Dyrham's dynamo

I am working on a guidebook for Dyrham Park at the moment. A glorious National Trust house, made more famous by being used as the main location in that wonderful film, The Remains of the Day. The man who built Dyrham, a certain William Blathwayt, was a sort of Samuel Pepys, without perhaps the endearing self-knowledge or sense of fun. He was a highly successful 17th-century civil servant, conspicuous for his capacity for work and ability to perform several demanding roles at the same time. He was a top colonial administrator, senior military comptroller, member of the Privy Council and, on two occasions, an MP. All this made him immensely rich and one realizes that back in 17th-century England, it was perfectly possible to ‘help yourself’ liberally to the rewards of your position. And Blathwayt did. Because of his colonial contacts, many of whom presumably owed Blathwayt their careers, he was able to build his fine house and grounds for a fraction of the cost: his associates in Europe sent him Italian marble and rich furnishings and tapestries; his contacts in America sent him exotic timber for the house, and plants for the garden. And, as far as one can gather, he acquired quite a lot of this stuff for nothing. It is noticeable, from the letters quoted, that Mr Blathwayt does not generally thank his stewards or his overseas contacts for their efforts - perhaps he feels he is 'owed' by them anyway - and often there is no mention of cost. How strange that beautiful Dyrham was created by someone who has left us with the unfortunate impression that he was fussy, obsessive, critical, ungrateful and rude. But perhaps his riposte would be, ‘I didn’t get to where I am today by being…...’ and who can blame him. It is indeed extraordinary that this man who held down several BIG jobs both before and after the Glorious Revolution, still found the mental energy to worry about whether a stair baluster design for his fine house might attract too much dust.

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