How helpful is Wimpole Hall as a source in helping us understand the religious and social attitudes of the rich and poor during the 18th and 19th Century?

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How helpful is Wimpole Hall as a source in helping us understand the religious and social attitudes of the rich and poor during the 18th and 19th Century?

I think that Wimpole Hall is quite a useful source in helping us to understand the religious and social attitudes of the rich and poor during the 18th and 19th centuries, however there also many things that the building alone cannot tell us and which we need other sources to help us gather information.

 As Wimpole Hall is still a complete building we can look at the architectural and decorative styles of the house to help to give us some clues about the religious and social attitudes of the rich and poor in the 18th and 19th centuries. From the building itself we can tell more about the owners of the hall rather than the servants, but because of some of the features of the house we can discover quite a lot about the social attitudes of both the rich and the poor.

We can draw conclusions as to the way that both social classes lived from the surroundings they lived in, however these may have been altered slightly since the last owner, Mrs Elsie Bambridge bequeathed the Wimpole Hall Estate to the National Trust in 1976. One thing that we can assume has been kept the same is the decoration and architecture as well as a few large objects of furniture such as the Polish bed. Although some smaller items may have been introduced and some of the old or worn pieces of furniture may have been discarded or restored therefore losing vital information or clues.

However a lot of the original furniture was sold off at the end of the 19th century and the so the furniture in the house at the present was chosen by the former owner Mrs Elsie Bambridge and the National Trust. It is trying to recreate what they think the house would have looked like. So the impression that you perceive when you look round Wimpole Hall may not in fact be the true one. Also the house may have been changed hugely throughout the years due to different owners tastes, Changes in fashion and the necessities and needs of the owners.

The Chapel inside the house would lead you to believe that the owners were very religious. The chapel is richly decorated in a very ornate style known as ‘trompe l’oeil’ using a variety of religious images such as the Adoration of the Magi, and the Nativity scene. This would obviously have cost a vast sum of money, even in the 19th century so we would therefore guess that the owners were very religious as they were prepared to spend vast sums on a place of worship.

However this may not be the case. Source 6 from the resource sheet which is an extract from the Wimpole Hall guidebook hints that Lord Harley’s motives for creating such a fabulous chapel may not have been entirely religious ones. “Perhaps there was also a feeling of rivalry with the Duke of Chandos’s famous chapel at Cannons, also designed by Gibbs.” It also states that the painter, Thornhill received a sum of £1350, a staggering amount of money in those days. This suggests that Lord Harley may have been trying to compete with a rival by ‘Conspicuous Consumption’ this means to show that you are very rich by spending money needlessly. So in this case Wimpole Hall may lead you to the wrong conclusion.

Similarly it is known through written sources that the chapel was never consecrated or blessed by a priest, so it could not be used for weddings, funerals or baptisms. Therefore as far as religious purposes are concerned it was merely a highly decorated room. This again shows that Wimpole Hall can be very misleading.

Chichley Church, which is attached to the separate parish church, contains many large elaborate tombstones of previous owners of Wimpole Hall. I do not think that these tombstones are any symbol of the owners religiousness, more a case of their inflated egos, the fact that they wanted to be remembered even in death, and also conspicuous consumption- they wanted to show they were rich even though they were dead! However these are only assumptions and we need written or other sources of evidence to confirm these beliefs, which the building alone can’t provide.

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These are things that Wimpole Hall and the surrounding Estate can tell us, or that we can infer however there are many things that the house alone can’t tell us. The video (Edwardian House) shows that the prayers of the owners’ were really just used as a way to blackmail the servants into obedience. They usually prayed for the obedience, hard working and faithfulness of their servants. This indicates that they were not truly religious otherwise they would pray for the poor and the sick. This is another thing that Wimpole Hall cannot help us with.

Source 3 ...

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