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Tuesday, December 12, 2017


I was lucky enough to spend almost a year in Yorkshire back in my younger days, and I blame Disney for that. Due to having seen The Horsemasters at a young age (I think I was nine), I wanted to go to
England to a riding school. The Yorkshire Riding School outside Harrogate gave me my BHSAI (that's British Horse Society Assistant Instructor) certificate, and then I went on to live with a family, training a couple of hunters (horses for fox hunting, not folks with shotguns) and a carriage horse. But I think part of my fondness for Yorkshire also goes back to a grandmother who came from Sheffield.

Yorkshire became the setting for my first Regency romance--A Compromising Situation--both due to my familiarity with the region and it's romantic setting. There are the moors in the north, wild and harsh lands used in Wuthering Heights (and did you know that wuthering is a variant of whithering and comes from the Old Norse for strong wind--there's a strong Viking influence in Yorkshire). There are the vales with their green fields and stone walls and dottings of sheep. There are ruins everywhere, some of them dating back to well before the Normans even arrived, others the result of Henry VIII's dissolution of the abbeys. Yorkshire is the land of Robbin Hood--yes, I know, legend puts him in Nottingham, but Yorkshire historians say he was really a Barnsdale man from the area  between South and West Yorkshire near Doncaster. Yorkshire has always loved its rebels.

The area has seen its share of battles, both with Vikings for control of the land, and later when the north chose not to submit to William I and the Normans, and then on through the War of the Roses and even more uprisings. Castles rose and fell--do did great houses.

In the 1800s, Yorkshire was at the center of the Industrial Revolution, with manufacturing springing up in Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds. And, of course, revolution brought trouble in the Luddites who objected to the loss of income and jobs as machines replaced workers. 

The rich history of Yorkshire is in its houses, ruins, and even its land. You literally cannot step foot anywhere without being someplace where the history is close by. From the winding streets of York, to the rugged coastlines, to the now quiet battlefields. Folks are still digging up Roman relics, or even earlier tools and barrows that date back much further.

And those who hale from Yorkshire are a hardy lot, used to the cold winters and a rather hard life. The dialect can be hard to follow, and a bit bloody-minded (the saying is that a Yorkshireman is a Scotsman with all the generosity squeezed out):
'Ear all, see all, say nowt;
Eyt all, sup all, pay nowt;
And if ivver tha does owt fer nowt –
Allus do it fer thissen.
The translation for those not used to the Yorkshire dialect is: 'Hear all, see all, say nothing; Eat all, drink all, pay nothing; And if ever you do anything for nothing – always do it for yourself.'

But where would we be without Yorkshire pudding, and Terry's of York and the other chocolate companies that grew up in this area, and Wensleydale cheese, a cheese as delightful to say as it is to eat. There is also Betty's, one of the best tea room's in England, in York, Harrogate and other locations, which has been a tea house since 1919.)

Yorkshire also gives us the coach horse, the Cleveland Bay (from the Vale of Cleveland), the Great North Road (you have to go through Yorkshire to elope to Scotland), and some of the most beautiful of England's Great Houses--Castle Howard, Harewood House, and Barley Hall. And Yorkshire lays claim to many ghosts and things that do more than bump in the night, ranging from monks to lost Roman legions. And Yorkshire is a land where the folk tales seem to be close to those who live here, and the old ways are still observed. Perhaps it's because so much of the language also dates back to ancient times, to the Vikings who settled here.

In the Regency, Harrogate was a place to go to 'take the waters.' It was both a social scene for those not wanting the expense or bustle of London (or even Bath), but who wished good company and a touch of a more elegant era, for Harrogate had reached its most popular time in the Georgian era. And that is perhaps the real attraction of Yorkshire--the blend of old and new, which existed in the Regency era and and still exists. It's a place where it is easy to transport yourself back in time.

