By Shirley Nicholson
In August 1895 Maud Sambourne was alone at 18 Stafford Terrace for a few days and wrote to her parents, “I had no idea London could be so utterly empty, really as if some unknown hand had taken a broom and swept away the population”. After the excitements of the London Season, which lasted from May to July, everyone was keen to go on holiday. Parliament was in recess and many important functions were suspended until the autumn so the aristocracy would retire to their country seats. Although a few people chose to go abroad, usually to Italy, no one took pleasure in basking on a Mediterranean beach – any kind of tan was anathema to Victorian ladies. A shady lawn in the grounds of some stately mansion had great appeal, especially if the gentlemen were able to enjoy their favourite sports – shooting, stalking, fishing, golf, or tennis.
Linley and Marion Sambourne were lucky in having so many wealthy friends and relatives who were generous in offering summer hospitality. Two of Marion’s sisters had married rich men and Linley’s busy social life brought him into contact with several industrialists who had made fortunes in shipping, brewing, mining, milling, and so on. Land was no longer the sole source of wealth, the agricultural depression of the seventies and ever-increasing taxes meant the upper echelons of society were feeling the pinch. A solution to their financial problems was renting out their palatial mansions. Such properties could be “taken for the season” complete with staff (fifteen or more servants) horses and carriages, fishing and shooting rights, by anyone with enough money to pay the rent. Having made the arrangement to play “Lord of the Manor” it was then important for the nouveau riches to show off by entertaining lavishly. The Sambournes were a very convivial couple and made ideal guests: consequently, they found themselves spending holidays in almost unimaginable luxury in some of the grandest houses in the land.
Maud was not alone long that summer: hostesses not only asked groups of their own friends to stay for a fortnight or so but also arranged entertainment and balls for young people, usually with matchmaking in mind. In 1895 and 1896 Nymans, Buscot Park and Ayton Castle were highlights in her calendar, along with visits to friends in Scotland and to her Aunt Tabby’s seaside house near Christchurch, where yachting and swimming could be added to the list of enjoyments. In 1898 she married Leonard Messel and began a series of cultural tours of Europe, something her parents only did infrequently during their lifetime.
Meanwhile Linley and Marion were kept busy by invitations to Tressady Lodge, Pythouse, Stoke Edith Park, Renishaw, Springkell, Drumlanford, Bedstone Court and numerous other properties. In addition, Linley was often asked for weekend shooting parties during the autumn and winter. He enjoyed this sport so much that he was prepared to take the night train up to Scotland for a two-day break. Marion preferred more restful holidays with her sisters where she was waited on hand and foot. The contrast with her life at Stafford Terrace where only three servants were employed and small domestic bills caused much worry is very marked. Her diary is remarkable in its lack of envy of the well-endowed and she greatly appreciated the comfort and beautiful surroundings provided by so many affectionate friends.