Some years ago, my writing group Wear Valley Writers used to go on ‘field trips’, visiting interesting places – a farm, a beach, a stretch of moorland – to have a picnic and tackle a piece of observation and writing on the spot. The quality of the writing outcomes emerging from these adventures was always high, giving us something to build on.
On one outstanding occasion by special arrangement we visited Norton Conyers - a grade 2 listed late medieval manor house with some Stuart and Georgian elements - owned by the Graham family since 1624. We were privileged to visit it before it was more generally open to the public and to be shown around the house by the owner and the garden by the owner’s wife. It had all the atmosphere of a family home stretching back hundreds of years and, as we made our way around it, it was easy to feel the company of people from other times.
Our very informed guide eventually led us up a newly unblocked staircase connecting the first floor to the attics and led us through several attic rooms to a dark attic at the end with a single round window. He told us of the family legend that a mad woman had been confined to this attic for years. He also told us that Norton Conyers had been visited by the writer Charlotte Bronte in 1839 and this house was said to be the model for Thornfield Hall in her novel Jane Eyre.
Then we had a look around the fascinating historic garden (which they were developing then and is now open to the public). So, both inside and outside,the house we found masses of atmosphere and inspiration for our writing.
|Eileen, who was there, has just turned up this photo of some|
of us picnicking outsied the Orangery before embarking
on the writing. I am in the straw hat...
Later we settled down before the Orangery, ate our picnics and wrote like fury for forty minutes before we read our drafts to each other. There was some good writing there.
In the next week I developed my own 'orangery draft' into a full blown story called Letter to Emily inspired by Charlotte Bronte’s visit to Norton Conyers when she was 23 years old. You can read it here if you want to see how my story turned out, or you can click on the 'Short Story' tab above.
All this was brought to my mind by an article this week in The Independent which talks about Norton Conyers and has a splendid image of the very attic. I see that Norton Conyers is much more developed now, with its history well documented and it’s Orangery for hire for weddings and other events.