“Will you be opposing the Frame Work Bill, Mr. Hill?” asked Philippa. She believed that he would soon be an eminent politician, and one day perhaps even prime minister. She wanted to remember every word he said so that she could relate them when the time came. How lucky it would be for him, when he decided to write his memoirs, to have her by his side. She who had followed his career so closely, alive to any mention of his name in the journals and pamphlets, and sifting him out from among the many other “Mr. Hill”s. These were the thoughts that flew through her mind in the moments it took the gentleman to reply.
“The Frame Work Bill,” supplied Mr. Harvey. “The Tories are trying to rush it through in order to appease the Nottinghamshire MPs. It stipulates the death penalty for any man caught destroying a weaving frame. Personally, I agree with Lord Byron. I think it an inexcusable failure of communication on the part of the authorities, but of course I would be interested in your opinion, since, as our MP, you must represent the views of our town.”
Mr. Hill frowned, and Philippa felt almost ashamed that she had introduced this debate with Mr. Harvey present. Of course, as a Whig he would be only too ready to be willfully contrary.
“The death penalty, eh?” said Mr. Hill. “One doesn’t hear much of the London news, stuck up here in the country. But it sounds reasonable to me. The rascals have been nothing but trouble, damaging property and wreaking havoc with commerce. They are not willing to work and so they stop other honest hands from working and doing their duty by their country. I need not remind you that we are at war. These troublemakers are no better than the French for spreading disunity. It is not to be borne.”
His voice rose in a sonorous crescendo as he concluded his speech, and Philippa was almost moved to applaud. She noticed one or two people near them turn to regard Mr. Hill with what could only be admiration.
“How right -” she began, but Mr. Hill wasn’t listening. He was looking past her, and abruptly excused himself. Philippa, standing on tiptoe, saw him cross the room and bow to a lovely woman dressed in an oriental gown and bright silk turban. Philippa’s heart sank – she could never compete with such a fashionable London lady.
Isabella joined them as soon as Mr. Hill left. “What a crush! And what a fright we have had. The carriage never came, and we were at our wit’s end when Mr. Whitcomb kindly offered us a ride. Miss Whitcomb, I don’t know how to thank you. If it weren’t for your father we would still be waiting outside in the frost.”
“Not at all, Miss Malcolm,” said Miss Whitcomb. “Have you met Mr. Harvey? He is my cousin.”
“You are cousins!” exclaimed Philippa, as Isabella announced that they had met, but not been introduced.
“The good abbot is still waiting for us,” said Mr. Harvey. “I saw him again just yesterday.”
This time Philippa laughed too.
“Is that a valentine puzzle I spy in your hand, Miss Malcolm?” asked Miss Whitcomb.
“Yes, I brought it with me in case anyone could help me with it.”
“Allow me,” said Mr. Harvey. “I have five sisters, you know. I’ve folded dozens of these in my time.” So saying, he took the piece of paper from Isabella, and with deft fingers, folded it into a small packet and tucked the final tail in. “There, you see, nothing to it.”
Isabella looked up at him with a mixture of awe and admiration. “Thank you!”
“What does it say, Miss Malcolm?” asked Miss Whitcomb. “Don’t leave us in suspense.”
“Please accept my humble heart,
Heretofore never to part.
I love you, sweet Isabel,
Life without you is hell.
I beg you, tell me yay or nay,
Pity me, and do not delay.”
She looked up at Philippa, disappointed. “But I still don’t know who wrote it,” she complained. Philippa had a fair idea. She was watching Mr. Harvey for his reaction, but he merely remarked that whoever it was, he was no poet.
“Not the most inspiring missive, perhaps,” said Miss Whitcomb, “but it is not always easy to convey the depth of one’s love in verse.”
As Philippa was returning home from town the next day, she spied Mr. Harvey join the road by the Ditherington mill. He saw her too – the dark bulk of Udolpho topped by her tall figure was hard to miss – and waited until she had caught him up.
“Miss Corbet! How fortunate. I was hoping to have a word with your father. Would he receive me, do you think?”
“I’m afraid my father’s ridden down to Stratford-upon-Avon for the hunt dinner, but you are welcome to talk to my mother and myself.”
He thanked her and set his horse to amble next to Udolpho towards Sundorne.
“Forgive my curiosity, but what were you doing at the mill?” asked Philippa. She didn’t want to insult him by asking whether he had work there, in case fashionable architects objected to manufactory buildings.
