Sunday, May 20, 2007

WHO IS MERIEL?

I was right about the weather. You don’t get that green velvet undergrowth without regular supplies of every type of rain - soft and gentle (so good for the skin) and torrential downpours. Long after the rain has stopped the trees will shake their skirts and give you a gentle reminder. The two bridle paths at the end of our lane were completely flooded all week. However, passing through the little blue gate of Lew Quarry cottage was like stepping into a Beatrix Potter storybook. There were colour co-ordinated teddies on the beds and real live baby Peter Rabbits in the field with Squirrel Nutkins on the lawn.

The cottage was comfy and cosy with lots of pictures, one of which was of Sabine Baring-Gould 1834-1924 who had been the Squire of the Lewtrenchard Estate which consists of a manor house and gardens, a lake where the quarry had been and some cottages, one of which was ours. Something about his face made me want to find out more so I did a bit of sleuthing.

The Reverend Sabine Baring – Gould is best remembered for the hymns he wrote: ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ and ‘Now the Day is done’ but there was more to him than that. He didn’t have much schooling as he travelled with his father, but at fifteen he could speak a number of languages. He was ordained as an Anglican priest and worked in the north of England. In 1881 he inherited Lewtrenchard and was Squire and Parson till his death.

When he was in Yorkshire he met Grace – a simple Yorkshire lass, fell in love with her and sent her away to be educated before marrying her. One wonders what was of most use to her in later life – her natural northern nous or her imposed gentrification. Most of her life was taken up with the begetting and nurturing of fifteen children and I like to think that her Yorkshire pudding and parkin would be second to none.

Sabine and Grace’s story inspired George Bernard Shaw to write ‘Pygmalion’ which later morphed into ’My Fair Lady’. Sabine was one of life’s eccentrics and caused John Betjeman – himself a ‘character’ to say:

“What curate in an industrial parish in the North today would dare to single out a mill girl and have her sent to a place where she could learn to speak in an educated style and then marry her? "

He was said to have purloined ancient stones from other churches and placed them in his own and at one stage in his long life he was a teacher at Hurst Pierpont and taught with his pet bat on his shoulder.
Sabine's work as a rector enabled him to continue his love of travelling and he wrote many novels following his stay in a particular area. He published over 400 books and articles on subjects so diverse as Icelandic folk lore and candle snuffers. His passion was the collecting of traditional folk songs of Devon and Cornwall and there was a CD in the cottage illustrating this.

The Manor is now a swish hotel and as I knew there was a portrait of Grace in the dining room we arranged to have dinner there. When we booked, the receptionist said,
‘Oh you’re in Meriel’s cottage!’
I had already noticed a seat in the garden inscribed, in gratitude to Meriel from her four children. I had to discover who she was.

Dinner at Lewtrenchard was excellent – with a very attentive staff, and Grace’s portrait did not disappoint. She was simplicity itself in a plain black dress flanked by portraits of two Reynolds type beauties who highlighted her lack of artifice. The grounds and parkland were beautiful but work was afoot and I couldn't find the lake.

On our last day the sun shone and Helen – the friendly caretaker - invited me to walk up her long drive (next door) and follow a path which would take me to see the lake. Sabine – she told me - designed her ‘Hansel and Gretel’ type house over breakfast. Unfortunately my camera was recharging so I missed recording that and the opaline beauty of the lake, glimpsed way below through the trees.

And Merisl? Meriel is alive and well and living in America. She is American – her father settled there and she is the great granddaughter of Sabine and Grace. She is the owner of the estate which is leased to the hotel people and she owns our cottage. Twice a year she comes to stay which is one of the reasons it feel such a loving home. Thank you Meriel for letting us share your enchanted cottage.

PS We enjoyed the Lydford Gorge and the best value eating place was the Harris Arms at Portgate.

28 comments:

The Turmanators said...

What a wonderful taste of England this morning! I've never been, but your post takes me there in my imagination, at least. Sounds like a wonderful spot.

Michele sent me!

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

What a wonderful history surrounding your cottage! I scrolled down to see all the pictures too, and it is so very beautiful there....I particulatly loved the view of the rolling hills with those beautiful trees...! And to think that Merial is still alive and living here in the United States...Sabine was quit something, wasn't he? I love that it is believed that he and his "educated" wife are believed to be the basis of Shaw's "PYGMALION"....I bet it was very very hard to leave this lovely place and the surrounding are, too!

Nikki-ann said...

It sounds like such a beautiful place and a lovely story behind it too.

kenju said...

Yes, Pat, I was right there with you too. what a charming place it must be.

PI said...

Hi Turmanators and welcome!

Naomi: I was tickled pink that she was American and hadn't sold the old family home. Funny if the weather had been better I probably wouldn't have probed so much - except that I am congenitally nosey.

Judy: I wish I'd known you were there - I could have done with a companion to tackle the whole of the Lydford Gorge.

amy said...

