A review and synopsis of a novel by Hugh Walpole, first published 1930. The story of the Herries family, their fortunes and adventures, set in Borrowdale in the Lake District, in Hanoverian England between 1730 and 1774.
Francis "Rogue" Herries, a rather complicated and flawed character of uncertain means. Selfish and brooding, a womaniser with erratic mood swings, capable of the extremes of anger, cruelty, gentleness and generosity.
Margaret Herries, his long-suffering wife, and mother to David, Mary and Deborah their children. Probably the main source of family finances but submissive and treated with little respect by her husband.
David Herries, their son.
Mary Herries, their daughter.
Deborah Herries, their daughter.
Alice Press, governess to the Herries children and mistress of Francis.
Sarah Denburn, the pretty, orphaned niece of a notorious but wealthy landowner on the west coast of Cumberland.
Mirabell Starr, a plain but strikingly attractive and bewitching so called, gypsy girl with bright red hair.
Pomfret and Harcourt Herries, Francis' brothers, living locally in Keswick and Ravenglass respectively.
Others, including the reverend Gordon Sunwood, the mysterious Father Roche, servants, the Benjamins and Mrs Wilson.
This is the story of the Herries family, relating their extraordinary experiences during an eventful period in their lives after they move to Borrowdale in Cumberland. It is set in Hanoverian England between 1730 and 1774 and is quite a wordy novel when it comes to describing the characters and background to the story. Nevertheless it's a gripping read, with lots of exciting adventure, action sometimes villainous, sometimes noble and virtuous, which include, amongst others, a kidnapping, romance, an elopement under difficult and dangerous circumstances, and an encounter with the Jacobite rebellion when Carlisle is besieged and taken by the Pretender. The story begins when the children are quite young and the various relationships within the family become apparent from the very beginning. David idolises his father and they are very close, as is David's relationship with his sister Deborah, however his sister Mary comes across as rather vain, selfish and aloof, she hates "Herries" their new home and leaves at the earliest opportunity to live with uncle Pomfret in Keswick. The storyline follows the family members over time into adulthood as members go their separate ways with David becoming a successful merchant with connections in Liverpool, Deborah settling down to married life in the vicarage with reverend Sunwood, but, I suppose the main and most interesting theme running through the book is an intriguing case of unrequited love (or is it?) involving the most unlikely of candidates.
Francis Herries, the head of the family, is a philandering, moody, antisocial character with a personality disorder and erratic behaviours which creates fear and loathing amongst the local population. Capable of the most extreme mood swings sometimes sullen and intolerant, exhibiting the very worst bouts of anger, directed mostly at his long suffering wife and others, but at other times showing his gentler side as a noble, doting and loving father and friend.
He moves his family, his wife Margaret and their three young children, along with their governess, servants and a mysterious character called Father Roche (who seems to take little part in the storyline apart from offering advice from time to time), to a long abandoned and neglected family home "Herries" in the Lake District, leaving a far more comfortable lifestyle behind them in Doncaster. Arriving in the town of Keswick on horseback days later, the more doubtful members of the family approach their new home in Borrowdale with a strong sense of foreboding, greeted by rather unpleasant weather and a remote valley landscape surmounted by glowering mountaintops casting long threatening shadows.
As time passes David grows into the very antithesis of his father, not academic, but a strong charming and talented individual who enjoys great popularity within the community. He soon becomes a successful merchant with interests in shipping and trade in Liverpool. On a business trip to Wasdale on the west coast to buy sheep from a rich landowner there, he has a romantic encounter with Sarah Denburn an attractive orphan girl who, he discovers is the niece and ward of the man whose sheep he has come to see and hopefully buy. It transpires Sarah is obviously frightened and a virtual prisoner of her cruel uncle who is trying to force her to marry a hard drinking, much older man of his choice, Captain Bann, for whatever malicious purpose. David Is besotted and it becomes obvious that the attraction is mutual, and the unhappy maiden readily agrees to a dangerous plan to escape with David over the pass into Borrowdale and the relative safety of "Herries". David returns the following day and they flee together from a fate worse than death, very reminiscent of Belmonte and Konstanza's escape from Pasha Selim in Mozart's opera "Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail" (The Escape from the Harem), but without the villains acquiescence. Sarah's absence is soon discovered and the wicked uncle and Captain Bann give chase over the hills where a confrontation takes place in which, no match for David's youth and strength, Mr Denburn is thrown into the tarn and drowns, his companion injured and forced to turn tail. Safe at Herries the happy couple finally get married, but the new domestic arrangements prove difficult for reasons which will become clear later, so David and Sarah set up home at Uldale close by and settle down to a happy family life together.