“The owner, Mr. Marshall, was kind enough to allow me to look around. I have been fascinated by it since I first saw being built. They have recently had gas installed, I was eager to see the alterations. It is a most singular construction.”
Philippa looked back at the rectangular, brick structure. There was nothing either gothic or classical about it. No ornamentation of any kind, in fact. Mr. Harvey noticed her sceptical expression and laughed.
“I grant it is not much to look at, but in this case the strength inside is more important than the beauty outside. That, Miss Corbet, is the only building in the world, to the best of my knowledge, with an iron frame. It is revolutionary.”
“An iron frame? Is that necessary?” She had been to see the Iron Bridge near Coalbrookedale once, but to her, metal held none of the majesty of masonry.
“It is to the people who work there. Flax is a very flammable fibre, and even the most trifling accident can send a mill up in flames and destroy many livelihoods in minutes. The Ditherington mill uses an iron frame and iron beams, and although Mr. Bage, the architect, has not gone in for much decoration, I think in essentials he has created a structure that will define the future of our profession.”
Philippa glanced back at the mill once more. “You have quite changed my perception of it. I must have ridden past that building hundreds of times since I was a child and never noticed anything special about it.”
“That is not your fault. We only see what we wish to see. I had another motive for visiting the mill, which I’m ashamed to say I had not thought about before the matter of the Frame Work Bill came to my attention. I was curious to see the working conditions, and I think I can safely say that we are in no danger of framebreaking here.”
“I am happy to hear it. Though I suppose there is some difference between weaving linen and weaving wool?”
“I can’t pretend to be very knowledgeable in the matter,” he admitted. “I can only say that the workers seem content in general, and consider themselves lucky to have such a building as that to work in. The windows are larger than most, and the gas lights are also a boon.”
“Do you think the Frame Work Bill will be passed? I read Lord Byron’s speech, and it was very… passionate, but I can’t imagine he has very much influence. Even Mr. Hill had never heard him mentioned. And he is quite right you know, unless more stringent measures are taken the Luddites themselves are effectively getting away with murder. That is what it amounts to, if people can’t earn their wages to feed their families.”
Mr. Harvey shook his head. “I don’t believe that any crime justifies taking a life, and I certainly can’t believe that the threat of execution will deter any man who is already facing death by starvation.”
Philippa could think of no reply to this. “I suppose we shall never agree on this subject,” she said.
He smiled. “It doesn’t much matter what we agree on,” he said, “nor our good MPs, for that matter. As Mr. Bennet is a Whig and Mr. Hill a Tory, they effectively cancel each other out. That may explain why either of them are so rarely at the House of Commons.”
“I suppose it must get dreadfully boring at times,” she said. “I found the debate riveting when I listened – very well, eavesdropped – from the ventilator shaft, but then for me it was a privilege and for them it is merely a job.”
“I don’t think any man should take his duty to his country so lightly,” said Mr. Harvey. There was more gravity in his voice than she had ever heard, and she turned to him in surprise. “Excuse me,” he said. “I did not mean to criticise Mr. Hill.”
They rode on in silence for some time, until Mr. Harvey broke it by saying, “Miss Corbet, I would like to propose a bargain. I am still at Attingham fairly often to supervise the work, and for as long as Mr. William Hill is there, I am happy to do my best to further your cause.”
“Further my cause!” she exclaimed. “Whatever can you mean?”
“I mean that I am happy to puff you up to the gentleman. Drop hints that you would make an excellent politician’s wife; that you are very well-liked in the neighbourhood; that your house will soon be legendary; that sort of thing.”
Philippa looked around to make sure no one could overhear them, but the road was empty. “Have you no shame?” she asked, although the scheme secretly appealed to her. A strategic campaign, that was what she had decided. And as she had too few opportunities to represent her own suitability to Mr. Hill, the next best thing would be to have Mr. Harvey do it for her. And she was fairly sure what he would ask in return.
“It’s is not shameful at all. It is not even unusual. I’ve undertaken similar services for all of my sisters and they are now all happily married. All five of them.”
“All five? Heavens! That is a very good record. Very well, I accept.”
“But you have not heard your side of the bargain.”
She gave him a knowing smile. “Mr. Harvey, please, I saw your little acrostic. I am quite sure I know what you would like me to do.”
