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Life of Mary Anne Schimmelpenninck:

An introduction

Mary Schimmelpenninck had moved to Great Barr Hall as a child when her father Samuel Galton leased it from the Scott family about 1788. She was an author and later wrote about her life, this was completed by her relation and published in 1858, two years after her death. The book is available online at

The following sections provides an extract with some of her recollections of her time at Great Barr. It has been slightly edited to focus only on her time at the Hall.

Move to Great Barr Hall

When I was about seven years old, I think in 1785, we moved from The Five Ways, for which our family was now too large, to Barr in Staffordshire, quite in the country, about seven or eight miles from Birmingham. Barr was a habitation altogether of a different kind from The Five Ways. The latter was a suburban villa, in a sort of straggling row, in which gentlemen's houses, cottages, trees and fields promiscuously found place. Before it passed the high road to Hagley and the Leasowes, the abodes of the celebrated Lord Lyttelton and the poet Shenstone. The place was called Five Ways because five ways actually met at the turnpike, which was then one mile from Birmingham. Some of these roads were pic turesque, especially one winding in a deep bottom to Har- borne. Behind the house we had a large shrubbery garden, a poultry-yard, pens for our pets, stables and coach-house, altogether occupying perhaps two acres. Barr, on the other hand, was a comfortable mansion house, and though built in what is now called the " Ogee Gothic style " (of which nothing was understood in those days), it yet had an eminently comfortable and attractive appearance. It was the seat of Sir Joseph Scott, who was reputed to have found the art of giving wings to the three fortunes which he had successively inherited. He went abroad, and my father took a lease of his house for twenty- one years. I have always thought that six lines which Sir Joseph Scott wrote were very beautiful. An uncle, from whom he expected to inherit a large fortune, died, cutting him off with a shilling. This shilling Sir Joseph Scott had framed and put up in the library at Barr, with the follow ing inscription : " Behold in me sole fruit of all the care An honour'd Uncle gave his much- loved heir ; Yet judge not harshly, think him not unkind : Good and indulgent, yet, like Isaac, blind ; Deluded he by Jacob's happier star, He gave to Shestock what was due to Barr." Great Barr House, for such the place was called, was the mansion of a very beautiful though not large estate. It was situated in an amphitheatre of wooded hills, one of which was covered with noble oak and beech trees, another with dark firs and walnuts, and a third with young planta tions. They rose immediately behind the house. On the top of the highest of these hills was a small area, in the midst of a picturesque clump of aged Scotch firs, where rose a flag-staff, as high as the mainmast of a ship, which could be seen from a vast distance around. Here, on days for receiving company, Sir Joseph Scott had been used to hoist a flag with an inscription similar to that on the staff itself, "A welcome to all friends round the Wrekin." From one of these wooded hills, we emerged upon a wide hilly common and sheep path, which led to an ancient manor-house, belonging to Sir J. Scott's uncle, Mr. Hoo. This was one of those old-fashioned houses in which dark oak timber alternates with the lighter colour and material of the house itself ; with oriel windows and gable ends and bartizans. Around it was an old-fashioned Dutch garden, full of fish-ponds. In the garden stood a yew tree, the branches extending about thirty-six yards round, which Dr. Plott, nearly 150 years ago, celebrated in his "History of Staffordshire" as the largest in England. Close by was the Squire's kennel for his hounds, adorned with stags' horns and other trophies of the chase. It was a great amusement to us to go and see the hounds led out. Mr. Hoo was quite an original, and had a servant as original as himself. He was an old bachelor. Some forty years before, he had been on the point of marriage with a lady to whom he was much attached, but the lady required him to give up smoking and his hounds ; after a short demur, he said, " there was no woman worth fifty hounds," but that he should never love another, and would never marry anybody else. He then shut himself up in his manor-house, and never allowed any woman to enter his doors.

