Monday, 11 September 2017

A Jewel in the Herefordshire Crown





Hidden in the folds of the delightful Herefordshire countryside, not far from the village of Yarpole (what a lovely name – look out for that as a character’s surname in a future novel!) lies the gem that is Croft Castle. The Croft family have lived here for nearly 1000 years, although the outer walls of the present house date from the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries. The lovely Susana Ellis came to visit while on her annual pilgrimage to our fair English shores and, along with my boisterous pooch, we enjoyed a wonderful day out.



Main Entrance


There are no ropes at Croft Castle. You can wander from room to room as your fancy takes you and even sit on many of the chairs. Beware the green armchair in the little room adjoining the hall, however… you might not want to get up out of it! As you may imagine, this is an historical author’s dream, especially when she correctly identifies a portrait as being of her chosen era. When said portrait turns out to be of a scion of the house and handsome enough to give her favourite actors a run for their money, then, dear reader, you know you are on a winner.

Thomas Elmsley Croft, 7th Baronet


The village of Yarpole sits beneath the shadowed protection of Croft Ambrey, a settlement and hill fort dating from 390 BC. The Romans constructed Watling Street to the north and then the Normans, having dethroned Edwin, the Saxon Earl, built Croft Castle in the Middle Ages. It was originally a Marcher castle; John, a member of the family – for four hundred years known as ‘de Croft’ – married a daughter of Owen Glyndwr, prince of the Welsh. The family were therefore persons of considerable consequence until their fortunes waned in the eighteenth century. The castle was sold just prior to 1750 but the family made a romantic return in 1923. Although the castle is now owned by the National Trust, the Croft link with the estate lives on.

The castle is in the shape of a squared-off horseshoe, with a tower at each corner and an enclosed courtyard. Until the eighteenth century, it is probable there was a carriage entrance into the courtyard where the main entrance of the house is now. This gateway disappeared when renovations were being carried out to transform the castle into a country mansion.


The Courtyard

It was during this time that the sash windows were added and no doubt some of the interior decorations, such as the rococo ceilings, the painted panels in the Blue Room, the painted bookcases in the library and the wonderful Gothic staircase with its’ stunning plasterwork.

Gothic Staircase

The Oak Room contains seventeenth century panelling and mantelpiece, while the Drawing Room has early eighteenth century panelling. There are dozens of paintings, from family portraits to landscapes and that most flamboyant of kings, George IV. There is a feast of beautiful furniture, much of it Georgian or Regency (or, at least, that is what caught this author’s eye!), as well as porcelain plates, dishes and figurines.

The Library


Porcelain Cabinet

If your interest lies in twentieth century history, then in 2017 the castle has displays reflecting the story of Croft during the First World War.

The grounds are a delight, with a walled garden and a Gothic arch straddling the approach to the castle. Dogs are welcome almost everywhere on a lead. The car park is surrounded by trees, so after a good tramp through the woods or across the park, pooch can sleep safely in the car while his/her humans enjoy the house and the tea-room. Dogs are allowed in one part of the tea-room, which is brilliant on a wet day.

Unlike nearby Berrington Hall, landscaped in the classic eighteenth century style of open vistas to focal points such as follies or sculptured woodland, at Croft there are great avenues of trees which were thriving one hundred years before Capability Brown was born. There are some of the finest oaks in the country here, with trunks of forty feet or more in circumference, as well as an avenue of sweet chestnuts reaching for perhaps half a mile and estimated to be over three centuries old. Susana and I took my dog for a walk through Fish Pool Valley, designed in the ‘picturesque’ style which was to come. It was a delightful walk through the woods, with a gothic pump house set between two of the line of irregular-shaped pools. In days of yore, this would have pumped spring water up to the house.

