Aristocrats at Play (possibly you?)

While you are nestled in your country estate for the winter, why not take some tips from the English nobles for planning summer outings?

 In June you might mark your social calendar for the Derby and Royal Ascot races. Ladies, remember that if you’re watching from the Royal Enclosure, you’ll need a dress at least knee-length or longer with shoulder straps at least an inch in width.  Gentlemen, don’t forget your waistcoat, tie, top hat and black shoes.


In mid-June you might grab an $800 ticket to attend the opening party of the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition.  You can carry your cocktails and canapés around the ice sculptures and live music to study the decidedly avant-garde art that will surprise you and put a sizable dent in your credit card should you wish to purchase some.

At the start of July you will want to watch the five days of the Henley Royal Regatta.  This rowing event on the River Thames draws international crews—and you and your elegantly-dressed friends.  July could also find you drifting southward for yacht-racing at Cowes on the Isle of Wight.  Cowes, like Helen of Troy, launches at least 1,000 boats during its week of racing.  However, should the tang of salt air and the vision of hundreds of white sails skimming across the water tire you, just take your tailored white cotton shirt and blue chinos to one of the bouquets of jazz concerts and cocktail parties that line the harbor.

Saturated by nautical life, you and your friends can fly to Scotland to begin shooting on the “Glorious 12th” of August—the opening of grouse season.  In 1911, the Tatler magazine reported that $65 billion was spent on shooting alone.*   The speed with which servants could re-load guns allowed the group with Lord Burnham and George V to bag a record of nearly 4,000 grouse in one day in 1913. **

Perhaps you are sympathetic to the grouse and wish to avoid this blood sport?  Easily done.  Focus on the “Saturday to Mondays” (not weekends) for teas, lawn sports, and elegant dinners. If you are a lady, do bring twenty-five changes of clothing. *** If you are hosting, be sure to have “plenty of coal in the grate, fresh ribbons threaded through the hems of sheets, clean blotting paper, new pens, a full ink bottle and various sizes of writing paper at the desk; fresh flowers, perhaps corsages for the ladies (a speciality at the Sackville’s Knole)” and reading matter gauged to your guests’ taste.+  Insure that your maids unpack everyone’s clothing carefully as they place it in drawers and closets.++


Probably, though, you will want to spend a good bit of summer on horseback.  Polo, preserving some elements of the calvary charge, has divisions called chukkers.  Point-to-point racing evolved from steeplechasing, the challenge to race from one church towards another distant church steeple, leaping over walls, ditches, or any other obstacles in the way.  Perhaps the most elegant equestrian event is fox-hunting with its hunting pinks (actually coats that were red in color and evolved from military uniforms), yelping hounds, and the clarion call of the horn.  No actual fox may be involved with this event now but, instead, a scent that has been dragged over hill and dale. Enthusiasts still “ride to hounds” five or six times a week.  The Duke of Rutland’s family could always tell whether their chaplain was hunting that day by the speed of his morning prayers and the fact that he might be wearing boots and spurs under his cassock. Horse folk are nothing if not dedicated.  On the final day of her life, Lord Salisbury’s grandmother–eighty-five years old and nearly blind–had herself lashed onto her horse and was accompanied by a groom who called as she approached a fence, “’Jump, dammit, my Lady, jump.’” +++ 

Your summer, alas, will come to an end.  Fortunately this unhappy realization is eased by the fact that in late August you can return to the south of England to cheer at the sunset event of The Season, the races at Goodwood.  Gentlemen, remember your cravats or silk ties and ladies, your fascinators.  The Gordon Prosecco Package might be just the thing to ease the thought of autumn’s approach.

So settle in before the winter’s fire with a glass of hot mulled wine and plan away.

Next Time:  Finding The Astonishing Mitfords



Photo credits:  Nancy Parrish

*2016 conversion; Warwick, Sarah.  Upstairs and Downstairs.  London:  Carlton Publishing

            Group, 2011: 82.

* Aslet, Clive.  The Last Country Houses.  New Haven and London:  Yale University 

Press, 1982: Aslet 71.

