Saturday, November 10, 2012

Where is Quarter Sessions?

Welllll...  It's actual situs is only in my imagination but for purposes of Up, Back, and Away, I located it in the Malvern Hills, in the far west of England, hard by the border with Wales.  There is at least one real town in England called "Tipton."  It's in the West Midlands.  This Tipton is not the Tipton of U,B,A  ( FYI, there is also a Tipton, Indiana, a Tipton, Iowa and a Tipton, Missouri so I am not the only one who thought it was a good name for a town).  When I chose "Tipton," however, I was tipping my hat to George Eliot  (Mary Ann Evans) and her very great novel, Middlemarch, which is my favorite book of all time.

George Eliot by Sir Frederick Burton 1864 (Wikimedia Commons)

Middlemarch is Eliot's fictional English village and several of the main characters share a home at Tipton Grange.  I hope Mrs. Lewes (as George Eliot called herself in her later days) will not mind my using the name she chose for such an important place in such an important book.

Westfield, where the Peppermores live, is a hamlet near Tipton.  Again, there are many Westfields in English-speaking towns and countries around the world, but U,B,A's Westfield was inspired by one of my favorite Vermont villages.  Westfield, Vermont, like the Westfield in U,B,A, is also a very small town that never had any manufacturing industry.  It has been a farm town since the beginning.  It now has a store and a

Westfield First Congregational Church (Vt Conference of the United Church of Christ web site)

lovely church (the building survives though it is without a congregation), a garage specializing in the repairs of Hondas and Toyotas, a little common opposite the former one-room school house.  The school has been successfully made over into a community center. It has an auction gallery where I am well known... I don't think it supported it's own doctor in 1928; but it might have done.  My Westfield's main claim to fame these days is the Benedictine Monastery of contemplative nuns that rises from green fields just south of the village (nuns are very occasionally glimpsed walking or biking on Route 100).  Westfield is also on the main road for those coming from the south to the ski resort that flourishes on  Jay Peak, just to the north.

Reddlegowt, the village on the northeast English coast, seat of the Earls of Reddlegowt, is another fictional place.  I was inspired, as anyone familiar with the area will have ascertained, by the old resort town of Whitby, in North Yorkshire.  I liked "Reddlegowt" because it could be a real English place name.  Reddle, as readers of the Thomas Hardy classic The Return of the Native will recall, is an old name for red ochre.  It was used for marking sheep and the the main character of Native, Diggory Venn, is a reddleman.  He travels with reddle for sale and it has dyed him red from head to foot.  I was a big fan of Hardy back in high school and I wanted to tip my hat to him in this way.  "Gowt" is an old English term for "go out," as in an outlet.  I imagined the cliff-top town of Reddlegowt as including a reddish waterfall.

What Does "Quarter Sessions" Even Mean?

If you were to Google it - oh, don't bother - here's a link, you see that it was a court in England where low-level crimes and some civil matters were handled.  Fascinating as this is (really, legal history is practically my favorite thing about being a lawyer), the estate's name is not in any way associated with these venerable (but rather disreputable) old courts.  I am hopeful that one day a reader may guess what inspired me to name the the seat of Lord and Lady Fisher "Quarter Sessions."  (Here's a clue, the founder of the estate was French...)

Erdigg Hall, Wrexham, Wales - not Quarter Sessions, but an inspiration. (Wikimedia Commons)

Quarter Sessions, like Westfield and Tipton, is not a real place.  I drew heavily, however, on a real great house called Erdigg, which is not in England, but just over the border in Wrexham, Wales.  The house and land are now owned and operated by the National Trust.  The pre-Trust proprietors of the estate had an uncommon interest in documenting the lives of those who served below stairs.  (This was of special interest to me given that I wanted to explore in Up, Back, and Away the English class system and how it might appear to an modern American boy).

I haven't been there myself (yet) but there are several excellent books about Erdigg and the National Trust has a pleasing web site that you should pop over and see.


  1. By way of an update, I have now been to Erdigg and if you look around the blog you'll find a report of that wonderful journey...

  2. The original inspiration for the house name was, of course, Four Seasons. (Quatre saisons in French.)

    I just finished Up, Back & Away and thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you for writing such a lovely book. Plus, as a Brit, I'm pleased to confirm that nothing jumped out at me as being incorrect from a cultural perspective.

    1. Brilliant! I've been waiting for that answer... And thank you for your kind words. I couldn't think of an endorsement that would please me more.