Hi radiant readers,
So I finally have my survey up and running! I will link it at the end of this post and would be grateful beyond measure if you lovely listeners (loving alliteration today) would spare some time to complete it for my thesis. Understanding the public’s perspective on historic houses is my raison d’etre at the moment!
In the meantime, off to Hopetoun House we go!
When I arrived at Hopetoun House, it was overcast and slightly drizzling (to be expected, it is Edinburgh after all). But the magnificence of the scene was not to be degraded, in fact this poetic gloominess was quite complimentary to the majesty of the home.
I think no matter who you are or what your background, when you are permitted to open grand towering doors you feel a sense of self-indulgent import. Hence, after walking the great distance across the lawn and up the external staircase to push open the looming doors (only to be greeted by a warm familial hello by staff delighted by my arrival), I felt quite at home.
But then I saw a tour group bustling along in the next room with their heads tilted to the soaring ceilings, mouths agape, and realized, oh yes, in fact this feels awfully dissimilar to my studio apartment. In my real home, heads are only tilted back toward the ceiling to find the source of a leak.
So there I am in the grand entrance, modestly damp, reflecting on my leaking ceiling, with a facial expression that, if adequately interpreted, shows both relief at having made it home out of the rain finally and sudden shock that I am not the Earl of Hopetoun. The kind greeters at the door were more than happy, I assume, to overlook this blunder and ask for my ticket stub.
Upon showing them, I proceeded to meander until the tour was to begin in a couple of minutes.
This dashing gentlemen (dizzingly tall it looks from my perspective at 5’2) was the first thing to catch my eye:
The two hovering orbs atop his head aside, he looks quite presentable. He was the 7th Earl of Hopetoun (1st Marquess of Linlithgow) and the father of the man who is said to be the greatest legacy to the family–Victor the 8th Earl of Hopetoun (2nd Marquess) and Governor-General and Viceroy to India from 1936-1943. These are very important dates in the relationship of Britain and India. During this time, Ghandi was very politically active and there was a great and constant struggle between Britain and India concerning Indian independence. Victor’s portrait is across from his father’s in the entrance hallway and it looks like this:
Still abnormally tall-looking (alas, I was still 5’2) but very dapper like his (oddly younger-looking) father on the opposite wall. It was always very interesting to me that in portraits like these they have so much cloth and textiles piled upon their shoulders and waists but so very little on the bottom third of their body. From the looks of it, simply stockings would do. Whereas up top they could do with no less than a shirt, vest, jacket, sash, necklace, cloak, and a curtain pull(?). (You out there textile historians?)
In short, he was an important guy. Important enough to wear enough fabric to carpet Versailles. His ability to not buckle under the sheer weight is enough testament to his strength. (Then again, I hear painters can be generous when rendering posture.)
Suddenly, the sounds of a friendly tour guide gathering her tourists tears me away from my undeniably knowledgable dissection of this portrait. This begins our trip through this beautifully labyrinthine home as she unravels its stories.
There are so many things from Hopetoun I wish I could show you all but with my long-winded oratory skills, I’d max out my endless character count. So here are a few of the things I consider the most fascinating finds:
The 2nd Earl of Hopetoun’s roll of servant’s wages. Downton Abbey fans here? Personally, every time I encounter old handwritten things I put my glasses on and start slowly whispering what’s written like I am discovering and instantly translating an ancient undeciphered language. I always feel unjustifiably proud of myself for being able to read very curvy English. I have to remind myself that being able to read difficult handwriting does not make me bilingual or Indiana Jones.
Next I found the Arabian Nights! If it is difficult to read in the pictures, the words written there on the spines indeed say exactly this: Arabian Nights. I couldn’t take them off the shelf and probe deeper into their contents because they are so fragile (and probably because visitors like me have a penchant for supposing themselves decoders (readers) of ancient texts (old stuff)), but just to see them on display in house such as this was fascinating.
Staying on the theme of books, another aptly acquired text (on part of the family) was The Transfer of Power 1942-7. This set of books holds very crucial (official and secret!) information and documentation on the power struggle between India and Britain. So, with this being the Governor- General and Viceroy of India’s home, these are very fitting books to acquire. He would have been thoroughly involved with many of the history-making decisions and events documented in this set of books.
Moving out of the library, there were some mysterious paintings hanging in an alcove that seemed simply a conveniently placed and sparsely decorated connector room. It of course connected two enormous and lavish rooms, but this alcove was unassuming and simple. Inside was hanging two paintings, completely uncharacteristic for the type of paintings and portraits I had seen in the house thus far. This is what they looked like:
Without commenting on how terribly bad the quality of the photos are, these kinds of paintings, as can be imagined, are not typically seen in a Scottish historic house. Usually the home is filled with paintings of shiny men and women wearing miles of fabric, standing next to muscular horse rumps, and rich children looking alarmingly like tiny fat clergymen. But here we have warmly-toned, Eastern-looking art styles, with muted colors and foreign subject matter. These fighting bulls and nude Oriental women in this empty room were a mini mystery to me. Immediately I asked the tour guide about their origins and backstory. She was very happy for a question in an otherwise silent group but unfortunately the paintings had never been asked about and consequently she had never really thought to inquire about them. She being inquisitive and perplexed herself, offered to look into this immediately after the tour.
To find out what these paintings had to do with ancient Buddhist caves, and to follow me on my journey farther into Hopetoun to find severed tiger heads in a ballroom make sure to follow my blog and be alerted to the second half of my Hopetoun House post!! (I assure you, after these posts, I will be taking pictures with a better camera!) I think there will be two posts per house I visit, that should be a reasonable distribution of excitement and intrigue.
And if you have made it this far (and even if you haven’t and just skipped straight to the survey, I know you survey addicts must be out there somewhere) please take my survey and help me have an impressive amount of participants, therefore making my thesis more reliable and my Viva less sweat-inducing. And if you have a particularly historic house inclined group of friends, steal the link (to my blog or survey) and pass it on!
I hope you’ve enjoyed my first post, talk to you all again soon! Feel free to message or comment me with any questions or the like!
Until then! I’m off to decipher long-forgotten texts! (Aka read my own notes)