Susan Breeks of Helbeck
Victorian Ladies in Australia, India and Westmorland
FOR over 60 years Jim and Rosemary Blackett-Ord lived at Helbeck Hall, Westmorland. They loved and cared for this historic eighteenth century building and its gardens with a devotion which protected it through the difficult years when beautiful homes were often neglected.
The author remembered seeing the house in the late 1940s on a wet and cold winter’s day. Inside chickens were running on the ground floor, wallpaper was hanging off the the walls, rain had come in nearly everywhere and the downstairs was painted dark brown and ‘battleship’ grey. She recalled: ‘It was deeply gloomy, but I consoled myself with the thought that Jim would not inherit for many years.’ He inherited the house shortly afterwards.
Rosemary’s curiosity was sparked when family papers, books, letters and maps arrived, including two well-worn leather books containing fine tissue paper carbon copies of letters, some written from India, others from Helbeck. The letters from India were written by Jim Breeks between 1868 and 1871, and those from Helbeck by his widow, Susan Breeks, between 1895 and 1901.
The story was traced further to the Denisons of Ossington Hall, and to an eighteenth century actress Elisabeth Farren, the Earls of Derby, the Hornby family and finally to General Burgoyne. All of them wrote countless letters, diaries and notebooks giving a fascinating insight into their lives.
Rosemay studied these and researched the period background. She found: ‘There is a touch of lightness in their lives and an immensely attractive attitude to life, which in many ways, was highly immoral.’ The family worked and lived in Australia, Tasmania, India and the Eden Valley. The result of Rosemary’s dedicated research is this book and its unique and wonderful insight into the history of one family over two centuries.
Hardback; 250mm x 170mm
Black and white and colour photographs throughout