Beyond Mr. Hoo's house the common ascended and expanded into Sutton Coldfield. Just beyond Barr Beacon, in the midst of a wild clump of trees, was marked the spot where the Beacon had stood in the time of the Druids. The panoramic view hence was magnificent. Sutton Coldfield was a vast chase, in part wooded, in part rough common, adorned with every sort of wild flower, and interspersed with woody ravines ; it extended over thirty miles. Twelve miles off gleamed the three beautiful spires of Lichfield Cathedral, " The Ladies of the Vale," as they were called. In another direction was the little town of Walsall, and many beautiful villages and hamlets. In the distance rose, like a blue haze, the smoke from the vast ironworks at Colebrook Dale, and beyond, forty miles off, the great Wrekin. The whole view was girdled in by the Malvern, the Clent, the Cotswold, and Bredon Hills, and on a very clear day some thought they could see Kingroad. This vast and wild scenery at the back of Barr formed a remarkable contrast to the cheerful yet secluded and peaceful view in front of the house, which stood in a beautiful meadow of about forty acres, terminated on the right by a woody landscape, whence emerged the tower of the village church. In fact, though not seen from the house, a wild irregular avenue of lofty and aged Scotch firs ran over an undulating ground, from Mr. Hoo's old manor-house at Barr Beacon to the entrance of the church. My impression is that it must have extended a mile. This avenue was occupied by a vast rookery ; the cawings of the rooks reached the house, softened by the distance; and in our walks we delighted to watch their evolutions. A brook ran through the meadow, bordered with wild flowers. To this day I love the orchis and the cowslip, from the multitude which grew there. This brook ran into a pool, which in its turn formed a cascade, to whose murmurings I loved to listen. At the top of the meadow was a grove called "The Ladies' Wood ; " this was one of our favourite resorts to sit and read in. The grounds of Barr were entered from the Birmingham Eoad by a carriage drive under aged oaks, whence sloped down a steep precipice to a wild mill-stream, filled with flags and bulrushes, and the haunt of the heron and the kingfisher. This was separated by a wooden dam from a second lake of a very different character, as clear as a looking-glass. Another favourite haunt for reading or botanising was by an old sawpit, where, on logs of wood, many a time I sat and read Virgil's first Eclogue, listening to the wild bees and the woodlark's song.

About the house

Such was the scenery of Barr. I will say a few words of the house itself, because I believe both of these had a material effect on my character. The house had been built at very various times. There were four or five different halls, and as many different staircases. It was more like an assemblage of several houses under the same roof, than the unity of one dwelling. One part was occupied by the apartment of my parents, my own, my sister's, and our two schoolrooms. Another part of the new building contained the rooms of our visitors, of whom we always had several ; another, the rooms of the servants, and a third the nurseries of my younger brothers and sisters. Owing to this mode of arrangement, it resulted that each formed a little clan to itself, and ordinarily we met our visitors and each other only in the public family rooms at meal-times.

I had a pretty little bedroom assigned to me, looking out on a lovely view ; and my mother made me a present of a cabinet bookcase, which, after the lapse of sixty-six years, stands this day in my room. It is almost the only relic left of my early and much loved home. The room opposite was our pleasant schoolroom, and through it was a bedroom occupied by my sister and the governess. These three rooms, and the staircase leading to them, formed our apart ments. At the bottom of the staircase was a little un occupied room, which looked out on a flat roof covering some of the offices. It used to be a great delight to me, as soon as I had learnt my geography or Latin, to spread out the map on this roof, and call to Polly King, the little girl I have mentioned, and shout out my lesson and teach it to. her ; in which lesson, when next she came to wait on me, I failed not to examine her. We used to delight in our rambles about the beautiful hills, and woods, and meadows of Barr.

Lady Scott

On one occasion Lady Scott came over from Boulogne on a visit to my father's house. She had a French maid with her, and was adorned with feathers, flowers, and all sorts of finery. She came to transact some business relative to Barr, and remained for some weeks. I had never seen such gay dressing in my life, and I really believed that Lady Scott was labouring under an aliena tion of mind. One day when my parents were out of the room, and I was busily reading certain little books of Mr. Newberry's library for children, adorned with gilt paper covers, Lady Scott came up to me, took away my books,and said : " So you have saved up your money to buy these two gilded books ; none but a silly child would do so : go, take your slate and do a sum ; for arithmetic, your father told you this morning, is useful and leads to certain results." I gave up my book with a very ill grace, took up my slate and occupied myself with it for some time, when my mother coming in, I eagerly ran to her and said, " Dost thou know that Lady Scott says she is two hundred and fifty-two times more silly than I ? " My mother asked what I meant ; I turned to Lady Scott, and said ; " Lady Scott says that none but a silly child would spend sixpence in these two gilt books ; because, she says, they are of little use ; and she told you at breakfast that her bracelets and necklace, which are of no use at all, cost six guineas ; now are there not two hundred and fifty-two sixpences in six guineas ? besides, my books give me the whole history of ' Les Chiens Celebres,' and tell me how to rear silk- worms as they do in China." When I was alone with my mother she said to me : " My child, I want to speak to thee. Thou art quite right in thinking that finery is of no use, and is silly ; but thou art quite wrong in thinking that Lady Scott is silly because she wears finery. Many clever people sometimes do foolish things ; for sense, like medicine, is only useful in those cases to which it is applied, and few apply it in everything. People often act from custom, taking things as they find them without thought. I hope thou wilt be too wise to love finery thyself, and not be so ignorant as to think all people silly who do differently. I hope thou wilt go to Lady Scott's room directly and tell her how very sorry thou art to have made so ignorant a speech, and that thou hopest she will pardon it as that of a little girl who knew no better." I went directly to Lady Scott, who received my apology most kindly, in token of which she gave me leave to go every day into her room, and feed her little dog, " Comme-vous."

Photograph: Wikpedia

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