Of course, no visit to a country estate is complete for this historical author without a tour of the stables. It was doubly pleasing to discover that, while the gift shop and second hand book shop occupy one part of the stables, there is still one block open and it is the original eighteenth century stable, unlike at Berrington, where the horses were moved to occupy part of the steward’s house in the late nineteenth century. Sadly, the original stables at Berrington have long since been lost in the pages of history. While the original building has survived at Croft, Victorian improvements, in the manner of the box fronts, are strongly suspected!

Stables

Stable Yard

Here, you can see the old carriage arches and grooms’ quarters above. Over the stables there is a hay loft.


To return to the owners of Croft: in 1746, following financial reverses after he invested in the South Sea Bubble, Sir Archer Croft, 3rd Baronet, declared bankruptcy and the castle was sold to Richard Knight, son of a wealthy Shropshire ironmaster. He was responsible for ‘gothicizing’ both house and grounds between 1750 and 1760. His nephew, writer Richard Payne Knight, built Downton Castle in Bringewood, Herefordshire, acquired by the Knight family to provide fuel for the smelting furnaces, and was instrumental in the rise of the ‘picturesque’. Richard Knight Jnr. married and had one daughter, Elizabeth, who married Thomas Johnes, MP for Radnorshire from 1777-80. Johnes planted thousands of trees and was responsible for much of the Rococo-Gothic decoration inside the castle. He bought another estate at Hafod, some sixty-five miles away, and filled it with expensive works of art. He eventually bankrupted himself and in the 1780s was forced to sell to Somerset Davies, the MP for Ludlow in 1783. Johnes lived on at Hafod, but the house was all but destroyed by fire in 1807.

Although the title continued, sometimes passed to brothers, younger sons or cousins, the castle passed through various different hands. Three titles were created for the Croft family, the original title for Sir Herbert Croft, the 1st Baronet, who died in 1720. A second, at Cowling Hall in the county of York, was a baronetcy created for John Croft in December 1818, in honour of his services in the Peninsula War. He was descended from a different branch of the Croft Castle dynasty. Finally, a third baronetcy was created at Bournemouth in the county of Southampton for Henry Croft, grandson of the Reverend Richard Croft, of whom more later. One hundred and seventy years on, in 1923, the castle was at last reclaimed by Lady Katherine Croft, wife of the 11th Baronet, James Herbert.

Apart from John named above, other members of the family distinguished themselves. One Sir Richard Croft occupies, with his wife, an early sixteenth century altar tomb in St. Michael’s Church, which sits in golden-roofed splendour a matter of feet from the front entrance of the castle. No excuses for being late to church on Sunday for the Croft family! This Sir Richard captured the youthful Prince of Wales at the Battle of Tewkesbury and also became Treasurer of the King’s Household.

Sir Archer Croft, the 2nd Baronet, was MP for Leominster, Winchelsea and Bere Alston. Rev. Sir Herbert Croft, the 5th Baronet, was an author, best known for Love and Madness, a series of letters relating the desire of one-time soldier Rev. James Hackman for the Earl of Sandwich’s mistress, Martha Ray, who was shot by her paramour in 1779 as she left Covent Garden. Sir Herbert died in Paris in April 1818. The 9th Baronet, Sir Herbert George Denman Croft, represented Herefordshire in the House of Commons.

A second Sir Richard Croft, the 6th Baronet, is perhaps more familiar to the Regency reader, especially devotees of Georgette Heyer. Doctor Richard Croft attended the Princess Charlotte, heir to George IV’s throne, during her pregnancy in 1817. As the history books tell us, although the babe was in a transverse position forceps were not used, being out of favour at that time. After two days of exhausting labour, her body weakened from restricted diet and bleeding (common treatment of the day), Princess Charlotte delivered a stillborn child and then died a few hours later. Many blamed Doctor Croft for his treatment, though not the King or Prince Leopold, the Princess’ husband, who both sent messages of appreciation for Croft’s care. It is likely the good doctor was not at fault, as far as medical science had advanced at that time, and that there was internal haemorrhaging he could not have known about. Nevertheless, the story has become known as the ‘triple obstetric tragedy’, for Doctor Croft never recovered from his grief and remorse. In February 1818, he shot himself.

