Monday, October 26, 2009

A medieval house

The heron pulls slowly off the corner of this still moat, flying over the chestnut and sycamore trees in a nearbly copse. I watch as she flaps slowly past the tall Elizabethan windows of the hall, its Cotswold stone glowing in the shallow late-October sunshine. The flowers in the garden are mostly past, leaving it looking as old and weathered as the house itself.

This place is new to me, old to itself. In itself it holds the memories of the early medieval hall, but they are hard to find because on it has come the layers of changes, many of them Elizabethan (the windows, some panelling, some attempts to make the house lighter and warmer), some Jacobean (a room carved out for King James to stay in), some Georgian (a flamboyant plaster ceiling for the hall), some contemporary (a striking modern bed; new curtains incorporating, strangely, the hair of the family dog).

I have never been here, but it seems familiar as well as new. I have studied it in a big volume on Greater Medieval Houses of England, volume 3. I have pored over the house's website. And I have read an evocative book by a young man who grew up there, about his growing up and about his difficult older brother, a severe epileptic. This is William Fiennes' The Music Room. Read it if you have an interest in old homes, in the way the brain works, and in how writers pull on their memories and make them interesting to people who don't actually know them.

The house is called Broughton Castle, in Oxfordshire, England. Go there. I want to go back. My picture of it is just a teaser, mostly because my camera battery ran out while I was there.

(Coincidentally, Joseph Fiennes, William's cousin, danced here as "Will Shakespeare" in Shakespeare in Love.)