He looked confused. “I beg your pardon?”
“The acrostic, in the valentine you sent Miss Malcolm.”
“That I sent? I didn’t send her that valentine.”
They turned off the road towards Sundorne. Philippa sighed. She had not expected him to prevaricate on this subject when in all his conversations with her he had been so direct. “Your secret is safe with me, Mr. Harvey,” she said. “And really as I have Isabella’s best interests at heart I am happy to carry messages between you if you wish, although I am sure it is quite improper and I would not stoop to such deception if I hadn’t been assured by my father that your family is respectable, and your income sufficient. Forgive me for speaking so openly.”
“I welcome it,” he said. “And if I were to court Miss Malcolm I would likewise do it openly, and not through a badly-versed valentine or clandestine messages. But I’m sorry to disappoint either you or that lady – I never had any such intentions towards that lady.”
Philippa brought Udolpho to a sudden halt. “But your acrostic,” she repeated. “The first letters spelled out, ‘Philip’.”
“Did they? No…” he said, stopping beside her. His eyes grew unfocused for a moment as he seemed to think. “The devil…”
“What is it?”
“I didn’t write that valentine, but it is possible that my cousin did. It would be just like her to make that kind of mischief.”
“Miss Whitcomb? Why would she do so?”
It was Mr. Harvey’s turn to sigh. “There has been a sort of teasing game between us since we were children. I may have been somewhat indiscreet. I admit I was struck by Miss Malcolm’s beauty when we first met at the Abbey. That and the way she talked, which I thought so charmingly naïve. I may have… embellished the story a little when I recounted it to my sister and Miss Whitcomb. No doubt they recognised her instantly from my description and devised this little game.” He whipped at the hedge in frustration.
“Perhaps they only meant to repay you for your own kindness,” suggested Philippa. “They may not have meant to make mischief.”
“I will call on Miss Whitcomb and get to the bottom of this, and if it is true, and I have caused Miss Malcolm any pangs, I am deeply sorry. I will try to make her any amends I can.”
All the gaiety his earlier speech was gone. He sulked, and Philippa could well imagine that mingled with his anger at being made a game of, there was a good deal of mortification.
“But if that was not your intention for our bargain, what were you going to ask me to do?” she asked, setting Udolpho to amble again.
He rode abreast. “In return for my friendly hints, I wanted you to convince your father to offer me an invitation to the Hunt. I have already bought some land in Montford and begun building temporary stables, and I have my eye on a couple of fine hunters, if Lord Middleton will agree on a price.”
This was a more serious request than she could have anticipated. “I can’t do that!” she protested. “This is the first time I’ve even seen you astride a horse, and I don’t know how you are over rough ground. I have no idea if you would be good enough for the Warwickshire.”
“And I have never seen you with a husband, Miss Corbet,” he pointed out. “So I can have no idea if you are good enough for Mr. Hill. We must both put our reputation on the line.”
She considered. It was a fair proposal, but it occurred to her that they would both have to be careful. If Mr. Harvey were too generous in his praise of her, Mr. Hill might think he was in love her with himself. And if Philippa was too insistent in her submission to her father on behalf of Mr. Harvey, he might think that she was in love with Mr. Harvey. Neither would do.
Then she had an idea. She could test his skill as a horseman, talk to him about the plans for the house, and dispel his heavy mood all at the same time. “Mr. Harvey, have you visited our Abbey? I thought my father would have enjoyed showing you around it, but I fear he is a little preoccupied these days.”
He searched her face, and paused a moment, as if expecting her to say more.
“Haughmond Abbey?” she asked. “It is within our estate, and my father does his best to preserve it.”
“No, I haven’t seen it since I was a child. I had almost forgotten about it. We ought to draw inspiration from it for Sundorne Castle.”
“My thoughts exactly,” said Philippa. “Do you have time now to ride up and see it?”
“I gather you mean for us to gallop across the fields to test my riding skill?”
Philippa hooked a gate with her whip. “That is precisely what I mean,” she said, as they ambled into the field. Planting had not begun, and the farmers were used to seeing Philippa riding up to the Abbey. After all, it was her father’s estate, so there could be no objection.
“Very well, Miss Corbet, try to keep up,” he said, and without even waiting for her to close the gate, he spurred his horse to a canter, and then a full gallop.
