Nathaniel Hawthorne visits Poulton Hall
The current Poulton Hall was built in 1653, and has been extended and managed since then. The website for the hall can be found here. The hall is not generally open to the public, but can be booked for special events and filming, and the gardens are open to the public on half a dozen occasions per year.
On August 8th, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote about an unexpected visit to Poulton Hall the previous day. Hawthorne stated in Passages on August 4th that they (Hawthorne, his wife, and his three children) would be moving to stay temporarily at the Royal Rock Hotel on August 6th , about 3 miles from Poulton Hall.
The Mr B. mentioned (Hawthorne often abbreviated or omitted the names of individuals in his writing) may be the same previously mentioned in the passages as being from the American Chamber of Commerce and also the Chair of a delegation that welcomed Hawthorne in his very early days, whilst staying at Mr Blodgett’s guesthouse at 153 Duke Street, Liverpool.
Note: The text reproduced here is unaltered from Hawthorne’s writing, although italics and highlighting in bold are mine.
Extracts from Passages from the English Notebooks.
August 8th 1953
...Yesterday, while we were at dinner, Mr. B. came in his carriage to take us to his residence, Poulton Hall. He had invited us to dine; but I misunderstood him, and thought he only intended to give us a drive. Poulton Hall is about three miles from Rock Ferry, the road passing through some pleasant rural scenery, and one or two villages, with houses standing close together, and old stone or brick cottages, with thatched roofs, and now and then a better mansion, apart among trees. We passed an old church, with a tower and spire, and, half-way up, a patch of ivy, dark green, and some yellow wall-flowers, in full bloom, growing out of the crevices of the stone. Mr. B. told us that the tower was formerly quite clothed with ivy from bottom to top, but that it had fallen away for lack of the nourishment that it used to find in the lime between the stones. This old church answered to my Transatlantic fancies of England better than anything I have yet seen. Not far from it was the Rectory, behind a deep grove of ancient trees; and there lives the Rector, enjoying a thousand pounds a year and his nothing-to-do, while a curate performs the real duty on a stipend of eighty pounds.
We passed through a considerable extent of private road, and finally drove over a lawn, studded with trees and closely shaven, till we reached the door of Poulton Hall. Part of the mansion is three or four hundred years old; another portion is about a hundred and fifty, and still another has been built during the present generation. The house is two stories high, with a sort of beetle-browed roof in front. It is not very striking, and does not look older than many wooden houses which I have seen in America. There is a curious stately staircase, with a twisted balustrade much like that of the old Province House in Boston. The drawing-room is a handsome modern apartment, being beautifully painted and gilded and paper-hung, with a white marble fireplace and rich furniture, so that the impression is that of newness, not of age. It is the same with the dining-room, and all the rest of the interior so far as I saw it.
Mr. B. did not inherit this old hall, nor, indeed, is he the owner, but only the tenant of it. He is a merchant of Liverpool, a bachelor, with two sisters residing with him. In the entrance-hall, there was a stuffed fox with glass eyes, which I never should have doubted to be an actual live fox except for his keeping so quiet; also some grouse and other game. Mr. B. seems to be a sportsman, and is setting out this week on an excursion to Scotland, moor-fowl shooting.
While the family and two or three guests went to dinner, we walked out to see the place. The gardener, an Irishman, showed us through the garden, which is large and well cared for. They certainly get everything from Nature which she can possibly be persuaded to give them, here in England. There were peaches and pears growing against the high brick southern walls,–the trunk and branches of the trees being spread out perfectly flat against the wall, very much like the skin of a dead animal nailed up to dry, and not a single branch protruding. Figs were growing in the same way. The brick wall, very probably, was heated within, by means of pipes, in order to re-enforce the insufficient heat of the sun. It seems as if there must be something unreal and unsatisfactory in fruit that owes its existence to such artificial methods. Squashes were growing under glass, poor things! There were immensely large gooseberries in the garden; and in this particular berry, the English, I believe, have decidedly the advantage over ourselves. The raspberries, too, were large and good. I espied one gigantic hog-weed in the garden; and, really, my heart warmed to it, being strongly reminded of the principal product of my own garden at Concord. After viewing the garden sufficiently, the gardener led us to other parts of the estate, and we had glimpses of a delightful valley, its sides shady with beautiful trees, and a rich, grassy meadow at the bottom. By means of a steam-engine and subterranean pipes and hydrants, the liquid manure from the barn-yard is distributed wherever it is wanted over the estate, being spouted in rich showers from the hydrants. Under this influence, the meadow at the bottom of the valley had already been made to produce three crops of grass during the present season, and would produce another.
The lawn around Poulton Hall, like thousands of other lawns in England, is very beautiful, but requires great care to keep it so, being shorn every three or four days. No other country will ever have this charm, nor the charm of lovely verdure, which almost makes up for the absence of sunshine. Without the constant rain and shadow which strikes us as so dismal, these lawns would be as brown as an autumn leaf. I have not, thus far, found any such magnificent trees as I expected. Mr. B. told me that three oaks, standing in a row on his lawn, were the largest in the county. They were very good trees, to be sure, and perhaps four feet in diameter near the ground, but with no very noble spread of foliage. In Concord there are, if not oaks, yet certainly elms, a great deal more stately and beautiful. But, on the whole, this lawn, and the old Hall in the midst of it, went a good way towards realizing some of my fancies of English life.
By and by a footman, looking very quaint and queer in his livery coat, drab breeches, and white stockings, came to invite me to the table, where I found Mr. B. and his sisters and guests sitting at the fruit and wine. There were port, sherry, madeira, and one bottle of claret, all very good; but they take here much heavier wines than we drink now in America. After a tolerably long session we went to the tea-room, where I drank some coffee, and at about the edge of dusk the carriage drew up to the door to take us home. Mr. B. and his sisters have shown us genuine kindness, and they gave us a hearty invitation to come and ramble over the house whenever we pleased, during their absence in Scotland. They say that there are many legends and ghost-stories connected with the house; and there is an attic chamber, with a skylight, which is called the Martyr’s chamber, from the fact of its having, in old times, been tenanted by a lady, who was imprisoned there, and persecuted to death for her religion. There is an old black-letter library, but the room containing it is shut, barred, and padlocked,–the owner of the house refusing to let it be opened, lest some of the books should be stolen. Meanwhile the rats are devouring them, and the damps destroying them.