Friday, January 15, 2016

Devon; Celebration; 2016; Ten Women Writers; Anniversaries; Lives & Texts.

Tor Down House, Belstone, Devon
home of Doris Lessing from 1964-68.
Names; Dates; Texts
50 years ago, 1966, Doris Lessing was living in a longhouse at Belstone tucked beneath the  granite folds of Dartmoor's sheltering tors. Lessing kept her home in Devon for four years, from  1964-1968. She may have been working on short stories from Winter in July (published 1966); or stories from The Black Madonna (pub. 1966); or The Summer Before the Dark (published 1973) - but see below.
50 years ago, 1966, Wide Sargasso Sea, one of the C20's iconic texts was published. The novel was written by Jean Rhys, another internationally acclaimed writer, who completed the novel after moving into a cottage at Cheriton  Fitzpaine, near Crediton, in 1960.
100 years ago, from February to in 1916, writer/poet H.D stayed in north Devon, where, revelling in the sea and scenery, she wrote new poems and translated older lyrics of the Classicists. Her first poetry collection, Sea-Garden, had just been published.
100 years ago, during summer 1916, writer E.M. Delafield, during lunch hours away from war work, was drafting her second novel The Pelicans, [possibly] in Rougemont gardens, Exeter. The novel was eventually published in 1918. It seems that Delafield had begun to write The Pelicans but, by 1917, on the advice of her publishers and following the success of her newly published first novel Zella Sees Herself, had set the 'Pelicans' manuscript aside, in order to complete the then more topical The War Workers, which was also published early in 1918.
150 years ago, on 4th November 1866, Scottish writer Jane Findlater was born    near Edinburgh. In 1899 Jane moved with her sister Mary and family to Paignton and then Torquay, where the sisters co-wrote  several novels, including Crossriggs, which was published in 1908.
200 years ago, in 1816, Devon born novelist Elizabeth/BridgetBluemantle, (also called Elizabeth  Thomas), nearing the end of her writing career, wrote and published the novel Purity of Heart, her  satirical response to Lady Caroline Lamb's first novel, a bildungsroman, Glenarvon.
Also 200 years ago, in 1816, Jewish writer, Grace Aguilar, (who later spent several of her formative years in  Devon, at Teignmouth and Tavistock), was born in Hackney, London. 
250 years ago, in 1766, according to her own diary, Elizabeth Simcoe was born in Whitchurch, Herefordshire; however, most authoritative sources now state that Simcoe invented the date and  place of her  birth; she was actually born in 1762. Simcoe first stayed in Devon when she was a young child and sometime after her marriage, in 1782, made the county her home.
Also, 250 years ago, in November 1766, Devon born writer, Catherine Jemmat [aka Catherine Yeo] died. Jemmat's Miscellanies in Prose and Verse was also first published in 1766.
300 years ago, on 9th February 1716, Mary Palmer (born Reynolds), sister of Sir  Joshua Reynolds, was born in Plymouth. Palmer was the writer of A Dialogue in the Devonshire Dialect, a text once  thought to be 'the  best piece of literature in the vernacular of Devon' ...


    Some years present more anniversary and celebratory literary connections than others. For Devon women writers who lived and wrote in, or were in other ways connected with the county of Devon, 2016 is one such year ...

    Skimming stones back, just fifty years, there's a satisfying background literary contextual link between a medieval Devon longhouse set one the edge of one of Dartmoor's quintessential villages and one of the C20's towering female writers, Doris Lessing, who some have labelled the 'Grand Dame' of literature. Sources say that the writer adapted the original shippen at Tor Down House - which at the time of her arrival,was still occupied by horses - into a writing room. I can't confirm which texts Lessing was working on whilst she lived in Belstone; a variety of different possibilities are named. One source says she was writing part of the series Children of Violence. If so, then presumably (because of the novels' respective publication dates) she may have been working on Landlocked (pub 1965) and/or The Four Gated City (1969). Other possibilities (because of their publication date) are The Black Madonna (1966); Winter in July (1966); The Summer Before the Dark (1973); or, The Memoirs of a Survivor (which the author called 'an attempt at autobiography', 1974).
     As far as I can tell, there is little information as yet available about Lessing's links with Devon. I have not tried to sift through any archives and I also understand that the author's own dairies will not be made public as long as any of her children are alive; one day there may be more commentary by Lessing herself apropos her time in the Westcountry. At the moment I have to be content with tantalising snippets. According to the Western Morning News, 'she [Lessing] spent many hours in the study which had a large picture window with panoramic views across the paddock towards North Devon and the hills of Exmoor, and she used the room to write in.' We are also told that Ted Hughes, who lived just seven or so miles away and was one of Lessing's friends, was a frequent visitor; there are suggestions that Lessing bought the house in order to be close to Hughes, and that he found the cottage for her He is supposed to have berated her 'for covering up the pony ring in the floor of the shippen ... because he felt it should remain visible'. (Western Morning News, November 2013). I understand that Tor Down House is now home to The Dartmoor Soap Company, whose mission 'to support Dartmoor's natural environment' including such worthy charities as Butterfly Conservation, would presumably be approved by Hughes, were he still alive. 
      It seems that Devon was anything but a backwater for a few of the most celebrated women writers in the mid nineteen sixties. Not only was Doris Lessing tucked away writing in a converted shippen under the moor, but just over twenty miles north-east toward Exeter, since 1960, Jean Rhys had been stowed in the hold of a mid Devon village - a place which apparently she hated. We may not know what Lessing thought of the village she'd made her home for four years, but it is the opposite with Rhys, who persistently vocalised her negative response to her Devon locality. I have written about Rhys in Devon in another, earlier blog piece, which you should be able to read at Scrapblog - here and in another Scrapblog piece - here. I do not know if the two writers knew one another, or ever met. Possibly not, given the near thirty years difference in their ages; but each must have been aware of the other's literary importance and there may have been a kind of connection if not  a meeting, because Ted Hughes' literary agent sister Olwyn happened to take on Rhys' writing.
Mid Devon landscape near Cheriton Fitzpaine.
      Slip into the past just another stone's throw of fifty years back from 1966, to 1916 and there is at least one significant Centennial event, for during early February 1916 H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), accompanied by her husband Richard Aldington, travelled down to north Devon from London and moved into the Old School House at Martinhoe,  
Old Schoolhouse Martinhoe

A month later, in March, the Aldingtons moved along the lanes and took up residence in Woodland Cottage, at nearby Parracombe.

