Saturday, 31 October 2015

Ghoulies and Ghosties and... Vampire Romance

Hallowe’en, or All Hallows’ Eve, is the night before All Saints’ Day, (1st November) when Christians honour those who have died and remember them by celebrating their lives. Hallow (or hallowed) means holy or sacred; ‘Hallowe’en’ is derived from the compression of All Hallows’ Even.

The celebration originates more than 2000 years ago, when the Celtic druids occupied Great Britain and some parts of Europe. They celebrated what is now called the pagan festival of Samhain, which signified the end of summer and the onset of winter. Dark and cold winter days often had associations with death.

It was believed that on the night of Samhain the cloak between the spirit world and the living was but a thin veil, allowing the dead to rise up and come forth from their graves. Huge bonfires were lit to assist the fading sun god and the people would disguise themselves so as not to be recognized. Gradually, witches, vampires, demons, werewolves and fairies were also thought to emerge with the darkness of winter to join the spirits of the dead in a night of revelry.

In a case of ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, the Church introduced, in 835, All Saints’ Day and thus Hallowe’en replaced Samhain. Certain superstitions around this magical night led to games and traditions long before the American creation of ‘trick or treat’. Girls would place hazel nuts on a hot grate and give each the name of a potential husband. She would recite, “If you love me, pop and fly; if you hate me, burn and die.” A variant decrees any cracked nuts indicated those suitors who were fickle.

Other games have their origins in Hallowe’en rituals, such as throwing the complete peel of an apple over a shoulder to reveal the initial of a girl’s true love. The practice of setting her shoes in the form of a ‘T’ (in Scandinavia a strong talisman representing the hammer of Thor, the god of thunder, agriculture and the home) on Hallowe’en, and reciting the words, “Hoping this night my true love to see, I place my shoes in the form of a ‘T’.” would ensure she dreamed of her future love. It was also on All Hallows’ Eve when a girl hoped to see in her mirror a candlelight reflection of her future husband.

A more sombre ritual was that of building a bonfire on a barrow or burial mound, since these were thought to be portals to the spirit world. Once it was blazing, the locals would hold hands and dance around it. Often as not, young boys took burning branches and ran across the fields, waving them like torches. Then, when the flames had died down, the lads would have a jumping contest over the glowing embers, all the children would bob for apples and the adults would dance until bedtime.

So, on a night of magic when the spirits of the dead awaken and supernatural beings dance to a pagan drum, if you prefer your vampires romantic rather than terrifying creatures of darkness, perhaps you would rather curl up with some honourable, eternal, gentlemen. In celebration of Hallowe’en, VAMPIRES DON’T DRINK COFFEE AND OTHER STORIES is on offer at just 99 pence or 99 cents!

It also has a new cover if you buy from Smashwords! Sit back with a glass of red wine and enjoy!





Friday, 9 October 2015


Having been drenched the previous day, on Tuesday 15th September Susana Ellis, my dog Roxy and I went for a day out to Berrington Hall, near Leominster (pronounced Lemster) in Herefordshire.


Berrington Hall is a grand Georgian residence, built from red sandstone in about 1775 for London banker Thomas Harley, younger son of the 3rd Earl of Oxford, who had family connections in Herefordshire. The house was designed by Henry Holland, son-in-law of ‘Capability’ Brown, who was given the responsibility of landscaping the park. Spectacular views can be enjoyed towards Wales and the Black Mountains from the house’s magnificent setting.


All photographs © Heather King and may not be copied or reproduced without the expressed permission of the copyright holder.


Berrington Hall, showing the ha-ha

Harley was destined not to beget an heir, but Anne, his second daughter, married George, 2nd Baron Rodney, the son of Admiral George Brydges Rodney, celebrated naval commander of the 18th Century. In the Dining Room hang four paintings depicting two of Admiral Rodney’s renowned victories at sea in the American War of Independence.


Thomas Harley died in 1804 and was succeeded by the Rodney family, who continued to live in the house for almost a century. The 7th Baron, also George, sold many of the family’s treasures, including excellent Gainsborough portraits, to fund a predilection for gambling which had already accounted for his inheritance. He eventually found himself constrained to sell the estate in 1901.


Berrington passed into the hands of Lancashire cotton magnate, Frederick Cawley M.P., who in time became the inaugurate Lord Cawley. Cawley refurbished Berrington with a sympathetic eye, removing hideous fire grates introduced in the Victorian age and replacing them with Georgian ones which were far more in keeping.