Philippa knew the land better, and Udolpho could easily have outpaced Mr. Harvey’s hack, but she stayed behind him to observe. He took the jumps well, and by the time they stopped at the arch to the ruined Abbey, she felt confident that her father would not regret his decision if he did issue Mr. Harvey an invite.
He jumped off his horse in order to help her dismount, but Philippa waved him aside. As she had anticipated, his eyes shone with the excitement of the race, and all thoughts of his cousin’s meddling seemed to be momentarily forgotten.
“I had forgotten how beautiful it was up here,” he said, shading his eyes to look out across the countryside.
The horses steamed in the cool air as she led them to tether. “Yes, isn’t it perfect,” she said. “Let’s begin at the chapter house. It is the best preserved.”
She stepped over the crumbled stone walls to the front of a small building. The western face of the chapter house consisted of three arches, the central one larger than the other two and forming an entrance. These roof and walls were covered in ivy that trailed down into the windows.
Mr. Harvey took out a small sketchbook and pencil and began sketching the figures in the jambs of the three arches with quick, deft strokes. Philippa watched over his shoulder, envious of his skill.
“This is much better than the specimen book,” said Philippa.
“Yes, I think a series of three arches like this would look very good on the south front, perhaps with a terrace along the top.”
“That reminds me somewhat of the Palace of Westminster. I would like to bring something of that too. My father was MP for many years, you know, before he resigned.”
“I did know, yes, although I don’t remember it, of course. Do you know why he resigned?”
“No, but I often wish that he were still in Parliament. It would be so interesting to be able to follow the debates closer, and to meet the leading men. I have met a few of my father’s old friends, of course, but some of them were even less informed than I was.”
“I don’t find that hard to imagine. You seem to follow politics very closely.”
“Yes, probably too closely. My father thinks I ought to have been a man, since my chief pleasures are hunting and politicising.”
“And the gothic,” added Mr. Harvey.
They entered the chapter house.
“This oak ceiling looks later,” Mr. Harvey said. “Ah, see those corbels? I think this must once have been vaulted.”
Philippa had never considered that parts of the Abbey could have been rebuilt at a later date. She was a little disappointed that her old fantasies were now proved inaccurate.
“This is where I first read Otranto,” she said, pushing herself up onto a window ledge. “I spent all day here, and emerged as if from a dream.”
Mr. Harvey didn’t pause his sketching. “The perfect location,” he said. “Much better than Shrewsbury Abbey’s stone pulpit.”
She smiled. “I do pity people who take no pleasure in ruins,” she said. “Did you know that one of Mr. Hill’s ancestors set the abbot’s lodging on fire during the civil war?”
“No, but I am surprised you aren’t still feuding with them over it.”
Mr. Harvey rode back to Sundorne House with her, but refused an offer of tea. She had reason to be thankful for his decision, for as soon as she entered the stables she saw a strange horse and was informed that her brother had arrived unexpectedly from London.
“Well, sis, did you think you could rebuild the house without consulting me? I’m the prodigal heir, you know. I ought to have a say in things.”
“Edward, don’t be absurd. Why should papa consult you about anything? It’s his house and you don’t spend more than a few weeks a year here.”
“It’s not my fault London’s more interesting. Anyway, I can hardly give up the estate, can I? I mean, we’ve owned this land since the conquest.”
“How can you talk of inheriting in that odious way?”
“Now, now, Pip, don’t get in a huff. I’m just trying to make light of the matter, that’s all.”
Philippa made no answer. Her brother never took anything seriously, but his talk of inheriting Sundorne put a damper on her excitement about the improvements.
“Mama says we’re going to own the next Strawberry Hill,” he continued. “Sundorne Castle.”
She still made no reply.
“Don’t sulk, Pip. When does the work begin?”
“I don’t know. We’re still deciding on the plans.”
“Hm. At least a few months, then, if I know anything about architects.”
“And how long are you staying?” she asked. “Not long, I hope.”
“I hope the same, but it depends on the pater.”
“Why, did he ask you to come?”
He looked at her strangely. “Pip, you realise he’s quite ill, don’t you? I mean, he doesn’t show it, but mama’s been worried.”
“What?” She dropped the journal she had just picked up. How could her mama have talked to Edward and not to her? She thought back across the previous weeks. Her father had seemed tired, it was true, but he had kept up with the hunt… “He did ride with the seconds the other day, but he said it was because he was having trouble with his new saddle.”