For additional reading:

Friday, December 8, 2017

English Christmas Ghosts and Winter Tales

by Donna Hatch

An odd Christmas custom that dates back centuries is telling scary ghost stories. Have you noticed in the popular Christmas Song, "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" the verse that says: "Tales of the glories and scary ghost stories of Christmases long, long ago" and wondered over it?

Telling ghost stories is an age-old tradition that many claim cropped up in the Victorian Era, including the traditional Christmas story, A Christmas Carol. However, this custom dates farther back than that.

Washington Irving penned a novel in 1819 called  The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. The hero in the story visits friends in an English country house during Christmas season in a section entitled Old Christmas. While visiting Bracebridge Hall, our hero basks in the hospitality of the squire and a traditional English Christmas, which includes telling scary "winter tales." Winter tales have long included tales of ghosts, witches, monsters, and other creatures of darkness.

In A Natural History of Ghosts: 500 Years of Hunting for Proof the author, Roger Clarke, tells of a popular story claiming that shepherds saw ghostly civil war soldiers battling in the skies just before Christmas 1642.

Even earlier,  the Bard, William Shakespeare penned a collection of scary stories entitled Winter Tales." This romance weaves a tale of tangled identities and apparent death and revival. This suggests that telling weird or bizarre stories whilst gathered around a winter's evening fire was a wide-spread tradition long before the Bard's time.

A predecessor of Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe wrote a play entitled The Jew of Malta  in 1589 in which a character Barnabus states:

Now I remember those old women's words,
Who in my wealth would tell me winter's tales,
And speak of spirits and ghosts that glide by night

Since traditions such as this have roots in pagan practices dating back to medieval times, I assume winter tales including ghost stories have been a Christmas tradition since the days of cloak and dagger. But at the very least, the practice of telling ghost stories at Christmas has been in practice since the 1500s.

However, I’m happy that telling ghost stories, except for watching the movie or reading the book, A Christmas Carol, is no longer a major part of American Christmas customs. Can you imagine getting a child to bed who is both excited about presents and frightened of ghosts? Now that is scary!

Still, this practice of telling ghost stories is a plot point that works well for my Christmas novel, A Christmas Secret.

Holly has two Christmas wishes this year; to finally earn her mother’s approval by gaining the notice of a handsome earl with an impeccable reputation, and learn the identity of the stranger who gave her a heart-shattering kiss…even if that stranger is the resident Christmas ghost.

Christmas Secrets released November 9, 2017 and you can download it and read it instantly here
 on Kindle!


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The London Post

          Posting a letter in Regency England was not as simple as walking down to the local post office and dropping off a stamped letter. Prior to January 10, 1840, stamps did not exist. Inked hand stamps applied to the letter indicated such information as whether it had been sent POSTPAID, UNPAID, PAID AT (city), PENNY POST, TOOLATE, 1dDUE or FREE, or what post office had collected the letter and what mileage it would cover.  The 'letter box' itself only came into use after 1794, and did not become compulsory until after 1811. (The box consisted of a slit in the wall of the receiving house, which opened into a locked box.  Private boxes could be hired in some towns for as little as 1/2d per letter to 4d per letter.)

          The letter itself differed from its modern form. The letter usually comprised a single sheet (sometimes folded once in the middle to make a booklet-like page). This was folded in thirds, then the ends were folded together, with one end tucked inside another. Hot wax dripped onto the joining ends sealed the letter. The address or direction would be written on the front and rarely went beyond Name, Town (or house name), County. In London, a street might be indicated.

          To save money, correspondents often wrote down the page, then turned it and wrote across their previous writing. Thrifty souls would turn it yet again and write diagonally across everything else, producing a nearly illegible mess. This was called crossing and recrossing one's lines. The postmaster receiving the letter would write on the envelope the postage due by whoever received the letter.
          On Monday August 2, 1784, the Post began to change when John Palmer's first Mail Coach left the Rummer Tavern in Bristol at four o'clock PM, carrying the mail and four passengers (which later became seven passenger, with four inside). Palmer had long advocated postal reform and expansion.  Increases in commerce, industry and population demanded it. After his friend William Pitt became Prime Minister, Palmer got authority to try his reform ideas.