Woodland Cottage, near Parracombe,
where H.D, lived  in 1916

       The couple were soon joined by their friend John Cournos.
H.D. seems to have loved Woodland cottage and the spectacular scenery nearby. She told friends how happy she was. Referring to her surroundings as “wild and pagan,” she mentioned that the “thatched cottage with a brook [was] backed by a wooded hill with a small mountain in front and the sea, with cliffs covered with gorge, is half a mile down the valley.” In a letter in May she told her friend, F.S. Flint, that “every day we go to Heddons [sic] Mouth about 1.30, bathe, scamper about on the rocks, build a drift-wood fire & have tea.”
      Aldington and H.D. were both writing avidly. She was working on Euripides’ Ion; Iphigenia in Aulis; the poems “Heliodora” and ‘Nossis” )See Collected Poems; she may have been drafting her extensions of Sappho’s fragments, (in Collected Poems), as well as several of the poems later published under The God, (in Collected Poems) and may have worked on an early draft of an essay on Meleager, entitled “Garland."
     In  Aldington enlisted as a private in a local regiment and left for training. H.D. remained at Woodland with Cournos for a while and then moved eastwards to stay near where Aldington was based, at Corfe. As far as I know she did not return to Devon.
      H.D's famous early and short imagistic lyric 'Oread' appears in Sea Garden, and, although  the poem was probably written before she arrived in Devon, its sentiments convey the dramatic ambience of the spectacular coastal seascape within which she had immersed herself down in the South-west. 

Whirl up sea-
whirl your pointed pines
splash your great pines
on our rocks,
hurl your green over us
cover us with your pools of fir.
You can read more about H.D.'s time and writing in Devon in an essay here - Sea-Thyme in the South-West; H.D.'s Se/a/cret Garden (scroll down to page 8).

        I don't know if H.D. had any occasion to meet new novelist E.M. Delafield whilst she was in the county, or indeed, had ever heard of her; she may have, but it is perhaps unlikely. Although by 2016 Delafield had completed her first novel Zella Sees Herself, it was not published until early the following year, in 1917. During 1916, Delafield was drafting her second novel,The Pelicans; its last page notes the dates,  'Exeter June 1916; London June 1917', confirming the manuscript was first penned in Devon. However, according to her biographer Violet Powell, Delafield had been persuaded to temporarily abandon that manuscript in favour of The War Workers, which, in light of the contemporary situation, was considered likely to gain more immediate public interest.
Rougemont Gardens, Exeter
where E.M. Delafield drafted her early novels.

E.M. Delafield's home
Croyle House,
near Kentisbeare.

       As a young girl  Delafield had holidayed in Devon with her parents, at Butterleigh, near Cullompton and after the war and following her marriage to Paul Dashwood, the couple bought Croyle House, near Kentisbeare, where the family remained until her death during World War Two, You can read more about E.M. Delafield and her Devon connections in another blog piece,  Sad December.


Delafield a younger novelist, by about a quarter of a century, to the Scottish Findlater sisters, frequently spent her childhood summers at East Butterleigh House, in mid Devon. She was probably not aware of the Findlaters' existence when, according to Violet Powell, she was sitting, aged 8, in the Butterleigh meadows, avidly listening to her mother reading Pilgrim's Progess. It was about the same time that Jane and Mary Findlater travelled down south, from Edinburgh to Torbay; soon, Devon became their settled home. However, it is possible that by the time their co-written novel Crossriggs first appeared, in 1908, Delafield, now 18, may have come upon and read what had by now become a popular novel.
      Delafield was born in 1890. The Findlater sisters first arrived in south Devon in 1899. There seems some dispute as to whether Jane, the younger of the sisters, had been born in Perthshire in 1866, or in Edinburgh; but, after their father's death when she was twenty, Jane moved with her family to Prestonpans near Edinburgh. Some ten years later, in 1896, Jane's first novel, The Green Graves of Balgowrie (the plot of which was based on her mother's family history) was published; the novel soon became a sought after book and quickly (after the family became concerned with their mother's fragile health) left them with sufficient income to move to warmer climes, in Devon.
      There's a short commentary about the Findlater sisters in Devon on the blog, here - Going Back to the Findlaters
At Prestonpans, East Lothian, where the Findlater sisters lived from 1886.
      The  C19 fiction writer Elizabeth/Bridget Bluemantle/Thomas, whose novel Purity of Heart was published two hundred years ago, in 1816, remains an enigma. There are many occasions when a woman author's identity is elusive because of the different names she has taken on, either as pseudonym/s or through a series of marriages, but this novelist's identity has proved to be more complicated than most. I have had her on a list of mystery writers for many years, but only recently had time to go on a google trail. Googling has proved useful and has at the very least provided a few clues, a starting-point. This is what I have found: 

Berry House Hartland. 

Elizabeth Wolferstan was born circa 1770/1, at Berry House two miles west of Hartland. Daughter of Edward Wolferstan and his wife Mary; it seems the Wolferstan family had a long standing link with that parish. Berry House was remodelled in the 1760's to provide a home for the Land Agent of Hartland Abbey. The following account about Berry's history appears on the description of the Hartland Heritage Trail walk  Presumably, Elizabeth, the writer's family of Wolferstan, are, or were one and the same as the Wolfenston family:

Berry House has been the subject of a recent sympathetic renovation (in 2009). The property came to prominence when the orphaned Wolfenston child came into the care of his aunt at Hartland Abbey. As he came of age and married he took on the lease of Berry and transformed it into a house suited to his status. Wolfenston had possibly inherited income from large estates in the Midlands which gave him the finance to transform a traditional farmhouse into his mansion. He became involved in the administration of The Hartland Abbey Estates on behalf of his cousin and amassed a substantial property holding of his own. The family, after three generations, moved to Bristol where they established further business dealings. Bristol was chosen by many merchants as it was a major trading port, whereas the local ports of Barnstaple and Bideford became silted and less accessible to the larger merchant ships. Berry farmhouse has extensive views south along the coastline towards Cornwall and must have been splendid on a good day. The interior of the house has been restored to its heyday and still shows all the evidence of its former life.

