Lord Byron’s Lover’s Books in Leeds

An interesting article caught my eye in The Independent on Sunday on 21st October: Byron Treasure Found in Gift to Used Bookshop.

The secondhand bookshop in question is a relatively new one set up last year in a redundant building in the grounds of Harewood House. I’ve been a frequent visitor at the house and love to walk around the terrace gardens, woodland and the walled garden and, if it’s open, browse the book shelves.

The Augusta Leigh Display at Harewood

The article in question tells the story of a member of the volunteer staff at the shop discovering amongst donated books some inscribed “Augusta Leigh, St James’ Palace”.

With no idea who the Augusta was Audrey Kingsnorth began an investigation  that lead her to the Byron connection. Not only was Augusta Lord Byron’s (mad, bad and dangerous to know) lover, she was also his half sister, the result of the liaison between John (Mad Jack) Byron and Amelia Osborne. The books had been acquired by the donor (now in her 80s) following the purchase of a London House; the bookshelves of which were to large to move.

Close-up of the Display

“[One] of the donated books, Trimmer’s Fabulous Histories, is inscribed by Augusta to one of her children: “Henry Francis Leigh from his dear Mamma on his birthday, January 28th 1828″. Henry Francis died at 33, leaving a widow, Mary, and a daughter; Mary remarried and had another daughter and a son. Augusta had seven children, one of whom, Elizabeth Medora, is thought by many to be Byron’s lovechild.” 

Valued recently at around £2500 the books will put up for auction at a later date. As the books are currently still on display in the shop I thought I’d pop along and have a look at this valuable donation to the Harewood Bookshop.

The List of Donations

A Copy of The Golden Treasury Open at a Poem of Byron’s


Built for Comfort not for Defence : Harewood Castle

Sunday 14th October was the 946th anniversary of The Battle of Hastings. Our guide Sally Lawless deemed it therefore a fitting date on which to embark on one of a series of new initiatives at the Harewood EstateThe Harewood Castle Tour.

Earlier in the year I’d picked up the leaflet ‘Medieval Harewood 2012 : step back in time … ‘  This outlined a series of events, workshops, tours, tours and walks. Of course, it was the walk that appealed to me. I’d seen some of the archaeological dig results at Gawthorpe Hall last October on my ‘Capability Brown’ walk and I decided earlier in the week to sign up to visit Harewood Castle today.

We all assembled in All Saints Church the Harewood Estate church which is now under the protection of the Churches Conservation Trust. Sally gave us a brief introduction to the church and the Harewood Estate in general. We were shown the important Alabaster Tombs – 6 pairs comprising some of the best surviving examples in England. All the figures represented had played a part in the history of the Castle.

Close up of an alabaster beadsman or professional mourner

Then our walk began, through the churchyard where many of the estate and household workers are now buried, and out down a track to the public footpath Church Lane. This is was the former turnpike road between Tadcaster and Otley. It cuts through what was formerly the northern pleasure grounds of the Estate.

Sunken  tracks like this criss-cross the Harewood Pleasure Grounds

Peering over the wall we were fascinated to see the various tunnels and trenches which passed under the road so that  the vicar could reach his church and the local inhabitants cross the Estate without being seen by the Lord and Lady and their family and guests.

The Ha-ha approach to the Castle

From Church Lane we entered the original Harewood village and proceeded down a deep walled public footpath to the Ha-ha which separated the Pleasure Grounds from the Deer Park –  where we could still see deer today.

Harewood Castle built into the hillside looks out over Wharfedale

The Castle itself now stands very near to the A61 main road between Leeds and Harrogate but despite its size and proximity it’s almost impossible to see it from the road. There has been some tree clearance in the area lately and the view across Wharfedale can be seen more clearly.

Castle with Turner watercolour from similar standpoints

After hearing more about the history of the castle, comparing Turner’s watercolour views with today’s view we were admitted into the ruin and able to inspect more closely the layout and remains of the Harewood Tower House.

Following the path in a loop around the castle (it’s not open to the general public) we retraced our steps to the church where the tour finished.

Harewood Castle is technically not a castle but a fortified manse, a converted manor house. A ‘licence to crenellate’ (to fortify) was granted to William De Aldeburgh in the mid-14th century. Two families, the Redmaynes and the Rythers, whose tombs are in Harewood church, shared occupation during the 15th and 16th centuries. It was abandoned in the early 17th century and its stone and ornamental masonry plundered for use in other buildings nearby. By the late 18th century it was a picturesque ruin, painted by Turner, Varley, De Wint, Cotman and Buckler. It remained in that condition until 2004 when stabilisation work was carried out with financial support from English Heritage and matched funding from the Harewood Estate.”