Not long after their arrival in Borrowdale, Francis Herries exploring in the countryside comes across a woman with a young baby, cold and hungry and distressed. Herries takes pity on her and comes to her aid, finally leaving her his great coat for warmth to enable her to get back home. Years later, after the early death of his wife, he is once again out riding in the valley when he is accosted by two ruffians who kidnap him and take him to their secret hideaway in a cave. On arrival it becomes obvious the villains motives are admirable not evil, they are relatives of the lady Herries had helped all those years ago, she has died and insisted that her rescuer should be found and presented with her cross and chain in gratitude for his life saving assistance. Before leaving he becomes aware of a third person in the cave, a perhaps seventeen year old girl, not a classic beauty but with remarkably striking features and bright red hair, his second meeting with Mirabell Starr, the now mature baby he had rescued with her mother. On his return home Herries can't get the image of Mirabell out of his mind, it is as if he has been bewitched. Now in his fifties and with an ugly scar from his left ear to his mouth, inflicted in a sword-fight with local villain Osbaldeston, he has become ridiculously smitten in love with Mirabell like a schoolboy with a teenage crush. Herries tries to move on, putting Mirabell out of his mind.
Rumours of a rebel landing in Scotland begin to circulate in Keswick a few weeks after arousing Francis' curiosity, and with son David as companion he travels to Carlisle. Whilst there the town comes under siege from a Jacobite army and although the townsfolk resist the attack for a time the invaders are finally successful and take the town. During their confinement within the walls of Carlisle, Herries comes face to face with Mirabell once again in a local inn, this time she is in the company of a young man, obviously a fellow she appears to be very fond of. She is unaware of the presence of Herries but his curiosity is reawakened and can't take his eyes off her, the young couple also appear to have another admirer, a rather corpulent evil looking character who seems overly interested. When they leave the inn Francis is curious about the girl he idolises and follows them through the darkened streets of Carlisle at a discreet distance, when suddenly an assailant brandishing a knife rushes at the young couple in a furious rage. Herries is instantly aware of the danger and rushes to assist but arrives too late and the young boyfriend Harry is fatally wounded. Recognising the assailant as the sinister looking character he'd previously seen at the inn, showing an unhealthy interest in the couple, Herries gives chase, but fails to apprehend the assassin, losing sight of him in a warren of Carlisle's backstreets. On returning to console Mirabell, Francis declares his feelings for her and urges her to return with him to Borrowdale where she will be well looked after even if she can't return his love for her. She of course turns down the offer, but he leaves it open in case at some future date she changes her mind.
She of course subsequently turns up on his doorstep, dishevelled, hungry and destitute, looking for shelter from the storm but not for love. Of course in this state of wretched distress Mirabell is very confused, humble and submissive and will agree to anything, even to the extent of consenting to a marriage proposal. Herries, foolishly perhaps, is pleased she is accepting of his hospitality and seemingly his love, and she gratefully makes herself useful around the house domestically. However, here lies another problem, David and Sarah have recently married and settled down to live at "Herries" to fulfil David's promise that he would never leave his father, but now with Mirabell on the scene, tensions arise and David and Sarah are left with little choice but to move out. Mary has long since married and left home and Deborah has recently married the reverend Gordon Sunwood and is now living comfortably in the vicarage at Cockermouth, so Francis and Mirabell are now alone in the old property.
Herries tries desperately to please Mirabell and win her love even offering to leave his beloved but still neglected, leaky and draughty home "Herries" for a place more comfortable and suitable to family life. Mirabell feels overwhelmed and becomes alarmed with the intensity of Francis' efforts and the lengths to which he is prepared to go to win her love, despite the massive age difference. She is also feeling the pressure of his obsession with teaching her to read and write and decides she has to forsake the security of Herries and leave. On rising some days later Herries finds himself alone in the house and realises the love of his life is no longer with him, but distraught and angry, refusing to accept defeat, he sets out on a series of journeys in the hope of finding and bringing her back. Never giving up hope, Francis continues his quest and some years later whilst in Penrith he discovers Mirabell with a travelling theatre, acting and in some kind of domestic arrangement with the owner of the theatre company, Adam Betty and his children. Herries pleads with his wife to return home with him, but the thespian had been kind to Mirabell when she was penniless, cold, hungry, and homeless, she felt obliged to remain out of gratitude and loyalty and for the sake of the children, whose mother had died of smallpox. However she agrees to meet Francis later in the evening after the last and final performance in Penrith at a secluded spot where she would explain in more detail, but after waiting for hours after the appointed time, Miralbell fails to turn up. The sadly disappointed seventy two year old Herries is at this point unable to enquire further, he goes down with a fever and is put to bed, in the care of his friendly innkeeper Andrew, and a local apothecary he has become acquainted with. At deaths door for several months, he eventually recovers consciousness and Benjamin is summoned from Herries to assist his recovery, eventually hiring a chaise to take him home when he has gained sufficient strength.
Months later returning from a leisurely ride along the valley, Herries is greeted at the gate by a very excited Benjamin who informs him of Mirabell's return. There seems to have been a miraculous change in the situation, Adam the theatre company owner has taken off with another woman, leaving the unfortunate lady once more destitute and questioning her judgement and feelings. Has she finally recognised, despite its overpoweering nature, the value of Francis' love, and that since the death of Harry, he is the one who really cares and has her best interests at heart? Has Mirabell had a new epiphany and complete change of heart, is Francis' love and affection still unrequited? Decidedly not so it seems, the reunited couple settle down together, in a warm, loving and harmonious relationship, and before long there is a baby on the way. However as the novel finally draws to a conclusion, the author presents us with further dramatic surprises. To say more would be to spoil the book for others, needless to say this is a masterpiece of writing and a real page turner and comes highly recommended.