The handsome Thomas, pictured at the start of this article, was Doctor Croft’s second eldest son. The eldest son, Herbert, died at school (Eton) in 1803. He was ten years old. Born 2nd September1798, Thomas joined the 1st Foot Guards, attaining the rank of Lieutenant, and lost his leg at the Battle of Quatre Bras, still a boy at seventeen. He became a well-known and respected antiquarian and authority on literature, in spite of suffering mental and physical pain. An epileptic, he endured a long illness with fortitude, dying from a convulsion in Hastings when only thirty-seven. He was succeeded by his brother, Archer Denman Croft.

The four eldest children of Dr. Sir Richard Croft by John James Hall
The National Trust, Croft Collection, Croft Castle

L to R Archer Denman Croft, Frances Elizabeth, Herbert (with book) and Thomas Elmsley

Reverend Richard Croft was Thomas and Archer’s younger brother. His grandson, Henry Page Croft, was created Baron Croft in 1940. He was a politician and decorated soldier. Through him the family of Dr. Croft lives on and long may their castle – even if they didn’t actually live there.

The current holder of the title is Sir Owen Glendower Croft, the 14th Baronet, his only son, Thomas Jasper, being the heir-apparent. It is nice to know the name of a Waterloo veteran continues two hundred years after the battle.




All pictures © Heather King unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without the express permission of the author.


© Heather King


 

Saturday, 2 September 2017

He Flies Through The Air





I am thrilled to be able to announce that my latest book 'baby' has flown the nest!


The Missing Duke is now available from Amazon as an e-book and will be out in paperback very soon. If you are in Kindle Unlimited, you can read it for free for the next three months.






Blurb


When his father dies, Lord Adam Bateman refuses to succeed to the dukedom which rightly belongs to his missing elder brother. Whilst performing secret and sensitive missions for the Duke of Wellington, he continues his efforts to find his twin. The search has become Adam’s all-consuming passion, leaving no time for affairs of the heart.

Miss Lucy Mercier is also seeking answers. Her father, a tailor, had been used to make hot air balloons for various noble patrons, including Lord Adam’s sire. Believing the deceased Duke of Wardley had been involved in her papa’s failure to return from the Continent, she takes employment in Lord Adam’s household in order to discover the truth. Then she accompanies him on an important commission for the Allied Army, and finds herself having to guard against a growing attraction for a man she knows she can never have.

Are the two disappearances connected and will two heads prove better than one in the pursuit of answers? Will Adam and Lucy find true happiness together or will the past – and their different stations – rise to keep them apart?


 


Sunday, 9 July 2017

Fifteen Fascinating Facts about Hot-Air Balloons





 

***They were not filled with hot air except at first. Smoke was used in early experiments to inflate the balloons but it was soon discovered that they would descend rapidly as soon as the air was used up. Hydrogen gas, which was created by the action of water and sulphuric acid on iron and zinc shavings, then passed through a cask (open at the base) immersed in a copper of water and pumped into the suspended balloon, was found to be easier to replenish.

 

***In August 1783, the first hydrogen balloon was made by Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers. It was made of strips of silk, stitched together and then varnished with a solution of turpentine in which rubber had been dissolved. Alternate strips of red and white, the solution discoloured the white silk to yellow. The balloon was approximately thirteen feet in diameter (thirty-five cubic metres) and able to lift nine kilos. It flew north for three-quarters of an hour before landing twenty-five kilometres away.

 

***The Montgolfier brothers, Joseph and Etienne, are considered the pioneers of balloon flight. On 15 June 1783, they produced a sphere constructed of ‘a covering of cloth lined with paper’ and inflated it with smoke. It then rose into the air and travelled more than 7,000 feet, to the astonishment of their audience at Annonay.

 

***The first ‘passenger’ flight was on 19 September 1783, when the Montgolfier brothers sent aloft a sheep, a duck and a cockerel in their balloon called Aerostat Réveillon.

