I realized this morning that I hadn't caught up the day-trip we took to Erddig, the National Trust estate in North Wales. No time like the present - or better late than never, depending how you look at it.
Erddig is a large house in the middle of nowhere - it's near the city of Wrexham, which was founded by the time of the Roman occupation, if not before, so it's not really 'nowhere.' But unlike so many of the grand estates and manor houses that are within a carriage-ride of London, this one is far in the northwest, which makes it a little unusual.
Wales is 'Cymru' in Welsh; it sounds sort of like 'CHEM-ree,' with the 'chem' of chemistry and a just-about long E at the end. Erddig is pronounced kind of like 'ERTH-igk' - Welsh is beyond me. Double 'dd' is usually a 'th' sound, and final 'g' is a kind of cross between a hard 'g' and a sort-of swallowed 'k.' As opposed to the 'ick' sound made by 'ck' in combination. Double 'll' is even harder: Wikipedia says (and I find this to be true!) that the double 'll' sound has 'no English equivalent.' Amen to that. A good link I found to Welsh pronunciation:
Now try something like 'Llangollen' and you'll see what I mean. Llangollen is the home of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. I can manage a strangled 'Llangollen' (comes out sort of like 'Clangotklan' though Lord only knows I wouldn't bet any money that I'm pronouncing it at all correctly) but 'Pontcysyllte' long ago defeated me. When I have to refer to it, I generally come out with '...you know, the canal aqueduct over in Llangollen.' Non-Welsh speakers get it. Welsh speakers probably have a laugh.
And while I'm on it, that aqueduct is pretty spectacular. A picture taken from the valley floor:
I don't know how well it shows up, but there's a canal boat - a long boat - up on the aqueduct in this photo. The aqueduct itself is a long narrow iron trough that enabled canal boats to cross the River Dee without having to go thru a series of canal locks or (even more time consuming and labor intensive) having to unload the freight, cart it across the valley and over the river, then up to meet the canal again and reload the boat. The canals here were like the old New York State Canal System, or the Erie Canal: built to transport goods, minerals, etc. over long distances inland.
I've walked across the aqueduct three times now. Have I ever told you about my fear of heights? 'Abject terror' is more like, though I appreciate the fact it doesn't have the added pain and trauma of wasp stings. Here's a picture someone took from a canal boat:
Uh huh. And in this one you can see the walkway, over on the right:
Notice that railing. I walked across it every time without taking my hand off that rail. I can't swim, either. Oh, I know, I know, that walkway looks wide enough for two people to walk abreast. Do not be deceived. It's about the width of a balance beam. At least, it LOOKS that way to me when I'm on it, clinging to the rail.
Pardon the digression. Back to Erddig.
Did I mention that in Wales the signs are all in both languages?
Erddig was in the Yorke family for something like seven generations; the last inheritor gifted the estate to the National Trust in 1973, since neither he nor his brother had any children to inherit.
The family isn't necessarily one I would think of as prominent or prestigious. They sometimes served as local magistrates or were elected to Parliament, so they were important in their area, but not movers-and-shakers along the lines of someone like the Earls of Carlisle or the Dukes of Northumberland.
I guess they're more along the lines of 'landed gentry' - minor aristocrats who got their income mostly from the lands they owned. Some of it came from selling timber or wool, some came from rents and tenancies.
Elizabeth Cust Yorke (1750 - 1779) - I think she looks very aristocratic in the portrait. She married the second owner's grandson in 1770. They then had seven children in those nine years before she died - I don't know if any were twins, but even so, she must've been exhausted, if nothing else, even with nannies and servants. The portrait is described as having been done when she 'dressed up' as a shepherdess. Wonder if she got the idea from Marie Antoinette?
Because Erddig stayed in the same family for over two hundred years, and because none of the owners did anything foolish like gambling away the family fortune, Erddig is one of the most complete houses in Britain, with furniture, portraits, china, silver, and even bicycles, carriages, and cars from the succeeding generations.
There was another reason touring Erddig appealed to me.
When I worked for the National Trust, one of my abiding interests was 'below stairs.' I'm sure had I been around in The Day I would've been a servant of some kind, not a lady of the manor. I can identify with the people who did the cooking and cleaning and laundry: the techniques may have changed, the equipment may have improved, but the essential necessity of chores is eternal.
Surprising to think that the owner's family might have consisted of a half-dozen people, while the staff could number in the hundreds. Most of the great houses (and history books) don't have much information about 'the other people' who lived on the estates. We know a lot about the nobles and aristocrats, but very little about the maids, groundskeepers, cooks, butlers, stablehands, laundresses, in short, the employees who made it work.
That's where Erddig really shines. Starting in the 18th century, a few key people in the Yorke family began to record information about their staff, even going so far as to commission paintings of them.
Thomas Rogers, the estate carpenter, painted in 1830:
Jane Ebbrell, painted in 1793, after she had retired from years of service to the family:
She had married the head coachman, and from the records it appears that subsequent descendants continued to work and live at Erddig up until the 20th century.
John Meller bought the estate in 1718, greatly enlarging the house and furnishing it in grand style. Having no children who survived him, he left the estate to a nephew, Phillip Yorke. (It was Phillip's grandson who married Elizabeth Cust.) Since it was left to a nephew, perhaps that's why there isn't much in the papers about this man:
When they x-rayed the picture, the name 'John Hanby' was written under the paint, but whether that is the name of the artist (and no documentation exists of a portraitist by that name) or whether it's the name of the coachboy is unknown. People ask if slaves were kept at Erddig, but they weren't, I'm glad to note.
Some servants had limited, specialized duties, and a coachboy was such. Horns were used when coaches approached tolls or gates, to announce their arrival, and just like car horns today, could be blown for warnings. The hornplayer might also serve as the huntsman designated to sound the horn during the chase. One of the notes said 'On pleasant days, the coachman would sometimes play a merry tune on his horn.' I'm always amazed that people can actually blow melodies on horns without valves.
In the 1840s the then-owner began to write verses about the servants to go with the portraits, as much for his own amusement as anything else. About the coachboy he wrote,
...here he was a dweller,
and blew the horn for Master Meller.
Here, too, he dy'd, but when or how,
Can scarecely be remember'd now.
Pray Heav'n may stand his present friend,
Where, black or white, distinctions end.
With the advent of photography in the mid-19th century the family began to photograph their servants, rather than have the portraits painted. Unfortunately, the ones on display are under glass (non-non-glare glass, if you see what I mean) and our cameras just could not pick them up. But this one is on a postcard:
The National Trust has come a long way in terms of allowing photographs in most of its houses. There was a time of a blanket policy: 'No Photography, No Cameras.' That has relaxed just about everywhere. They don't allow flash, however, but it has as much to do with courtesy to the other visitors as it does to conservation of fabrics and paintings.
In other words, some of the pictures didn't turn out very well. Nonetheless...
* * *
I was called away - literally. One of my cousins called from the States, then way led onto way - you know how it is. Tomorrow promises to be a very busy day, as we are in the process of changing realtors and - well, it's complicated, lol. At any rate, we have some housework and 'business' and other things for tomorrow, and I have run out of time to do more on this today.
For those of you who've stayed with me through all of the above - thank you, I hope you enjoyed it. And I will add the pictures to the next blog, Finally Wrapping Up Erddig.
With that, I'm outta here. Goodnight, Sparklers, wherever you are!