The Fonthill Estate and the Gold Suited Doorman

May 08, 11:00 PM
As we clock up double figures with our 10th episode this one is dominated by stories of some truly bizarre people including the gold suited Spanish dwarf Perro.

But we begin with the prospect of a re-enactment of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights by Glyn and Paul on Sidbury Hill. A prospect too ghastly for words. You’ll have to listen to find out more. 

We then catch up with activity over the two weeks since the last podcast which mostly involve the colour blue. Yes, it’s bluebell time again in Wiltshire and after visits to several woods we’re just about done with bluebell photographs and the challenges involved in photographing them. As for the best display? For us it’s a toss up between Bidcombe Wood and Gopher Wood. Check out the Facebook page (or Closed Facebook Group if you’re a member) for the photos.

And with everything that’s going on in the world of Hidden Wiltshire (including the new and thriving Online Shop linked below) Glyn has issued the first weekly Newsletter. Subscribe on the website to receive a copy by email.

Then onto this week’s walk which is dominated by the Fonthill Estate. You can follow the walk on the website using the link below. It’s an extraordinary story of immense wealth generated in the dark days of slavery, accompanied by scandal, man-traps and killer bloodhounds. A story of the inheritance by an 18 year old William Beckford of the largest real estate in Europe, followed by marriage and a ruined reputation. He sought solace in a young Italian boy named Gregorio Franchi and the aforementioned dwarf Perro. These characters all appear in the thoroughly recommended trilogy The Complete Adventures of Henry Chalk, Pedestrian Tourist by Wiltshire author Nick Cowen (link below).

We discuss the construction (and eventual collapse) of the extravagant Fonthill Abbey built to house William’s collection of art and manuscripts, described by essayist and friend of the poet John Keats William Hazlitt as “an immense museum of all that is most curious and costly and at the same time worthless”. He went on to say of William “The only proof of taste he has shown in the collection is his getting rid of it”!

The estate changed hands a number of times over the years and is now owned by Alastair Morrison, 3rd Baron Margadale no less. But controversy continued to surround Fonthill (the current house is the sixth iteration) with complaints to the police about an all night 21st birthday party for Morrison’s daughter Nancy in 2016 which made the national press. But this was eclipsed by William Beckford’s own 21st birthday party at the estate in 1781 which lasted three days!

But this part of Wiltshire is not just about the estate. Whilst the landscape may be somewhat manicured and artificial it is not without its appeal. And we’re not just talking about the Beckford Arms at Fonthill Gifford! Like so much of our countryside it is dotted with ancient churches including the pretty little church at Berwick St Leonard with its touching memorials, including that to the six of MP George Grobham Howe’s 11 children who died before the age four in the late 17th century. We also find the remains of a long gone system of irrigation by means of sluice gates and drains that would have been used to flood the meadows between Berwick St Leonard and Fonthill Bishop.

We finish with a reminder about the offer to listeners of the podcast from Lowa Boots UK. You’ll need to listen to the podcast for details of how you can save 20% on their walking boots and shoes.

The music and sounds in the podcast are provided by the multi-talented Steve Dixon. The piece in the Introduction is entitled “The Holloway”, whilst the piece introducing us to the walk is entitled “Dark and Lonely Water”. The words are from a 1970s public information film warning about the dangers of children playing by water and were read by actor Donald Pleasance.


Links:

The new Hidden Wiltshire shop Hidden Wiltshire Shop

You can follow the walk on the Hidden Wiltshire website here The Fonthill Estate

The Complete Adventures of Henry Chalk, Pedestrian Tourist by Nick Cowen The Complete Adventures of Henry Chalk

Glyn’s photographs can be seen on the Hidden Wiltshire website and his Instagram feed @coy_cloud

Paul’s website can be found at Paul Timlett Photography and on Instagram at @tragicyclist

Steve Dixon’s sound art can be found on Soundcloud where his username is River and Rail Steve Dixon River and Rail. His photographs can be found on Instagram at @stevedixon_creative and his graphic design business website is at Steve Dixon Creative

And finally you can find Lowa Boots UK at  Lowa Boots UK