Friday, 14 June 2013

June AGM weekend - Excursion to Levens Hall and Silverdale

IMS writes:
After a warm and sunny weekend, full of interesting events, where friendships were renewed and new ones made, members travelled up the A65 - the destination Levens Hall near Kendal. The very understanding coach driver incurred the wrath of an impatient motorist –lights flashing, horn beeping- as he slowed down to enable his passengers to catch a glimpse of the Reverend Carus Wilson’s school building in Cowan Bridge, which the four eldest Brontë girls attended in 1824/5.

Passing over the busy M6 we soon arrived at the Hall- the building of which is divided into three periods. A Pele tower was built firstly in the thirteenth century, the second period was in the sixteenth century when the mediaeval structure was turned into a gentleman’s residence. The last period in the seventeenth century was when the South wing and brew house were added and the house exquisitely furnished. The rooms, resplendent with Elizabethan plasterwork and panelling, contained treasures such as beautiful Charles II gilded brass candle sconces and a George I burr walnut long case clock. There was furniture dating from the William and Mary period to an early nineteenth century. In each room pictures by painters of note, such as Rubens and Peter de Wint, and drawings by Edward Burne Jones, adorned the walls.

Moving around the house it became obvious that there were perhaps some tentative connections with the Brontës. It was thought that Colonel James Grahme - who married, in 1675, Dorothy Howard, one of the maids of honour to Catherine of Braganza and a daughter of the Levens Hall family -  had been born at Norton Conyers. The Graham family still live there today and Charlotte visited when she was governess to the Sidgwick family.

At the hall there is a charcoal drawing and a watercolour by George Richmond, the very same painter who painted Charlotte’s portrait in 1850. It is well known that Charlotte had been thrilled to see, in the flesh, her hero the Duke of Wellington in the Chapel Royal when she was taken there by George Smith. Wellington’s favourite niece, Lady Mary Wellesley, married Sir Charles Bagot of Levens and there were many items relating to Wellington given by him to Mary and in one of the bedrooms is his campaign bed. Many houses of this ilk attract the media and are used for films and television programmes and Levens is no different -  film versions of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Mrs Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters were made at the hall in the nineteen nineties.

Visitors can wander outside through herb gardens and pleached lime tunnels lead to a pond and fountain and in a quiet corner there are headstones where beloved family pets with the names of Tarka, Sheba and Jock are buried. Dominating all these features are the yew trees at various stages of their development into fantastic topiary shapes- the great umbrella dwarfing everything else and apparently requiring the use of scaffolding for trimming.

The next step of the Monday excursion was down narrow country lanes which led to Lindeth Tower in Silverdale and which afforded a wonderful view of Morecambe Bay looking across to Grange over Sands. Mrs Gaskell first visited Grange in 1836 and with her growing family made an annual migration to the seaside and stayed in the Tower House- which was built in 1842.  The Gaskells and other Manchester families who often stayed in Silverdale would, before 1846, travel by train only as far as Lancaster. After that date it would have been possible to get by train to Carnforth- the station made famous by the emotional film Brief Encounter.  A carriage ride would then bring them to Silverdale which, with its sense of isolation and peace, Mrs Gaskell is said to have enjoyed. In 1858 she wrote, “One is never disappointed in coming back to Silverdale”.

It was my first visit to the area and I was not disappointed!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This was a really wonderful day which I thoroughly enjoyed. My only slight disappointment was the lack of a meal as part of the day. I realise this was probably to keep costs down; but getting home too late to cook wsa a bit of a shame. Please can this part of the MOnday excursion be reinstated for next year?