          Palmer's Mail Coach reached Bath at five-twenty PM, and arrived in London at the Swan with Two Necks well before eight o'clock the next morning to deliver mail to the Chief Post Office in Lombard Street. The coach had traveled 119 miles in under sixteen hours, an incredible feat. Palmer received public acclaim and bureaucratic stone-walling, including a record of criticism which ran to three volumes of copperplate. However, Palmer's Mail Coaches began to take hold.

          By 1811, approximately 220 mail coaches ran on regular schedules from London to various major cities. These coaches used the post roads and cross post (post roads that did not pass through London), which could support the light, fast coaches. The Post Office continued its custom of farming out the job of postmaster, and letters still had to make their own way between post towns. Coffee houses, inns along these routes, and even carriage makers, held contracts to provide both horses at each stage, coaches and coachmen.

          The Post Office did use its own, scarlet-liveried employees as guards.  These men had to read and write to fill out their time sheets (Way-bills).  Each carried a timepiece set each evening before leaving the Chief Post Office at eight PM.  As compensation for sounding the horn at toll gates, seeing the mail safely to its destination and carrying out the unpleasant task of reporting the misbehavior of any sub-contracted coachmen, guards earned an excellent wage-- half a guinea a week, plus sick pay and pension.  Tips were allowed and could average as much as 2/- a passenger.  As the Chief Superintendent of Mail from 1792 to 1817, Mr. Hasker also allowed his guards to carry personal goods and newspapers, provided this did not interfere with the mails.

          London had had its own General Post with local delivery since 1635 when Charles I opened the Royal Mail. In 1680, William Dockwra began his private Penny Post, named for the penny charge to mail any letter up to a pound. Two years later, the government took over and continued operation of the Penny Post. It comprised the cities of London and Westminster and the Borough of Southwark, covering letters received and delivered within ten miles, while the General Post serviced both London and the country side.
          From 1680 to 1794, letters for London's General Post had to be prepaid 1d. This relaxed after 1794, with the condition that letters put into the Penny Post for delivery by the General Post still had to be prepaid. Letters from the General Post for Penny Post delivery were charged 1d on delivery, plus the General Post charge. In 1794, Parliament also lowered the weight limit to four ounces for any 1d letter.

          The General Post and Penny Post remained separate organizations with their own letter carriers and receiving houses (a large number of which happened to be stationers' shops). The only point of exchange came at the Chief Post Office.

          In 1792, Parliament gave letter carriers for the General Post uniforms of scarlet coats with blue lapels, a blue waistcoat and a tall hat with a golden band.  Walking back from a delivery, the carrier rang a large handbell to indicate he could collect letters for an extra charge of 1d postage. The letters went into the slit of a locked pouch for delivery to the Chief Post Office.

          In 1794, London's five post offices (Lime street, Westminster, St. Pauls, Temple and Bishopsgate) became two:  the Chief Office in Abchurch Lane, Lombard Street, and the Westminster Office in Gerrand Street, Soho.  All London mail now passed through the Chief Office.  In addition, service expanded to cover the seven rides surrounding London:  Mortlake, Woolwich, Woodford, Edmonton, Finchley, Brentford and Mitcham.

          London post offered six collections (at 8, 10 and 12 AM; 2, 5 and 8 PM) and daily deliveries.  The clerk stamped letters received after seven o'clock PM with that time or a TOO LATE stamp, for the window closed at seven forty-five so that mail could be shorted and bagged by eight for the last collection.  The Chief Office charged an extra sixpence for such letters, with other receiving offices setting their own fee.  Letters received at the Chief Office on Lombard Street on Sunday were sorted and posted on Monday as there were no Sunday deliveries.

