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June visit to Buckland House

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In June, I was lucky enough to have a week’s holiday in Devon with my husband and so was finally able to pay a long-awaited visit to Buckland House – the beautiful setting for The Last Treasure of Ancient England. My co-author had described the house to me in accurate detail and I had researched it extensively for the book, so as we made our way up the sweeping driveway I felt as if I was returning to a familiar place. As excited as a child at Christmas I followed in Chester Bentley’s footsteps, over the worn threshold and into the hallway. Then up the red carpeted staircase to Byranston dorm which still bears the name above the door although the house is now rented out for private events.

The house in our story is set in three eras and as it is decorated and furnished today is close to how it would have been in our 1930’s storyline. As I stood in the bedroom which once belonged to the lady of the manor and spotted the dressing table and mirror in front of the window I stood rooted to the spot in amazement – the dressing table and its position were exactly as I had imagined.

Accompanying us on our visit were ex-pupil Amanda Ruston-Williams and her husband Richard Williams who is the ex-headmaster’s son. They brought the house to life for us with their memories. After exploring inside we headed out into the grounds. Amanda recalled hours building dens and wandering about with a freedom which I doubt can be equalled today. As we approached the lake I felt quite emotional as it is the setting for one of the major scenes in the book.

It was a magical experience and I am very grateful to Tammy Nicholson for allowing us to visit Buckland House. I would also like to thank Amanda and Richard for sharing their memories with us.

Little Women?

Three eras and three very different types of women, or are they?

We are only offered glimpses of the women in 1066 as the story is dominated by the men and the Battle of Hastings. However, the glimpses that we do see, are of women who have been forced to endure harsh physical and emotional conditions as they struggle to survive and protect their families from the atrocities of war.

“You men sleep longer and work less, and you think somehow you are better. How is that possible? Ridiculous!” Leala, Algernon of Colville’s wife, complains as she goes about the daily tasks long before the cockerel has crowed. Her words offer us a truth which the other wifemen of the village would have echoed. They know that they are resilient and strong, emotionally if not physically. These are the women who keep the home fires burning while their menfolk are away and some bear the burden of constant pain, knowing that they have lost love ones. Many have even witnessed their slaughter.

We are reminded of the brutality through Hilda, who suffers torture at the hands of the thane of Bocheland Manor. However, through strength of character she manages to become a gentle and caring mother and to trust her husband, “Hilda relaxed the moment she heard him swear to tell her everything. His word was his bond and she had never known otherwise.”

In the 1930’s we see a different kind of suffering, not one caused by poverty, but by wealth. Lady Isabella of the Manor feels trapped by the duty that her position entails. Although the Depression of 1929 to the mid 1930’s was a difficult time in British history, many rich households never fully suffered its effects and a busy social calendar continued to dominate their lives. Although this may initially seem glamorous, we soon realise that the price Lady Isabella has had to pay is her freedom and sense of self, “I feel as if I am walking in the footsteps of ghosts.”

Her husband tells her that they are “hardly the Bloomsbury Group,” reminding us of Virginia Woolf who had just published A Room of One’s Own (1929). Lady Isabella may even have read this book and this may have added to her sense of unrest.

Moving on to Zara and Iona our 1980’s protagonists, we see strong, confident young girls who are happy to get involved with boisterous games and are certainly not afraid of dirtying their boots. Their introduction into the story is gradual and Bentley is initially uncomfortable in their presence, unsure how to react at times, “He put his head down, trying to stem the blush that was beginning as he remembered the confused feelings he had felt when Zara had last smiled at him.” However, they soon become important members of the group and hold their own when it comes to the adventure. They are girls who are aware of their power and of those who may try to quash it, “You’re not a misog… misodge… mysoggn… you know one of those that hates women?” Zara asks Bentley. Although she is still young enough not to be able to pronounce the word properly, she clearly understands its meaning.

The women of The Last Treasure of Ancient England are separated by eras, each era with its own culture and expectation. However, although vastly different, they share two qualities which the passing of the years can never change: inner strength and determination.

If we could fast forward the story to today, then Zara and Iona would be women in their forties, probably bringing up daughters of their own who are proving to be even stronger than they were.

“I believe in strong women. I believe in the woman who is able to stand up for herself. I believe in the woman who doesn’t need to hide behind her husband’s back. I believe that if you have problems, as a woman you deal with them, you don’t play victim, you don’t make yourself look pitiful, you don’t point fingers. You stand and you deal. You face the world with a head held high and you carry the universe in your heart.”

– C.JoyBell C.