We have the immense pleasure of welcoming our first guest to the blog, none other than Professor Chris Stephens of Bristol University. He has given us the following information about himself, his excellent new book and the Reverend Dr Thomas Sedgwick Whalley.
Professor Stephens retired in 2002 after 35 years in academic dentistry spent teaching orthodontics and undertaking pioneering work in the application of computers to dentistry and dental education. By this time he was also a professional dry stone waller and had helped to establish a SW England Branch of the Dry Stone walling Association of Great Britain.
In 2006 Chris was asked by the Woodland Trust if he could assist them in restoring the perimeter wall of their Dolebury Warren Wood property on the north slope of the Mendips. The work, undertaken with the help of local volunteers took three years to complete during which time Chris discovered that the walls had formed part of the estate which surrounded Mendip Lodge, an Italianate house built in the late 18th century by the flamboyant Reverend Dr. Thomas Sedgwick Whalley.
This long lived would-be poet and playwright had married a series of rich widows, the first of whose riches enabled him to buy a house in Royal Crescent Bath which became a centre of social life in Bath at the end of the 18th century.
By 1790 he had built Mendip Lodge high above Upper Langford looking out over Somerset and the Severn estuary as his summer retreat. While his life in outline is known from his letters edited and published by his great nephew in 1863, research over the past 10 years has revealed a far more interesting and complete account, much coming from his extensive correspondence with his friends Mrs Thrale (Piozzi), Hannah More, Anna Seward and the actress Sarah Siddons.
Whalley was a highly intelligent, sensitive and generous man who spent a large part of his long life and much of his wealth supporting his beautiful and talented young niece after the tragic death of her mother when she was only 8 years old. This recently published book is one of very few to detail the long of life of a sensitive and wealthy 18th century man from the correspondence of his friends both male and female. Much of Whalley’s estate, which included Dolebury Camp now in the ownership of the National Trust, is accessible to the public. A foot path runs past the remains of Mendip Lodge which was sadly demolished in the 1950’s.
Chris also appears in the new film Hannah More which is due out early next year, in the role of Rev Thomas Sedgwick Whalley.
Stephens, C. The Rev Dr Thomas Sedgwick Whalley and the Queen of Bath – A true story of Georgian England at the time of Jane Austen. (Candy Jar Books, 2014) ISBN 978-0-9928607-6-9. £9-99