The View over Wharfedale

“The Gleaming Figure whom Providence has brought to us in Times when the Present is Hard and the Future Veiled” (Winston Churchill) : Images of Our Queen in Leeds

This weekend we will celebrate sixty years of our Queen’s reign. I have no particular plans and in fact I will be working on Saturday and on Monday. But yesterday and today I visited two complementary exhibitions of photographs of Her Majesty currently on display in Leeds.

Marcus Adams, Royal Photographer at Harewood House

Currently showing at Harewood House just eight miles north of Leeds is an exhibition of photographs by Marcus Adams. MA was already in his fifties when he started taking Royal photographs of the young Princess Elizabeth and her sister the Princess Margaret and her Mother Queen Elizabeth. The pictures are beautiful in their simplicity and I noted a very pertinent quotation by Adams from The Listener magazine “The essential of a perfect picture is its simplicity”. (9 Feb. 1939). He has no truck with furniture and clutter – the children themselves are sufficient subjects in his photographs. Most of the pictures are of Elizabeth as a young Princess plus much later pictures of her two older children Charles and Anne. These later charming photos were taken when Adams was in his eighties.

Leeds City Museum

Currently showing at Leeds City Museum is a collection of photographs by Sir Cecil Beaton. The exhibition comes to Leeds from the Victoria and Albert Museum and it would be nice to think that this partnership will continue and that we may have further V&A curated exhibitions in here in Leeds in future.

The pictures here really complement the Adams pictures of The Queen. The tradition began in 1939 when Queen Elizabeth the wife of King George VI invited CB to take her and her daughters’ photographs. Several of the earliest pictures taken during the 1940s show the Princess Elizabeth in fairy like dresses and with romantic backdrops such as those seen in the masterpiece paintings of Gainsborough and Fragonard. Many of the gowns designed by Norman Hartnell. By contrast I particularly loved the picture of the fifteen year old Princess as Colonel of the Grenadier Guards.

There’s a much more modern look to the later Beaton photographs of the Queen with her two youngest sons. They are modern images with simple white backgrounds.

Cecil Beaton was appointed official portrait photographer for the Queen’s Coronation in 1953. The display includes several of these and includes family groups of the Gloucesters and Kents and you can take a break and sit down to watch the silent loop of the ceremony itself.

Have a happy Jubilee Weekend and God Save the Queen!

In The Magician’s Footsteps : Words, Land and Landscape

Harewood House. Today’s main entrance looks north and not over the park.

Every October The Ilkley Literature Festival in Yorkshire features a vast programme of talks, discussions and events from which it is difficult sometimes to choose just a couple. This year I had no problem with my selection and today’s choice includes more than one love of mine – books, country walking and a historic house visit: the ‘Capability’ Brown Walk.

Looking south over the parkland from the Terrace.

A mixed group of us met on Sunday morning in the grounds of Harewood House, just a few miles from Leeds, to follow on the heels of Head Gardener, Trevor Nicholson and author of the book “The Omnipotent Magician: Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, 1716-1783″, Jane Brown (no relation). We were all there to find out more about the eighteenth century landscape designer extraordinaire – ‘Capability’ Brown. Naturally, the focus today was Brown’s influence on the superb outlook from Harewood (pronounced Harwood) House. My pictures just don’t do the scene justice.

We were told that the ornamental parkland was set out in the 18th century by Brown. He came to Harewod in 1758 and proceeded to wave his magic wand over the next few years (helped by his Foremen and a large band of local labourers). This parkland is a fine example of Brown’s characteristic arrangements – native trees, gently sweeping hillsides, a lake. He got rid of all field boundaries and each and every tree is located just where Brown decided it would have the most impact. Hahas were dug in order to restrict the movement of the sheep, deer and other animals.

The Haha also forms a drainage conduit.

The original manor house (Gawthorpe Hall) had been demolished and during the time that Brown was working here a new house was being built by John Carr of York and Robert Adam on a spur of land looking south. Part of Brown’s plan was to create a carriage drive to the house in order to impress visitors arriving from London.

After admiring the view we were taken down this drive (which is not open to the general public) from where we gained glimpses of the house as visitors would have done since the 1770s. Brown’s plan was to improve on nature and it resulted in our typical English countryside. This is recognised as a truly English style and contrasted greatly with the French formal style. Of course, later the Victorians made changes to both the house and the gardens, but fortunately not to the park.

The Carriage Drive today as it emerges from the woodland.

Not only did he pay attention to views and aspects but also planned cascades under bridges for the sound effects! Everything was done to impress visitors.

Cascade by the Rough Bridge

Brown seems to have had a boundless supply of energy. He travelled around the country visiting projects, extolling on the virtues of views and their ‘capability’ for improvement, collecting his fees and, according to Jane, took on at least 200 major projects.

Our walk took us across the fields by the lake in front of the house and through some delightfully wooded gardens back to the house itself where a sandwich lunch was served in the Steward’s Room where “Capability’ himself would have been entertained on his visits to Harewood. Yet again no photography is allowed in the House!