       The Wolferstans apparently descended from a family who held Statfold Hall in Staffordshire. The following blog-piece, HandedOn, concerning that house, contains lots of fascinating Wolferstan-family leads. Back in Devon, the family are listed as one of the armigerous families of Hartland. There is said to be a tablet to the Wolferstan family at St Nectan's Church; Devon Record Office holds at least one archival record relevant to the family and North Devon Record Office another. As yet, I have not had a chance to seek these out. 
        Elizabeth Wolferstan married Reverend Thomas of Tidenham circa 1795 and moved to Gloucestershire. However, she must have eventually moved back to her home county, for her death was at Parkham, in north Devon, in June, 1855. Another wikipedia lead helps out here. It indicates that the writer probably had a son, Frances Wolferstan Thomas, who became both Rector and Rural Dean of Parkham; he had a son, also Frances the subject of this wiki article. We can probably assume that the writer moved to her son's household sometime before her death. Here is the will of Francis but you will have to pay National Archives to download it and make it legible. If it is him, then his death was only a year after that of his mother. In the Preface to Purity of Heart the author states that 'it has been finished amid the various occupations of domestic life, by the mother of a growing family'; so Elizabeth must have borne several children.
      I don't know if the author Elizabeth Wolferstan Thomas knew Lady Caroline Lamb. Perhaps she did, because they may have come from similar backgrounds. Perhaps, Elizabeth made a bee-line for her contemporary's first novel, Glenarvon, in 1816, because she knew its author and was being nosey. Elizabeth appears to suggests such: 'The  novel of Glenarvon fell into her [Elizabeth Thomas'] hands, with numerous other publications'. In the Preface to her novel, the full title of which was Purity of Heart, or The Ancient Costume, a Tale in one volume addressed to the author of Glenarvon, Thomas maintains that the manuscript was completed in three weeks; she didn't  delay in making her response. Anyway, by all accounts, Thomas' rewriting of Glenarvon, a satirical fictional reposte, seems to have sparked off a vituperative spar between the two writers. Narrated by an 'old wife of twenty years', its main character, Calantha Limb is a corruption of Calantha Delaval (alter-ego of Caroline Lamb (who appears in Glenarvon).  Purity of Heart presents a counter narrative to the earlier novel, ultimately presenting an unflattering depiction of Caroline, Bryon's onetime lover. Thomas does not hold back when she justifies her attack on Lamb in her Preface, specifying 'its [the novel's] horrible tendency, its dangerous and perverting sophistry its abominable indecency and profaneness'. [It] 'struck [her] with such force', she continues, that she 'could not resist the wish that came into my [her] mind to ridicule it'. 'Purity of Heart' responded to Glenarvon's 'Kiss and Tell' with a virulent, polemical narrative, which Caroline Lamb, in quick self-defence, immediately reacted to:

Before a person attempts to turn another in to ridicule as is stated in the preface, they ought to know how and the author of Purity of Heart has less idea even of common humour and liveliness than anyone I ever met with. Better to take no notice of it -
she added, but did concede that 'the verses' which prefaced Purity of Heart's chapters, were 'rather good', You can read more detailed commentary concerning the inter-textual debate between the two writers and their novels at Lady Caroline Lamb; a Biography by Paul Douglass, the main source of my information about the interchange between them. 
       However these two novels were received by the public in 1816 - and it seems that reaction to Glenarvon (although the book sold out soon after publication, thus instigating multiple reprintings) - soon led to Caroline Lamb's social ostracisation, after her friends found themselves cast as targets of the scandal plot's satire, Glenarvon  has survived through the two centuries since; contemporary literary studies often feature it as a work of early feminist appeal. Unfortunately, Elizabeth Thomas' Purity of Heart' has not retained too much readerly appeal, but only seems to create a buzz of interest because of its connection with that a priori text.


Grace Aguilar
See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

      Writer Grace Aguilar was born two hundred years ago, in June, 1816 - the same year that Purity of Heart was published. Aguilar was twelve when in 1828 she moved down to Devon with her family, because of their father's fragile state of health. The family may also have been thinking of Grace herself, who from an early age had suffered from a chronic long-term illness. In Devon the Aguilars lived in Teignmouth and I understand, also, for a while, in Tavistock.
While Grace was taking care of him, her father taught her the oral history of the Jews of Spain and Portugal, complementing her mother's earlier instruction in Judaism. He may also have taught her Hebrew, which was extremely unusual for a Jewish woman to know at that time. Both her religious and literary interests date to that time of her life; she began indulging them both by making her first efforts at poetry and fiction and attending some Protestant services. A collection of conch shells she found on a Teignmouth beach spurred her to attempt a scientific paper on the subject (Wikipedia Grace Aguilar)
      One source states that it was after the move to Devon that  the young writer 'wrote her first completed manuscript, a play called “Gustavus Vasa” about a Swedish king (now lost)' - see Grace Aguilar. - while in her own memoir she records that her first poem was written in Tavistock two years after they moved to the south-west, when she was fourteen. By the time she was fifteen she had begun drafting her first long narrative 'a historical romance set during the Spanish Inquisition called The Vale of Cedars, or The Martyr' (Grace Aguilar). The text took four years to complete. I believe that the Aguilars were in Devon until 1835, when Grace, now nineteen, contracted measles (from which, apparently, she never fully recovered). Perhaps it was her illness which prompted her parents to move away from South-west England and return to the south-east, to Brighton, where Aguilar found a publisher for her first book of poems, Magic Wreath of Hidden Flowers, (some of whose lyrics must surely have been drafted whilst the poet lived in Devon). One source suggests that it was 'amid the beauty of the surrounding scenery [around Tavistock] that she first gave vent to her thoughts in verse' (see Sketches of Anglo-Jewish History)


Entrance to Wolford Chapel
where the Simcoes are buried.

     Just like Grace Aguilar, Elizabeth Posthuma Gwillim/Simcoe was not born in Devon, but her first acquaintance with the county began when she was younger than the Jewish writer.You can find the details of Elizabeth's ancestral background at Dictionary of Canadian Biography but the fullest informative and engaging text about her life is the biography by Mary Beacock Fryer. I'm not sure when or how the birth date of 1766 came about. Perhaps it started as a recording error; or maybe it is true that Elizabeth gave the incorrect date, so as to make herself seem four years younger. You will find both dates given online; Mrs Simcoe Diary edited by Mary Quayle Innis gives the later date, but Beacock Fryer's account seems authoritative.
      Briefly, here, orphaned at birth, Elizabeth's aunt Margaret took on charge of her niece and so, when in 1769 (Elizabeth was about seven), Margaret married Admiral Samuel Graves of Hembury Fort House near Honiton, the child inevitably began to spend time with the couple.  Eventually she moved in with them and Devon then became her home.

Elizabeth had visited Henbury Fort House frequently as a small girl where her uncle doted on her as a daughter and riding companion. When she moved in permanently she continued her love of horses and art. She had already had a very privileged upbringing with French and German governess’s and excelled in music and painting. She loved dancing, outdoor life and plants. Indeed she was extremely accomplished at all the necessary society pursuits appropriate to an heiress to considerable sums from both parents. She was rich and very well connected and would be seen as a very good match for any man of the time seeking to make his way to the top. (See Hembury Fort House)
You can find a few notes pertaining to Elizabeth Simcoe on the blog WomenTravelling and DevonRomanticPoets.

