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Renishaw Hall: The Story of the Sitwells by…
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Renishaw Hall: The Story of the Sitwells

by Desmond Seward

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A really enjoyable book. I love stately homes, and this book is written with real love and appreciation of Renishaw and its inhabitants over 4 centuries. The Sitwell family has occupied Renshaw since the 17th century and the book covers the lives of all of them right up until the present day. Understandably though, more than half the book is devoted to Renishaw's most famous inhabitants, the three Sitwell siblings, Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell, who were lions of the British literary scene between the wars. The descriptions of their tangled friendships and enmities with literary notables such as Evelyn Waugh, Wyndham Lewis, Virginia Woolf are deftly handed with sensitivity and humour. The various modifications to the house over the centuries are covered beautifully, with a real appreciation for the efforts of successive squires to beautify and maintain the house's unique character. Also of interest are the house's many little quirky stories and legends, such as the ghost of a young boy who drowned and who now wakes girls with a kiss. This is a lovely book, beautifully written and captivating. Highly recommended. ( )
  drmaf | May 23, 2017 |
With thanks to Elliott and Thompson for the review copy.

I read very few non-fiction books these days, but this was a book that ticked a number of boxes for me. I do like books about key literary figures, and I enjoy visiting large houses (usually National Trust) so a book about a literary family and the house they lived in appealed at once. I am also a sucker for lots of glossy colour pictures – and this book certainly has a nice collection.

The Sitwell family have lived at Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire since 1625 – and this book is very much the story of the family who lived at that house. ‘The Cavalier’ George Sitwell born in 1601 came to build Renishaw Hall from money saved before he came of age. The family he started at Renishaw was a fascinating collection of people, gentlemen squires, a Jacobite, a Sheffield attorney, spendthrifts and a ghost who apparently steals kisses from pretty girls, and then there is a legion of wives and children. Desmond Seward gives us a brief history of each of these, naturally given the distance of time, what is known now about these men is limited, but Seward does an excellent job of bringing to life the times in which they lived, and exploring their impact upon the house and grounds of Renishaw Hall. These stories are really delightful, taking the reader on a glorious journey across the history of England.renishawhall1

(On Sir Sitwell Sitwell – owner of Renishaw 1793 -1811)
“Although he died in the first year of the Regency, often his behaviour was that of a classic Regency Buck. The Sporting Magazine for November 1798 reports a characteristic exploit – how, with his harriers, he hunted down and killed a ‘Royal Bengal Tiger’ that had escaped from a circus at Sheffield, some hounds losing their lives. He was much admired for his stud, whose horses won many trophies. Yet at the same time he possessed impeccable taste in architecture and pictures. Above all, he was determined to cut a figure in the world”

ladyidaThe real creator of the Renishaw Hall of today however was another George Sitwell, Sir George Sitwell, father to Osbert, Edith and Sacheverell Sitwell; rivals to the Bloomsbury group. Sir George’s interest in Italian art inspired the Baroque revival of Renishaw. The life of Sir George and his wife Lady Ida is compellingly told. It’s a story of an unhappy marriage, parental disharmony, imprisonment for fraud and one over-riding obsession. Desperate that his wife and children shouldn’t waste money and endanger the estate as has happened in previous generations, Sir George had a difficult relationship with his children who later portrayed him cruelly as a fool. Sir George was also a great gardener again inspired by what he had seen in Italy, Sir George proved himself to be a fine landscape gardener.

the sitwellsSir Osbert Sitwell took over Renishaw in 1925, for many years Osbert lived at Renishaw with his sister Edith. The three Sitwell siblings – often referred to as simply the trio – were a colourful, eccentric bunch, at Renishaw they were able to play glamorous hosts to many artistic and literary figures – a different environment completely to that of the country cottages, and the rooms of a tiny publishing firm favoured by the Bloomsbury group. By the 1950’s and 1960’s the Sitwells had become leading literary figures publishing many works of biography, art history and poetry between them. The Sitwells were famous, known to people the world over who had never read a word they had written.

In 1965 – the son of Sacheverell Sitwell, Reresby Sitwell took on the mantel of Renishaw, and together with his wife Penelope carried on the great work that Sir George had started at Renishaw. Today Reresby’s daughter Alexandra Hayward and her husband carry on the work of those previous generations. In its history the fortunes of Renishaw Hall have risen, fallen and risen again, it is testament to the work of some of them that this beautiful house full of Italian art and furniture and its gardens survive in the exceptional state that it does. In 2015 Renishaw’s garden was named as HHA/Christies garden of the year. There were times in the previous four hundred years – when it looked as if Renishaw wouldn’t survive at all.

I have not had the opportunity to visit Renishaw Hall yet – but now I feel as if I already know the house, and I long to walk through the rooms and gardens and soak up the atmosphere of a truly remarkable family. ( )
1 vote Heaven-Ali | Sep 3, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 178396183X, Hardcover)

Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire has been the seat of the Sitwell family since 1625. Its remarkable story is only matched by that of the family who have dwelled there, and with whose fortunes it has risen and fallen, only to rise again.

Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell were some of the brightest stars of 1920s literary society. They counted among their friends and acquaintances some of the greatest writers and artists of the age, many of whom came to love the beautiful Renishaw Hall (Whistler and Evelyn Waugh were frequent visitors).

Infested by ghosts as some houses are by rats, Renishaw has had colourful owners since it was built by a Cavalier turned Roundhead – a Regency Buck who hunted a tiger with his hounds then added the great rooms. The creator of today’s Renishaw was eccentric Sir George, who laid out the beautiful gardens, bought the Italian furniture and had Sargent paint his family, but was belittled in his son Osbert's biography. Recent restoration has revealed the spell that caused Rex Whistler to call Renishaw ‘the most exciting house in England’.

But the story of the house does not begin – or end – there. In telling the tale of the Sitwells through the centuries, Desmond Seward also takes us on a tour through English history, to the house’s restoration at the end of the twentieth century, and the return to its former glory as a jewel of British heritage.

(retrieved from Amazon Sat, 11 Jul 2015 16:10:08 -0400)

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