 

***Foremost British aeronaut, James Sadler, was a pastry cook from Oxford. He had no education, was self-taught and developed his fascination for ballooning behind the family shop, The Lemon Hall Refreshment House. He became a celebrity, feted everywhere. He was invited to perform a balloon ascension in Hyde Park for the Peace Celebrations in July 1814.

 

***The first manned flight in a hot-air balloon was made from the Bois de Boulogne near Paris on 21 November 1783 in a Montgolfier brothers’ balloon. One type of hot-air balloon is called Montgolfière after the brothers.



 


***On 21 October 1783, Jean-Francois Pilâtres des Roziers and the Marquis d’Arlandes made the first free aeronautic voyage from the gardens of La Muette near Paris. Rising to 250 feet, and carried by the wind, they flew over Paris. The balloon was controllable through a smoky fire in an iron basket beneath the balloon, but embers threatened to burn the balloon, so they had to descend before their fuel supply was used up.

 

***A tragic accident occurred on 15 June 1785 when a double balloon manned by Jean-Francois Pilâtres des Roziers and his brother Romain attempted to fly across the English Channel from Boulogne. The gas caught fire, engulfed the balloon, which crashed to earth. Both men died as a result and a memorial was erected on the spot where they fell, near Wimereux.

 

***The Montgolfier brothers’ first balloon lost gas because the pieces of the cover were held together with buttons and button holes.

 

***The first manned flight in a hydrogen balloon in England was made by Vincent Lunardi on 15 September 1784. Ascending from the Artillery Ground in London, he flew twenty-four miles and landed in Hertfordshire.

 

***The first manned ascension (tethered) was from the gardens of the Faubourg St. Antoine on 15 October 1783, in a machine created by the Montgolfier brothers. It was manned by the intrepid Jean-Francois Pilâtres des Roziers, who rose to a height permitted by the eighty-foot ropes for over four minutes. On 19 October, before a crowd of 2000 people, Roziers ascended to a height of 200 feet for six minutes. In a second ascension the same day, he remained eight and a half minutes through having a fire under the balloon.

 

***The first manned flight in a hydrogen balloon was made before thousands of onlookers a few days after Roziers and Arlandes, by Professor Jacques Charles and Nicolas-Louis Robert, from the Jardins des Tuilleries in Paris on 1 December 1783.

 


 

***The first aeronaut to cross the English Channel was Jean-Pierre Blanchard (with American doctor John Jeffries) on 7 January 1785.

 

*** James Sadler’s first manned flight took place on 4th October 1784, at 5.30 in the morning, from Merton Gardens, Oxford. The balloon was blown towards Woodeaton, six miles away, and landed safely having reached a height of 3600 feet. The event was recorded in The Oxford Journal at the time.

 

***James Sadler was the first to use coal gas and also created hydrogen from neat sulphuric acid combined with iron and zinc filings, only he captured it in a quilt.



Images of balloon flights public domain.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Story Giveaway!



If you sign up for a Readers List of books and authors with Box of Words you will receive a free gift in the form of a copy of my prize-winning short story, The Middle of the Day!



The Middle of the Day

Lottie Morgan loves all things Regency, but would she like to live in the early nineteenth century, married to a baron? A strange thing happens while she is visiting Berrington Hall; she finds herself confronting George, Lord Rodney, and she is a newly-wed!
There is an element of fantasy in this short story, which introduces two secondary characters from An Improper Marriage.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

The Heart of a Hero



Come To The Ball!


Heart of a Hero Series Release Party





Buff up your bonnets, spruce up your silks and brush up your escort's manners, for on 13 July 2017, from 4pm EDT (that's 9pm in the UK and about 9am or so in Australia) the Heart of a Hero Series begins with the most wonderful Release Party to celebrate the publication of the prequel, No Rest for the Wicked, which sets up the remainder of the series.

When all hope is lost, heroes will rise.


To help them, we have a wonderful collection of Regency authors! This is our line-up for the evening--and what a line-up it is! (All times are EDT.)