          From the Post Office on Lombard Street, the blue and orange Mail Coaches departed every evening at eight. Passengers assembled at various inns throughout London for departure at half past seven. The coaches then stopped in Lombard Street to collect the mail and the guard, and departed London at eight PM.  Lombard Street became so congested that by 1795 the six Western Road coaches began to leave from the Gloucester Coffee House in Piccadilly at eight-thirty, with the guard and mail traveling to this point from the Post Office.

          In 1812, Cary's Itinerary listed 37 inns with stage and mail coach departures. By 1815, this grew to 44, with inns having as few as 3 or as many as 35 coaches departing. In 1815 alone, of the 20 coaches leaving the Angel Inn, St. Clement's, Strand in London, five are daily post coaches and four are daily Royal Mail coaches.

          The Bull and Mouth, Bull and Mouth Street, boasted the record of having thirty-five coaches departing, including the Royal Mail to Edinburgh, while the Swan with Two Necks, Lad Lane, listed the original Bath and Bristol coach, the Royal Mail to Bath, the Brighton Post Coach, and the Prince Regent coach to Dover and Paris.

                                               1794   1801   1805 - 1831
Within Town Area                      1d      1d      2d
Town to Country,
          or within Country              2d      2d      3d
Country to Town                         1d      2d      3d
Town to General Post                1d      1d      2d
Country area to General Post    1d      1d      2d
General Post
          delivered by P.P. in town   free    free    free
General Post
          delivered in Country free    1d      2d
          Since the post office's beginning, its revenues went to the crown, which held the right to grant the privilege of signing a letter and having it posted for free.  This practice, known as franking, extended to both Houses of Parliament and certain officials.

          In 1764, postal revenues were given to Parliament in return for the crown being able to submit a Civil List to award honors.  Thereafter, Parliament authorized Free Franking.  Letters were stamped FREE when franked.  Nearly everyone abused the privilege.  Most considered a stack of signed blank sheets from a Member of Parliament's to be a common present after a short visit.  Franks could also be issued, by law, by certain public offices both in London and abroad.

          To curb abuse, Parliament made forgery of franks a felony, punishable by transportation for seven years.  As of 1784, reforms required all franked letters to have the signature, as well as the place and date of posting written at the top by the person franking it.  Limits on the numbers of letters that could be franked were imposed, but how could a lowly postmaster tell an undersecretary not to frank more than ten letters a year?

          During these years, 1780's to early 1800's, it became a hobby among some well-bred ladies to collect franking signatures from letters. Rather the Regency equivalent of collecting autographs. Some ladies strove for a broad collection, while others specialized in particular friends, MPs or relatives.

          Prior to 1836, newspapers and some other printed material such as charity letters and educational materials could be also franked for free postage to postmasters by the six Clerks of the Road.  A tax of 4d had been imposed to cover the cost to handle newspapers.  However, publishers were not shy about franking their own newspapers.  Booksellers, after Parliament imposed higher postage rates in 1711, also wrote the names of Members of Parliament for free postage, with the approval of the postal Surveyors appointed in 1715, who administered function and facilities of the postal roads.

          In addition to franking, from 1795, Parliament granted privileged rates to those serving in the Army, Navy and Militia, with no letter charged a rate higher than 1d.  Over the year, this extended to every branch of military service, including, in 1815, the soldiers and seamen employed by the East India Company.

          While privileged rates continued for the armed services, all free franking was abolished with the introduction of the penny postage stamp in 1840, which marked the beginning of the modern post office as we know it.