Edward nodded, sagely. “He never likes a fuss. I expect that’s why mama didn’t tell you. She wants me to convince him to sell his hounds.”
“No!” she breathed. “He would never, never do that.”
“Bound to happen one day,” he said.
Philippa came very close to unleashing her temper on him, but instead she found tears trickling down her face.
“There, there,” said Edward, in a poor attempt at consolation.
Philippa shrugged him off and ran upstairs to her room.
Over the next few days, she watched her father closely for signs of illness, but other than fatigue, she could detect nothing in his manner to suggest anything serious. The final hunt was scheduled for the following fortnight, and she was eager to discharge her end of the bargain with Mr. Harvey. She sought her father out after breakfast one day, as he was heading to the stables.
“Papa, may I speak with you?”
“Of course, Pip, what is it?”
“I was talking to Mr. Harvey the other day, and-”
“This isn’t about the alterations, is it? You and your mama can decide on those. Oh, and Edward if he’s really interested.”
“No, Papa, it’s just that Mr. Harvey is planning to settle in Shrewsbury, and set up stables, and, well…”
“He wants an invitation to join the hunt.”
“Yes, that’s it.”
“He asked you to ask me, did he?”
“Not exactly. But he’s been so generous with his time, I wanted to do something to help him in return.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes. Why, only the other day he spent an hour walking around the Abbey and teaching me all the names of architectural… things.”
“Did he now? And what’s he like on a horse?”
She considered. “He isn’t a bruiser. I would say, slow but steady.”
“And what is your opinion of his character?” he asked.
“His character? I don’t know. He seems generous, and he certainly works hard. I don’t know how he draws so quickly but every time he visits us he seems to have a whole new draught of the plans. Perhaps he employs a man.”
“He is competent, though? We can trust our castle to him?”
“Why, of course, Papa! After all, Mr. Nash recommended him, did he not?”
“Yes, he did. But I like to make up my own mind.”
“Well, if you invite him to hunt, you can have plenty of opportunity to do so,” she said slyly.
He laughed. “You’ve convinced me. I’ll write to him. Off with you now.”
When she met Isabella at the Abbey gardens that afternoon, Philippa almost expected to find Mr. Harvey there, leaning insolently against the arch of the pulpit as he had done so many weeks ago. But to her surprise, it was Lord and Lady Berwick, and Mr. Hill who crossed the street from the Abbey and entered the gardens, just as Isa, full of news, was pulling Philippa along the path.
“You will never guess who called on us yesterday. Mr. Harvey-” was all Isabella could say, before they saw the newcomers and were obliged to break off.
They all made their bows, and Philippa introduced her friend to Mr. Hill.
“Miss Corbet,” said Mr. Hill. “I thought I recognised your horse. What a fine beast.”
“He looks quite terrifying,” said Lady Berwick. “Aren’t you frightened he will throw you?”
“Oh, Udolpho is large, but he is quite placid. Better than anyone I know in a crisis.”
“Lady Berwick is no horsewoman,” said his lordship, tapping his wife’s hand indulgently. “She prefers to be driven.”
“Mr. Harvey assured us that the stone pulpit in this little garden is very picturesque,” said Mr. Hill, lifting his quizzing glass. “Is that it?”
“Yes,” said Philippa. “It is a very gothic little nook.”
Mr. Hill’s lip curled in disdain. “Perhaps I lack an eye for architecture,” he said, “but to me that looks like nothing more than a very small turret. I can’t imagine why Mr. Harvey thought it worthy of notice.”
“I think perhaps because it affords a good view of the Abbey?” suggested Philippa, although she suspected that Mr. Harvey’s praise of the pulpit may have been part of furthering their bargain.
The lord and lady and Mr. Hill duly took turns ascending the stone steps of the pulpit to take a look at the Abbey.
“Not worth the effort,” said Mr. Hill, descending with great care to his tight pantaloons.
“Perhaps you could use it to make a speech, the next time you win an election,” said Philippa.
“Between you and me, Miss Corbet, I shall be resigning as MP in the summer,” he said. “It is a thankless job, and I find I would much rather represent our country abroad than at home.”
Philippa was shocked. The entire future she had envisioned for herself, that she had envisioned for him fell away from her like a veil. “You wish to give up politics? But you can’t,” she said stupidly.
