Search This Blog

Friday, June 28, 2013

Then & now - London Kensington's Holland House

What Devonshire House was to the late eighteenth century, Holland House was to the early nineteenth century.  And then some. Holland House has been called the closest thing England ever had to a continental salon.  For Holland House, in the first 40 years of the nineteenth century, referred not only to the house built in 1605 but to a gathering place of the era's movers and shakers.
This photo of Holland House was likely taken at the turn of the 20th century.

Holland House was built in the seventeenth century by Sir Walter Cope and was originally called Cope Castle. The baronet's gracious, turreted three-storey structure was placed upon a hill surveying his vast parkland in what is now Kensington.

Though only two miles from the present Marble Arch of central London's Hyde Park, that part of Kensington was considered "country" even later in Regency times.  In fact, the 3rd Lord Holland (whose 40 plus years of dinners made Holland House internationally famous) always rented a house in the city during Parliamentary sessions. (Three miles through bustling London with its hundreds of toll gates was an arduous journey well into the nineteenth century.)

Sometime after Sir Walter Cope's death, the house passed to the first Earl of Holland, whose title became extinct. However, the title was revived by eighteenth-century politician Henry Fox (1705-1774), who became the first Baron Holland after purchasing the house. Enormously wealthy (until his sons squandered his money gambling), Fox eloped in 1744 with the Duke of Richmond's daughter, Lady Caroline Lennox, who was 18 years his junior.

The most famous of their three (spoiled) sons was Charles James Fox, who was elected to Parliament before he was 21 and led the Whig party until his 1806 death. After the early death of Charles James Fox's older brother, Stephen, the Holland title passed to his young son, the 3rd Lord Holland (1773-1840). It is he who brought prominence to Holland House. He enjoyed an especially close relationship to his uncle, Charles James Fox, who had no legitimate children.

Having succeeded to the title while still a boy, the 3rd Lord Holland fell in love with Sir Godfrey Webster's wife while traveling in Italy before his twenty-first birthday. After her divorce, she and Holland married in 1797—but not before the birth of their first child, Charles Fox, named for the uncle Holland idolized throughout his life. (Her first husband kept the children from that marriage.)

 Likely because as a divorced woman, Lady Elizabeth Holland (whose journal review can be found on my website) could not be received in polite society, she began presiding over dinners at her new home with other "Foxite" Whigs. These dinners grew to include the most interesting men of the era: important Tories, visiting Europeans of prominence—including heads of state—and some of the greatest writers of the nineteenth century.

The massive home was filled with portraits of nineteenth-century notables who exchanged portraits with the Hollands, which was a custom of the day. (The exchanged portraits were typically copies of portraits by more well known painters.)

Lady Holland kept “dinner books” for 40 years—virtually a People magazine of early nineteenth-century England.

Sadly, the Holland title went extinct when the 3rd Lord Holland's son and heir died childless in 1859, nineteen years after succeeding his father. He left Holland House to his widow, urging her to keep the historical structure and its priceless contents intact. Upon his widow's death 30 years later, she left Holland House to the 5th Earl of Ilchester, a member of the Fox family. She had turned down opportunities to sell it or its contents in respect of her late husband's wishes.

The wealthy Lord Ilchester had previously worked out an agreement with the last Lady Holland to give her a generous annuity and to be responsible for the upkeep on the house until her death. Also, he agreed that when he took possession of the residence he would keep the house and its immediately surrounding property as she left it.
Cheryl Bolen peers at what's left on Holland House on her recent trip to England. The hostel is located in the heart of London's beautiful Holland Park.

That Lord Ilchester's son, the talented author of the two-volume history of Holland House, came into possession of Holland House on his mother's death in 1935. Little did he know when writing the saga of Holland House that German bombs would destroy it in 1940, two years after his second volume was published.

Only one of the rambling mansion’s wings was not destroyed, and this is now a youth hostle. Also, an original arcade and orangery remain. These structures are surrounded by a beautifully landscaped 54-acre park which is maintained by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and which is now close to the center of bustling London. Holland Park is a must-see.

The 6th Lord Ilchester sold the ruin and land to London City Council in 1952.

I have not been able to learn if he was able to save the house's treasures or the dozens of  portraits it held.

One treasure that will always be preserved for posterity is Lord Ilchester’s painstaking research about Holland House. -- by Cheryl Bolen -- author of the Regent Mysteries

Friday, June 21, 2013

Happy Birthday, Pride & Prejudice!

