Deep into the heart of Buckinghamshire there is a beautiful red brick house that was once the home of Benjamin Disraeli, Queen Victoria’s flamboyant and controversial Prime Minister. He was many things to many people. An outsider. A ladies’ man. A shrewd politician. A royal favourite. Much was said and written about him in his lifetime and afterwards, some of it far from complimentary, but I believe that the opening paragraph of the Hughenden guidebook sums him up beautifully:
“Disraeli’s Jewish heritage and his lack of public schooling or aristocratic background always set him apart. Being regarded as an outsider and an upstart may have deepened his determination to succeed, but he suffered both mentally and physically from the slurs against him. He had a deep respect for the aristocracy, perhaps partly because he was not born into it. The aristocracy, like the church and the monarchy, was the structure that could create an ordered, responsible, and therefore strong, society. Disraeli was at heart a romantic and a traditionalist, but he also believed that ‘change is inevitable in a progressive country. Change is constant.’” (‘Disraeli and Hughenden’, National Trust Guidebook, p.3)
To be honest, the Victorian age holds little attraction for me. Despite its many achievements, I tend to see it as the time when the ‘green and pleasant land’ was irreversibly altered by the ‘dark Satanic mills’ and when the Georgian joie de vivre was replaced by moralising prudery. But every age has its shining stars, and Disraeli was definitely one of them.
His home is warm and welcoming, and comfort rather than grandeur is the order of the day. The bright drawing room, the extensive library, his wife’s cheerful bedroom, his own small and very pleasant study and the well-appointed garden were a delight to visit.
But the visit was made even more enjoyable by the company. To the great surprise of the National Trust volunteers and the other visitors’, in the early days of February a large party of people dressed in Regency finery descended upon them.
“Are you reenactors? Why are you dressed up? Is this an organised event?” they asked, only to be told that we were not reenactors, not those of us who went to Hughenden, but it was an organised event alright. Perfectly organised in minute and exquisite detail by the lovely Sophie Andrews from ‘Laughing with Lizzie’ and by another dear friend, Emma Theobald, who jointly put together the best Regency house party ever!
The visit to Hughenden in costume was just one of the treats, and several more followed throughout the week. The location was a treat in itself, a beautiful house that seemed purpose-built for a week of time-travel. And what a week it was! Amateur theatricals, musical soirees, card parties, a Gothic Night, fine dining and my-oh-my, The Ball!
In the mornings the gentlemen did not go out to shoot, but I am told that one fine day they went to settle a dispute in the time-honoured fashion with a duel in the garden (I could kick myself for missing that!!)
At least I did not miss the dancing and all the other fun. As per, Kitty and Lydia danced all the dances, and Mary none 🙂 (but that was no surprise, because she wasn’t even there). Lizzy was of course – how could she not be? – and she positively glowed and made everybody happy. Lydia sung like an angel and left us speechless with delight. Miss Woodhouse set a very good example and stood up with Mr. Knightley, and was brilliant at organising everything. Miss Marianne Dashwood danced beautifully and, on Gothic Night, regaled us with some very scary stories told with great passion. Elinor and Anne Elliot were closer than sisters. Mary Crawford’s laughter was contagious. Lucy Steele was a very dab hand with a needle and Mr Tilney a wizard in the kitchen. Mr and Mrs Gardiner danced to ‘Sir Roger de Coverley’ with so much energy! Catherine Morland was amazing at amateur theatricals, as were Colonel Fitzwilliam and his delightful lady. They both had some wonderful stories to tell and could teach the admiring multitude not only about connubial felicity, but also how to dance the rock-and-roll 🙂
So we were not sticklers for historical accuracy at all times, nor for Regency propriety – scandalously, Captain Tilney waltzed with Mary Crawford, then Lydia, then Elinor as well!
But it was wonderful to find so many kindred spirits gathered together, and I for one can barely wait for the chance to do it all over again! It will not be as soon as we would wish (I wish it were tomorrow!) but we do have the Alton Ball to look forward too, and Bath in September. Hope to see you there. I’ll be the one in the burgundy dress – unless I get sewing really sharpish!