The Postal History of Great Britain and Ireland (1980)
R.M Willcocks & B. Jay  ISBN: 0-9502797

English Provincial Posts (1633-1840) (1978)
Brian Austen  ISBN:  0-85033-266-4

England's Postal History to 1840 (1975)
R.M. Willcocks   ISBN: 0-9502797-1-4

British Postal Rates, 1635 to 1839
O.R. Sanford and Denis Salt   ISBN: 0-85377-021-2
The Postal History Society

United Kingdom Letter Rates 1657-1900 Inland & Overseas
C. Tabeart  ISBN:0-905222-58-X

Friday, November 10, 2017

Bath, England, through the eyes of Regency Romance Author, Donna Hatch

by Donna Hatch
When Rome occupied England, the mineral baths in the English town now known simply as Bath was a hub for social, religious, heath, and recreational activities.  Rich and poor alike flocked to the healing waters seeking cures, or at least relief, from all manner of health complaints such as palsy, arthritis, gout, skin diseases including leprosy, and many chronic and terminal illnesses. Both genders bathed together, some clothed, some not. I’ll leave it up to your imagination to decide whether they stayed focused on getting relief from their ailments.
The engineering that went into creating the luxury spa two thousand years ago is truly mind boggling. There are many rooms and a complex system of pumps and pipes that carry the water from the main spring to other parts of the elaborate Roman structure.

I might have been tempted to bathe in a shallow tub of the mineral water if I had found the opportunity, but I can't imagine being desperate enough to get into that enormous pool of murky green water that is the main part of the Baths. Not only was it green and murky, but it occasionally bubbled. It was kinda creepy. Plus, I couldn't see the bottom. Still, I had to admire the workmanship that went into the design and construction, and the fact that such an ancient structure remains, a testament to those who lived here so long ago. While there, one can imagine people long gone. In the waters, some frolicked and others simply immersed themselves hoping for a miracle. All of them walked or were carried across the rocks that still bear the wear marks of thousands of feet.

Today, the original bath is open for tours, but not for bathing so as to preserve its structure. Visitors are admonished not to even touch the water. Modern bath houses provide visitors the opportunity to bathe in the warm mineral waters that  many agree has healing properties. Unfortunately, England was in the throes of one of the worst heat waves on record during my visit, so a warm bath lacked it usual appeal.
People came here to “take the waters,” a Georgian term meaning bathe in the warm mineral pools. “Taking the waters” also meant to drink water from the Pump Room, which became a gathering place to socialize and flirt, as well as drink the water they believed would cure them of all manner of ailments. Inside the Pump Room is a lovely, antique pump that squirts out water in a continuous flow so those who desire may drink it.
After the Romans pulled out of England, they abandoned this unique area to the ancient Saxons and Normans. Later, Christian churches arrived. During the Georgian Era, Bath became a fashionable resort town. The Pump Room I visited was a new version built in 1777 to replace an older one originally constructed in 1706. Apparently, the excavation process of this new Pump Room led to the discovery of the Roman Temple.
In case you are wondering, I did not drink the water when I was there. Remembering its green, murky origins a few feet below, not to mention its smell of Sulphur and its reputation for tasting awful, was enough to discourage my sense of adventure. I suppose if any of my characters ever drink the water, I will have to get more detailed second-hand accounts of its foul taste.

But let us return Georgian society in Bath. With the arrival of the wealthy, some of whom only stayed for the summer, and others who made Bath their permanent home, beautiful homes and neighborhoods cropped up, including The Circus, a circular-shaped neighborhood of beautiful townhomes, and Royal Crescent, an even more upscale set of luxury mansion-style townhomes in the shape of a crescent as its name suggests. I toured one of these townhomes, Number One Royal Crescent, which is a glimpse into life as a wealthy, Georgian gentleman. 
Jane Austen lived in Bath for several years with her family. While many claim that Jane disliked living in Bath, a large portion of two of her novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, took place in Bath which she portrays as an exciting and lovely place.

Beyond enchanting, Bath has a timelessness about it. Walking the streets, I easily imagined myself a character in a Jane Austen novel. Strolling along the river, having afternoon tea in the Pump Room, prowling the streets, and exploring the Roman Baths creates a sense of having time traveled. With each step I took, I could almost see images of those who’d trod those cobbled paths before me including kings and queens, lords and ladies, and poets and authors including our beloved Jane Austen.
My interest began years prior to my trip to Bath. I even set the beginning of my novel, A Perfect Secret, written five years ago, in Bath. Now that I have visited Bath, I may have to write another novella that takes place in this ancient and unique town just to relive my adventures there.

