Staunton Harold

Staunton Harold is the name of an estate in the White Mountains near Kancamagus Center, New Hampshire [The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt; 34-6].

The grounds are situated in a valley and surrounded by a “high rusty iron fence” and contain a small stone church by a quiet lake, a grove of willow trees, and a stone mansion. A long-unused road leads from the fence to a main road and a “big stone arch” with engravings of “monster heads and leering human faces” and the name of the estate. The estate is later discovered to be owned by the Glomus family, whose patriarch, H.B. Glomus, based the layout of his property on an English estate of the same name [96-7].

The mansion is described as being built of “grim, gray stone” and “decorated with clusters of spires, minarets, turrets, and funny bulbous domes” [36]. Little is said of the interior except it was “adorned with statues of the Nine Worthies” [96] and contains many rooms, including a kitchen [148], an enormous paneled dining room [149], and a curved stone balcony [150].

The chapel was mostly in the Gothic style, with Classical elements around its door [141]. Its exterior is defined by a “stubby” tower “with battlements on top". Inside the chapel are “high wooden pews, a stone altar with a bronze crucifix, and a series of gothic arches that marched down the side aisles” [140]. At the rear of the chapel, under the organ loft, was a big, pointed wooden door that led outside. It is said this chapel was a replica of an English chapel from the 17th Century [96-7] and Glomus went as far as duplicating the dedication plaque of the English chapel on his, setting it in "a square table made of white marble" above the entrance. The inscription read [142]:

In the yeare 1653 when
all thinges Sacred were throughout ye nation
Either demolisht or profaned
Sir Robert Shirley, Barronet,
Founded this Church;
Whose singular praise it is
to haue done the best thinges in ye worst times
and
hoped them in the most calamitous
The Righteous shall be had
in everlasting remembrance.

There is a small, cottage-like lodge that stands south of the estate in a clearing outside the property fence. The building itself has a slate roof and windows with diamond-shaped panes. Over the front door was a “fancy stone arch” with the inscription Health Is Wealth [69]. Inside was no furniture but a marble fireplace with decorative knobs shaped “like...tiny heads of children...smiling and apple-cheeked, and...slurping cereal from bowls” [69-70]. Over the fireplace was an oil painting of H.B. Glomus. While its interior is unimpressive, it’s the underground passage that leads from the cottage, runs under the fence, and into the crypt under chapel that is an old family secret.

H.B. Glomus was buried in a mausoleum on the grounds of the estate [91].

Staunton Harold
Staunton Harold Hall
Staunton Harold Church
Staunton Harold Church
Sir Robert Shirley, 4th Baronet

Inspiration

Johnny’s adventures at Scout camp are a good example of Bellairs interjecting some of his Anglophilia into New England, specifically the White Mountain region not far from his adopted hometown of Haverhill.

The real Staunton Harold Estate is located in a green valley in northwest Leicestershire, close to the Derbyshire border, and includes the hall, the Chapel of the Holy Trinity, the Serpentine Lake, estate cottages, and stables. William the Conqueror gave the land to Henry de Ferraris, who then leased it to Harold, a Saxon from Nottinghamshire. Harold moved here and adopted the name Staunton, meaning stony settlement.

The Hall

The first house at Staunton was built by Sir William de Staunton in 1324 and became the home of the Shirley family in 1423 when Sir Ralph Shirley married Margaret de Staunton. The present two-story Palladian-style Hall was built about 1770 and includes parts of two earlier houses. For centuries it served as the home of the Shirley family, though during the 20th Century parts of the estate were slowly sold off. During WWII the Hall was requisitioned by the Army for troops, and later for Italian prisoners of war. Following the war, it fell into disrepair and by the mid-1950s was being prepped for demolition. At the last minute it was saved and made over into a Cheshire Home for disabled people. In the 1980s it became a home for the Sue Ryder Foundation hospice and served as such until 2002 when, after a half-century of institutional use, it again became a family residence.

The Chapel of the Holy Trinity

During the English Civil War (1642–51), Sir Robert Shirley, 4th Baronet (1629-56), was a defiant Royalist, or supporter of Kings Charles I and son, Charles II. Parliamentarians, who sought to give the English Parliament supreme control over executive administration (instead of the established monarchy), were led by Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) who would eventually rule as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland.

Shirley defied Cromwell’s Puritan regime by building a church. Constructed in 1653 of stone, the chapel stands about 50 feet from the Hall and comprises a west tower, nave, chancel and aisles and is a fascinating example of seventeenth century "Gothic Survival."

Cromwell was enraged and felt Shirley had participated in attempts to restore the Monarchy: if anyone could afford to build a church, he could afford to raise an army. Sir Robert was imprisoned in the Tower of London (three separate time, actually), where he died at a mere 28 years of age.

The church was completed by his heirs, though his name and efforts are celebrated by two inscriptions: one is in the chancel and reads "Sir Robert Shirley Baronet Founder of this church anno domini 1653 on whose soul God hath mercy". The other is over the entrance and reads:

In the yeare: 1653
When all thinges sacred were throughout ye nation
Either demollifht or profaned
Sir Robert Shirley Barronet
Founded this Church
Whofe singular praise it is
to haue done the beft thinges in ye worft times
and
hoped them in the moft callamitous
The Righteous shall be had in euerlafting remembrance

Sir Robert’s final resting place is the vault under his church at Staunton Harold. The National Trust now owns the Chapel.

The Grounds

Elsewhere on the grounds are the Staunton Harold Nurseries & Garden Center, established in 1990 in the walled gardens behind Staunton Harold Hall; the Ferrers Craft Centre, housed in the original Georgian stable block at the rear of Staunton Harold Hall; and the Golden Gates, an entryway dating back to the 17th Century (though not in its original position). As tourists enter the estate one passes through two gate-piers mounted by a stag (right) and talbot (left) - supporter emblems of the Shirley family.

While Bellairs obviously used the English estate as a model for the property in his book, only the church seems to have been recreated on the fictitious New Hampshire property. The description of the house – with its “clusters of spires, minarets, turrets, and funny bulbous domes” – seems to be of the author’s own construction.

Howard Staunton

The Chess Connection

Bellairs also was motivated to use the name of the Staunton Harold estate because it’s the same name as the Staunton chess set, a standardized set of chessmen used to play the game of chess. While Nathaniel Cook is credited with the design of the pieces, they are named after Howard Staunton (1810-74). Staunton was an English chess master who not only promoted a set of clearly distinguishable pieces of standardized shape but was the principal organizer of the first international chess tournament in 1851. The Staunton Gambit is a chess opening named for Staunton. Another chess opening move, the English, derives its name from Staunton as he used first used the move during a match in 1843.

Discovery

Johnny and Fergie discover the New Hampshire Stauton Harold while at Scout camp, and Bellairs' passage describing their initial encounter is reminiscent of an episode of the M.R. James story, Wailing Well, the story of "two members of [a] Troop of Scouts" that come across a strange section of land near their camp:

It was a lovely morning, and Stanley Judkins and one or two of his friends - for he still had friends - lay basking on the top of the down. Stanley was lying on his stomach with his chin propped on his hands, staring into the distance.
"I wonder what that place is," he said.
"Which place?" said one of the others.
"That sort of clump in the middle of the field down there."
"Oh, ah! How should I know what it is?"
"What do you want to know for?" said another.
"I don't know: I like the look of it. What's it called? Nobody got a map?" said Stanley. "Call yourselves Scouts!"