The photo above shows Owlpen Manor - a stunningly beautiful house in the Cotswolds which is the epitome of the type of house I love. You can visit virtually here, read all about its history and even stay in cottages on the estate.
I wanted to include a knot garden or parterre in my novel where I could place a sundial that held a special motto for my heroine, Sophia, to find. They were usually laid out in formal designs with aromatic herbs and plants like marigolds, pansies, rosemary, thyme, lemon balm etc. A later addition enclosed the planting with low box hedges.
My heroine Sophie goes back in time to visit the house her ancestors lived in before they travel on to Lyme. It's called Monkford Hall - some of you might realise the connection between Monkford and Jane Austen's book, Persuasion, as the village where Captain Wentworth's brother had his curacy. Sophie has returned as her ancestor Sophia in the year 1802 and in this scene is with her sister Marianne. From Searching for Captain Wentworth:
We entered a small courtyard styled in the old Tudor fashion of parterres with squares of columbines dotted in between low box hedging, their lavender heads nodding in the breeze. I was drawn to the Elizabethan sundial on a plinth in the middle. Carved in a stone spiral with many embellishments around the circular face was the motto: Time is but a shadow; Too slow, too swift, But for those who love, Time does not exist.
I shivered. My mother would have said someone had just walked on my grave and the doves up in the church beyond the house flew from the bell tower, their wings flapping against the still air. The words on the sundial resonated with me, but I couldn’t think where I had read them before. They seemed so fitting. I couldn’t think of a more apt description to the way I was feeling.
Whenever Charles and I were together time did not exist. Time made up its own rules and like shadows we were at its mercy, floating between the layers like sunlight passing through lace to leave its patterns fleetingly marked in shade.
‘What are you thinking about, Sophia? You have a most faraway expression. But I think I know and I’ve guessed why you seem so different since you arrived. You are in love!’
The challenge in her voice brought me up fast. Was that what I was feeling? Was I truly in love with Charles Austen?
‘You’re blushing, so it’s true!’ cried Marianne, pulling me down to sit beside her on a stone seat. ‘Tell me about him, Sophia.
Is he rich like Mr Glanville? What do Papa and Mrs Randall think of him?’
‘I am not in love,’ I began and hesitated, as I didn’t wish to confide in anyone about the complicated feelings I had for Charles. I was doing my best to deny them knowing that his love could never be mine.
‘But, I am sure you’ve met someone,’ Marianne insisted. ‘I can see that you have and I shall feel most put out if you do not tell me all about him.’
‘I did meet a very interesting family when we were in Bath, a set of the most delightful people. I fell in love with them all … they have such a funny way of saying things that show them to be sincere and openhearted, quite unlike other people who present a smile, but then have no real interest in you at all. The Austens are a creative, artistic family. Cassandra is an accomplished artist and Jane is a talented writer. I also met their parents, a brother James and his family, all literary and interested in books. There is a sailor brother, too.’
‘And I believe that this brother is the very one who has stolen your heart.’
‘Lieutenant Austen is very gentleman-like, but my heart is intact, I do assure you.’
‘But you do like him?’
‘Yes, I like him, as a girl might like a brotherly figure. In any case, he has yet to make his way in the world and has no time to fall in love.’
|Sundial in a formal garden|
This is the kind of bedroom I imagined Sophie would have slept in at Monkford Manor with draped curtains at her bed and a cosy bedcover - perhaps a quilt stitched from pieces of ancient fabric.
From Searching for Captain Wentworth:
White-washed walls and a fire burning in the grate set off a vast four-poster bed, hung with crewel work drapes, along with a huge press and a beautiful cedar chest on a carved stand in the corner. There was also a bookcase, which on closer inspection contained a wonderful selection of “horrid” novels such as Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey might enjoy, and a dressing table set before the window with a toilet mirror, a set of silver brushes and two glass bottles holding scent.
It was the personal objects that held the most fascination for me. A doll, dressed in worn Indian muslin with jet-black hair pushed under a satin bonnet, sat on the window ledge next to a wooden cup and ball game, along with another object that I knew so well. I ran to the rosewood box and traced my fingers over the familiar scrolls and inlays, the sight of which filled me with a strong sense of nostalgia.
‘What is it, Sophia?’ asked Marianne. ‘Have you secrets in there?’
‘Of course not, I’m just so pleased to see all my things. I really miss my home when we are away and the sight of such a familiar object is a joy to behold!’
‘I do understand, whenever I’m feeling upset at school, I wrap myself up in Mama’s shawl and imagine she’s putting her arms around me like she used to when I was a little girl.’
Her face crumpled as if she might cry and I suddenly felt very sorry for her. ‘Do you remember much about Mama?’
‘Not as much as I’d like. I remember her voice and I recall the feeling that whenever she occupied a room, it always seemed that the sun was shining and the house was full of laughter.’
I remembered my own mother. It felt as if a light had gone out when she was no longer there and I thought how hard it must have been for the young Marianne to have her mama taken away at a tender age. It was no wonder she was always fancying herself ill. She probably just needed a little more love and attention. I would try to be extra patient and spend some time with her.
‘What shall we do in Lyme?’I asked. ‘Do you prefer walking, or collecting shells and fossils?’
‘I do not like walking, it is so fatiguing and I am not interested in collecting anything.’
‘Then, how about some sea-bathing? We will hold hands and go in together!’
‘Cold water is perfectly horrid and sea water so salty, that after our visit to Weymouth last year I declared I should never dip my toes in the water again!’
‘Well then, we’ll just sit on the sands in the sunshine and enjoy doing nothing. I shall read to you if you like.’
‘Oh, Sophia, I would like that. Please can you read to me now, just a little of “The Mysteries of Udolpho” before I have to go to bed? We’d just got to the black veil before you had to go away! You’re the only person after Mama, who can read so well.’
Half an hour later, by which time she seemed in a better humour and tired enough not to protest too loudly about going to bed, I took the candle and escorted Marianne along the dark corridor to her room, tucking her into bed and wishing her goodnight. I made my way back along the creaking floorboards, grateful that I had such a short distance to walk in the dark by the light of one small flame. My chamber felt very homely and quite my own. I can only describe the feeling like a memory, something so deep within my soul that had been awakened by unknown senses. I knew I had been there before, that I had lived and loved in this house. Opening the cedar chest initiated an onslaught of impressions and emotions, most of which were so fleeting that the memories are as hard to write down as a dream on waking. I pulled out the gowns one at a time discovering new muslins, brocade skirts from the past, ribbons and tassels, scented leather gloves, and sheer gauze fichus. Selecting some of the finer muslins for our seaside trip, I threw them over a chair in readiness to take on the journey the next day and turned my attention to the rosewood box.
Some other favourite houses include:
Well, the list goes on and on... Do you have a dream house? I'd love to hear about it!