“I aim to take up diplomacy,” he said. “I feel I have talents that are being wasted as a country MP. I should prefer to travel to foreign places and try new foods and new wines. I should recommend the same to you, Miss Corbet. Though you are a woman… Not that that stops Lady Hester. No, now there’s a true adventuring spirit…”
He drifted off into a reverie which Philippa had no intention of breaking. If he was in love with Lady Hester, no amount of hints from Mr. Harvey could cause him to take notice of an ordinary, unadventurous Miss Corbet. She suddenly felt dizzy, and leaned against the stone to steady herself.
“Are you well, Philippa?” asked Isabella anxiously. “You look very pale.”
“I find I have a sudden headache,” she lied. She neither remembered, nor cared to remember how she took leave of the others. She had only the vaguest recollection of mounting her horse and if Udolpho had not known the way, she did not think that she could have guided him. Her father’s illness, her brother’s callousness, Mr. Hill’s resignation, her own failures, all these seemed to weigh on her at once, and what made it all worse was the happiness in Isabella’s face when she pronounced that name: Mr. Harvey. Her countenance had lit up, and Philippa could not blame any man for falling in love with such a beautiful face.
As if the sound of his name had somehow conjured him, Philippa saw Mr. Harvey walking down Pride Hill towards her. Udolpho stopped, and Mr. Harvey quickened his pace as he saw how ill she looked.
“Miss Corbet, are you well?” he asked, wearing the same worried expression as Isabella.
“A headache, nothing more,” she murmured, but even as she spoke, she felt the reins slip from her fingers, and her vision spun and dimmed.
“Miss Corbet!” He pulled her foot out of the stirrup. “Unhook your leg from the pommel and let me help you down.”
She managed to do so, and slid off the saddle. Mr. Harvey caught and steadied her.
“You are not well,” he said. He turned to a boy who was watching the proceedings with interest. “You, run along to The Lion and see if there is a cab to be hired. Quickly, now!”
The boy dashed off down High Street, and Mr. Harvey turned back to look at her.
“He is resigning as MP,” she said, tears threatening her voice. “And he is in love with Lady Hester.”
“I thought he might be,” said Mr. Harvey.
“And my father…” she broke off in a sob.
“Yes,” said Mr. Harvey, ready with a handkerchief. “I know. But selling his hounds doesn’t mean he will give up hunting entirely, you know. I expect once he’s got over his illness, he will be just as active as he was before. And over the warm months we must keep him busy with the house plans Do not distress yourself, Miss Corbet, all will be well.”
She smiled at him through her tears, and when the cab arrived, gladly allowed him to take charge.
She was feverish for almost a week, but as the fever abated, she began to feel purged of all the worry and weariness that Mr. Hill had placed upon her. Her mother informed her that Mr. Harvey had called while she was sleeping and left her a book. It was Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.
“I’m sure it’s the only copy in the county,” said Edward, “for it’s sold out everywhere, and we’re all champing at the bit to read it, but mama wouldn’t allow it until you were better. I sneaked a look when she wasn’t in the room, however, and I wish I hadn’t.”
“Edward!” said his mother. “It is a gift for Philippa!”
“So it is. And there’s a sketch of her inside. Here,” he said, rifling through the pages until he found it, and handing it to his sister.
It was undeniably her, sitting in the stone window of the chapter house. “Oh! I didn’t know he’d drawn that. I thought he was only sketching the architecture.”
“Seems to me he’s in love with you,” said Edward.
“Nonsense,” she said. “He’s in love with Isabella. I think they’re engaged.”
“You’re confused, my darling,” said her mother. “Isabella is engaged to a Mr. Whitmore, who I believe is Mr. Harvey’s cousin.”
“No, his cousin is Miss Whitmore,” she said.
“You’re still a bit daft,” said Edward. “Mr. Whitmore is Miss Whitmore’s brother, and they’re both Mr. Harvey’s cousins, slow top.”
“Edward, don’t be so ungenerous. Your sister is tired.”
But Philippa did not feel at all tired. “So Mr. Harvey isn’t engaged to Issy?”
“Now you have it. And he’s in love with you, or why would he be sending you books and sketches? He’s a fair artist, I’ll say that.”
“Let me see the book. Oh, it’s by Lord Byron. Now I see why he sent it me.”
“He brought it you because all of London’s talking about it. Now can we please read it?”
Edward was not a very promising reader, and Philippa enjoyed the poetry much more when Mr. Harvey read it to her, as they sat in the chapter house one fine April afternoon.
