Vision or Folly?

Have you ever wondered at the antics of the super-rich?  Elon Musk launching one of his innovative Teslas into space, (Sir) Richard Branson claiming to have founded the world’s first commercial spaceline with Virgin Galactic, or Jeff Bezos sampling space flight with Blue Infinity? All three, in personal life and in business, are prepared to take risks not for the faint of heart. Are they daring adventurers, visionaries, or just a little touched?

A few weeks ago our more circumspect adventures brought us to visit family in what was a cold and snowy England. We ate the mistakenly maligned food, (monkfish in cider, barbecue, Princess Margaret cake,) quaffed the local beer at perfect cellar temperature, and reminisced. My mother regaled us with tales of “the olden days” when she grew up on a small farm before electricity was installed. Imagine it!  Laundry, cooking, cleaning and the rest. Our one foray into tourism led us to explore even further distant “olden days” at Ickworth Hall.

The 1,800 acre estate dates back to the Domesday Book of 1086, (a kind of survey so that William l, the French Conqueror, could understand the extent of his lands.) About 200 years later the land was granted to Thomas de Ickworth to create a deer park, and then passed to Thomas Harvey on his death. The Harvey family who, in confusing British fashion, became the earls of far distant Bristol, owned the estate and its manors for five hundred years.

Strolling up the snowy paths, garbed in fleece jackets, gloves and woolly hats, Chris and I were arrested by the incongruous and magnificent sight of an Italian palace nestled in the Suffolk countryside. It is the vision, or folly, of  Frederick Harvey, the 4th Earl of Bristol. The Musk, Branson or Bezos of his eighteenth century day, he lived a colorful life, the stunning rotunda of his mansion bears witness to the outsize scale of his dreams.

Ickworth Estate

Frederick,(1730-1803)  a younger son, entered the church as was customary in noble families of the time, and doubtless through family influence became Bishop of Cloyne and later of the wealthy see of Derry. And yes, that’s in Ireland, where he built other stately homes, only inheriting Ickworth in 1779.

Apparently, the Earl Bishop as Frederick was styled, was far from the worst prelate to hold office, but his heart wasn’t in it and he soon left the misty bogs of Ireland for adventures in sunnier climes. During his travels, he amassed a vast collection of art. It wouldn’t have crossed my often risk-averse mind that the obvious place to display these treasures would be in an, as yet, unconstructed Italian palace in the heart of the British countryside, but Frederick was unabashed, blissfully oblivious to contradictions and obstacles. An Italian architect and Irish builders were commissioned and work commenced on the central gallery flanked by graciously curved wings.

Frederick Harvey, the 4th Earl of Bristol

Frederick, 4th Earl of Bristol

Now comes the point where truth is stranger than fiction. Our Earl Bishop was arrested and imprisoned in Milan on suspicion of espionage, his collection confiscated by Napoleonic troops, never to resurface. 

Frederick died (in an Italian outhouse – don’t ask!) while Ickworth Hall was only a shell. His son, overwhelmed by the extravagance of the project, changed the design, so that the family lived in the east wing, the central rotunda was kept for guests and entertaining, and the west wing was finished for purposes of symmetry and storage. Crippling maintenance costs and death duties meant that the family gave the property to the National Trust which leases out the east wing as a luxury hotel.

If you’ve caught my enthusiasm for this weird and wonderful place, you probably assume Chris and I toured the state rooms, admired the portraits and the porcelain, but you’d be wrong!  Due to the inclement weather, tours were canceled and we had to satisfy our appetites and our curiosity in the tea rooms!  

No matter, we’ve vowed to return!

Ickworth House Tearoom
Ickworth House Tearoom

News Flash!

At least two publishers are very interested in A Glass Darkly. Watch this space for when we reach a contract. Publishing is a slow process. Salt Spray and Aspens subscribers will enjoy early updates and samples.

End Notes

Reading

The Hummingbird by Stephen Keirnan

The Hummingbird
Stephen P. Kiernan

Listening

Finnisima Di
Pink Martini with Ari Shapiro

Help Me Make it Through the Night
John Holt

Viewing

Why Everything You Know About the Bayeux Tapestry Is Wrong

Poetry

Valentine
Carol Ann Duffy

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