“It is a very pretty and remarkably genteel play”

Another day and another wonderful find by our volunteers working hard to catalogue the archive.  This week, our volunteer Stella Prendiville was working on a letter from Mary Philips, which gives us a fresh insight into Greg family life at Norcliffe Hall.

The letter is to her son Robert Philips Greg whilst he was at boarding school in Brighton with his younger brother Edward Hyde Greg. The letter was written on Tuesday 10th November but we were previously unsure of the year, estimating it to be late 1830s-early 1840s. After some detective work by myself I surmised that it dated to 1840 (by detective work I mean that I googled ‘1840 calendar’ and checked to see if the 10th November fell on a Tuesday).

Robert (14) and Edward (13) were away at boarding school
Mary was writing to her sons Robert (14) and Edward (13), who were away at boarding school

The main piece of news in the letter is that Mary was beginning preparation for the latest family “Winter Performance” at their home, Norcliffe Hall. After much deliberation amongst the family “our selection is now made – “Henrie Quatre” – a very pretty French play.”  This information is why the letter was such an interesting find, as we were previously unaware that the Greg’s put on such performances amongst the family.

Mary's letter was written on Nov 10th
Mary’s letter was written on Nov 10th

Furthermore Mary mentions that the play will “take a good deal of arranging, to adapt itself to our Norcliffe theatre” – we had no idea that such a theatre (more likely a small stage area) existed at Norcliffe. Interestingly, the Legh family of Lyme Park also put on several plays in their own stage area, located in the Long Gallery.

Norcliffe Hall
Norcliffe Hall

The play was called “The King at Home” and the plot revolves around Henri IV of France, who was the king from 1589-1610. In the play Henri is enjoying an hour away from his duties playing with his children, a scene which Mary was very much looking forward to:

“There is a sweet scene…He seems a very fond father and the children make him go down on hands and knees and play with them”

Mary was already assigning roles to her children:

“We think of making you [Robert] ‘King’, Carry [Caroline Greg] “Dauphin”, Edward perhaps ‘the Earl of Derby… Henry [Henry Russell Greg] ‘Gaston’, brother to the Dauphin”

Caroline Greg who was to play the Dauphin
Caroline Greg who was to play the Dauphin

Whilst Henri is playing with his children, his son, the Dauphin, wishes to be King just for one hour and is allowed to do so, proving himself very capable to the delight of his father.

Robert Philips Greg in later life - sadly we have no portraits of him as a young man
Robert Philips Greg in later life – sadly we have no portraits of him as a young man

Mary was concerned that Robert and Edward know that their parts would not be particularly difficult as she did not want them to do nothing but learning lines over their school holiday. She also makes clear her gratitude for their playing parts:

“We could, however, do nothing without you both, and should have no acting whatever unless you both took a little part.”

Henry Russel Greg in later life
Henry Russel Greg in later life

The letter seems to suggest that the “Winter Performance” was an annual occurrence and family members, the children in particular, were expected to take on roles. Hopefully as the cataloguing goes on we will find out more about this aspect of their lives.

Edward Hyde Greg
Edward Hyde Greg

The other thing that shines through in the letters is Mary’s adoration of her sons away at school:

“You must think of us – as we shall think and long for you both – dear boys”

Mary also sends her kisses to Robert on a spare part of the letter: “Dear Robin, here are my kisses, xx”  which you can see on the image below.


You can see Mary's kisses to the right of the page
You can see Mary’s kisses to the right of the page

Next week Ally and I have decided to have a look some gorgeous items that you may not have expected to be in our collection…


One Comment Add yours

  1. Denis Champ says:

    Well done Stella .

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