Here are floorplans for Lyme Manor, and two paintings of my kindred. Lyme inspired a fictional Christmas treatment that was published in 1952. You could say it is a blueprint for Downton Abbey. Lyme is a blueprint for several novels I have in mind. Time to get to them. Tis the spirit.
I just found out Christopher Lee is kin to Ian Fleming, and thus myself via Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor, and Jane Lee. Not to mention the amazing Wilson family of Puritans. I was considering moving the digs of Victoria Bond to Lyme Park, along with another reluctant muse, Lara Roozemond. Capturing Beauty is one motive for establishing a National Trust. I have claimed my Bond book is writing itself. I pick up the bread crumbs in the Labyrinth, and, am titled Mad’. Time to stop casting my pearls before swine, and promote myself. Is it too late to become an actor? Is that my real calling?
Some would say I would make a great Villain! I would love to play the Antichrist and showoff my real Biblical Knowledge. After all, he is a Christmas-like character who millions learn about in many Bible study groups located all over the world. And, who is this Magical Son of Man?
SCENE: Franklin Graham is brought before me, in chains.
Antichrist: Riddle me the mystery of the seven stars, and I will set you free!
This is a role Christopher Lee was destined to play. Evangelicals will line up around the block carrying torches. Of course Donald Trump is going to make outrageous tweet- guesses in order to ruin the movie for everyone, which will lead to The War of Armageddon.
“General reference to the country house will continue to be Downton Abbey for some time, but here there are intriguing descriptions of the relationships between the family and servants, but also of the community and established hierarchies on both sides and recognition of long standing families who have served and supported the family and the estate.”
11) Lee was not only related to James Bond creator and author Ian Fleming — they were step-cousins — but Lee was actually one of Fleming’s first choices for the role of Bond, not least because of Lee’s World War II and SOC experiences.
5) During World War II, Lee joined the Royal Air Force but wasn’t allowed to fly because of a problem with his optic nerve. So he became an intelligence officer for the Long Range Desert Patrol, a forerunner of the SAS, Britain’s special forces. He fought the Nazis in North Africa, often having up to five missions a day. During this time he helped retake Sicily, prevented a mutiny among his troops, contracted malaria six times in a single year and climbed Mount Vesuvius three days before it erupted.
6) At some point during the war he moved from the LRDP to Winston Churchill’s even more elite Special Operations Executive, whose missions are literally still classified, but involved “conducting espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe against the Axis powers.” The SOE was more informally called — and I can’t believe this somehow hasn’t been made into a movie yet — The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.
We were promised that we would see the parts of Lyme that other tours didn’t reach, and so we did. But first we were given a brief history of the place. It started as a simple hunting lodge but the Elizabethans gave it a makeover and parts of the “L-shaped” building are still in evidence today. The big changes came in the early eighteenth century when an Italian architect was brought in. It was he who built the remaining two sides to make a hollow square, he who created the cloister effect in the courtyard and he who designed the classic Palladian South Front. The end result, however, was not an English country house but an Italian palazzo on the edge of the Peak District.
A hundred years later an English architect, Lewis Wyatt, made extensive but subtle alterations, particularly to the service rooms and servant quarters, and this made the house much more practicable and convenient. Our tour looked at how the house was organised and run in the “Golden Period” – that time before the First World War when this style of living was at its apogee.
There were four key roles in the servant hierarchy – the butler, the housekeeper, the chef and the land steward. They each played their part and had their own responsibilities but the butler regarded himself as a cut above the others (even though he was not paid the most.)
The tour started with a visit to the “control Centre” – the butler’s pantry where we were introduced to Mr Truelove and M. Perez, (below)the chef. After examining some unique appliances and trying to polish the floor we went to meet the housekeeper, Mrs Campbell. She kept a firm eye on all the female servants, including locking them up in the tower at night (for their own safety, mind you.) She was also in charge of the still room maid and
kept a close watch on the baking that was being carried out.
