Your hosts are Henry and Frances Bankes, a happily married couple, who have lived for six years in the muddle of renovations, waiting for the moment they might entertain in their newly established great dining and entertaining room.
They have pictured this night for years, and once decorations in the hall were finally complete, what better time to show off their new home than to invite the local gentry, and particular friends, to a ball, or ‘Fete’ as Frances calls it. Of course Christmas is the perfect time of year for such a celebration.
So you have your invitation to Kingston Hall, at Kingston Lacy in Dorset. Come in.
Your carriage draws up outside the newly positioned Ionic Porch.
You probably have to wait a little in a queue of carriages, while each carriage carefully unloads its passengers.
Keeping warm inside your own, your feet are on hot bricks and a blanket is over you lap.
Are you feeling excited, and wondering what the Bankes home will be like, and what entertainments to expect? Will any decent man ask you to dance? Will there be enough men for every woman to have a turn on the floor?
The night is very cold and Frances has invited one hundred and forty guests. This is no small affair and all the guests have been told to arrive exactly at eight.
You appreciate the comfort of the Bankes’s new basement level porch as you came in from the cold.
The previous entrance opened directly onto the old ballroom, and each guest used to bring in a rush of cold air.
But tonight you are coming into a cosy square porch, where the servants are not in livery, you here someone say they have been and hired or borrowed from all over the county, so no one need wait for anything.
They take your outdoor clothing.
Then you are encouraged towards the shallow pale stone steps on the left.
As you climb them, you face windows, which in the daytime would have given you a vista of the ornate garden and an avenue of Yew trees, but at night reflect back the light of the numerous candles Frances has invested in to keep everything bright.
When you reach the head of the staircase you see into the ballroom and hear a guest walking within cry, “It is like the Palace of Alladin.”
Instead of going into the ballroom though you are directed to turn left, where Frances and her husband Henry wait to receive you in the newly ‘fitted up in yellow’ library.
They are wearing proud excited smiles, and Frances appears stunning. You have heard she is a renowned beauty and her husband is quite obviously still besotted, while his wife explains how she has planned everything and hired only the most attentive servants, and the best musicians from Salisbury.
Having curtsied to them both, and moved on to the drawing-room, before progressing, you stop at the refreshment table, and choose from tea, white or read wine, a glass of negus (hot sweetened wine and water) to warm you up from the cold night.
There is also orgeat on offer, a cool drink made from barley or almonds, flavoured with orange water, and of course, lemonade ‘everything that people call for on these occasions.’ Perhaps later when you’ve danced you will appreciate the cooler drinks.
Despite none of the servants being in livery, the ten maids behind the tea-table are all in pink. Someone jokes beside you, that Frances has declared it only a fortunate coincidence.
When you ask if there is anywhere you might freshen up, you’re directed to Frances’s bedchamber where the door has been propped open and the room lit.
The added thoughtfulness of powder puffs, powder and lavender water are left on Frances’s dresser for you to use.
Frances has thought of everything, you’re very impressed, and wonder is this is the behaviour you might expect in London, had you ever been to such a grand affair in town. It is not normal in the country.
On entering the ballroom you are stunned by the bright light spreading from the ‘noble lustre in the middle’, the giant chandelier dominating the beautifully painted ceiling.
All the money Frances has invested in candles has made the room very bright and the flickering light is reflected by the gilded decorations. It does really feel like Alladin’s Palace as you take in the pink curtains.
There are so many servants available you need call for nothing more than once and yet they do not disturb the guests as they restock the constant supply of cakes, and tea and hot negus, all refreshed from pots boiling in Mr Bankes own dressing room.
Frances jokes it is all established so she might not risk any damage to her new carpets by having nothing of that sort handed about.
The musicians start to play as the room begins to truly fill with all Frances’s and Henry’s guests, Parliamentary friends, and the élite of Dorset. You feel very honoured to attend…
The Bankes are one of those wonderful families who kept all their letters. So I can tell you exactly how it felt to be at this ball, thanks to Frances’s gushing letters to her mother-in-law. Come and dance next week, when the entertainment begins…
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.
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