         So nothing shall tempt me from Harry
         His Heart is as true as the Sun
         Eve with Adam was ordered to marry
         This world it should end as begun
         (From The Rural Lass, by Catherine Jemmat)

          Catherine Jemmat, born Yeo, in 1714,  died in 1766, the same year that Elizabeth Simcoe said she was born. The two writers do bear some resemblance to one another: they both had eminent naval family connections; they both lost their mother very early in life (Jemmat's mother died when she was five or so); there are still unsettled facts re either their birth or death dates. In Jemmat's case it is the year of her death that is still uncertain. You will find that the year of her death is stated as 1766, but there are still doubts about that fact:

In November, 1766, the London Magazine reported what seems to be her death notice, yet her Memoirs were reprinted by subscription with new subscribers in 1771. Some sources list her death date as 1766. Condensed from a biography written by Sarah Forney. (See A Celebration of Women Writers)

       Catherine Yeo/Jemmat is even more elusive than Elizabeth Wolverstan/Thomas/Bluemantle; that is perhaps understandable, given that Jemmat's life takes us back even further than Thomas', to over 250 years ago. And yet, oddly, contradictorily, Yeo presents herself  vividly to us; we can almost visualise her before us, she comes across as a larger than life character:
At the time of my birth my father, the late Admiral Yeo, was a captain in his Majesty's Navy and resided at Exeter in Devonshire, where I was born. My parents when I was yet an infant removed to Plymouth, a principal sea-port and very compatible with his maritime employment., where he raised to the rank of half pay admiral.He was a finish'd tar in his own house, a baashar whose single nod of disapprobation struck terror in the whole family. Between five and six years of age I unhappily lost a tender mother, my father was then at sea and arrived the very night her funeral rites had been performed. The night of my mother's interrment and of my father's arrival from a long voyage was the first time to my remembrance I had ever seen him. My mother left in his care besides myself, a brother and sister who were yet younger. My father to apolgise for his coming to England without the knowledge or permission of the Lords of the Admiralty pleaded his extreme fondness and passionate regard to his wife. However he was severely reprimanded for it by their hardships and had not as I have been informed, a ship to command for nine years after. He was so enthusiastically fond of her as to insist on having her corpse taken up from the grave to bid a last adieu to the inanimate lifeless body buried in the clay. However, with much difficulty was eventually persuaded from doing so. However, such was his grief, that nine weeks later he married a giggling girl of nineteen. She had five children, four of whom it has pleased providence to call to a better state and had the worthy captain, my half brother completed the number of the deceased, the world and myself might well have borne the loss with christyn patience and resignation.To complete the dismal scene that was opening to us, new characters in the great drama of life, my grandfather, a pious, plain, upright man who boarded with us, was snatched away by death. Had heaven pleased to have lent us his life a little longer, he would have at least have seen us properly instructed in the principles of religion and morality.

         I think Catherine Yeo's/Jemmat's Memoirs might be the earliest autobiographical writings that we can read penned in the first person by a Devonshire woman.
         You can also find Jemmat's lively poem, A Rural Lass, included in several poetry anthologies, including in Eighteenth Century Women Poets, ed. Roger Lonsdale 

        And, last, but decidedly not least, there's Mary Reynolds Palmer, born 300 years ago, 9th February, 1716. Remembered as the elder sister of the much more famous painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, she is probably one of a number of women whose own talents became subsumed under the celebrity umbrella of other, usually male, relations. In the case of Mary Reynolds Palmer, she seems to have had advanced artistic as well as writing talents; it was her own drawing skills which initially tempted her brother to take up the art. Mary Palmer is also documented for her role as patroness (of Dr Johnson and others) and as being the mother of two daughters whose features are preserved into posterity after their uncle represented them in famous portraits. (They are easily found online, one such is at Yale University Digital Collection - Mary Palmer, niece of Joshua Reynolds).

Mary Palmer Reynolds
Joshua Reynolds
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Mary Reynolds Palmer, as Devon writer, is unique in her creation of the (as far as I know) sole written text in the local dialect,  A Dialogue in the Devonshire Dialect - once named as the 'best piece of literature in the vernacular of Devon -
Opening of
A Dialogue in the Devonshire Dialect

      You can still see Mary Palmer's home now known as Palmer House, in Great Torrington,


     So, there we have it.
     Ten women writers -
     (perhaps - or not - to emulate?).
     Devon. Celebrate!

(Any errors or inconsistencies in the above piece may well be mine. I apologise for any you might find) 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Delafield's Devon Double-Scapes

Northernhay Gardens, Exeter, where EM Delafield wrote her first novels, in 1915.

         Almost a year ago, as the last day of the past year fast approached, aware that 2015 was to be a special time of commemoration for past war events, I'd decided I should also give particular attention to Devon women writers during World War One. Somewhat un-enthusiastically, I'd downloaded E. M.Delafield's The War Workers on my Kindle, and with the start of the first day of the New Year, began to flick over the pages. It might be a cliché but, within a few page-swipes and a rare occasion nowadays, this was a book I could not put down. As yet, my fastest Kindle read.
        I knew that this year, 2015, was to be the 125th anniversary of E M Delafield's birth; this was part of my reason for catching up on her novels. She'd completed her first novel Zella Sees Herself, in 1915, just a year after she'd moved to Exeter as V.A.D. worker. Zella quickly gained public acclaim and whilst she was in Exeter Delafield was prompted to draft her second novel, The War Workers, which was also soon much admired.
         A quick plot resume of the second book may help here:

Published in EMD's second novel, The War Workers, centres on a community of female war workers, in particular a triangle of women: Charmian Vivian, upper-class daughter of the squire of the local country estate, 'Plessing'; Grace Jones, daughter of a Welsh clergyman and a new recruit to the Midland Supply Depôt, of which Charmian is Director; and Lady Joanna Vivian, the squire's wife. Charmian controls the operation of the depot; she is ruthless, an  autocrat and her apparent self-sacrifice as she works all the hours God has provided attracts admiration from all those who work for her. These women, mostly young and middle-class, live near the Depôt in a rather uncomfortable hostel, sharing bedrooms and providing each other with early morning tea. Grace Jones is kindly, charming, excellent at her job, and soon becomes popular with all the other women; however, she does not join in the adulation of martyred Miss Vivian. Charmian's father suffers a stroke, and eventually dies;  Charmian is conflicted with her double duties of war work and  home. Grace, meanwhile is drawn into the orbit of Char's ostensibly charismatic mother, Lady Joanna; she also becomes close to Char's cousin John Trevellyan, who's recovering from his war experience and injury.

       Even in these early novels, EMD was adroit at portraying slight alterations of emotional perception and nuance in person to person inter-relationships. During the opening chapters Charmian Vivian, female protagonist in the The War Workers, and autocratic Director of the Midland Supply Depot (rumoured to be cast as an unflattering portrait of the real Dame Georgina Buller), sits up and takes notice of her new recruit, Grace Jones; the realisation gradually dawns on Char that her newly recruited Welsh secretary, unlike all the other fawning staff who surround her, providing her with the adulation her self-martyring, attention craving persona demands, is not necessarily going to be at her beck and call. The mirroring and gradual reversal of situational roles in the two women's awareness of each other is captured in a series of subtle conversations. The novel's narrative closely pursues the playing out of the dynamic between Char and Grace, gradually drawing into its orbit Char's own fraught relationship with her mother, Lady Joanna Vivian.

