A chronicle of fall quarter abroad at Oxford, 2010
Sunday, October 10, 2010
York Part I: Hardwick Hall
Well, our Bing Grant trip took place this past Friday and Saturday, to York in northern England. For those non-Stanford people reading this, the Stanford Overseas Program is sponsored by Peter and Helen Bing, a generous couple who have endowed money for students from each overseas campus to participate in spectacular sightseeing, cultural trips, dinners, and other events - most notably the once-a-quarter Bing trip, an overnight foray to a place of interest within the host country.
There's no other word for it: our time in York was spectacular. I'm too tired to try and consolidate the jam-packed two days into a single post, so I'll break it down into a series of smaller entries. That way I'll also do the weekend a bit more justice!
After setting out early Friday morning from Oxford (I'm a morning person so the 8am departure time wasn't bad, but nearly everyone else was staggering), our first stop was Hardwick Hall, a great Elizabethan house in Derbyshire. In short, it was built by Robert Smythson for Bess of Hardwick, an obscenely wealthy lady who expected her granddaughter to ascend to the throne once Queen Elizabeth died - something which never happened, but which nevertheless drove Bess to build a house suitable for royalty and general swaggering. (The uses that rich people come up with for their money: this is a theme I'll return to.)
The house is huge, with towers at its forefront intended to invoke memories of a castle, each of them ornately worked with Bess's initials. Inside, it is filled with old paintings and tapestries that, I thought, gave it a dark and slightly medieval feel, even though the style is in accordance with the 16th century. The staircases are made of heavy, rounding stone slabs, and the walls (where not covered with musty, faded tapestries) are worked with family crests and crudely classical plaster scenes. Some of the pieces of furniture are beautiful, ornately carved wooden tables and chairs, and the great gallery on the second floor seems a breath away from guests and dancing. But, although the windows grant a pleasing view down onto the estate (including Bess's second manor house, now a ruin, nearby), the gardens, and the rolling green hills beyond, I found its interior oppressive - even though Bess Hardwick meant to impress. Overwhelm is more like it. Apparently the house was last inhabited by a solitary female heir in the 1930s, and I shuddered to think of how she must have felt, wandering those great empty halls and dark chambers alone. Intended royalty aside, this house was too dense, too much for me, and I left it relieved to breathe the fresh air outside.
But still, what an interesting insight into the lifestyle and pretensions of the time. The Elizabethan era was known for its frills and its grandeur - something which shows through even in the language and extended metaphors of Shakespeare. Hmm, this is something I'll have to contemplate...