I love stately homes, visiting them, taking in all the art and artefacts, the details of who has lived there down the ages. I love ruins too. They can be poignant and romantic and you can let your imagination run wild about the history and the people who inhabited them. But there’s a third category of historic house that I enjoy; the ones that have disappeared. They are like ghosts, mysterious, lost. Two of the houses that inspired my current manuscript are “lost” houses.
The first, Hamstead Marshall in Berkshire, pictured above, was known as Hamstead Marshall Palace, a house of the size and grandeur to rival Blenheim. Hamstead was intended for a queen, Elizabeth of Bohemia, the sister of King Charles I, and it was reputedly modelled on the castle in Heidelberg where she had spent the early years of her married life. It was grand and fabulously luxurious. A contemporary described it as having not only bathrooms but rooms with the specific purpose of “reposing after bathing.” The servants’ quarters included a distillery, a spicery, and a confectionery.
Hamstead Marshall burned down in 1718 when workmen were making renovations and accidentally left a
The other house I’ve drawn on for background research suffered the same fate, but much more recently. Coleshill House in Oxfordshire was built around the same time as Hamstead Marshall and inspired by fashionable European houses of the period. Ithad a grand entrance hall and beautiful ornate plasterwork ceilings. Builders were finishing renovations to the house in 1952 when a fire broke out and despite the efforts of fire brigades from three counties, the house was so badly damaged that it had to be demolished. I draw on the newspaper reports of the fire in my new book as they vividly recreate the sheer monumental destruction of such a beautiful house. Today there is a garden planted on the site of the house that marks out its walls and windows in a design that keeps the memory of Coleshill alive. I hope that in my manuscript I too will be able to bring Hamstead Marshall and Coleshill House back to life and people their ballrooms and corridors once again with characters from a lost age.