"Who is the little dark-haired girl I've been working with, Char? The one at that table..."
"Oh, a Miss-er-Jones," said Char languidly.
"You never told me you had any one of her sort here. I want to ask her out to Plessing. Couldn't we take her back in the car tonight?"
"My dear mother!" Char opened her eyes in an expression of exaggerated horror.

      The resulting denouement between the three women unfolds throughout the book, providing the novel's emotional crux; set against a background context of war, it gradually reaches its culmination after Char's father's stroke and eventual death:

"Excellent!" said Joanna callously. "I shall be delighted to see Miss Jones. I wanted to ask her here, but Char nearly had a fit at the idea. She'll certainly think I've done it out of malice prepense, as it is. She's got a most pigheaded prejudice against that nice Miss Jones."
"Lady Vivian!"
Lady Vivian laughed.
You'll have to break if to her, Miss Bruce, that it's Miss Jones who is coming. And don't let her think I did it on purpose!"
"I am sure she would never think anything of the sort."
"Perhaps not. But Char does get very odd ideas into her head, when she thinks there's any risk of lėse-majesté, to her Directorship. I must say," observed Joanna thoughtfully preparing to go upstairs for her night watch, I often wish that when Char was younger I'd smacked some of the nonsense out-"
But before this well-worn aspiration of Miss Vivian's parent, Miss Bruce took her indignant departure.

        As I read I find myself thinking of character duplications and splittings, of landscape and place-swaps in fiction. I'm also remembering my own three idyllic months spent here, in the midst of the Devon capital, some 45 or so years ago.

       A few weeks later, early Spring, I go to Exeter to wander up near the castle ruins, at Northernhay gardens, where EMD is said to have written the manuscripts of her first novels.

      'Double-Take' is the expression that comes to mind.

      Today is the day I've been aware of a coming to terms with that long ago time. Around every corner and in every street, this city brings up places, endlessly self reflecting mises en abeyne, halls of distorted mirrors. A site then; a site now. They are the same; yet utterly different.

       E.M. Delafield's time in Exeter during WW1 was just over fifty years before my adult life began there. At that time I was light-years away from considering myself as writer. But looking back at those few months I can see how for a young author the bildungsroman is an ideal genre. A way of burying the hatchet of one's pre-adult years. Both of EMD's early books seem replete with doubled and redoubled character or personality re-inventions and deliberately, deliciously encoded name twists. The writer is evidently writing out her own past in her fictional recreations of Zella, in Zella Sees Herself and perhaps of Grace, in The War Workers. Both novels are peopled with a panoply of real characters EMD knew commingled with those she created, who were apparently based on them.

       Delafield references her own concern with real versus imaginary characters, when in the Foreword to The War Workers she states a disclaimer:

The Midland Supply Depot of The War Workers has no counterpart in real life, and the scenes and characters described are also purely imaginary.

          We can take EMD's statements with a large dose of salt. From the onset of first publication of War Workers there were rumours that Char was the real larger than life Dame Georgiana Buller, the only woman appointed as Administrator in a military hospital during World War I. EMD's biographer, Violet Powell commented, 'Elizabeth admitted that she had got into trouble over The War Workers, and, even more candidly, that she deserved to do so'. Powell adds that even years later, faced with meeting Delafield at social occasions, the Buller family were still uneasy. That might account for the prefacing waiver at the opening to The Way Things Are, a novel written twelve years later, when, the author, now writing in her prime, was able to view her own writing peccadilloes with a certain wry detachment:

A good many of the characters in this novel have been drawn, as usual, from persons now living; but the author hopes very much that they will only recognise one another.

          Although ultimately, to do so raises more question than answers, it is fascinating to consider the splittings and doublings of character and place which frequent this novel, and that of the earlier Zella Sees Herself, with regard, both to the author's own personal life, and in terms of the fictional echoes or reflections apropos real events of live war-time Exeter. One local war event which the novel appears to pick up on is the handing of food bags to soldiers on a troop-trainpassing through Exeter station. By February 1915, the then new mayoress, who, like Georgiana Buller, became known as a formidable woman organiser and fund-raiser, had raised £400. Accompanied by 4 other women the mayoress doled out, to every soldier, a large sandwich, two pieces of cake, an orange or banana, and a pack of cigarettes. In the novel, this scene's fictional transference zones in on Char, who, suffering from an extreme bout of influenza, still revels being in the limelight as the object of mass adoration:

Char moved up and down the length of the train.
She never carried any of the laden trays herself, but she saw to it that no man missed his mug of steaming tea and supply of sandwiches and cake, and she exerted all the affability and charm of which she held the secret, in talking to the soldiers. The packets of cigarettes with which she was always laden added to her popularity and when the train steamed slowly out of the station again the men raised a cheer.
"Three cheers for Miss Vivian!"

           If we explore the doubled or duplicated fictional/real lives hinted at in fiction we can often open up lost links and connections that once existed between individuals and families of the past. Both of Delafield's early novels apparently sail close to the autobiographical winds of her early years. In the first, Zella's childhood home, Villetswood, 'where there is not another house in miles', is sited somewhere in Devon; was the author picturing the house at Butterleigh, where she had spent many happy childhood summers? Boscastle, the novel's other unspecified family house, home of her aunt and uncle might be based on her real-life aunt's home at Penstowe, near Bude, on the Devon Cornwall border. Zella also sets a literary Devonshire context, as, in an early conversation with her cousin, Zella, the girl heroine, who 'sometimes thought of herself as a Devonshire maid', soon establishes Lorna Doone as 'the Devonshire story' whilst declaring her own loyalties that, 'of course I am from Devonshire'.
           In the second novel, Charmaine's fictional ancestral family home, in War Workers, named Plessing, is likely to be based on Downes near Crediton, the real-life estate of the Buller family and Dame Georgiana's actual childhood home. Was EMD so taken with Georgiana, that she found herself inscribing her contemporary in her early fiction? Indeed, the first stirrings of text may have made its first appearance because of the author's initial fascination with this striking and powerful woman, possibly, to such an extent that the real person could not really be separated from that of the fictional character. The doublings of real and imaginary split selves in this novel replicate phantasmagorically, for it is not only Char, but also, her fictional mother Lady Vivian, who appears as an embodiment of her real-self model, Charmaine's mother, Lady Audrey Buller. One commentator describes that

In various archival references Lady Audrey Jane Charlotte Buller, Georgiana's mother is always referred to as an exemplary woman who certainly on the surface level seems to mirror exactly the fictional Lady Vivian.

