One of the unexpected pleasures of writing Regency Historicals for me is researching how people lived. I’m fascinated by the mundane details of life, like what flowers grew, what food would be eaten, what furniture would be in what room. On my England tours, I asked questions everywhere about the details of carpets that were on the floors.
I tend to forget that my lovely Virginia Commonwealth has a lot of history, as well, dating back to the 1600s when Jamestown was founded. (We aren’t a state, by the way; we’re a commonwealth–according to the Hornbook of Virginia History, “A commonwealth is ‘a state in which the supreme power is vested in the people.’ The term was first given to Virginia in the 1600s)
Last Monday, the dh and I celebrated our wedding anniversary with a trip to Westmoreland County in Virginia’s Northern Neck, the peninsula bounded by the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. See more about our trip here.
This area was filled with wealthy tobacco plantations and was the birthplace of many of our important historical figures: George Washington, James Madison, James Monroe, the two Lees who signed the Declaration of Independence, and, at Stratford Hall, the place we visited, Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
Stratford Hall was built in 1730 by Colonel Thomas Lee who was then acting Governor of the colony. Two of his sons were the Lees who signed the Declaration of Independence. The house was built in the Georgian style, which would have been much the fashion in England at the time–very symmetrical. The main floor of the house included a Great Hall for grand entertaining, the dining room, bedchambers, parlors and the library. In the library, books were kept under lock and key; they were considered quite precious.
We had a fabulous guide to take us through the house and explain its features and history. (that’s me in the pink. The people in hats were, coincidentally, from England!)
I saw many familiar-looking tables, chairs, bureaus, wardrobes, beds. The house was furnished much like the English country houses I’d visited on my tours.
I noticed, though, that the floors were bare. When I went on those tours of country houses in England, remember, I always asked about carpets. Almost every room had carpets of some kind. Our guide to Stratford Hall said they kept the floors bare, because the carpets would have been hard to keep clean. They might have had painted sail cloth (oil cloth) floor covering, but no carpets.
I can just imagine some wealthy gentleman from England visiting a house like Stratford Hall in the Colonies. What the Virginians would have considered quite opulent, such an English visitor must have thought very provincial. The wealthy Virginian visiting a country house in England, like Chatsworth or Burghley House, must have walked around with his mouth open.
What “great houses,” historical or otherwise, have you visited lately?
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Wow, that is shocking. I always thought they had carpets in the mansion here too but I guess not. Western historicals or American Civil war romances never mentions them is their books so this is great to know and will change how I read many of my American Historical romances.
That’s what the tour guide said. I know I had the same feeling when visiting Mount Vernon. Any aristocrat from England would have been surprised that the President of a country lived in such a modest house (compared to English Country House standards!)
During my years in Turkey, I learned that there they beat the dust out of their carpets at the end of March and roll them up tightly for the summer. Maybe heat and dust were factors in having carpet-free floors.
Doing research for my WIP [set in 1813], I went to Hartwell House, near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. It belonged to Sir Charles Lee, who leased it to Louis XVIII between 1808 -1814. Louis was king of France from 1814-1824. Hartwell House had belonged to the Lee family since 1650. You know more about his descendants General Robert E Lee and Sir Christopher Lee than I do. But I’m very interested to see this link to Stratford Hall. Hartwell House is well worth a visit. I’ve done a post on my blog about it and it has a website – http://www.hartwell-house.com
Stratford Hall looks like a lovely house. The last stately home I visited was Dunham Massey in England. I loved it that there were several guide tours around different parts of the house and they were all included in the admission price. And of course, I had my sketchbook with me. 🙂