Friday, 18 September 2009

Research Is Great . . .

I was fortunate to be invited by Victoria Bradley, the National Trust Collections Manager at Ham House to talk about the history of the Murray family. Victoria kindly let me loose on her bookshelf and filing cabinet, which I thought was very generous of her as we had never met before. Anyway, I found some very interesting snippets I didn't know about that happened at Ham during the Civil War, and how the Sequestration Committee hounded the Murrays.

A few things I found contradicted other sources, including Elizabeth Murray's official biography, which means I will have to re-write at least one chapter of my work in progress, possibly two. Courtesy of Victoria, I am now in possession of photocopies of some of these documents, one of them being an almost complete survey of the plants and trees in the grounds - the detail is fascinating. One interesting point is that events are marked not by actual date, but by 'Feast of St Michael the Archangel', and 'Lady Day'.

Most of the information held at Ham is centred around the time the house was refurbished by the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale in the 1670's. The novel I hope to write is about Elizabeth's youth, her experiences during the English Civil Wars and her marriage to Lionel Tollemache.

So my search is for earlier records, specifically about troop movements in the area of Richmond and Kingston between 1643-1650. Victoria also put me in touch with the warden of Petersham Church where the Murrays worshipped throughout their lives, and where most of them are buried in the family vault.

There's more digging to do, and one place I need to visit, apart from the church, is the National Archives Office at Kew. The fact that this is still quite a grey area of Elizabeth's life is not at all discouraging. The information I have gathered so far sets a structure for the novel, but its also gives me some leeway to write a fiction-based story rather than a documentary biography. A little romanticism won't hurt.


N. Gemini Sasson said...

You lucky duck - living where you can access not only primary sources, but visit your characters' actual residences and environs. How incredibly inspirational that must be!

Anita Davison said...

It might sound odd, or fanciful, but someimes I can hear the swish of silk and the clink of bridles when I walk through the house and grounds. To think Elizabeth walked through the same pathways every day of her life is real inspiration.

Anne Whitfield - author said...

I must visit Ham House!

What a wonderful day for you, Anita. Just what a historical writer needs, a day of indulgance in the past!

Lisa Yarde said...

Anita, that's wonderful. You're so lucky to be able to visit Ham. There's nothing like strolling through the places your characters inhabited.

Jackie Hodson said...

A complete survey of the plants and trees? What a gold mine, Anita. I'm so glad that your visit was fruitful (forgive the pun)
And the swish of silk and clink of bridles is not fanciful at all. To see first hand records is amazing and, rewrite besides, a true privilege.
Green with envy - in the nicest possible way :)

Jen Black said...

Lucky you. Did you appproach her out of the blue, so to speak, or manage an introduction via a third party?
I'm now cogitating about my heroine!