       In the novel, as war-fever crescendos and Char's displaced work-ethic effort increases, her already complicated relationship with her mother Lady Joanna Vivian decidedly worsens, whilst, in a neatly plotted change-over, Grace's bond with Joanna grows in warmth and intensity. By the time the novel finishes, Grace has supplanted Char and become Lady Vivian's substitute daughter.
         I have no way of knowing if Audrey Buller's relationship with her daughter, the real Georgiana, was as difficult and negative as the pair's fictional counterparts in War Workers, but it is possible they were, and that if so during her early weeks and months as VAD in Exeter there may have been occasions in which could observe EMD mother and daughter together. Given the problems she had with an overbearing mother herself, she may have been drawn to and susceptible to the signals of such a relationship and what it might reflect back to her of her own. EMD's interest in Buller mother and daughter may have been even more likely because of similarities between their and her own social status, backgrounds and life-events.
         The women also had a formidable family military man in common. Although there is no obvious link between Sir Piers Vivian and his fictional counterpart in the novel, Lady Audrey's real-life husband, Sir Redvers Buller, was one of Devon's and the country's most famous, exemplary war heroes, whilst EMD's (step) uncle, Colonel Algernon Thynne, became a prominent World War One army figure. Her step-father, Sir Hugh Clifford, also had a distinguished diplomatic record; all three were eminent men who must have created quite a stir in the lives of the women to whom they were related.
       The most puzzling and fascinating of all the possible doublings in EMD's first novels however is that of Grace Jones, the other main female character, in The War Workers. Does Grace represent another facet of the author's own personality? Grace is also from an upper class background and is Welsh (Delafield's childhood included several years in Llandogo, in Wales). Grace's main achievement in War Workers is her deployment of a dose of inner integrity, which gives her the strength to disrupt and disarm Char's control freak nature. Did EMD, newly arrived in Exeter, similarly, and really, manage to challenge the authoritative Georgiana Buller? Or, as she observed the dominating Director steam-rollering her way through the cowering other workers at the War Depot, was she projecting, harbouring a fantasy of wishful thinking through the creation of her own imagined character? Of course, we shall never know, but the possible interconnections between real-life and fictional-lives in these Devon-set novels provides us with a kaleidoscope of new material upon which we can mull ...

At Northernhay Gardens, Exeter

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

South-West-Women-Writers - Devon

You might like to know that I've reinstated, rejigged and re-published the website 

South-West-Women-Writers - whose focus is Devon's women writers. 

I'm hoping that if I can find time the website will gradually develop and expand.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Conundrums from Chelsea; Women and Gardens; Texts in the South-West


Watching the current Chelsea Flower Show TV footage and then coming across the piece Gardens: women vying for glory at Chelsea prompted some thought. I'm not in any way, shape or form a garden designer, nor do my efforts in our garden come any way near to those of a professional status; but I do love the garden. I relish being out in it, and love to plan and work it. However, trying to write and at present to complete a long manuscript about women writers from the south-west leaves little time for other hobbies. Often, sitting at the laptop in the middle of a plethora of words my eyes stray out the window to the garden. There is an inner tussle. Stay in. Finish the manuscript. No! Go out. Get amongst the lyrics of stems, flowers, twigs, branches, leaves ... 

In one chapter of my book I'm also including sections about women writers who also gardened, or, about gardening women who also wrote. 

What follows are extracts from these gardening-writing reflections apropos women from Devon and the Westcountry.  Please note the piece may include a few repetitions of material already noted in the blog pieces listed above.

Simmons Park

           ... If an aerial map of the long-foot of the straggling slipper of the south-western landscape could reveal the intricate secrets of its lost and hidden gardens, unkempt and buried beneath expanses of land now often distinguished by their tracts and swards of grasses -  meadow fescue, or creeping-bent and flowers-gone-wild – cow-parsley, corn chamomile, yarrow, or by great rhododendron banks – then, what could be uncovered might parallel the forgotten texts by women, which still survive in chaotically ragged form in archives, and often now, online.

             For, the lost vistas of what were frequently women-inspired gardens reflect and enhance the rich and wild tale of Devon’s (and by extension, the South-west’s) lost literary heritage. A little fruitful googling or library browsing soon conjures vividly textured scenes of once-upon-a-time intricately constructed gardens, many of which few will have heard of; even fewer will be aware of the feminine influence and impact on the creation and care of these once cultivated outdoor spaces. 
            Most gardening text books, as well as gardening history texts, commenting on estate garden planning and construction, tend to emphasise the influence and impact of male instigators, whilst the equal contributory share by women – wives, daughters, widows, mothers etc – is ignored, or devalued. Quite a few once lost gardens have been rediscovered in Devon and other South-western counties and several of these have been correctly attributed to the provenance of their female originators. Rosemoor and Knightshayes spring to mind. Other famed gardens, though still very much objects of public attention and acclaim, may not include the woman or (women) who was (or were) most instrumental in that garden’s history in their documentary brochures; or at least may not properly attribute her share in the garden's design/construction. For me, Saltram is an example of this phenomenon. And there are other once-gardens, probably many others, which will remain buried, hidden to view - where frequently the person most influential in their hey-day would have been a woman gardener.
          She may also have written. Perhaps she kept journals; or was a prolific letter-writer; or a poet; or a dramatist; or even a novelist. There are examples of all of these. And more. It is not always easy to tease out or untangle the missing threads of information. Hunches are worth pursuing; they allow a quick link to that little slipped- stitch of a woman’s name and identify who is missing from the garden her-story canvas. The same happens with occasional textual fragments from letters and journals; often they reveal a fragment, which will eventually lead to a connection with a once-beloved, female-created garden.
         ‘Though I am planting, I write, which I look on as great merit especially as you have never wrote to me’, Elizabeth, the Countess of Ilchester wrote to her husband in the early 1760’s; the Countess’ words imply that writing and gardening may have been inter-related activities for her. Elizabeth’s subject was the garden at Melbury in Dorset, where she had recently supervised alterations and for which she was probably in the midst of creating new cascades. The Countess was possibly mutually passionate about both garden and writing; she ends her letter ‘So many irons in the fire – I wish I am not ruined’. As well as her gardening activities at Melbury, the Countess was also engaged in making alterations to her other garden, at Redlynch in Somerset; it was this garden in which her influence was most notable. Gardening-women often tend to prioritise the reading of texts about gardens as much as, or before doing gardening activities themselves. For instance, in gardening design manuals, written instructions for or about the creative scenario of the imagined garden are inherent to the completed garden artifact. In texts about a particular garden, the written description of the place may seem as vital to the writer as the garden itself. Elizabeth of Ilchester’s accounts of her gardening ventures suggest that it was as important for her to note down her achievements on paper as to accomplish the work itself.

