17 December 2014

Rowena Edlin-White: Kate Douglas Wiggin and Bramall Hall (2007)

I had intended to tie in a blog post about Kate Douglas Wiggin (1856–1923) with a visit to Bramall Hall, Stockport, Cheshire, but unfortunately it's been closed 'for restoration and refurbishment' since the end of this September, and doesn't re-open until spring 2016. Meanwhile I've read Rowena Edlin-White's Kate Douglas Wiggin and Bramall Hall, which underlines the very interesting relationship between the North American writer and this part of England.

Kate Douglas Wiggin first visited England in 1890, the year after the death of her first husband, Samuel Bradley Wiggin. It was towards the end of her stay – after she had also visited several countries in Europe – that she accepted Charles and Mary Nevill's invitation to visit them at their home: Bramall Hall, the Elizabethan manor house which the calico printer Thomas Henry Nevill had bought for his son Charles in 1882. She stayed there five days, but this was to be the first of many usually annual visits up to about 1913, after which the First World War – along with Charles's death – intervened.

In her autobiography My Garden of Memory published posthumously but in the same year as her death Wiggin speaks of Bramall Hall's 'picturesque beauty and grandeur', and says that the death of Mary (1901) and Charles (1916) 'left a great blank in my list of English friendships'.

She loved the luxury of the great house, and slept in the Davenport Room:

'When I go to bed at night there is a procession of room-maids, ladies' maids, housekeepers and others, with warming pans, jugs of hot water, candles, eider-down quilts, and hot gin and water! In the morning a procession arrives with different articles, and oh! how I like it!'

Wiggin initially visited Bramall Hall with Chatto & Windus publisher Percy Spalding's wife, although later she went with her sister Nora Archibald Smith (also a writer) or George Riggs, her second husband, whom she married in 1895.

Kate Douglas Wiggin is noted for the 'Penelope' books, the first of which Penelope's English Experiences was published in one volume with A Cathedral Courtship in 1893, although revised editions of each were published in 1900 and 1901 respectively. The germ of Penelope's English Experiences began on her first visit to Bramall Hall, and her most famous book Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1903) – was dedicated to Charles Henry Nevill, 'under whose dear English roof so many of these chapters were written'.

Rowena Edlin-White wrote her doctoral thesis on Kate Douglas Wiggin, and it is clear from the back cover of this very interesting book that she wants the 'Penelope' series to be as well known as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. And also, of course, that the link between Kate Douglas Wiggin and Bramall Hall be better known: which it probably won't be while it remains closed.

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