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I have stepped into a fairytale land! I have never even seen a place like this—much less lived in one! I was astounded by the sheer beauty of the country side and of course, Harlaxton Manor itself. My plane trip was smooth, and we traveled in "coaches" from the airport up a “motorway”—originally a transport road between Roman colonies.
When we first arrived, the president, Dr. Gordon Kingsley, and his wife met us in the entrance hall, shook our hands, and led us into the Great Hall. Since then I and my new friends have been roaming over the extensive grounds and beautiful rooms. I am amazed by the detail everywhere—it is a house designed for luxury and grandeur. I can barely pay attention in any of our meetings or classes because I am too busy gazing at the chandelier or at the carvings! My dorm is in the nearby carriage house, which, although it was built for horses and--ahem, carriages--is like a private resort! Some students are housed in the manor itself, and all classes are in the manor.
Our “Convocation Exordium”—or opening of term—was a formal affair, including a procession of the faculty in academic regalia, complete with bagpipes and a bodhran drum. Our piper is world class—literally—and has accompanied several of our events the first weekend. We love him! For me, the sound of the bagpipe is a stirring thing—it makes me feel like my heart has wings! Another of our events was a formal dinner, complete with wine glasses and waiters. We were told to wear something “smart.” The food was delicious!
The house includes several secret passageways and doors, old-fashioned “lifts,” and dozens of staircases, each of which lead to completely different parts of the house. Our refectory serves us Yorkshire pudding and fish and chips, and we have a red telephone booth in the basement. It is as British as can be!
Over the years Harlaxton Manor has been home to several eccentrics, soldiers from all over the globe, a group of Jesuits and hundreds of Americans.
Harlaxton, A History (a very brief one)
The manor was finished in 1843 by Gregory Gregory, a wealthy businessman and self-made gentry. He spent 25 years and millions of pounds. On the front, in three-foot-high letters, it says, in Latin, “Gregory Gregory built this house, perfectly.” He was obsessed with finishing it—and also making sure it was just one room bigger and one meter higher than nearby Belvoir Castle.
When a succeeding heir had to leave for WWI the park was used for machine gun practice, and an entire mock battleground was built on the park. Several squadrons were stationed at the nearby airbase, including an American one, and often stayed in the manor itself.
After the war the house was nearly demolished, but Violet van der Elst recompensed it and housed her collections of fabulous antiques here. She also dabbled in the occult and fiercely protested capital punishment in England. Think about your craziest great aunt.
In WWII the state requisitioned the land as a backup airbase and crash landing ground. It was once bombed, but no serious damage occurred. A famous squadron, the 1st Airborne Division, was stationed here before embarking on the Market Garden Operation, now made famous as “A Bridge Too Far.” The survivors returned to the Manor after the mission.
A group of Jesuits purchased the house in 1948 to use as a novitiate. They later sold it to Stanford University, who in turn sold it to the University of Evansville, who is my gracious host.
There you have it! And what a rich, colorful history it is! I will have to do a separate post about the grounds and the surrounding areas. I could fill a book with all the things I’ve seen in the past four days! The attached pictures contain captions with more detailed explanations—enjoy!