           There are deeply rooted and interrelated connections between textual creations and garden constructions, the activities involved in reading a text and the perception of a garden. Perhaps they are not so obvious as those between visual art and gardening, but those inter-relationships of written text and garden are just as intricate. A garden is a written text as much as a visual-scape and as such, is replete with meaning. Gardens are patterns - poems; tell stories; have psychological meaning; carry historical significance. Gardens are also frequently gendered. Metaphorical literature of the garden often conflates flowers, language and women: ‘a garden is said to be ‘full of the flowers of literature’; whilst ‘flowers’ are said to be equivalent to ‘women’. There is, at a deep almost kinetic level, a kind of symbiosis between the epistemology of gardening and women as sentient (and gendered) being. However, in contrast, at the ground level of the garden landscape itself and through the panoply of written texts about gardens, the garden was typically, for many centuries, assumed to be controlled by men. This was particularly so during the C19, a period when male prestige and importance could be made more potent according to the land and estate that he supervised. 

           Thus was set up a conundrum for the women who writes (or wants to write), who is also gardener. A garden as poem, as text,  gendered as ‘female’ conveys the idea that ‘She’ is [in] the garden. Garden is also part of, or extension to, Her-self. ‘Garden’ is her language; it is also her text; As she writes, she writes herself into the garden; her writing belongs as part of [in] the garden. In other words, there is a complex inter-twining of woman/garden/text, which can impact on a woman’s experience of her own identity. There may be a conflict between the dual passions. Or, arrangements and floral patterns set up in the garden itself, understood as ‘cultural document’[i] become source of alternative texts, delineating that woman’s self as writer, as well as gardener. There may be subliminal links between garden, text, self, as well as between an individual and other women who helped her with a particular garden.
          Scraps of information from various archival sources suggest the intricacies of complex bonds between women, writer and garden in Devon. The will of John Yonge from Puslinch, for example, left his wife, on trust ‘the use of Puslinch house, the garden, Langs Furlongs and the Wilderness, for life’. Women in the Yonge family occasionally reveal gardening interests and pursuits in their letters. F. Anderson Morshead, (who was probably the wife of Ernest Anderson Morshead), wrote to MaryYonge on April 14th 1903,‘My dear Aunt Mary, I hope that your garden blossoms, and flowers have not suffered since Easter Day.’ (Friday 1845). In another letter, Alethea Yonge writes to her sister Mary about the garden in which she is staying on Dartmoor and the Yonge’s famous writer cousin Charlotte Yonge - who loved Devon and as a child stayed at Puslinch with her cousins every Summer -  sent letters to her family which touch on the garden, suggesting a common preoccupation. On May 3rd 1897, from her own home back in Hampshire, she commented, ‘I wish Gentianella would grow here as yours do! But I never saw the garden prettier, and the nightingales are singing with all their might Banksias are coming out and I brought in a Gloire de Dijon this morning ... ' Another example is that of Lady Gertrude Rolle of Stevenstone, who seems to have been proactive in that estate's garden; she gathered seeds in south Africa – large species of Paulonia – also a bed of bamboos and Acanthus,an avenue of fuchsias with climbing rose on arches and fan palms. Behind the library was a small garden with a rose covered pergola of 22 arches leading to the orangery.

          Rarely, however, are there follow-up documents which might tell us in more detail how that reciprocity of garden-woman-identity may have unfolded. Because of the apparent sparsity of easily accessible information, to get an idea of the complex interactions between garden/writing/women you need to stray outside the county boundaries, where, often, archival material relating to estates and families feeds into Devon and is suggestive of similar resonances. However, I have found the following names and places associated with Devon's gardens, which in some cases lead to sources which appear to be replete with material indicative of gardening-writing – much of it still to be sifted from sources locked away in archival depths, or if you are lucky,lured up from some cyberspace crypt:

Anne Lady Pole re Shute Barton – where, in the C16, she had Dutch Box, Yew, &      African and French Marigolds planted. 
Letters by Rosalie Chichester re Arlington- she used the camera to give visual expression to all her other interests, photographing the various species of trees, shrubs and flowers in her garden, park and woods and listing their Latin names.' (see The Womans Domain, Trevor Lummis and Jan Marsh; National Trust). 
Lady Lydia Acland re Killerton - see below. 
Agatha Christie and Greenway - 'The garden looks wonderful – all bursting with plants. It really does look professional at last ... Christie took great pride in its achievements, entering the local flower and produce shows with gusto, and winning lots of prizes. One year Greenway carried off so many prizes that she instituted the Agatha Christie Cup for future years, a competition that her gardeners could not enter, in order to give others a chance.' (See Agatha Christie's Devon Home).
          Elizabeth Simcoe and Dunkeswell (or Walford).
Dorothy Elmhirst and Dartington; See Women Who Wrote Gardens
Louisa Caroline Graves and Hembury Fort - daughter of Sir John Colleton of Fairlawn in the States; she recollected her childhood garden later in life and in her book of poems  includes flower poems (see Desultory Thoughts).

Georgiana, Duchess of Bedford re Endsleigh - she provided the inspiration behind the famous gardens, (see Landmark Trust).

Marion Stuckley re Hartland Abbey (which draws in Gertrude Jekyll who aided Stuckley   in her work there) - see Jekyll in Devon.

Rosamond Christie re Tapeley - and see Tapeley Park and Gardens.

Lady Gertrude Rolle re Stevenstone House - see Devon Gardens; an Historical Survey.
Parker women re Saltram - see Gardening Women who Wrote.
           Straying just beyond county margins, recent studies apropos Elizabeth Countess of Ilchester and her family (whose family networks extend widely from Dorset, westwards through Somerset and into Devon) provide real and historical examples of some of these garden-textual inter-relationships. Archives reveal a deep involvement on the part of women in the Countess' family with their gardens.There are many documents which richly illustrate how the women’s lives skilfully intertwined their interests in the gardens themselves and as well, incorporated a plethora of writing, which set down for posterity the complex layouts, structures and planting plans of their gardens. A map of the Redlynch estate during the mid years of the C18 year suggests that requirements of the women of the household were equally as instrumental in the garden’s preparation and development as that of men. And that connection goes right back to at least the C16. In 1757, Elizabeth said of the family’s other garden, at Melbury, in neighbouring Dorset, that ‘Mama is going to put shrubs on the lawn, which we think will improve it immensely’. Elizabeth’s gardening pursuits probably followed on from those begun by own mother Susannah; she endeavoured to preserve the garden as well as instigate changes. And then, after her, women descendants took on and added to the features Elizabeth had initiated in her gardens.
           At that period Redlynch had been altered from its earlier more rigidly delineated formal constructions, which had been characterised by a layout of straight paths and an absence of flowers. By the 1760’s, the garden was adorned with many Rococo elements: curved paths and flower-beds; a rounded pond; serpentine path; a ‘cluster of kidney-shaped clumps’, which may have contained exotic shrubs. The so-called 'Rococo' period, a light-hearted cultural movement which displayed tendencies towards cultivating the fantastic, was traditionally supposed to be associated with the feminine and labels attached to Redlynch garden’s new features conjure that impression: there was a ‘Lady’s Garden’ beside the serpentine path and in 1750 Elizabeth wrote her husband that ‘I am glad my garden looks so pretty with so many flowers’.