** Aslet, Clive.  The Last Country Houses.  New Haven and London:  Yale University 

Press, 1982: 58

+ MacColl, Gail and Carol McD. Wallace.  To Marry an English Lord: Tales of Weath and

 Marriage, Sex and Snobbery.   New York:  Workman Publishing Company, Inc., 

1989, 2012: 294.

++Smith, Sally Bedell.  Reflected Glory:  The Life of Pamela Churchill Harriman. 

 New York:  Simon & Schuster, 1996: 45.

+++Tuchman, Barbara.  The Proud Tower:  A Portrait of the World Before the War, 

1890-1914.   The Library of America, 1962; 2012: 591.

Rambling in Cumbria

If you are lucky, you’ve wakened in the Lake District this morning to the delicious smells of a full English breakfast—eggs, sausages, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, baked beans—wafting up from Margaret’s kitchen in the Dower (Widow’s) House on the grounds of Wray Castle.  Because this particular Bed and Breakfast is located on the west shore of Lake Windermere, you can stand at your bedroom window surveying a crisp frost on the meadow leading down to the lake and heavy white clouds promising snow for the high eastern fells.

You pull on your walking boots.  It will be a glorious day for a ramble.

The Lake District National Park is a walker’s heaven:  900 square miles of beautiful protected valleys, lakes, mountains, and—most importantly for you today— public walking paths by the hundreds.

Truly athletic hikers set the lifetime goal of walking “The Wainwrights,” 214 peaks over 1,000 feet in height, all mapped and beautifully hand-drawn by Alfred Wainwright in his hikers’ guides to the Lake District.  

Wainwright from The Telegraph
Wainwright drawing

Today, though, you’ve decided to be a leisurely rambler:  you will to walk to Near Sawrey.   The 2-hour journey by way of Cuckoo Brow Lane begins on a very flat path right beside the lake.  Few boats are out at this time of year, so you find yourself studying the far hilltops dusted with that snow promised earlier.  After about a half hour, you turn right, and make a gradual ascent to Cuckoo Brow Lane. All along the way Herdwick sheep huddle against stone walls, gathering heat from the sun-warmed stones.  You cross a wooden stile, that smart invention to keep the sheep in but allow the walker to pass.  After an hour, you decide to sit and relax beside Moss Eccles Tarn (small, glacier-carved pool) as writer Beatrix Potter did.  The air is sharp with winter’s tang, and you congratulate yourself on dressing warmly.

Then you walk down the small country road to the village of Near Sawrey.  With a sigh of pleasure you settle yourself at a heavy oak table at the Tower Bank Arms and order a steaming bowl of barley soup or a tasty shepherd’s pie (lamb pot pie topped by buttery mashed potatoes).  You do have a hard time deciding on a beer brewed by the Drunken Duck or a Three Threads Porter brewed in Hawkshead.  Fortunately, you won’t go wrong either way.

After your lunch you take an hour in the cottage of Hilltop Farm where you recognize the exact models for Beatrix Potter’s children’s book:  horse brasses on the timbered mantle, a charming old grandfather’s clock on the stair landing, the bee skep in the garden, and more.  

Finally, you decide to reward yourself by ambling downhill to the ferry at Bowness, ride across to the town of Windermere, and catch the boat for a ride around the lake and back to the landing at Wray Castle.  

You’ve been clever enough to book dinner with Margaret as well, so after you shower and change, you will sit down to a most delectable dinner.  And there, dining in the bay window, you can watch the peaceful evening fall over what you now claim as your fells and lake.

Next Time:  Aristocrats at Play


Photo credits:  Nancy Parrish; Wainwright drawing from

Strolling Around The Lovely Lake District

If you’ve ever pulled on a sturdy pair of walking boots, you’re the sort of person who would enjoy the Lake District, located in the northwestern corner of England in the county of Cumbria. 

