I visited Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire a few years ago, mostly because I happened to be in the area and knew that my favorite portrait of Charles II was there. I’ve always wanted to write a Restoration-era romance, so I wanted to see a portrait of Charles first-hand. It’s amazing to me how seeing a portrait painted from the living, breathing man made him seem so much more real. Charles certainly looked impressive in the painting, with heavy-lidded eyes and an expression into which the imagination can read almost anything. I can see why he was as popular with the ladies as they were with him!
I haven’t written that Restoration-era romance, but
Gawthorpe Hall provided inspiration for another story. It’s a beautiful Elizabethan building, but part of it was built much earlier. In the 14th century, a peel tower was built on the site to keep watch for Scots raiders. At some point it became the property of the Shuttleworth family, who incorporated the medieval tower when constructing the Elizabethan manor in the early 1600s. Later a Shuttleworth married a Kay, and the property stayed in the family until 1970. The house has some fascinating features such as a 400-year-old frieze, antique furniture, a fabric and needlework collection, and a lovely parterre garden.
One thing I really enjoyed was how the mottoes of the two families are displayed around the top of the old peel tower. (I guess some of these must have been added later, because the Kay-Shuttleworth connection didn’t take place until the 19th century.) The Shuttleworth motto is Latin: Iusticia et Prudentia (Justice and Prudence), while the Kay motto looks very Anglo-Saxon to me: Kynd Kynn Knawne Kepe, which as far as I can tell means something like “take care of your own.” I spent a long time looking at these mottoes and trying to figure out what the Kay motto meant – I love Anglo-Saxon and have my own Anglo-Saxon grammar and reader, although I don’t get to spend much time playing with them.
I couldn’t resist putting a family motto in my Christmas novella of a few years ago, A Lady’s Lesson in Seduction. I gave the Marquis of Warbury a Latin motto, which is found in every room of his lovely old Elizabethan house. But here’s the catch: it’s only half of a motto―the second half―and no one knows what the first half was or whether it even existed.
More about the area: a servant of the Shuttleworths was one of the accusers of the Pendle witches, who were executed in 1612; two of the convicted witches lived on Shuttleworth land. Another fact: the Bronte family lived not far away in West Yorkshire, and Charlotte Bronte visited Gawthorpe Hall in 1850. Wycoller House, a nearby ruin, is believed by some to be the inspiration for Ferndean Manor in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. (It wasn’t a ruin at the time.)
All in all, fascinating places which get the imagination going. Do old places stir your imagination, too?