Lunch was the only formal meal of the day for the servants, preceded by a little procession of the upper servants around the courtyard to the servants hall. The same hall was used for Christmas parties for the estate children and the ceremony of Beef Distribution on Christmas Eve. Each followed a strict formula every year and rank played an important role in establishing a hierarchy.
We then explored some of the more specialist activities – the salting room, the brush room and the lamp room. How do you keep meat with no refrigeration? Who cleans the expensive top hats? How many lamps do you need to illuminate a house with a hundred rooms?
The pièce de résistance of the tour was the Dark Passage.(below) This was an underground tunnel built in the nineteenth century to give access to the kitchen (and to keep the hoi polloi) away from their betters. We all felt very much at home in these surroundings. It was spacious and roomy, not at all what we had been expecting. Off the passage were more specialist rooms including the most important of all, the brew house. At its height Lyme could produce 1100 gallons of beer at a time. Competition for Robinson’s! To be fair they supplied the whole estate. All employees, plus their families, as well as tradesmen and suppliers visiting the house. The brew house and the next door bakery produced plenty of heat but it was very cleverly dispelled by pumping it through into the adjacent Orangery.
The fuel for all these processes was stored in a specially constructed yard adjacent to the brew house. The Legh family owned a large part of the South Lancashire coalfield so as well as giving them a substantial income (over £2 million at today’s value) it also meant that they had free coal. Just as well perhaps, considering that the house could use up to a ton and a half of coal each day. There was a clever design of chute allowing the coal to be tipped in from ground-level and adjacent to it was the same arrangement only larger, this time for logs.
Finally we emerged from the tunnel to the end of our tour. But not quite the end. Neil gave us our bearings, pointing out the stables and the direction of the Cage as well as where to find the dog kennels. And for those who didn’t know, the funny wooden structure high on the garden wall, is a meat safe. After all, one has to hang one’s meat somewhere after a day’s hunting.
Thank you Neil for a fascinating tour which more than lived up to its promises.
Report by one of our staff reporters,A.N. Other, August 2017
All colour photos, David Burridge
Take a trip to the Roaring Twenties at Lyme Park
This is just a snippet of the cinefilm made by the Legh family in the 1920s and 1930s which is on display at Lyme Park in this year’s Roaring Twenties exhibition. The memories you can hear are from an interview with Mrs Priscilla Fryer, formerly the fourth Lady Newton. These beautiful sounds and images reveal Lyme as a place full of activity, fun and love. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lyme-park/
Phyllis Elinor Sandeman (1895-1986, and to give her full title The Hon. Phyllis Legh, Mrs Sandeman) was the youngest daughter of Thomas Wodehouse Legh, 2nd Baron Newton and Evelyn Caroline Bromley Davenport. The Leghs are one of a few larger families linked to estates in Lancashire and Cheshire, with Lyme Park being the family’s principal residence and one of the largest houses in Cheshire and also where the publication is set and now owned by The National Trust.
A Country House Christmas: Treasure on Earth has been published three times – 1952 (then titled Treasure on Earth), 1995 and 2016 and has a usual ‘tell it like it is’ feel but has something a little different about it compared to other recounts. I have always been choosy about the first hand accounts of country house living as they do seem rose tinted at best. Over the last few years I have collected a few publications written (or ghostwritten) by individuals who were once employed at a country house. Yet, these are not very coherent and there can be a feeling that they have been encouraged to put their thoughts to paper with too much haste before their experiences become long forgotten. Moreover, there’s always something missing of the mechanics and routine which as ordinary as they are, help bring the story to life.
In fairness, if I were to write an account of my life now or as a student 20 years ago I’d be deterred from including the mundane and keep the more interesting parts for a readership. Most of us would embellish it here and there! However, A Country House Christmas is considered and detailed and Sandeman is neither aloof nor detached in her telling of her youth at Lyme. There is a warmth to the narrative and true fondness as well as dislike for particular parts of the Christmas experience there which will connect to any reader.
