Art imitates life at Wickham Hall

exbury trainPhil: A couple of months ago, Candice reviewed Wickham Hall by Cathy Bramley. Afterwards, as so often is the case, the book came to me to read. One of the many benefits of being a member of this writing team is that we share books and I’ve enjoyed many that wouldn’t normally have been my choice.

By chance, the day after I started it, I was due to take part in some filming at Exbury Gardens in Hampshire. Home to the Rothschilds, it’s very nearly a real life version of the stately home in the book. As well as the extensive gardens (the largest private estate until it opened to the public in 1955), there is a cafe, plant sales and shop. Exbury wins over Wickham with its miniature steam railway but apart from that, art is following life.

During the day, I chatted to quite a few of the staff and had a general mooch around. And you know what? The family feel of people who work at Exbury is very similar to that at the fictional Wickham Hall. They are proud of their world and I get the feeling there is a fair amount of “mucking in” to make things happen. The yearly events calendar can be seen on the walls of the engine shed with decorations for Halloween and Santa special trains.

Obviously I didn’t ask our contact Suzie if running off into the sunset with the heir to the hall was part of the job description, I’m sure that bit was pure fiction.

As my friend mentioned, one of the nice parts of the book is that it’s set near where we live. I know the towns mentioned although they have definitely benefited from the authors imagination – Henley-in-Arden library is tiny and it’s volunteer staff might love the idea of receiving a donation containing masses of archive newspaper but I suspect they would be forced to drop them in the recycler instead of mounting a major exhibition.

In the same way the Stratford Gazette (the Herald in real life) isn’t likely to have a fashion reporter, or if they do the role will be fashion/dog shows/grumpy locals reporter.

None of this matters. In the world of Wickham Hall, everything is a little sparklier and brighter than real life. Nothing really terrible happens at any point and this really doesn’t seem to matter.

Pure escapism and none the worse for it.

La Nolan is researching the competition on a sun-lounger at the moment, so she won’t notice I’ve put a picture of a train on the blog until it’s too late.

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