“Well, Lord Byron may not have been able to move parliament with his speech, but he has certainly moved the public with his poetry,” he said.
“Hm. Clearly Whigs are better at art than politics,” she said, watching him closely for his reaction.
“I object to that,” he said, leaving his window-ledge and coming to stand beside her. “And I should probably tell you that I intend to stand as a candidate for Shrewsbury at the next election.”
“I thought you might,” she said, smiling down at him.
He put an arm around her waist and pulled her off the ledge and into a tight embrace.
“And I should tell you,” she said, putting her arms around his neck, “that I would make an excellent politician’s wife.”
“Then we have a bargain,” he said, and kissed her.
For some time now I’ve wanted to write a story set in regency-era Shrewsbury. In fact, the first post I wrote on this blog was about Attingham Park. I always struggle between the desire to be historically accurate, and the guilt of taking fictional liberties with real people, but I’ve done my best to balance the two.
I can’t help feeling that the story still needs lots of editing; there are too many minor characters who are woefully under-developed, and the end is rushed due to time constraints. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoyed reading it. Here are some notes from all the research I did…
I first came across a mention of Sundorne Castle at the Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery, and I was inspired by the mention that the house had undergone a “gothicisation” around 1814. It’s possible to get an idea of the changes by comparing the small sketch in the corner of the 1777 map of the estate to this engraving from 1824.
In 1777 it’s referred to as “Sundorn House” and in 1824 as “Sundorne Castle”.
John Corbet was the owner of Sundorne Castle, and founder of the Warwickshire Hunt, although he was forced to sell his hounds in 1811 due to ill health.
The likeness of Mr William Hill may be familiar to you if you’ve read the Arrow edition of Heyer’s The Unknown Ajax – it’s his portrait on the cover. Unfortunately, if you’ve come to associate him with the novel’s hero, you may be disappointed by the reality.
Hester Stanhope (who, according to the ODNB was engaged to Will Hill at some point) wrote of him to Beau Brummell:
“I met with a rival of yours in affectation upon the Continent, William Hill! I fear it will be long ere this country will again witness his airs, as he is now a prisoner; – this, perhaps you are glad of, as the society of statues and pictures has infinitely improved him in this wonted qualification, and therefore rendered him an even more formidable competitor”.
And she also relates this anecdote in her Memoirs, which I assume refers to the same Mr. Hill, once again juxtaposed with Beau Brummell:
“Three of the wits of the day in my time,” observed Lady Hester, continuing the conversation, “were Mr. Hill, Captain Ash, and Mr. Brummell, all odd in their way — the one for dry wit, the other for solemn joking, and the last for foppery. Mr. Hill, for example, when at dinner at somebody’s house, would draw towards him a dish of mashed potatoes that had a mould mark on them, as if he was going to help himself; then, eyeing it with irresistible gravity, and looking at it very oddly with his quizzing-glass, he would turn to the servant and say, ‘I wish you would tell the housekeeper, my good fellow, not to sit down on the dishes;’ pretending that he saw a mark, as if she had sat down upon it.”
The Oxford DNB quotes a contemporary describing him thus: “a middle-aged sybarite who loved good cheer though some thought him heartless. His reputation for wit was not justified by his despatches”.
On 19 March 1824, both he and his younger brother changed their name to Noel-Hill, presumably to dissociate themselves from their older brother when they received news that the present Lady Berwick’s sister, Harriette Wilson (also a courtesan) would soon be publishing her memoirs. The memoirs are an interesting primary source for Regency writers, and I drew my impressions of Lady Berwick from them.
- Sundorne Estate 1777 Survey
- Views of the seats of noblemen and gentlemen… (Vol 3)
- The Beauties of England and Wales… (Vol 8)
- A History of Shrewsbury by Owen & Blakeway
- Plan of Haughmond Abbey
- Extracts from the cartulary of Haghmon Abbey
- Old maps of Shrewsbury
- The Three Ages of the Ditherington Flax Mill by John Yates
- The full text of Byron’s speech in Parliament
- Out of ‘site’, out of mind?
- The House of Commons Gallery
- ODNB entry for William Hill
- Peerage page for the Hill family
- A view of the House of Lords from 1808
- Puzzle purses
- Regency side saddles
- The Regency Horse World
WORD COUNT: 5494