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

Friday, September 29, 2017

Treasure Houses of England: Burghley

Burghley House Photo by John Bolen
Note: Cheryl is writing a series on the ten Treasure Houses of England, which have been selected for their grandeur, architecture, furnishings, landscape, and historical significance. See the website at


Burghley House was built more than 400 years ago by William Cecil, the first Lord Burghley (1520-1598), who served as Lord High Treasurer and Chief Minister to Queen Elizabeth I for 40 years. Upon his death, the house and title passed to his eldest son, Thomas, who became 1st Earl of Exeter.

The 5th Earl of Exeter (1648-1700), who visited Italy three times and was one of the leading collectors of his day, greatly altered Lord Burghley’s house.  The 9th Earl of Exeter (1725-1793) added extensively to Burghley’s collections of paintings, furnishings, and porcelain (among the finest private collection in England) during his four tours of Italy and is responsible for the naturalistic landscape designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown in the mid 18th century. The 10th Earl became the 1st Marquess of Exeter in 1801.

None of the 1st Earl of Exeter’s descendants have played as important a role in government as the home’s builder, William Cecil. The 6th Marquess (1904-1981), as Lord Burghley, achieved fame by winning the gold medal in the 1928 Olympics in the 400-meter hurdles and winning the silver in the same event in 1932. A scene in the movie Chariots of Fire, where a Cambridge student runs around the great court in the time it takes the clock to strike 12, is based upon Lord Burghley. When he died without male descendants in 1981, the marquisate  passed to his brother, who lived in Canada, and Burghley House and its contents became part of a charitable trust set up by him and administered, in part, by his descendants. His granddaughter, Miranda Rock, currently lives at Burghley with her husband and four children. The present Marquess of Exeter resides in Canada.

Movies which have featured Burghley House in recent years include the 2005 Pride and Prejudice in which Burghley served as Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s home, and The Da Vinci Code.


Upon seeing Burghley House for the first time, visitors will immediately understand why it is billed “The Largest and Grandest House of the Elizabethan Age.” Because of the grandeur of the home’s architecture, furnishings and grounds, it has been selected as one of England’s 10 Treasure Houses.

The Elizabethan house that was constructed from 1555-1587 in the shape of an “E” to honor the queen was largely modified in the 17th century. The exterior features its original roofline bristled with cupolas, obelisks and round chimneys.

Allow plenty of time to see the house, as about 20 rooms are on the tour. This includes four Georgian state rooms, a billiards room, the painted dining room featured in the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice, the Elizabethan chapel, the bow room, the Marquetry room (for its inlaid furniture), Queen Elizabeth’s bedroom, the brown drawing room, the black and yellow bedroom, the pagoda room, the blue silk bedroom and its blue silk dressing room, the magnificently painted heaven room, after which visitors visit the equally magnificently painted hell staircase, and the great hall.


Much of what was designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown in the 18th century remains, including the 26-acre lake. Like all of Brown’s landscapes, Burghley’s grounds of sweeping lawns, curving lake, swelling hills and strategically clumped trees contribute to a natural-looking landscape.

In recent years a sculpture garden and a Garden of Surprises (with a maze) have been added.

There’s a lake walk, a cricket ground and woodland area to explore.

The orangery offers a restaurant which looks out over a parterre rose garden.

Cheryl Bolen, who has been visiting England for three decades, spent most of the month of June exploring more of England's stately homes. Her newest release is the A Birmingham Family Christmas. Visit her website at

Friday, September 1, 2017

Georgian Bath

by guest blogger Clare Alexander

Ah, Bath! The lovely city in Somerset on the banks of the Avon is the only city in England to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city holds everything from pagan foundations, through Roman baths, medieval churches, graceful Georgian buildings, Victorian monuments, to modern shops, hotels, restaurants, and pubs.

