Archive for the ‘People & Places’ Category

A new video of the background to: “Most Beautiful Princess “- A novel based on the life of Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia



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An interesting article about the auction of a lost book by Charlotte Bronte:


(Incidentally, if you are interested in the Brontes, please see here for a post about Emily:

Emily Bronte the Mystic   )

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I was 17 when I first saw “Brother Sun & Sister Moon” and it moved me more  than anything I had ever seen before or have seen since. I taped it with an ordinary old fashioned cassette player pressed up the TV and over and over again I played the tape (complete with the door bell ringing or someone coughing outside the room!) over and over again. It said everything I wanted to say.

Time and time again throughout the past 3 decades I have returned to that old cassette and still, after all this time, though it sounds rather wobbly now, it raises the same feelings of innocence, transparency, and the real beauty of the soul. At 17 I spoke of it to teachers who said it is ‘merely Hollywood’ and to lecturers (I studied theology – though it taught me nothing!!) and they smiled in a kindly but not really helpful way. “If the purpose of life if this loveless toil we fill our days with, then it’s not for me. There must be something better. There has to be. Man is a spirit…he has a soul and that is what I want to recapture: my soul! I want to climb trees, swim rivers, feel the firm clasp of the earth beneath my feet, without shoes, without clothes….a beggar…yes! Christ was a beggar…”

Some of the theologians argued that man isn’t spirit; and some of the lecturers with whom I spoke said, “It’s just an ideal.” It left me wondering sometimes, why did people preach one thing, but then when you believe it, tell you it can’t be done or it’s just an ideal or a dream and ‘you have to be practical’ ? Well in the 30 + years since first seeing it, my belief in it has never gone away. Sometimes it has been dimmed or hidden or obscured and sometimes I have almost forgotten it, but it’s still there like a dearest friend.

It took a long time to realise that Christ was nothing like a beggar – on the contrary, abundance is the natural way of being for all of us; but I believe in everything else in this beautiful extract and no argument in the world can change that. It just speaks directly to the heart and soul and I love it…as I do, this beautiful scene….which is beyond lovely:

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Here is a beautiful site about Alfred, Lord Tennyson and the Isle of Wight:



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Temple Newsam House, birthplace of Lord Darnley, is one of the most beautiful places in Yorkshire (and, incidentally, provided the inspiration for ‘Beckford House’ in my novel The Fields Laid Waste). The house itself is not the most beautiful of stately homes but the grounds are a wonderful combination of woods, meadows, lakes and gardens. Built on the site of an old Templar estate (hence the name Temple Newsam), the  present house was constructed by Sir Arthur Ingram, who bought the estate for £12,000 in 1622.
Since the 1920s, Temple Newsam has been the property of Leeds City Council and the grounds have been open to the public free of charge. One of the many delights of the place is the rare breeds farm with its pigs, goats, cattle, turkeys and other poultry. These are some of the beautiful animals and flowers I have seen on the estate.

Looking at these beautiful creatures, I think often of Walt Whitman’s beautiful poem:

I think I could turn and live with animals……they are so placid and
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of
owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of
years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.

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 Many royalties are known to have  patronised the arts but fewer have had real friendships with those they patronised. A very touching friendship is that of Charles Ludwig Dodgson (‘Lewis Carroll’) and Queen Victoria’s youngest son, Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany. Both were extremely clever men (Lewis Carroll was, of course, a great mathematician, and Prince Leopold is often said to be the cleverest of Queen Victoria’s sons) and both suffered an affliction. Lewis Carroll suffered a debilitating stammer and Prince Leopold suffered from the agonising condition of haemophilia which, tragically, blighted and cut short his life.

The two men often met and it is likely that it was Carroll’s experience at Osborne  House, when he and the prince hurled themselves into a bush as Queen Victoria’s carriage approached, that led to his amusing description from Alice in Wonderland:

“At this moment Five, who had been anxiously looking across the garden, called out ‘The Queen! The Queen!’ and the three gardeners instantly threw themselves flat upon their faces.”

