It's rare to visit a stately home because its connection to someone who lived downstairs and not upstairs, but that's exactly what brought me to Uppark House near Petersfield in West Sussex. It was here that H.G. Wells' mother, Sarah Neal, worked as a ladies' maid for Miss Frances Bullock and where she met her future husband, Joseph Wells, the resident gardner. The couple eventually moved to Kent and went on to have four children, including Herbert George, or Bertie, in 1866. When the Wells fell on hard times, Sarah returned to work as a housekeeper at Uppark and unusually, young H.G. was allowed to stay with his mother and even granted access to the library. It was here that he got his first taste of the classics and he would go on to use in the house in two of his novels, Time Machine and Tono-Bungay.
The downstairs is connected through a series of underground tunnels so that the servants could remain out of sight while going about their work. Wells later drew on this subterranean world in Time Machine, with the Morlocks, a subhuman species who operated the below-ground machinery which makes the world of the beautiful, surface-dwelling Eloi possible.
Set in the beautiful South Downs, Uppark boasts sweeping views of the surrounding countryside and on a clear day you can see as far as the coast (or so I'm told). In Tono-Bungay, the house features as Bladeswell, which is 'up on the Kentish Downs', and represents a 'seventeenth-century system' that is 'the clue to all England'.
In 1881, his mother sent him to work at a chemist in nearby Midhurst, where he also attended the local grammar school. It was here that Wells really came into his own and eventually earned a place at the Royal College of Science in London.
With news of ITV's plans to make a new adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, many Austen fans are already speculating on who will be cast in the leading roles. Personally, I don't believe anyone could ever top the BBC's 1995 version or Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth and Darcy, but I can't say I won't watch the new version. As always the case with a period drama, I'll be as interested in the producer's choice of filming locations as much as the actors, particularly when it comes to Mr Darcy's Pemberley.
While the 1995 version featured Lyme Park in Cheshire, the 2005 film version was filmed at Chatsworth House, the Peak District home of the Duke of Devonshire. This was a natural choice for the film's producers as it's thought that Jane Austen actually modelled Darcy's estate on Chatsworth. Austen visited Chatsworth in 1811, while staying in nearby Bakewell. At the time of her visit, Austen was finishing work on Pride and Prejudice and drew inspiration from her travels around the Peak District. It's clear from her descriptions of Pemberley in the novel that her visit to Chatsworth left quite an impression.
In Chapter 43 of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet visits Pemberley while touring the Peak District with her aunt and uncle and is instantly taken with the house and its surroundings:
"Elizabeth's mind was too full for conversation, but she saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view. They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road, with some abruptness, wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!"
After visiting Mr Darcy's estate, Elizabeth really starts to appreciate the man, lamenting that she might have been mistress of all this. A closer reading tells us that she's not just in love with his property, but the way that his house complements nature and vice versa. Basically, Mr Darcy is not just a man of wealth, but one of substance. But looking at Pemberley (Chatsworth), who could blame her for swooning over his house!
In the story, Elizabeth is eager to leave Pemberley after an awkward encounter with Mr Darcy. Luckily, visitors to Chatsworth today needn't rush off after touring the property. In fact, they're quite welcome to make themselves at home at one of the estate's many holiday properties. Although you can't actually stay in Chatworth House itself, there are several options scattered across this sprawling estate. Visitors can choose from converted barns, renovated farm houses, charming cottages or even a 16th Century hunting tower, offering splendid views of the grounds.