Palfreyman, May 2022
Farthingale Publications: ..... Is a hobby web site containing articles of local interest to Lancastrians, some favourite walking and cycling routes, selected words and poetry, and some writings of more general nature as well as the authors own picture gallery. Access is available via the homepage and menu at the head of the page or via one of the direct links below.
Local Interest: Richmond Hill Dairies; Mind Your Language; John Lancaster Wigan MP; Thomas Aspinwall Miners Agent; Thomas Aspinwall Obituary; Upholland Telephone Exchange; Thomas Linacre School Wigan; Scot Lane School Wigan; The Lindsays of Haigh; Dust Upon God's Fair Earth; The Nurburgring 1960; Wigan Advertisements 1960; Wigan Soldier Missing in Action; It's a Funny Life; Private Thomas Whitham VC; Isaac Watts 1674 - 1748; Wigan Old Bank 1792; The Brocklebank Line; John Byrom 1692 - 1793; The Holy City Liverpool; Jubilee Park Memorial, Ashton in Makerfield; Little Ships at War 1918; A Cricket Calypso; Not Much of a Warrior; Peveril of the Peak.
Walking & Cycling: Moss Eccles Tarn; Abbey Lakes to Coppull Moor; Chorley Ice Cream Walk; Douglas Valley Dawdle; Three Counties Cycle Ride; Haigh to Borsdane Wood; A Lancshire Lineaer Walk; Blackrod or Bust; Cycle the Sankey Valley; Cycle the Monsal Trail; Wigan Circular by Bike; Freshfield to Crosby; Irwell Valley Trail (Bury to Rawtenstall); Irwell Valley (Bury to Salford).
Words & Poetry: The Heart of Midlothian; King Cotton; The Family Man; The Pickwick Papers; The Fair Rosamond; The Fair Rosamond Comic; When Winds Breathe Soft; The Wreck of the Hesperus; God Bless these Poor Wimmen that's Childer; Dombey and Son; Aw've Turned me bit O' Garden O'er; On Th' Hills; Four Favourite Poems; The Darkling Thrush; The Glory of the Garden; The Rolling English Road; The Antiquary; Hymn Before Action; Dust upon God's Fair Earth; Mind Your Language; Jeff Unsworth's dialect poetry; Martyrs of the Arena; Th' Coartin' Neet; Boat Song; Toddlin Whoam; Calm is the Sea; A Lancashire Mon.
Wallgate Chronicles: Hugo Boss comes to Wigan; In the footsteps of the Manchester Rambler; Fun with Trigonometry; Surprise at the Philharmonic; The Marriage of Figaro; Cat Bells; A Walk in the Hills; Eay Times Uv Changed; Fidelio; The Ravioli Room; Desert Island Discs; Travels in Time; The Spectroscope; The Bohemian Girl; Bookcase; Barnaby Rudge; Romance on a Budget; The Battle of Solferino; The Getaway Car; The Switchroom Wigan; The Force of Destiny; Adolphe Adam; The Fair Maid of Perth; Ivanhoe; Semele; Lohengrin.
Selected articles from the above listed:
Richmond Hill Dairies - Pemberton - These pages contain some personal memories from my youth and my association with Richmond Hill Dairies, a local business I grew up with and remember with some affection. A well known and important feature of the local community in its day and part of the heritage of Pemberton, this is my attempt to commit some small snapshot of its history to print, I hope these pages paint a worthy picture.
Mind Your Language - A humorous poem by "the bard of Haydock" George Anderton, inspired by memories of a trip to Bad Canstatt, Stuttgart Germany with the Haydock Male Voice Choir in 1975. This publication will bring a smile to the faces of not only those members who were there at the time and know the people involved but the wider population of Haydock as well who speak the language.
Wigan and the American Civil War - Wigan Coal and Iron Company, The Right Honourable John Lancaster MP for Wigan, the Confederate Raider Alabama, USS Kearsarge, Cherbourg and the yacht Deerhound all feature in the last great sea battle of the American Civil War.
Wigan Old Bank 1792 - A tragic boating accident on Windermere and a surprising journey through the social history of Wigan during the reign of Queen Victoria, highlighting the relationships between four families who played an important part in the commercial development of the town.
The Brocklebank LineDaniel Brocklebank (1741-1801), shipbuilder and mariner, a brief biography, and some background detail of his family and the shipping line he founded.
Little Ships at ZeebruggeAn account of a heroic attempt to block the port of Zeebrugge during the first World War, to protect supply routes into the UK by denying enemy submarines based there access to the open sea.
A Cricket Calypso - A short biopic of cricketer Cyril Washbrook and a snapshot of his career including his role in the West Indies tour of 1950 recorded in the lyrics of the Cricket Calypso.
Not Much of a Warrior - Wigan RLFC in the fifties and sixties, through rose coloured glasses. A golden age of legendary players and memorable moments, along with some personal memories.
Lyme Hall, Disley, Cheshire