After landing at the Manchester airport, you can walk a few yards past the customs check to catch a very convenient train that will take you northward into the Land between the Lakes, a place with a language and rhythm all its own.  Looking out the window of your railcar, you begin to see miles and miles of dry stone walls held together not with mortar but by the skill of clever stonemasons.  Then the land begins to undulate into tall fells (high moors) down which sparkling becks (streams) come babbling.  And everywhere, everywhere you see thousands of sheep scattered over the verdant hillsides in wooly puffs of white, gray, and black. 

Upon your arrival at the tiny local train station, you exit and follow the pull of gravity down the clustered streets bordered by greystone buildings—outdoor outfitters, B&Bs with inviting rooms to rent, shops where you can buy a cup of tea with a scone smothered in Devon cream and strawberry jam—until you reach the majestic body of water known as Lake Windermere.  There, you draw in your breath and understand what has moved writers from Beatrix Potter to William Wordsworth and artists from JMW Turner to John Ruskin.  You find there’s nothing more you’d like in the world than to become a fell-walker and make your way over stiles and through kissing-gates from quaint village to quaint village across the district.  You’ll visit Near Sawrey to find Hilltop Farm and identify every scene from the Peter Rabbit stories; you’ll study the purple foxglove and golden daffodils at Dove Cottage in tiny Grasmere as Wordsworth did.

           Many older customs are still kept in this countryside as well, one of which I offer here from “A Cumbrian Christmas Memory” written by English expatriate Liz Addison:

“I myself have failed spectacularly at being British over this festive period [of Christmas].  Have the makings of mince pies in the larder and lard for the pastry in the fridge, but still no pies.  And not a peep of of a Yule Log.  And I bought three tiny imported Christmas puddings from Foods of All Nations.  Bought.

My Mother, who lives in a constant two-year rotation of Xmas Puds [puddings/desserts], would be horrified.  Hers are wrapped in the cloth of Baby Jesus and placed in a cold corner of the Cold Room for two years.  A cold room could be any room in a Cumbrian household.  But her designated cold room is the one across from the kitchen.  We would probably call it a boot room.  So in reality the Xmas Pud sits amongst an array of Wellies [boots], wedged up against the Sloe Gin (which is also in a two-year rotation) and the new kid on the block—the Christmas CAKE.

This person arrives each June.  In a mixing bowl. And it is fussed over for the next seven months.  Right up to the day. The Day.  The day when she will cut into it and pronounce it, “Too dry…,” her words tailing off into emptiness.  Or in other years it has been “Too wet….” Or too heavy.  Or sometimes the icing itself gets cast the culprit. Once even the marzipan. Not in all my years has the Christmas Cake ever been deemed OK.  And it does not stop there.  Because, after we had bolstered her flagging spirit by refuting the charges against the Cake, we would then have to battle the Martyrdom of the Goose….

Because in truth my Mother is a superb cook of Yuletide tradition.  And not a jot rubbed off on me.”

‘Makes you want to cozy in to a stone cottage, bask before the warmth of a crackling fire, and listen to Christmas stories, doesn’t it?  However, before you settle in with your mince pie, you’ve got to earn it; so next time we will walk in earnest around the Lake District.

Next time:  Rambling in Cumbria

Photo credits:  Nancy Parrish

Naughtiness Among The Nobles

Large country houses were ready sites for romantic trysts. One story from the 1890s told how Lord Charles Beresford “let himself into what he believed was his mistress’s bedroom and with a lusty cry of ‘Cock-a-doodle-doo!’ leaped into the bed–only to discover that it was occupied by the Bishop of Chester and his wife.” * 

To avoid such confusions, the country house Wentworth Woodhouse took the helpful step of giving its guests silver boxes containing personalized confetti, which they could sprinkle through the corridors to help find their way back to, or between, rooms.”*  Some houses had name slots placed on the doors for ease of location.  Another device was to have a bell “rung at 6 a.m. to warn lovers it was time to find their own rooms before the servants brought their tea.”**

A more risqué episode concerned Jennie Churchill (Winston’s mother) who conceived a passion for horseback riding.  Her favorite riding partner was John Strange Jocelyn, a handsome, dashing man who lived with his wife on a 9,000 acres family estate in Ireland. It was said “He was the kind of man who could climb up the drainpipe to a bedroom window, and did.”***

On February 4, 1880, Jennie gave birth in Dublin to a second son.  The boy was always called Jack, but his proper name was John Strange Spencer-Churchill.