William Morris and his wife Jane Burden are also considered to be a possible inspiration for the Pygmalion story, as Morris paid for working-class Jane to be educated before they were married (apparently it took so well that her nickname was 'duchess'). so maybe it was the 'done thing' amongst well-meaning eccentrics of that time? Sounds like it worked out better for Baring-Gould than it did for poor Morris, though.
Morris was born in 1834, too, and had a real love of Icelandic fokelore and sagas, and felt strongly about the preservation of traditional songs and customs from closer to home... i wonder what they would have made of each other if they'd met?

i particularly liked this story about Baring-Gould, for some reason (found in Wikipedia, so -- taken with a grain of salt): it is also said that, at one children's party, he called out to a young child: "And whose little girl are you?" Bursting into tears, the girl sobbed: "I'm yours, Daddy."

the cottage looks implausibly lovely -- and that crazy English green all around! we don't get that shade of green here, really -- it's something about the vegetation itself combined with a certain quality of the light, and even when we're not in the middle of a drought it just doesn't happen. i'd always wondered, as a child, why pictures (paintings and photographs) of the UK had such an odd (and oddly consistent) colour distortion... after all, i'd seen those same species of tree, and they looked nothing like that!
and then i saw it for myself in my early 20s, and realised that trees and fields and things really can be that colour. how peculiar! it was very pretty, but a bit too... intensely verdant for my antipodean sensibilities. it just didn't feel real, which made me a bit edgy when i was surrounded by it; but i still think it's a gorgeous colour in pictures!

sorry -- that was a bit long, wasn't it?

PI said...

Amy: that is SO interesting and how odd that they share the same birth date. I'm familiar with his name with regard to wallpaper etc but woefully ignorant about much else. I really love it when I feel you are paying attention:)
The intense green is certainly prevalent in Devon, Ireland and much of the UK but there are also parts much more arid and colourless. Its funny the effect surroundings can have on people. I once proudly showed off the Lake District to a French boy friend and he said 'Oh God it makes me feel sea-sick!'

Eryl Shields said...

I wish my husband had sent me off to be educated before he married me. Actually, thinking about it, I wish I'd sent him off too. A custom that needs to be revived I think.

FOUR DINNERS said...

beautiful beautiful beautiful. My next lottery is comin' in and we're movin there. (Might retire there in 5 as Caz loves the countryside)

PI said...

Hi Eryl! I always seem to marry someone who's TONS cleverer than I am!

4D :days? Months? Years? Take your wellies!

amy said...

oh, i'm always paying attention!
maybe i should have tried venturing out to one of the 'arid bits' when i had the chance... but i had no idea such places existed over there!
Morris's political writings are well worth a read -- they're mostly taken from speeches he gave to craft guilds and art schools and the like, so they're not at all dry. i first read them years and years ago, and then never really thought about them actively again... it's only now that i'm re-reading them for my Masters that i realise what a huge influence his gentle and generous Fabianism has had on my politics and values; so many of the things i'm accustomed to thinking are 'just obvious' are actually from Morris.

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

I've had to call my husband in to read this post. What a fabulous history - what a fabulous story!

You, dear Pat, are a one-woman tourist-guide for the lesser-known corners of England. Have you thought of travel writing before? You have such a lovely personal touch with it.

Drama Queen said...

Ahh I am so upset about the sun disappearing but the rain does kind of make me want to go out and do a dance in it.

PI said...

amy; you are going to educate me if you're not careful but you can't marry me:) Maybe arid was a little strong but once when I had a smart Paco Rabanne style mack when I lived in the SE I didn't wear it for a year it was so dry!

Ooooh Sam - I hope he(hubby) wasn't disappointed. Re travel writing - some years ago - when I didn't mind being in a slush pile, I had some travel articles on Greece published but as BB King sings 'The thrill has gone!'

DQ: now that's enough of that!

Guyana-Gyal said...

The honeymoon blog...that's what I always think of this blog as, Pat :-) Don't mind me, I'm an incurable romantic!

PI said...

GG: I'll tell MTL. That'll put a sparkle in his eyes!

Nea said...

I like Sabine Baring-Gould.
Next time I go into a classroom I shall try and coax one of our bats on to my shoulder, that should grab their attention.

And giving Grace the opportunity of education before marrying her rather than after, must have given her a certain amount of freedom even in that day and age.

I think I must be a romantic too.

PI said...

There are a lot of us about Nea!

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

Pat, you amaze me. A published travel-writer too! You've definitely made sure life's been full!

The hubby was delighted by the story of Sabine and Grace and the bat-part. It all works towards my plan to take the girls on a thorough tour of Britain in a few years when they can appreciate it a bit more. I'm taking notes on all your walks and visits, you know!

PI said...

Sam: hope I'll still be around and compos mentis.

Shane said...

This is a really good illustration of what historical background can add to our experiences of place. Ta.

Kim Ayres said...

Idyllic.

PI said...

Thanks Kim and Shane.

R. Sherman said...

Great post and pics. I'm glad you had fun.

Cheers.

Sim said...

Pat - you do wonders for me. The way you write reminds me of the way England should still be, steeped in history, calm and collected witha cup of tea at the end of the day. That post really reminded me of my Aunt Mabel, especially given the Gorge. She always used to tell us the history behind a place when we used to travel. I miss her more each day.

PI said...

Thanks Randall. I try not to let you down.

PI said...

Sim: I'm honoured to be classed with Aunt Mabel

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear you had a happy time. Many thanks. The HH team.