Wollaton Hall is to be the setting for an event on Friday, July 31, to celebrate Cassandra Willoughby and Georgian life at the spectacular venue.
If you would like to learn a little more about the history of the house, then this light-hearted evening of fun and entertainment, entitled Lady Cassandra’s House Party Tour, is for you.
The evening will include a tour of Wollaton Hall, visiting the roof, and Prospect Room, high above the Great Hall.
It will also look at Georgian fashion, how ladies achieved their shape and look with stayes and laces, plus wine, cake and cheese in the Georgian style, manners and etiquette, and the language of the fan, not to mention tips for gentlemen.
It all gets under way at 7.30pm and the cost is £15 for adults (the event is for over 15s). Call 0115 8761057 for booking and information.
For more insight into the Hall and Cassandra, read the guest column below from Mick Whysall, a Wollaton aficionado who will be leading the event:
“Wollaton Hall had lain in ruin for 44 years when Cassandra Willoughby arrived in 1687, she was 17 years old.
A fire had extensively damaged the interior of the house, breaking windows, blackening walls and furniture.
As a result the house had lain unoccupied for many years, but had not suffered any real structural damage.
Cassandra arrived at Wollaton with her brother, Francis, who was two years her senior.
Because of difficulties and disagreements with their stepfather, Cassandra and Francis came to Wollaton Hall from the family’s other residence at Middleton in Warwickshire to begin a new life.
Considering they were only teenagers it is remarkable by modern standards how they took control of the formidable task of refurbishing Wollaton Hall. By doing so they established the hall as one of the great country houses of England.
Unfortunately Francis died very young at the age of only 20. Cassandra, undaunted, encouraged her younger brother Thomas to join her, and continued her life in her new home.
The work undertaken at Wollaton both in the house and surrounding gardens heralded a new age in country house design. Cassandra and Thomas were beginning what would become in later years the ‘Georgian Style’.
What is significant is Cassandra’s influence, for the first time house interiors started to respond to feminine aspirations, in terms of layout, practicality and creative design.
Space was created for servants, something which hitherto had been ignored at Wollaton. Elizabethan servants had to make the best of it, bedding down wherever they could find a space. Cassandra converted the beer cellar, which was very large, with a high arched ceiling.
She had a mezzanine floor installed, and by doing so created a ‘groom’s room’ in the lower portion. The area above became the ‘still room’.
Heating the groom’s room was problematic as the beer cellar was not heated. A stove was installed, and a flue created to take the smoke up to the half roof. To do this stone had to be removed from the west elevation of the house, and replaced upon completion. It is still possible to trace the location of the flue by the disturbed stonework.
The still room created above the mezzanine played an important role in the lives of Georgian women. It was to become part of the social habits that were coming to the fore in English houses.
The ‘lady’ of the house could meet in a relaxed, informal, environment with other women on the estate from a different class and position.
Together they would make preserves, pickles, jams and chutneys, and also undertake domestic tasks in an acceptable shared area within the house.
Cassandra was not only providing more space in the house for women, she was also involving herself directly in practical work, by undertaking the task of re-upholstering some of the furniture damaged by the previous fire.
A significant addition to the interior of the hall came with the paintings of ‘Prometheus’ on the north stair, and the painting of ‘Venus’ on the ceiling of the south stair.
The work is attributed to both Thornhill and Laguarre, both prominent painters of the age.
The Prometheus murals are interesting as they vary a great deal in quality. Some areas are of the expected standard, whilst other parts are quite badly interpreted.
As time went on work on the house continued to establish what would soon reflect life in an early Georgian house.
The Seibricht painting in the dining room shows many of the features in the gardens during the time of Thomas and Cassandra: separate dining house, orangery, bowling green and most importantly a terrace. Undoubtedly the painting is exaggerated, and should not be taken at face value.
A walk around the house soon makes clear that some items depicted cannot have been as they are drawn. Nonetheless the painting still is a valuable historical record of Wollaton Hall.
The layout of the gardens were planned to match the manners and attitudes of the age, particularly the interaction between men and women.
Courtship was at that time an intricate and potentially dangerous game.
Both the house and garden at Wollaton created a backdrop in which these intrigues between the sexes could be played out.
At a time when it was possible to lose everything through mistakes in courtship and marriage, women had to be very astute in all their social encounters with men. Not only did these risks exist but also any hope of real justice for many who were mistreated or abused was almost non-existent.
Women could be considered as no more than property, and even forced separation from their own children was a real possibility.
This society makes clear the strength of women like Cassandra who were prepared to be accountable, and undertake responsibility for re-aligning life for women in a challenging age.
It is perhaps with hindsight we see Cassandra in this role. She was not a ‘rebel’ and was with energy conforming to the demands of the age. Looking at what was achieved at Wollaton required firm resolution and personality, of which Cassandra seemed to have had in abundance.” MW