           Elizabeth’s involvement in her gardens was as designer and manager, as well as the physical aspects of gardening per se; all activities which she also put into her writing. One letter sent to her husband asked him to make sure the grass near the house and ‘in my garden’ was mown and in another she asked him to tell ‘Miss Cheeke ... that the pot should be broke ... that it must thrive and be as pretty sweet dears ... and would have one of the round spots in my garden where the ugylest things are planted cleared and filled with mertel cuttings as this is the season.'
             Younger women of Lady Elizabeth Ilchester’s family who lived at Redlynch and other family houses in Dorset, Somerset and Devon, also actively concerned themselves both with their own gardens and with writing about others’ gardens. Elizabeth’s granddaughter, Mary Strangeways, was keen on Redlynch's garden from as early as the age of fourteen. She also enjoyed writing; her father sent her a letter when she was away from home, in which he mentioned not only details of ‘how everything looks delightful, the grass coming on. The birds singing, and the bushes coming out very fast’, but also teasingly scolded her, for ‘notwithstanding your love of scrawling, I have not had one scratch from you’.
         The eventual fate of Elizabeth Ilchester’s Melbury garden is reminiscent of that of many texts written by women. As already noted, within the conventions of societal gendering of the garden, the consensus of public expectation assumes a garden landscape to be authorised by male, rather than female authority, just as gardens as written about are more likely to be the work of a male author. According to one source, after his mother's death, Lady Ilchester’s son took it in his head to destroy much of the garden at Melbury, which she and her own mother before her, had created and endeavoured to preserve. In 1792, he was found ‘cutting down trees without mercy and making great alterations’, so that many of the features on the eastern side of the garden, such as terraces, paths and walls, so well looked after by his mother and grandmother, were destroyed for ever.

         Elizabeth Ilchester’s female circle’s gardening pursuits illustrate ways in which other West country women of the same period may have similarly engaged with their own gardens and as an extension, or alternatively, with writing. Quite a few gardens remain encapsulated in a woman’s name, either on a map, or kept in folk-memory. As examples, near Widdicombe on Dartmoor,  Lady Elizabeth Ashburton - whose main estate was at Sandridge Park - is commemorated by the so-called ‘Lady Ashburton’s Bath’, which has an open tank near its entrance. At Saltram, the diarist Fanny Burney, a friend of the Parker family, left a personal mark on the garden, as well as descriptive writing about the estate: ‘Fanny’s Bower’ is said to be named after her. Several Acland women’s names have become the very stuff of the ground which immortalises them. Agnes’ Fountain, named after one of the daughter’s of Thomas and Lydia Acland, is on the Holnicote estate; Lady Acland’s Hut, which she used to picnic in, is near Selworthy; Lady Acland’s Shrubbery is at Killerton; Lady Acland also has her orchid, Cattleya aclandiae, (‘Lady Acland’s Cattleya’ or ‘Lady Acland’s orchid’). It is possible that the provenance of some of these names came from a male relation, who was initiating his patriarchal authority over both garden and woman, but some of the names can be directly linked back to a particular woman, who it turns out was as instrumental as any man in her involvement in that particular garden. ‘Lady Acland’s orchid’ was named after Lady Lydia Acland, who married Sir Thomas Dyke Acland the 10th Baronet, and whose main home estate became Killerton, now one of Devon’s most famed gardens. Lady Lydia does not feature in any prominent garden brochures about Killerton, but the Botanical Register explains:

Of this very distinct and pretty species of the handsomest of all the genera of Orchidacese I have only seen a single flower, which I owe to the kindness of Lady Acland of Killerton, by whom the drawing, from which the annexed figure was prepared, was also supplied. It was received from Brazil in October, 18S9 having been discovered by Lieut. James of H. M. ship Spey, and flowered in the stove at Killerton in the month of July, 1840, under the able management of Mr. Craggs, Sir Thomas Acland's gardener. 

          This information does not elaborate on Lady Lydia’s love for her garden, but other sources, though apparently rare, do. Lydia's significance in the development of Killerton’s garden can begin to be reassessed. In a book about John Veitch and Killerton, Lydia Hoare, wife of the 10th Baronet, (and daughter of the Hoare banking family who owned Stourhead) is said to have been a ‘keen gardener’. Killerton had been neglected for many years when the couple returned to Killerton in the first decade of the C19, to rejuvenate Acland’s estate. Lydia’s input was evidently as important as that of her husband’s in the restoration and redevelopment of the garden. Perhaps more so. At that time, the ‘only real garden was a small unexciting area on one side of the entrance’. It was Lydia who wanted ‘something grander with lawns, wide gravel paths, a shrubbery and fine ornamental trees’. Presumably, ‘Lady Acland’s Shrubbery’ was so named because of her. John Veitch created the hermitage style ‘Lady Cot’, now named the ‘Bear Hut’ at Killerton, for Lydia. Perhaps this was a homage to her, as gardener. Lady Lydia Acland kept journals, for ‘she kept a diary of all the special events in her husband’s political career, including speeches, meetings and elections’ and Devon Record Office holds a ‘rough diary’ which she kept between 1808-53. Interestingly, going back a step to a previous generation of Aclands, Lydia Acland’s husband’s Aunt was Lady Christian Harriet Caroline Fox-Strangways, (Harriet Acland), who was a younger daughter of Lady Elizabeth Ilchester. Because of the actions and journals written in support of her husband during the American Civil War, after her marriage to John Dyke Acland Harriet became a C19 celebrity. Harriet’s life in England was spent in several Acland family houses in Devon and Somerset and she returned to her childhood home at Redlynch quite often. Given the extent of her sisters’, nieces’ and great-nieces’ love and involvement in gardening and writing about gardening, Harriet’s own engagement with her family gardens may be assumed; however, as yet I have found no evidence of this.
             Garden as a female orientated communal garden space as illustrated by the Redlynch women and their Acland female relations above is not unusual. Reading between (garden) – lines it soon becomes evident that many such C18 and 19 estates existed in the south-west. Just like Elizabeth of Ilchester and her female descendants, other contemporary C18/19 women who gardened seemed to have similar dual interests. 

There is much research yet to do; but it will need to wait, because, for a minute or two I'm shutting down the computer, putting down the pencil, folding the notebook and going outside, to weed/read the sunny garden.

[i] Tim Stuart-Smith, So, my thought is that by making subliminal reference to something half-familiar, a designed planting can tap into some desire to relive those interludes of innocence, to wander again in the woodlands and meadows of our subconscious. The flower bed is transformed from being a mere assortment of flowers into a cultural document an a repository of partly forgotten landscapes.

Please note, I have not stated sources for all the information in this piece, but do contact me if you would like to know details about a specific source.