Midwinter Events

Here are some upcoming events that may be of interest to our readers:

–ITV has started a 3-episode documentary series called “Keeping up with the aristocrats” which began airing yesterday. It will follow the lives of four aristocratic families who are striving to preserve their expansive and expensive homes and estates by marketing bits of both to the public. Among the participants are the residents of Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire, ancestral home of the Sitwells and a favorite venue for Evelyn Waugh’s Country House visits in the days of Osbert Sitwell’s incumbency. Today, Alexandra Sitwell, daughter of Osbert’s brother Sacheverell (also a friend of Waugh), and her husband Rick Hayward live there.

In this episode Alexandra and Rick host their Yorkshire neighbors Lord and Lady Fitzalan-Howard (aka Gerald and Emma) who live at Carlton Towers near Harrogate. They are relatives of the Howards who live at Castle Howard, also in Yorkshire. As noted in a recent post, these Fitzalan-Howards are of a Roman Catholic heritage whereas those at Castle Howard are descended from Protestants. The Fitzalan-Howards are in the process of starting a vineyard and wanted to compare notes on that subject with the Sitwells (or should they be referred to as the Haywards?) who already have one. Waugh would probably find this amusing. The other two subjects are Princess Olga Romanoff (currently single) and Lord Ivar Mountbatten and his husband James.

The Daily Telegraph’s online review of the first episode was written by William Cash, who it turns out supplements his income from journalism by organizing holiday lets on his own estate called Upton Cressett. Here’s the opening of his review:

There is a wonderful 1960s photograph of Evelyn Waugh taken by photographer Mark Gerson in which he is standing in a dogtooth, bookie-style, three-piece suit fiercely between two stone caryatides with armoured breasts who are guarding his small Somerset estate, Combe Florey. His hands are slung deep into his pockets and his frosty expression says: “Do not enter”. In short: public keep out.

The reverse is true today. To keep going, the public — or “guests”, as the former Duke of Devonshire always used to call Chatsworth’s tens of thousands of visitors — are now being courted with an increasingly wacky array of ventures. As seen by the enterprising efforts of the colourful cast of the new reality show, Keeping Up With The Aristocrats, which starts tonight on ITV, long gone are the days when aristos relied on thousands of acres of land and tenant rents to pay for their London houses and school fees.

It’s nothing less than an artisan country house revolution, and my milliner wife, Lady Laura, and myself are proud to be part of it. English country houses have always been stage sets and by reinventing themselves again they are helping to regenerate local economies and become local community hubs as they were in the Victorian and Edwardian (ie Downton) era.

No longer are we talking about the old traditional country house survival model: owner-led guided tours and tea rooms. Thanks in part to the Culture Recovery Fund, which doled out previously unheard of grants to struggling privately owned heritage owners, many faced with near ruin after their visitor businesses were closed due the pandemic, there has been a gold rush of planning applications and projects to turn every disused barn or stable into some innovative new ‘sustainable’ enterprise.

The first episode can be streamed on itvPlayer and subsequent episodes will air on the next two Mondays at 9pm. You will need a UK internet connection.

–Gresham College in London has announced a lecture on “Coincidences in the Novel: Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot to Evelyn Waugh and David Nichols” that may be of interest. Here’s the description:

If, as displeased reviewers and readers sometimes complain, coincidences mar good plots, why do so many novels turn on them? From Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot, to Sebastian Barry and David Nichols, novelists have relied on coincidences. While these can reveal the weaknesses of a novel’s design, they can also be put to creative use: as we will see, novelists, like Charles Dickens, Evelyn Waugh and Muriel Spark, choose to emphasise coincidences, making them entertaining and revealing.

The lecture will be given by literary critic Prof. John Mullan and can be attended online or in person at the Museum of London, 150 London Wall, Barbican EC2 on Wednesday, 2 March at 6-7pm. Registration details are available at this link.

–Finally, the Long Island newspaper Newsday has announced an online discussion of Waugh’s novel Scoop. This will be conducted via Zoom by the Amagansett, NY Library on Monday, 7 February at 130-230pm. Here’s a link for registration.

UPDATE (19 January 2022): Excerpts from William Cash’s review of the ITV “Aristocrats” series were added.

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