Poorer families could not sustain the taking-on of any extramarital children.  By contrast, the wealthy mainly cared about the legitimacy of the eldest son, the heir.  As the Duchess of Marlborough Consuelo acidly put it, she had done her marital duty when she had produced “an heir and a spare” and so was then free to do as she pleased.


Next time, a change of pace: Strolling Around The Lovely Lake District


*Bryson, Bill.  At Home:  A Short History of Private Life.  New York:  Anchor Books,

 2010; 106.

***Martin, Ralph G.  Jennie:  The Life of Lady Randolph Churchill, 1854-1895;  134.

Englewood Cliffs, N. J., Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1969. 

**Warwick, Sarah.  Upstairs and Downstairs.  London:  Carlton Publishing Group, 2011;


Photo credit:  internet free use image of Jennie Jerome Churchill



The Channel Islands. Where are they?!

Have you ever heard of The Channel Islands?

If you take a sailboat and travel northward from sunrise to sunset, you can sail from the Channel Islands to Britain in about two days.  If you choose to sail south or east, you can land in France in half the time.

 Despite this nearness to France, though, the Channel Islands—Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, and dozens of tiny islands in the English Channel—are British with delicious French undertones. 

In 1066 William the Conquerer added these islands to his British kingdom; but when the French reclaimed Normandy from England in 1204, they somehow neglected to reconquer the Channel Islands as well.

So these islands have grown up English—Queen Elizabeth II is their monarch—but with food, language, and culture greatly influenced by France.  They are governed collectively as a French governing district called a Bailiwick, not as an English shire or county.  

Their official language is English, but French cuisine and French culture have been a graceful influence.  Victor Hugo, famed author of Le Misérables, lived fifteen years on Guernsey in a fascinating house that is well worth visiting.  

More recently, the best-selling book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (authors Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows) is a love story that also recounts how islanders kept up their spirits during the real-life German occupation that lasted from June 1940 to May 1945.  You can still see and explore German bunkers dotted along the coastlines facing north to Britain.

Most travelers don’t even know about the Bailiwick. So if you’d like a truly remarkable vacation that combines the beauty of an island, the cuisine of France, and the richness of Anglo-French history, consider taking a flight to The Channel Islands.  You will be charmed.



Next time:  Naughtiness Among The Nobles


Photo credit:  Nancy Parrish

Winston Churchill, Rock Star


Churchill’s fourth youthful adventure—as correspondent during the Boer Wars—finally gained for him the widespread fame that he desired so passionately.  The British were fighting Boers (Dutch settlers) in southern Africa to possess the gold and diamond mines that had been recently discovered. Churchill, now out of the military, set sail with his valet for Cape Town in October, three days after the first shots were fired.  A friend from India days, Captain Aylmer Haldane, invited Winston to travel on a train with troops who were to explore the Boer lines.  Predictably, the Boers piled rocks on the tracks, wrecked the train, and killed or captured the survivors.   Churchill, now captured, walked the sixty-mile trek to Elandslaagte and then went by train to the prisoner-of-war camp in Pretoria.

 Haldane and another soldier soon conceived a plan to escape by climbing from a latrine over a remote wall.  Churchill joined them— in fact, he was able to escape successfully while the other two could not find a safe opportunity.  With little food, no map, and no knowledge of the language Africaans, Churchill began his escape strategy by boldly strolling through the city of Pretoria. There he hopped on a train and rode out of the city.  After days of wandering, he desperately approached a house and had the fortune to discover the only British house for twenty miles.(Manchester 308)  They hid him for three nights in a mine.  In the meanwhile, the British press had gotten news of the escape, publicized his likely punishment of being shot if captured again, and the public anxiously sought news of his progress.  His saviors conceived the plan of smuggling Churchill in a consignment of wool bales. When he finally passed into safe Portuguese East Africa, he went to the British Consulate and shouted for assistance, “’I am Winston Bloody Churchill!  Come down here at once.’”*  

He was a handsome young aristocrat whose pluck had won him freedom:  he was a full-fledged hero in England.  He was confident now that, like his father, he had secured a place for himself in the government of the Empire.