Fireplace in the Drawing Room


Henry Holland’s original, beautiful design was left mostly untouched, to Lord Cawley’s eternal credit. Following the death of the 2nd Lord Cawley, in 1957 the estate then came into the hands of the National Trust, who do a fabulous job of managing both house and gardens. Lady Cawley, his widow, continued to live in the house until her death in 1978, having reached her own century.


It remains a ‘scene of elegance and refinement’ to this day, as declared by Lord Torrington in 1784, and indeed, his description of ‘commanding beautiful views [and] a fine piece of water’ has not changed in all those years.


The yew 'balls' on the approach from the gatehouse


When we first arrived, Roxy and I left Susana to tour the house and went for a walk round the park. Little girls are far happier snoozing in the car when they have had a ‘leg stretch’ first! We can vouch for the beauty of the views and the lake!


Parkland and lake



The lake and boathouse


Having ensconced Roxy in the car with a marrow bone, I headed off to join Susana in the house. We were really lucky that our visit coincided with an exhibition of costumes featured in television productions of Jane Austen’s works, such as ‘Emma’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’, as well as some beautiful Georgian fashions, including a collection of surviving garments from the era!


Georgian gown


Costume worn by Billie Piper in 'Emma'


There are several rooms open to the public at Berrington, including the stunning Staircase Hall, which is a masterpiece of light and space. The staircase follows three walls of this secondary hall, rising beneath the spectacular domed skylight which dramatically illuminates the ironwork balustrades of bronzed lyres, the wall tapestries and the York slate/stone floor. The first time the visitor passes from the shadowed Entrance Hall into the Staircase Hall, it takes the breath away, believe you me!




I love the Drawing and Dining Rooms at Berrington, but I think (surprise, surprise!) my favourite room is the Library. The bookcases are fashioned to represent pediments and columns of classical architecture and the furniture, although not belonging to the house, seem to fit perfectly. It is easy to imagine Mr. Darcy and Lizzie sitting reading in here.


The Library


The Library


Sadly, my photograph of the bookcases is too dark, but there is a matching pediment over the fireplace. Possibly inspired by his great-grandfather, Robert Harley, the 1st Earl of Oxford, creator of one of the finest collections of books in Britain, and his grandfather, the 2nd Earl, a friend of Pope’s, Thomas Harley also owned a fine library. This was unfortunately sold by the 7th Lord Rodney and the library was henceforth used by him as a billiards room.


After a tour of upstairs, including the Georgian fashions, White Dressing Room, Oval Room – dedicated to Sir Frederick and Lady Cawley’s three sons who were killed in the First World War – and the Corner Dressing Room and Bedroom, which celebrate the 7th Lord Rodney and his bride Corisande following their honeymoon, the visitor steps down the Back Stairs and with a peek in at an ancient lavatory, can view the butler’s rooms on the way out. The laundry is now housed in a secondary kitchen, moved there in all likelihood in the late 19th Century and is Victorian in nature. The dairy, beautifully decorated in fine Louis XVI style by Henry Holland, has survived virtually unchanged since the 1780s. It has a classical Greek feel to it and contains niches too – not for statues, but bowls of cream to stand while separating.




Of course, for a horse-mad girl like me, no visit to Berrington would be complete without a good snoop around the stable. The Regency stable block no longer exists, but the Victorian stables, situated in the former Steward’s House beside the carriage arch into the rear courtyard, combine my two great passions, because they are now home to the Book Shop!!


Stabling changed very little during the 19th Century, so the Regency author can still get a feel of equine comfort. To the far left of the picture is a loose box, while chains would have hung from the heel posts of the stalls to prevent occupants from ‘backing up’. Horses would wear a headstall, to which was attached a rope that passed through a hole in the manger and was fastened to a weight, thus keeping the rope taut. The horse therefore had a measure of movement and could lie down without getting entangled in the rope.




Walled garden


After a picnic lunch, Susana and I went for a wander around the Walled Garden. On previous visits, Paws had not been admitted, but on this occasion, Roxy could come into the original kitchen garden and I was really excited when I discovered the old apple trees. When researching A Sense of the Ridiculous, I came across the ‘Ribston Pippin’, which hails from Little Ribston, the village where Harry attends a ‘mill’ (boxing match). Lo and behold, there in the garden was a Ribston Pippin tree!


Ribston Pippin


It was the perfect end to what had been a wonderful day. Berrington Hall is a fabulous place for a day out and for the Regency author it provides a real feel of the era, too. My short story The Middle of the Day, is set here and features the 3rd Lord Rodney and his wife Charlotte.


I hope you have enjoyed this mini tour. Susana, Roxy and I certainly enjoyed our day!