Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Gascoyne-Cecil Style

Here’s a charming portrait of family life at Hatfield, home of Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil [1830-1903]:

Endowed with the first marchioness’s force of character, and the second marchioness’s intelligence and money, the Cecils sailed into their Victorian and Edwardian heyday. Hatfield became one of the most famous houses in England. Balls and garden-parties were held in profusion…. Huge house-parties were given there constantly. To have six guests staying in addition to the family was called ‘having no one in the house’. Meals were  eaten in the great hall in summer and in a new upstairs dining-room in winter; sofas and armchairs spilled all down the long gallery; high politics were discussed in the library. So as almost everything else. The prime minister, his wife and seven children (and later his grandchildren) were like nobody else, but very much like each other. They were lively, argumentative, absent-minded, untidy and full of fun and ideas, which they expressed in a curious staccato voice peculiar to the family. Children were expected to join in the conversation and have their own opinions.

The Victorian Cecils were not sensitive to beauty. There are some country houses, like Uppark, where generation after generation had the gift of buying pretty things and creating harmonious interiors. The nineteenth-century Cecils lacked this gift entirely (and probably didn’t want it). Many alterations were made at Hatfield in this period; perhaps none of them were actively ugly, but on the other hand none were very sympathetic.

The one exception was the gardens (the original Jacobean gardens had vanished entirely) and even these owe much to later and less philistine generations…. Even here the prime minister’s lack of interest in how things looked is in evidence. Asphalt paths, as in a municipal garden, run through the woods. The prime minister, when old and overweight, had them laid so that he could ride through the grounds on a tricycle. In a broad-brimmed hat and a cloak he would puff slowly along, with a child or footman there to push him when he got stuck.

—Mark Girouard, Historic Houses of Britain

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This entry was posted in History.