Prince Leopold’s untimely death did not end Carroll’s relationship with the prince’s family. He made regular visits to the Albany household and became a great favourite with Leopold’s two children, Charles Edward (later Duke of Coburg) and Alice (later Countess of Athlone). In her touching memoirs: For My Grandchildren, Some Reminiscences of Her Royal Highness Princess Alice, the princess writes:

Lewis Carroll was especially kind to Charlie and me, though when I was only five I offended him once when, at a children’s party at Hatfield, he was telling us a story. He was a stammerer and being unable to follow what he was saying I suddenly asked in a loud voice, “Why does he waggle his mouth like that?” I was hastily removed by the lady-in-waiting. Afterwards he wrote that he “liked Charlie but thought Alice would turn out badly.”

Stuart Dodgson Collingwood’s The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll contains another touching account of Carroll’s relationship with the young royalties:

Shortly before the resignation of Dr. Liddell, the Duchess of Albany spent a few days at the Deanery. Mr. Dodgson was asked to meet her
Royal Highness at luncheon, but was unable to go. Princess Alice and the little Duke of Albany, however, paid him a visit, and were initiated in the art of making paper pistols. He promised to send the Princess a copy of a book called “The Fairies,” and the children, having spent a happy half-hour in his rooms, returned to the Deanery. This was one of the days which he “marked with a white stone.” He sent a copy of The Nursery ‘Alice'” to the little Princess Alice, and received a note of thanks from her, and also a letter from her mother, in which she said that the book had taught the Princess to like reading, and to do it out of lesson-time. To the Duke he gave a copy of a book entitled “The Merry Elves.” In his little note of thanks for this gift, the boy said, “Alice and I want you to love us both.” Mr. Dodgson sent Princess Alice a puzzle, promising that if she found it out, he would give her a “golden chair from Wonderland.”

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One of the many achievements of Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert, was the creation of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Eager to find healthy sea air for their children air and, tired of being gaped at at the rundown Brighton Pavilion, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert fell in love with island and, with the architect, Thomas Cubitt, the Prince began the design of the house in 1854. By the time of the completion of the main wing in 1851, the place had become a real family home and lovely seaside retreat.
Unlike many princes of his era, Prince Albert took a great personal interest in his children’s upbringing and education, and it was here, at Osborne, that he provided each of them with a small garden in which they were to plant flowers and vegetables, which he would then purchase from them at market prices. Today, the gardens, labelled with the names of the nine children and complete with their tiny wheelbarrows and garden tools, are still intact in front of the Swiss Cottage – a specially imported wooden house, fitted with miniature kitchen implements and equipment, in which the royal children learned to cook. 
Osborne House is ne of the most beautiful stately homes I have ever visited, not only for its wonderful views across the Solent and its interesting and unusual artefacts (including Queen Victoria’s bathing machine, but primarily for its wonderful atmosphere of joyful children. It is true that this was a place where several sad events took place (the Queen’s second daughter, Princess Alice – mother of the last Tsarina of Russia – was married in the dining room of the house only a few months after her father’s death and the occasion was so sad the the bride and even the archbishop were in tears! And Queen Victoria herself died here); it is equally true that one of the Queen’s children, King Edward VII, so disliked his memories of the place that on his accession he gave it to the nation, but the sense of the place is, to me, almost mystical in it joyfulness. From the beautiful sea views to the scents of the walled garden, and from the art-lined corridors to the nurseries, this is house which really captures the spirit of Prince Albert, the aesthete and family man.
Dear Osborne,” wrote Queen Victoria “– the deep blue sea, myriads of brilliant flowers – the perfume of orange-blossom, magnolias, honeysuckles – roses etc. of all descriptions on the terrace, the quiet and retirement, all make it a perfect paradise.” 

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