Did you know that Jane Austen's masterpiece, Pride & Prejudice was published two hundred years ago? That's right, it was published in January 1813. To celebrate, BBC has put together an amazing documentary that I found on Two Nerdy History Girls. The video depicts the pains they went to in order to recreate a Regency-style ball as Jane Austen herself would have experienced, and which is portrayed in her novel Pride & Prejudice. They hired the experts in Regency food, fashion, music and the dances Elizabeth and Darcy knew and lived to fill the the details Jane Austen would not have needed to include for her contemporary readers but which all Regency fans crave and adore.

Every Jane Austen fan should watch this fascinating BBC documentary recreation of a Regency ball on Two Nerdy History Girls.

What did you learn?

Friday, June 7, 2013

How to Tie a Cravat

Any well dressed, fashionable man living in Regency England prided himself on having a perfectly tied cravat, or necktie. Some were so fussy about their cravats that they went through a dozen starched neckcloths until they got exactly the look they desired. Of course, having a skilled valet who specialized in knots would be a great commodity. After achieving the perfect knot, the trick was not to move one's head enough to muss the creation.  Some gentlemen changed the knots for the occasion, others prided themselves on having one particular signature look. The kind of knots a man used often said much about him--the more difficult knots would tell people that this man was very fastidious, and prided himself on his appearance.

A really great illustration of the various types of knots can be found at Nekclothitania  along with instructions.  Here is a picture I found on Wikimedia Commons showing the most popular knots for a Regency gentleman's cravat.

Each type of knot had a name; for example, the Mathematical, the Waterfall, the Oriental, etc. I have read that the Waterfall, also called the Mail Coach, consisted of taking a very starched tie, wrapping it around the neck and lowering the chin so the creases fell into a uniform pattern, and tucking the ends into the waistcoat. Supposedly Beau Brommell, (pictured below) accredited with making cravat knots an art form, preferred this type of type because it catered to his fussiness--apparently this style was so difficult  to achieve that he went through dozens of ties until he got exactly the right look. Talk about a dandy, right?

Some knots require the waistcoat (which looks like a vest) to be off, while others clearly must be left outside the waistcoat in order to achieve the right look. It also depended on the waistcoat. Some had high, attached collars which would pretty much require the cravat be tied first and tucked inside.

Most cravats were white, but some called for colors, and some informal gentleman's clubs also called for a certain color or cravat to distinguish them as members.

For those of you looking for something more modern, there is a great tutorial on how to tie a Windsor Knot on You Tube here

For once, I'm glad as a woman, I will probably never have to tie something this complicated :-)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


A Mutual Interest in Numbers, Book 2 in my Love and the Library series is now available!

Love and the Library--A celebration of the beginnings of love wherein four Regency gentlemen meet their matches over a copy of Pride and Prejudice at the library.

A Mutual Interest in Numbers
Love and the Library Book 2: Ellen and Laurence

Lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice. Does it?

Regency gentleman Mr. Laurence Coffey doesn’t care for libraries and novels. His interests run to steam engines and mathematics. But his friend found the lady of his dreams at the library over a copy of Pride and Prejudice. Laurence yearns for a lady of his own, one of wit and cleverness as well as beauty. And while he doesn’t expect his friend’s luck, visiting the library can’t hurt.

Miss Ellen Palmer enjoys mathematics, but, unfortunately, many men frown on bluestockings. She loves the library and its mathematics books as well as its novels, especially her favorite, Pride and Prejudice. How she would like to find her own Mr. Darcy. Perhaps someday, somewhere, she can discover a man who wants an intelligent woman.

At the library, they both reach for a copy of Pride and Prejudice at the same time. Can their mutual interest in numbers--and this particular novel--make their dreams come true?

A sweet, traditional Regency romance. With a duck. Quack.

Laurence pushed aside a copy of Byron’s The Corsair and then curled his lip at a volume of sermons. Gads, sermons on Sunday were enough for anyone.

He set the sermons aside to reveal the book beneath. Pride and Prejudice. The novel that had brought his friend his lady.

Could this book somehow help a man find his love? He extended his hand toward the tome...

A gloved feminine hand, also reaching for the novel, bumped into his. “Oh, I beg your pardon.” The voice was soft and musical.

He jerked upright. “No, I beg your pardon.” The same extraordinary blue eyes that had almost knocked him flat a moment ago threatened to do so again. And he wouldn’t even care.

As if he were under the effect of Mr. Mesmer’s animal magnetism, he waved in the general direction of the book. “Please, be my guest.” Take the book. Take me.

A Mutual Interest in Numbers at Amazon, Amazon UK, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble

And if you want to start with A Similar Taste in Books, Part 1 of Love and the Library, the blurb, excerpt and buy links are here.

Thank you all,