A popular spa during the Georgian era and through the Regency, Bath is the location of more historical romances than would fit into many assemblies: Jane Austen’s Persuasion and Northanger Abbey take place in Bath. Georgette Heyer, Mary Balogh, Lisa Kleypas, and many other authors chose Bath as a setting for their tales.

Visitors came to Bath to take the waters while resting from the whirl of London and found happily ever afters there. My own visit included explorations across centuries and through many neighborhoods. Today, I’ll present a bit of Georgian Bath, a section of the city that preserves townhouses and thoroughfares from one of England’s most elegant architectural eras.

In particular, I introduce Bathwick, the newly completed (in 1774) town reached by crossing the Pulteney Bridge.

The Pulteney Bridge was designed by Robert Adam in the neoclassical Palladian style that remained the heart of Regency building. One of the few bridges to have shops built into it on both sides, the plan came from a design Adams created for the Rialto Bridge in Venice but never used.

Pulteney is the family name of the Georgian Earls of Bath. (The title was created three times.) The bridge was named specifically for a first cousin of the 1st Earl, Frances Pulteney Johnstone, who became fabulously wealthy after inheriting the Earl’s fortune on his death and the death of his heir. She and her husband changed their name to Pulteney and became patrons of the city.

Stroll across the bridge, using your imagination to replace buses and cars with delivery carts and elegant curricles. Once across the Avon, you enter an area of elegant homes built of warmly colored Bath stone. This neighborhood, which includes such well-known addresses as Laura Place, was known to Jane Austen during her time here. 

Continue your stroll down Great Pulteney Street, admiring the grace of the buildings on either side. At the end, you find the Holburne Museum of Art, which in Austen’s time was the Sydney Hotel.

The hotel served the Sydney Pleasure Gardens, one of Jane Austen’s favored walks when she lived on Sydney Place nearby. Today, they are the only remaining Georgian pleasure gardens in England. Strolling here, you can imagine catching sight of a Regency lady, a dashing naval officer, or perhaps Jane herself plotting her next novel.

These sections of Bath will be familiar from film and television adaptations of Austen’s works and other period pieces precisely because the architecture, both buildings and details, has been so well preserved. Walking here, it becomes easy to imagine what it might have been like. 

Clare Alexander published her first Regency, sadly not set in Bath, this February. Her website can be found at

Friday, August 25, 2017

Treasure Houses of England: Hatfield House

Hatfield House
Note: Cheryl is writing a series on the ten Treasure Houses of England, which have been selected for their grandeur, architecture, furnishings, landscape, and historical significance. See the website at

© Cheryl Bolen


Queen Elizabeth I spent much of her childhood at Hatfield Palace, which had been home to the Bishops of Ely since the Middle Ages.  It was here that she learned she was the new queen, following the death of her half-sister Queen Mary.  All that remains of the 1480 palace is a red-brick hall where banquets are still held.

Beginning in 1607, Robert Cecil, the 1st Earl of Salisbury and younger son of Queen Elizabeth’s chief minister William Cecil (Lord Burghley), began constructing the present Jacobean mansion, using many of the red bricks from the demolition of Hatfield Palace. Robert Cecil had succeeded his father as a minister to Queen Elizabeth I, and after her death he served as chief minister to James I. It was from James I that Robert Cecil obtained Hatfield Palace. 

The king, much taken with Cecil’s Theobalds in Hertfordshire (now gone), offered to exchange Hatfield for Theobalds. Hatfield’s new construction took five years to complete and cost £11,000. Robert Cecil died in 1612, just after the completion of Hatfield House. He is buried at the old parish church adjacent to the property.

