Well, I suppose most of the readers of this blog are also obsessed with Downton Abbey, despite it being a century removed from our own favorite Austen-related time period (Austen reference #1 and counting)– who can resist The Fashion? The Passion? The Soap-Opera! The House! The Intrigue! – and tonight for us on this side of the big pond, the season finale [though that was really last week, with this a Christmas special add-on, but I won't quibble - at least we don't have to wait until Christmas!…] – but we shall expect cliffhanger number 2, and be properly impatient for the next season, which is to inlcude Shirley MacLaine as Lady Cora’s mother – just imagine the sparks bewteen MacLaine and Maggie Smtih!
But I write today of an interesting development in the Burlington [VT] Free Press which tells the tale of one Andrew Johnson, a.k.a. Matthew Crawley, who unbeknownst to him until 25 years ago, finds he is the sole surviving male heir [‘male’ being the requirement for British inheritance laws] of an estate, huge mansion and 600 acres, in Mr. Darcy’s land of Derbyshire [we have to bring Jane Austen in here somehow (Austen #2)!]
Now, the 87-year old Mr. Johnson is the owner of a lumberyard in Bristol Vermont, so heading over to England to take over the estate and become one of the landed gentry did not seem to fit into his life [recall Matthew’s arrival at Downton and seeing no need for the ministrations of his valet nearly sent the man into a full-blown state of depression!]
and Downton’s Matthew Crawley [Dan Stevens, a.k.a. Edward Ferrars - Austen #3 ]:
Calke Abbey is the estate in question, now actually part of the National Trust, given over as payment of taxes, and now one of the most visited historic homes in the UK.
which has the look of “Netherfield Park” in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice (Austen #4):
…which is actually Basildon Park [image from Fanpop]
I send you to the Burlington Free Press article by Susan Green – to find the odd mix of the various baronets who inhabited Calke, and now all Mr. Johnson’s illustrious ancestors – we have hermits and bird egg collectors, and the true-life adventure of the Lord of the Manor and his below-stairs mistress, later his wife – all proving yet again that truth is stranger [and sometimes more interesting] than fiction! [do we still see Lord G and Maid Jane meeting once again?]
Here are a few tidbits:
A spectacular canopied “State Bed” was a 1734 wedding present from Queen Caroline, wife of King George II, to Lady Caroline Manners. She tied the knot with the fifth baronet, one of five Sir Henry Harpurs in a span of more than 400 years. Maybe the royal gift didn’t suit her taste. This magnificent piece covered in embroidered Chinese silk never left it’s crate. Once rediscovered, it has been kept in a temperature-and-humidity-controlled glass case, apart from a 1985 voyage across the Atlantic for an exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington,DC.
The walls of Calke Abbey sport numerous stuffed animal heads, hunting trophies that peer down on visitors along with the portraits of privileged human inhabitants through the ages. Sir Vauncey is in uniform, holding a sword. The chap who preceded him, Sir John Harpur (the ninth baronet, 1824-1886) wears a top hat and appears to be proud of his enormous mutton-chop whiskers; his marriage to Lady Catherine Crewe, also from nobility, is what would provide the family with a hyphenated name thereafter.
An air of mystery and scandal clings to Sir Henry Harpur (1759-1819), known as “the isolated baronet.” He was a recluse who took a lady’s maid, Nanette Hawkins, as his mistress. They ultimately wed, but he remained something of a hermit. A tunnel was dug under the lawn “so the staff would not intrude on his view” from the house, Majusiak said. The help also received their orders in writing from a boss who dreaded direct contact with them.
[text from the Burlington Free Press]
- The Calke Abbey at the National Trust website
- Burlington Free Press: To the Manor Born? Not this Vermonter
Enjoy Downton tonight! – and if you want to “watch” in the company of thousands of others, you can follow the twitter party with Laurel Ann of Austenprose and others here. (Austen #5)