One of my most treasured possessions is my autographed copy of Alison Uttley’s A Traveller in Time, one of my all-time favourite Tudor novels. It was a gift from my very thoughtful husband for our 13th wedding anniversary.
A Traveller in Time is the story of a young girl by the name of Penelope Taberner, who is sent to stay with her great aunt and uncle at Thackers, their farmhouse in Derbyshire, where she uncovers an astonishing secret. The ancient farmhouse is a portal between the house’s Tudor past and the present.
Penelope travels back and forth between the present and the sixteenth century, where she meets her ancestors, and befriends the manor house’s Elizabethan owners – the Babington family, who are involved in a dangerous plot to free Mary, Queen of Scots, from her imprisonment in nearby Wingfield Manor. Penelope becomes embroiled in their treasonous plan, and with each visit, her bond with her Tudor family is strengthened, along with her loyalty to the doomed Anthony Babington.
There are many reasons why I love this book. For one, it’s beautifully written, it’s also atmospheric and powerfully evocative. The scenes that take place in the farmhouse’s kitchen, with its stone walls, open hearth and well-worn oak table, are some of my favourite. Then there’s the farmhouse itself… Who could not love Thackers? In Penelope’s words:
“It was a stone built farm, with gables and doorways in unexpected places, with barns and cowhouses across the green grassplat and old ivy-covered buildings where fowls roosted and calves sheltered. Only a few yards away was Thackers church, with its twelfth-century tower which rose from the group of trees and hay-stacks so close to the farm buildings, the stables and barns, that it seemed to be part of the homestead…The stackyard adjoined the churchyard, the orchard was by the church, and fields went nearly to the doorway.”
I dreamed of seeing it and exploring its passageways and fields, which is why I was so overjoyed when I discovered that it’s in fact possible to stay in the very sixteenth century farmhouse that was both the inspiration and setting for the story!
The Manor Farmhouse Bed and Breakfast in Dethick, is Uttley’s Thackers. In the sixteenth century it was part of Dethick Manor, home of the Babingtons and Anthony’s birthplace. The author lived across the hillside from the old farmhouse and grew up hearing tales of Babington’s ill-fated plot. She picked bluebells from the surrounding meadows, played with the little girl who lived in the farmhouse and on special occasions, visited the old church. In Uttley’s dreams, the centuries blurred and she found herself living a life parallel to her own, as described in the book’s preface:
“Many of the incidents in this story are based on my dreams, for in sleep I went through secret hidden doorways in the house wall and found myself in another century. Four times I stepped through the door and wandered in rooms which had no existence, a dream within a dream, and I talked with people who lived alongside but out of time, moving through a life parallel to my own existence.”
In April 2016, my friend Sarah and I overnighted at Thackers and it did not disappoint. It was exactly as I’d pictured it, secluded and beautiful. The stone walls ooze history. It’s little wonder that it inspired such an endearing tale.
The room we stayed in was spacious and comfortable, and our hostess, Gilly, was most welcoming. We opted to have dinner at the local pub – the Jug and Glass Inn, which serves great food at reasonable prices. One of the highlights of our stay was the delicious breakfast served in the farmhouse’s original Tudor kitchen!
As I walked through the house and explored its historic grounds, just as Penelope had, I too hoped that I might slip into the sixteenth century. Alas, it was not to be. Just being there, though, was enough to set the imagination afire. I couldn’t help but think about Anthony Babington. Had he silently yearned for this peaceful, rural retreat while awaiting his gruesome fate?
On 20 September 1586, Anthony and 6 other men were hung, drawn and quartered for conspiring to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I and put Mary Stuart on the English throne. Had it all been worth it, I wondered?
PS. I have been wanting to write a post about The Manor Farmhouse and Uttley’s wonderful book for some time now, but for one reason or another, other tasks took precedence. On 13 January, however, I felt positively compelled to ‘put pen to paper’. For some reason, I had Anthony Babington and Mary, Queen of Scots on my mind. After finishing the post, I was a little astonished to read author Mickey Mayhew’s tweet – “On this day in Tudor times (1585), Mary Stuart leaves her ‘palatial prison’ of Wingfield Manor for the last time and is moved to Tutbury Castle.” Coincidence, or something more?