Chastleton House: Background information when reading Peculiar Ground

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Peculiar Ground

by Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Peculiar Ground by Lucy Hughes-Hallett X
Peculiar Ground by Lucy Hughes-Hallett
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2018, 464 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2019, 464 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Cynthia C. Scott
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About this Book

Chastleton House

This article relates to Peculiar Ground

Print Review

The Wychwood of Lucy Hughes-Hallett's novel Peculiar Ground, an English estate built in the 1600s, sets the stage for the personal intrigues of characters spanning several centuries and generations. Secluded from the rest of the public, the estate and its enclosed garden are also symbols of social divisions and how they often trap people. Though Hughes-Hallett based Wychwood on a garden she often visited in Oxfordshire, she took liberties with certain details to make it her own.

An example of a typical English garden of that era can be found at Chastleton House near Moreton-in-Marsh, Oxfordshire. Chastleton House is a remote estate that was built between 1607 and 1612, for Walter Jones, who came from a family of successful wool merchants and made his money in law. Jones bought the property from Robert Catesby, who, along with the infamous Guy Fawkes, conspired to blow up Parliament in the Gunpowder Plot. Jones then proceeded to tear down Catesby's home and construct the house which would later be known as Chastleton. The house continues to stand to this day in a secluded part of the countryside, unchanged after three hundred years.

The Garden at Chastleton House Constructed following the principles of Jacobean and Tudor architecture, Chastleton stands on an expansive estate that includes a twelfth-century parish church, a dovecote (shelter for pigeons), two large croquet lawns, garden terraces, and a lake with an island. In the novel, Wychwood's owner, Lord Woldingham, hires landscaper John Norris to meticulously plot the design of his garden. Chastleton's garden was also carefully done in Jacobean style, though, over the years, its owners remodeled the garden to suit the fashion of the day. The topiaries, whose original shapes have been lost to time, are now trimmed into cloud forms and the garden borders are heavily influenced by famed Victorian landscaper Gertrude Jekyll's color scheme. Some things, however, don't change, as witnessed by the nearly 400 year-old mulberry tree that watches over the garden.

Chastleton has been open to the public for guided tours since 1991. While Chastleton and the fictional Wychwood are both examples of England's history of architectural gardens, they also tell the stories of the people who passed through their paths.

Picture of the Garden at Chastleton House from The National Trust

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

Article by Cynthia C. Scott

This "beyond the book article" relates to Peculiar Ground. It originally ran in January 2018 and has been updated for the January 2019 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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