In the reign of George III, James Cecil (1748-1823) was created the 1st Marquess of Salisbury. The 3rd Marquess (1830-1903), served three times as Prime Minister to Queen Victoria.  As chairman of the Great Eastern Railway, he was instrumental in getting the Hatfield Rail Station located just beyond the gates of his family home. Lord David Cecil (1902-1986), a noted scholar, historian, and author, grew up at Hatfield House. The house is still owned and occupied by the present Marquess of Salisbury and is one of the 10 Treasure Houses of England.


With the advent of the railway, Hatfield’s entrance was reoriented to the north, where visitors now enter. The original south entrance was designed by Inigo Jones, who received £10 for his drawing. The original entrance is much more impressive with its long loggia flanked by ogee-topped double towers and a clock tower at the center.

Hatfield House, comprised of 223 rooms, is considered the finest and best known Jacobean house in England. The marble hall on the ground floor, so named for its checkered floor of white and black marble, has retained its Jacobean appearance. Original, intricately carved wooden screens stand at either end of the chamber. The hall features a minstrels’ gallery and huge Belgian tapestries. World leaders today still gather around the long table that can seat 70. 

A climb up the grand Jacobean staircase (with original wooden dog gates) brings visitors to the first floor and the James I drawing room adorned with rich, deep greens and reds. Despite its large size, the room looks cozy with its intimately gathered conversation areas. A life-size statue of James I is incorporated into the overmantel. Walls are sheathed in tapestries which serve as a backdrop to a collection of priceless paintings, including those of Elizabeth I and of the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury and others painted by Reynolds and Lawrence. A trio of tall bayed windows floods the room with light.

A 180-feet long gallery connects the James I drawing room on the east wall with the library on the western wall. The library is among the finest in England. A large fireplace is center point to the symmetrical room. Its north and south walls feature galleries that are balustraded in gilded iron and are accessible by handsome wood steps. The library houses many rare manuscripts, including letters from Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots.

The winter dining room was constructed in the early 19th century from two smaller rooms. Far more intimate than the hall, this dining room seats 14.

Original to the home, the marble-floored chapel was remodeled in Victorian times but still retains the early 17th century stained glass windows depicting Biblical scenes.

A tour of the house (guided on weekdays) includes the long, ground-floor gallery/loggia that is used as an armory and the massive original kitchen, which has been restored to look as it did in 1832.


The 14-minute walk from the rail station is mostly through alleys of trees and alongside the broad lawn leading up to the present entrance. The 1,000-acre park offers vineyards, parterre gardens, a wilderness garden, a children’s play area, picnic sites, the 16-acre Broadwater, and park walks.
Closest to the house is the West Parterre Garden, designed in Victorian times by the 3rd Marquess’s younger daughter, Gwendolen Cecil, and still meticulously maintained.  It is bordered by verdant arbors, and perfectly sculpted shrubs guard the entry points. The Scented Garden (another parterre) lies beyond the West Parterre, and the knot garden backs up to the Old Palace. Another well-maintained formal garden faces the original south front of Hatfield House.  Though it is not open to the public, it can be photographed from a viewing bay.
Hatfield's Knot Garden adjacent to the Old Palace

Visitors can pick up a free leaflet from the gift shop or the garden kiosk that will give them a map of three separate walks through the grounds. The walks are 1, 2, or 3.2 miles.  Some oak trees in the park have been dated to over 700 years old.  The original oak where Queen Elizabeth I learned of her accession to the throne is now gone, but in 1985 Queen Elizabeth II planted another at what is believed to be the original site. A children’s play area is located north of the Elephant Dell picnic site. For those not bringing lunches, a restaurant is available in the old stable yard northeast of Hatfield House. (No picnickers allowed here.) 

One of the loveliest features on the grounds is Broadwater, formed by a dam in the River Lee. The castle folly dates to 1780, but the wall around the secret garden was built much earlier, in 1633.--Cheryl Bolen's newest release is a Regency Romance titled Miss Hastings' Excellent London Adventure. See book list, excerpts, and articles on Regency England at