What if your favourite superheroes had Regency-era doppelgangers? And what if a group of them were recruited by the Duke of Wellington to gather intelligence for him during the Napoleonic Wars while they protected their own parts of the realm?

You'd get The Heart of a Hero series.

Nine authors are bringing nine full-length novels to you this summer, each telling the story of a man or woman who is a hero in all senses of the word.

Do join us for the crush of the Season!






Thursday, 8 June 2017

Exciting News!



I am thrilled finally to be able to announce my new project, which has just gone up on Amazon for pre-order!


Honoured I am to be able to reveal I am joining a group of wonderful Regency authors in a fantastic series of full-length novels, called the Heart of a Hero Series!

"What if your favourite superheroes had Regency-era doppelgangers? And what if a group of them were recruited by the Duke of Wellington to gather intelligence for him during the Napoleonic Wars while they protected their own parts of the realm?
You'd get The Heart of a Hero series."


The Missing Duke


 


Blurb

When his father dies, Lord Adam Bateman refuses to succeed to the dukedom which rightly belongs to his missing elder brother. Whilst performing secret and sensitive missions for the Duke of Wellington, he continues his efforts to find his twin. The search has become Adam’s all-consuming passion, leaving no time for affairs of the heart. 

Miss Lucy Mercier is also seeking answers. Her father, a tailor, had been used to make hot air balloons for various noble patrons, including Lord Adam’s sire. Believing the deceased Duke of Wardley had been involved in her papa’s failure to return from the Continent, she takes employment in Lord Adam’s household in order to discover the truth. Then she accompanies him on an important commission for the Allied Army, and finds herself having to guard against a growing attraction for a man she knows she can never have. 

Are the two disappearances connected and will two heads prove better than one in the pursuit of answers? Will Adam and Lucy find true happiness together or will the past – and their different stations – rise to keep them apart?





Sunday, 14 May 2017

A Minstrel's Ballad



Lady Penrhyn
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons


THE Minstrel came from beyond the sea,
And weary with his toil was he;
But wearied more, that in one long year
No news of his lady he could hear.
By land and sea he had wander'd far,
With Hope alone for a guiding star;
Yet had he been so tempest lost,
That oft the guiding star was lost.


Safe from the land, safe from the main,
Again he has reached his native Spain;
And he feels of its sun the blessed glow,
And inhales new life, as its breezes blow.
Yet he will not stop, nor he will not stay,
But onward goes, by night and by day;
Till at length he has reach'd that fateful spot,
Ne'er from the parting hour forgot.


There—and he dare no farther go
To seek what he dies, yet dreads, to know;
And he lingers till the moonlight hour,
When that lady lov'd to sing in her bower.
Oh! will this dazzling sun ne'er fade,
This sky ne'er soften into shade;
Longer than all that came before,
Will never this joyless day be o'er:


Faded, at last the sun's red ray
Softened the sky to cloudless gray;
The longest noon must have its night,—
And o'er the bower the moon rose bright.
Roses are wavering in its beam,
As thro' their foliage zephyrs stream;
Perfumes are floating on the air,
But no sweet song is singing there.


He listens—listens—but in vain,
From that low bower there breathes no strain:
“Yet may she come"—for Hope will stay,
Even till her last star fades away.
“Yet may she come”—no more—no more,—
The dreamings of thy heart be o'er:
Who slumbers the long sleep of rest,
Is dull to the voice she once lov'd best.


A ray within the green bower shone,
It danced upon a funeral stone;
There sculptured was a well-known name,
The name most dear—the same—the same!
That night, and o'er lost hope he mourn'd;
But ere again the hour return'd,
Had parted from his native shore
An exile—to return no more.


Yet, as he left that bower of woe,
That all of his constancy might know,
A ringlet of hair on that grave he bound,
A chain of gold round that pillar he wound.


lsabel D.

From The Literary Gazette, January 1818, Public Domain