Uppark tells the stories of five women who shaped its extraordinary history
One hundred years ago, the 1918 Representation of the People Act granted some women the right to vote for the very first time.
A century on, the National Trust’s Uppark House and Garden is commemorating this historic milestone with In Her Shoes (5 May to 2 September 2018). This season of costume displays, talks and demonstrations tells the stories of five women who have shaped Uppark’s extraordinary history by defying convention.
Six rooms - above and below stairs - delve into the intriguing personalities of these characters. Amongst them is vivacious Emma Hart, rumoured to have danced on Uppark’s dining room table to entertain the Prince Regent and his wealthy friends. She rose from obscurity to dominate society and influence Britain’s powerful male elite, as Lord Nelson’s mistress, Emma Hamilton.
In her Shoes explores how Uppark helped to define Emma’s natural abilities - she became an admired horse woman and society hostess who used her allure to become one of the highest profile celebrities of her day.
The sumptuous Georgian interior of the saloon focuses on Sarah Lady Fetherstonhaugh, who unusually for a woman of this period accompanied her husband on a ‘Grand Tour’ of Italy. They returned with many of the treasures we see throughout the house today – scagliola tables, portrait paintings by Pompeo Batoni and seascapes by Vernet. Sarah’s creativity is reflected in her own delicate watercolours hanging in the red drawing room. On her marriage she also brought to Uppark the jewel in its crown – an incredibly rare 6ft dolls’ house filled with beautiful furnishings.
Dairy maid Mary Ann Bullock’s story is the stuff of romantic fiction. In the 1820s Uppark’s owner Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh, then in his 70s, fell in love with Mary Ann when he heard her singing in the dairy. They married, and the 20-year-old bride went to Paris to learn the social skills required for her new station in life. In Her Shoes reveals how Mary Ann adapted to her new role in society, and how others around her reacted, both upstairs and downstairs.
“I was sure nothing was impossible, and that feats of restoration must be tackled without too much hesitation.” The personal 1930s diaries of Margaret Lady Meade-Fetherstonhaugh reveal a fascinating insight into the life of this textile conservator. Her pioneering techniques made her an authority on conserving historic textiles in great houses such as Chatsworth House and Blenheim Palace. Uppark’s tapestry bedroom pulls back the curtain on the revolutionary methods Margaret used, as she embarked on a decade of restoring silk curtains, wallpapers, tapestries, chair covers and textiles including the Prince of Wales’ grand four-poster bed.
The housekeeper’s room centers on the world of Sarah Wells, who first worked at Uppark as a lady’s maid, in 1850. She returned years later as housekeeper, in the role of family breadwinner. Her diary entries explore the minutiae of her world, including her close relationship with her employer, Frances Fetherstonhaugh. Sarah’s life at Uppark, with its fierce social hierarchy and subterranean servants’ tunnels, is thought to have influenced the writings of her son, the science fiction novelist HG Wells, who regularly stayed at the house.
“Uppark is a place that’s been defined by the women who have lived here, but it had a powerful influence on their lives too, emotionally as well as physically”, says Sarah Foster, Uppark’s House and Collections Manager. “Researching these five historical characters has been a fascinating journey into the past, and we’re really looking forward to sharing the true stories we discovered with our visitors.”
Visitors to Uppark on 7 and 28 May can also enjoy performances from musician and singer Kirsty Merryn. Kirsty will be singing songs from her new album, inspired by amazing women from the past, including Emma Hamilton (12 – 3pm, normal house admission charge only).
Demonstrations include: butter-making (July), silk scarf-making (May), quilt-making (July), and textile-conservation (August). Exact dates to be confirmed online shortly.
Throughout the summer holidays a new house and garden trail inspired by In Her Shoes gives families a chance to get involved with activities, word scrambles and puzzles. From foreign travel to butter churning, kids can find out more about each of these historical characters on this fun and imaginative trail.
In Her Shoes is part of the National Trust’s nationwide Women and Power programme that explores the struggle for women’s suffrage with events, exhibitions, tours, creative commissions and debate.
In her Shoes: 5 May to 2 September, 12.30 – 4pm, normal admission charge only.
Uppark House and Garden, South Harting, Petersfield GU31 5QR, tel: 01730 825415