Tuesday, 28 July 2015

'Renishaw Hall: The Story of The Sitwells' by Desmond Seward

Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire is consistently voted one of England’s most beautiful houses and its exquisite gardens scoop awards and applauds all over the show, and in his new book historian Desmond Seward celebrates the 400+ years of English history banked into its foundations.

Perhaps most famous as the home of the literary trio Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell (who were the biggest rivals to the Bloosmbury Group of the 1910s and 1920s), Renishaw’s heritage actually extends back to its foundations in 1625 when the first George Sitwell saw his plans for the family home take shape and he assumed residence. Inevitably, due to the ease of information about more recent history, the second half of the book focuses on the past 100 years while the first half whizzes through the first three hundred.

Through Renishaw Hall: The Story Of The Sitwells, Desmond meticulously catalogues each and every triumph and set-back in the long history of the Sitwell family – at times painfully so. Because while the book is undoubtedly rich in detail, there is the impression that Desmond has been so thorough in his endless research for this book that there is no scrap of information he has left out. The result is a somewhat bamboozling avalanche of information, much of which relates to historical figures whose entry in the book is fleeting, leaving the reader with a phenomenal cast of characters to try and keep tabs on. 

With such a rich seam of characters and events to share with contemporary readers, I felt it a pity that Douglas’ book read so drily and didn’t bring the story of the house and its inhabitants to life in the same way that, for example, the gorgeous colour picture sections do. However, to read about the forgotten Sitwell family members is fascinating and is an excellent history lesson.

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