlog of posts to add and all being well there are many more stately homes I can visit when the main season begins again in the spring. In the meantime, I would like to thank you Gentle Reader for taking the time to peruse my jottings and hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I have taken pleasure in writing them.  

The Brimstone Butterfly 
February 2011