Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Haddon Hall- The House That Turned a Man Into a Hero

I confess. I stole Haddon Hall. When I wrote my upcoming TWRP release, LADY WICKED, I needed a very special setting, one that was almost a character in itself. So I whisked it away, stone by stone and beam by rafter, and moved it to a setting of my own, nestled in the crook of a river that looks suspiciously like the River Wye. Yes, I hoped to hide my crime by moving a few walls, staircases and kitchen, and adding things that were never there. I even gave it a new name, Steynes Hall, and a new owner, Thomas Steynes, Viscount Savoury, whose ancestors I also invented. But my crime could not go long undiscovered because, you see, Haddon Hall is too special, a unique place that simply cannot be disguised.

No ordinary place would have done for this story. It had to be a ramshackle, ruin of a place left over from the Middle Ages, and the only property my scapegrace hero has left to his name. A family place, yet one where he has never been. It has to be a place to try his body and soul as he attempts to reclaim it and finds not only his heritage and the love of his life, but reclaims his own badly misplaced honor. So from the moment a friend suggested Haddon Hall and I began researching it, I became fascinated with it. All right, obsessed, but we don't need to deal with that here. I'll find a therapist. Promise.

Haddon Hall is nothing if not quirky. That's probably the best word for it, in fact. That's what happens when a place is built of hand-chiseled stone blocks, and over a period of several hundred years re-built, re-modeled. Walls go up, walls go down. Knock in windows when glass becomes fashionable. Put in wood paneling and groove it to look like linen because cloth is expensive and wood is not. Change after change as the centuries wore on, with new fashions, new ideas, and increased wealth, have turned it into the quixotic, puzzling place it is today. And it was just the place to make my hero think sometimes his house was out to get him.

Eventually I had to go to to Derbyshire and see the place for myself. I took my son, a very patient person who drives well on the left side of the road, and my friend Margo, who is both patient and adaptable. She needed to be, but that's another story. Son Andy went to see his mom's obsession with England, and Margo went to see if, in the manuscript she'd read, I'd got it right. All of us were surprised. Strange puzzles lurked everywhere.

To start with, look at Margo, above, who only tops five feet tall because her hair is so wild, standing in a doorway near the entrance, her head almost brushing the top of the frame. Ah, you say, Medieval people were short. But this is the only low door in the entire manor. Why?

Well, look back along that wall, and then look the other direction, toward the entrance.
You can probably tell, the paved courtyard isn't level, and in fact, the steps leading to the entrance aren't level, square, or anything that we might consider normal. And there's that odd low doorway, looking out of proportion to everything else.

Once upon a time, that wall was a few feet taller, and so was the doorway. Taller at the bottom. But in the 15th century, the owners wanted to move the entrance right around the corner to the north wall. And they were tired of muddy feet so they wanted a paved courtyard. But Haddon Hall is built on a fairly steep slope. How do you pave a steep slope? Not in any way that makes it walkable. So they filled in the area and compromised with a quirky sorta-slope instead. That left them to put up with a doorway they could still enter by stooping. f they had tried to make the courtyard level, they would have been covering up the windows in this low wall, and left only a crawl space for the door.

Now go look again at that entrance you can barely see. Here's the re-model job they had to do to make the new entrance and not-so-old wall all join together. Can you tell how the left wall jags back at an odd angle? And look at all those strange windows and the golden blocks of stone at strange angles. Looks haphazard, but it's the only way it could all fit together. And those strange arches? The high ones on the left were part of the original entrance, but were probably removed and used to help build the new wall above. The lower ones on the right were from it too, but moved to the new position of the entrance. After all, cutting stone was hard, time-consuming work. Nobody wasted a piece as fancy as these if it could be re-used. You can see people in the entrance, which continues to slope downward. All in all, a very practical solution, and cheaper than building a new hall. On the outside, you can see why they moved the entrance. The question might be why anyone placed it on such a steep slope to begin with.

But my son wanted to know where the portcullis was. A portcullis played a pivotal, transcendent role in my hero's story, the moment when he finds the man he was meant to be. No portcullis, no story. And Haddon Hall doesn't have one. So I had to put one there anyway.

And Margo said, frowning, "But where's the privy?"

Sorry, Margo. I stole that from a monastery.

Next month, I think I'll prove to you the people of the Middle Ages weren't necessarily all short.


Paty Jager said...

Fun Information! I like how you made something well known into your own.

Heather Hiestand said...

I love deep research like you've done here, though it does make it hard to find the time to actually finish the fiction writing!

Delle Jacobs said...

well, it did justify a trip to England...

Delle Jacobs said...

You know, Paty, it was amazing how I'd read something and just know it belonged in the story. There's a very old child's shoe that was found in the woods when the restoration of Haddon Hall began, and an odd place where two walls are only a few feet apart that served as storage-almost a refuse dump over centuries. I wrote both into the story as part of the hero's discovery of his ancestors and heritage.

Victoria Gray said...

Fascinating post. What a wonderful setting for a romance.

Celia Yeary said...

DELLE--I'm impressed. And what a hardship, you poor thing, having to travel to England for your research. (Next time--need a roommate?)Your post is outstanding. Celia

Delle Jacobs said...

Very romantic, Victoria. You've likely seen it several times in movies like The Princess Bride, Elizabeth and Pride and Prejudice.

Delle Jacobs said...

Depends, Celia- do you drive on the left?

Ah, yes, such an ordeal. I sometimes have to struggle through castles. And Bath- imagine the difficulties! Besides driving the narrow streets, I mean.

Phyllis DeMarco said...

Such an interesting article-- I love it how sometimes the setting has a life of its own and even becomes a character in the story.