Britain would provide him with adventures and fame to lift him to the forefront of world history.  The Boer War had made Winston an Imperial Rock Star.

Next Time:  The Channel Islands.  Where are they?!

Interesting note:  The Boer Wars were sometimes called the Khaki Wars because these were the first conflicts in which the British had shed their traditional red uniforms for the safer, more functional properties of Khaki. 

For more information, see:

Churchill in the Boer War


Photo Credit: Pinterest

*Manchester, William.  The Last Lion:  Winston Spencer Churchill, Visions of Glory, 

1874-1932.  New York:  Little, Brown and Company, 1983; pp. 301, 308, 314.

The Rise of Jennie Churchill’s son, Winston: A Future Prime Minister Running Headlong into Adventure

It sounded like a mother indulging a small child:

“I understand all right–& of course darling it is natural that you shd want to travel & I won’t throw cold water on yr little plans,” wrote Jennie Churchill to her son.*  

Twenty-year-old Winston was bored and—with ten weeks before reporting to duty in India with the Fourth Hussars—concocted a “little plan” with his friend Reginald Barnes: they would sail to Havana and observe the bloody civil war there.  His deeply romantic view of battle drew him to Cuba like steel to a magnet.

Jennie pulled the necessary strings with her various lovers, and Winston soon blissfully found himself under fire:  ‘There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at without result,’” he wrote. Flying bullets are “‘a sound in the air sometimes like a sigh, sometimes like a whistle, and at others like the buzz of an offended hornet.’”*

Winston and Reginald made it safely through their three-week stay with three significant results for Churchill.  First, his boyhood interest in war and strategies found adult expression. Second, his five lively reports for The Daily Graphic were well received and encouraged him to begin a career of writing that would span over five decades.  Third, in he acquired a habit that became his trademark:  he loved smoking Cuban cigars.

One battle wasn’t enough to satisfy, though.  Two years later in 1897 while Churchill was back in England enjoying The Season, an uprising broke out near the Malakand Pass in northwest India. He dropped all plans, made the 2,000 mile trip back to India in five days, and got leave from his regiment so he could again come under hot fire, again as a correspondent.*  His reports described the tension of being stalked by native fighters, the torture endured if captured, the skill of the British military.  Afterwards, Jennie used her influence to get his war dispatches published as The Story of the Malakand Field Force, a book so popular that even the Prince of Wales complimented him on it.

 The next year Winston had had it with mere reporting: he wanted to be officially in the fighting.  Sir Herbert Kitchener was leading troops to avenge the butchering of General Charles Gordon and his men at the town of Khartoum in the Sudan.  This conflict was irresistible to Churchill, so he requested to be assigned to Kitchener’s force. Kitchener refused. Undeterred, Churchill asked the Prince of Wales–and even the Prime Minister who finally agreed to help a young man who was only a lieutenant. He later wrote gripping descriptions of the arid desert wastelands, the sinister dervishes who opposed them, and cavalry charges where the enemy would wait patiently on the sand “to hamstring the horses with their knives.”** 

Churchill thought it all “’magnificent’” and praised the “persevering British people who, often affronted, usually get their own way in the end’”–as he himself did.*

He could scarcely believe his good luck when another large conflict came.  This war would make him a rock star of the British Empire.

Next Time: Winston Churchill, Rock Star

Blog Note:  One last adventure of the youthful Winston Churchill will be described in the next blog and then we will let him alone for a while.  We are following all aspects of England here, not just the military and political.

Manchester, William.  The Last Lion:  Winston Spencer Churchill, Visions of Glory, 

1874-1932.  New York:  Little, Brown and Company, 1983; pp. 223, 228, 251, 280.

**Wright, William.  Omdurman 1898:  Battle Story. Gloucestershire:  The History Press, 2012; p. 108.