Other references in the book are made to sisters Lettice (1885-1968) and Hilda (1892-1970), making them 11, 21 and 14 respectively at the time of the story. Many real names have been altered in the text and Lyme is referred to as Vyne or Vayne and her mother is known as Lady Vyne rather than Newton for example but as a rule it is easy to understand the settings and the players. Additionally, the descriptions of both the landscape and interiors are fantastic and for a regular country house visitor will be recognisable as typical of certain periods, styles and presentation.
General reference to the country house will continue to be Downton Abbey for some time, but here there are intriguing descriptions of the relationships between the family and servants, but also of the community and established hierarchies on both sides and recognition of long standing families who have served and supported the family and the estate. Thankfully too, there is little poignancy for a lost world or ‘other worldliness’. This is a firm recommendation at this time of year or at any other and because it’s Christmas Eve, here’s a small sample to enjoy!
When everybody had assembled in the library and Truelove had announced dinner they would process into the dining-room, Sir Thomas taking Mrs. Waldegrave, and Lady Vyne bringing up the rear with the Canon. Probably Cousin Amy would be allotted to Mr. Hunt. The boys and girls would bunch in together at the last. Through the little tapestried anteroom they would pass into the big Georgian dining-room. The long table extending almost the entire length of the room would glitter and sparkle with the lights reflected in the silver and white of the cloth and from the walls the family portraits would smile benignly on the company. On one of the four gilt side-tables would stand the wonderful rosewater dish and ewer, silver and parcel-gilt with the Vayne arms embossed in coloured enamels – made in the reign of Bloody Mary….
They would begin with grace said by the Canon and then the meal would proceed eaten off silver plates, not so pleasant as the china service because scratchy under the knife and fork, but welcome because they were part of the Christmas ritual. The candle shades in the tall candelabras had little garlands of silver spangles and there would be crackers laid amongst the flower decorations.
First there would be soup of the clearest consistency imaginable, and then some kind of fish which melted in the mouth. Then an entrée, perhaps a vol-au-vont or small mutton cutlets, and then roast turkey or pheasant. Then a wonderful sweet into which Perez had put all his artistry: perhaps baskets of nougat with ribbons of spun sugar containing a creamy ice, and muscat grapes coated in sugar and crystallised quarters of orange and tiny pastry cakes.
The last course, the savoury, was never handed to the little girls. Without any instruction in the matter Truelove had made this decision, and nobody questioned it. On the other hand, he always allowed them a little champagne. Dessert was almost the nicest part of the meal, and the scent of tangerine oranges would all her life be associated in Phyillis’s mind with Christmas dinner at Vyne.
With dessert came the crackers, always a trial to Sir Thomas, for whom the sight of grown men and women in paper caps was anathema…
Tomorrow Phyllis would be moving in a maze of enchantment through the drama dance of Christmas, that drama in which the setting played so great a part. Waking in the twilight of the winter’s morning, waiting for the singing in the courtyard, the herald of the day’s delights. Breakfast and the exchange of small gifts. The visit to her parents’ rooms together with her brothers and sisters to give them their joint offerings. Then the drive down through the white park to the old church – the familiar Christmas service. Then out-of-doors for a little exercise, snow balling perhaps if there was enough snow, then in again to change for tea in the dining-room with lovely iced cakes and crackers. And then the joyous chattering throng climbing the stairs to the Long Gallery.
And there would stand the great shimmering blazing tree, the only light in the room except the fire, and beside it the bran tub, so full that some of the packages were not quite submerged, and beyond the radius of the tree’s light the great long room stretching away into the shadows.
The identity of the governess uncovered, http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/local-news/mystery-governess-lyme-park-unmasked-8777863
National Trust dedication to Phyllis Legh, https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lyme-park-house-and-garden/features/it-wouldnt-be-christmas-at-lyme-without
Short biography of Phyllis Sandeman as painter, http://www.suffolkpainters.co.uk/index.cgi?choice=painter&pid=1673