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Tales From Research

Today, I wanted to share a piece of history with everyone. When I first started my research on a perfect place for my Victorian series (over 5 years ago), I would never imagine finding the perfect setting for them all in a mysterious Gothic Revival building called the "Fonthill Abbey." I checked all over Google for a place as befitting a reclusive Earl as I could find in Wiltshire, England and found:

Fonthill Abbey
This wonderful manse is what started it all. My dreams about the Victorian Era and its many interesting facets. I could actually see people living in this place throughout the 19th Century. My aristocratic family, the Kendalls, began living here around 1832 when they bought the house from John Farquhar. They would continue to spend 40 years or more in the immortal abbey. Unfortunately, in real life, the building didn't last nearly as long as it did in everyone's memory.

So, this is where our story starts...at the beginning...

William Beckford in 1782 by George Romney
In 1760, William Thomas Beckford was born in London. Ten years later, he inherited 1,000,000 pounds (or 110 million pounds in 2012) from his father, as well as land at Fonthill in Wiltshire and sugar plantations in Jamaica. Later, he became a novelist and an art collector. After accusations of having homosexual relations,  he married Lady Margaret Gordon and exiled himself to the Continent where he traveled to Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Spain, France, and Portugal. Then his wife died of childbirth.

When he returned to England, he enclosed around Fonthill Estate a six-mile long wall to prevent poachers from entering his property. Due to his romantic nature, Beckford wanted a Gothic cathedral constructed as his home. In 1796, the architect, James Wyatt, began work on the building using timber stuccoed with cement. Francis Eginton, a glass painter, desgined thirty-two depictions of medieval knights, kings, etc. for the many windows. 950 laborers worked day and night to build the abbey. After the first 300 foot tower collapsed, the new one was finished six years later only to collapse as well. The final one, built in stone, was completed in seven years. In 1813, the abbey's construction was done.  
Abbey tower ruins.

Beckford lived alone in the 500-acre abbey until 1822 spending wealth without making it, only occupying one of the rooms. After losing two sugar plantations, he was forced to sell the the property and its entitlements for 330,000 pounds to an ammunition dealer named John Farquhar. In 1825, the main tower collapsed, and later the rest of the abbey was demolished. The gatehouse and part of the north wing remain to this day. Speculation arose that since Beckford rushed the construction of the Fonthill Abbey, with the absence of the architect many times during the project, and the enormous height of the tower spire, the building was doomed from the beginning. So, they labeled it "Beckford's Folly." William Beckford died in 1844 in Bath, England.

Highlights from the Fonthill Abbey:

Great Western Entrance Hall

Grand Drawing Room
The Great Octagon

King Edward's Gallery on the West wing

This tower spanned about 300 feet tall.
St. Michael's Gallery on the East wing

(Information about the Abbey courtesy of Wikipedia and a collection of maps and descriptions by John Rutter called Delineations of Fonthill and its Abbey.)

I guess you can say that research/history is an obsession of mine. I will continue to include this abbey in my series, because it deserves immortality. If I had the money, I would recreate this masterpiece (maybe not in England), and I would definitely make it much more sturdy than wood with stucco covering it. I will always dream about it. At least, the abbey's legacy lives with the Kendall family.

Thank you for reading and your ongoing support. :)

Happy writing!
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