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Georgian life in Ambleside revealed – book launch: Brathay Hall Saturday 28 February (2-4pm)

Maurice Dybeck

Georgian life in Ambleside is revealed in a new book based on the journals and sketches of the Hardens of Brathay Hall. Their social circle included Wordsworth, Coleridge and Constable.

Compiled by renowned local historian Maurice Dybeck – who has written other social history books and is a co-author of Longman’s ‘Study Geography’ series which sold almost a million copies worldwide – it took a year to research and edit.

“The words and letters of Jessy Harden present a fascinating picture of life in the upper echelons of local society” explained Mr Dybeck.

“John Harden was no mean artist, particularly when it comes to recording all their daily doings. Putting together his pictures and her comments give us unique window into the social life of those times.

“For the Hardens, who lived at Brathay Hall on the northern shore of Windermere in the first quarter of the 19th century, life was a busy round of sketching, social visits, having fun, managing the estate, playing cards, making music and looking after their five children.

“Their social circle included Wordsworth, Coleridge and Constable and their shared love of art and literature is encapsulated in Jessy’s journals and through John’s sketches. My job was to bring these two unique sources together.”

The 200 page ‘Jessy’s Journal’ is an anthology of Jessy’s letters, extracted from 70,000 words transcribed by Dr Sue Owen from Kendal, and a selection of 150 out of 500 of John’s pictures held in the Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal.

The result is an appealing collection of witty tales and surprisingly frank commentary on 19th century life which finds many reflections in today’s world.

From Kirkby Lonsdale, the 85 year old author, has a long association with Brathay Hall and the 69 year old charity Brathay Trust whose head office is based there. Mr Dybeck said:

“You can’t live in a well-preserved old house without speculating on its past. Like many who stay at Brathay today, the Hardens were townspeople, but they were captivated with the prospect of living in the country and in such splendid surroundings. Friends visited from far and wide and Jessy Harden delighted in recording it all in great detail in letters to her sister in India. Her comments are acute and often outspoken. ‘Mr Poore was such a bore! He does not choose to comply with the rules of good breeding’ and ‘Her spouse is a poor looking fellow…but £10,000 a year has many charms’.”

The colourful, soft-back book should appeal to lovers of the Lake District and to anyone interested in the social activities of the time. Priced at £20, the author is donating all profits to Brathay Trust for its work with young people.

At the Brathay Hall book launch on Saturday 28 February (2-4pm), where the book will be on sale, visitors will be able to meet the editor, gain an insight into Jessy’s world through mini performances and find features of the Hall captured in John’s sketches.