Information about Estate Management

Hi Franzeca!

I love your site and your research lists have been fantastic. I was wondering, however, if you have a good source book for Estate Management. Our heroes all have country estates, but how do they work, exactly? How involved was the Duke, Viscount, etc. in the day-to-day running of his country estates? Any advice would be much appreciated.

This was a note I got from Cassie P. in Australia. Further questioning elicited the information that she specifically needed to know what a land steward’s duties were. I knew I didn’t have anything that discussed it directly, so I started looking at the local university’s on-line catalog, and nothing perfectly fit the bill. So then I started playing around in the “advanced search” feature of Google Book, and soon hit the jackpot.  These were the three that seemed most useful. Two are available in recent reprints, the third will be very expensive, though perhaps your library could get a copy for you through Interlibrary Loan. So we have:

The Modern Land Stewart; in which the Duties & Functions of Stewartship are Considered & Explained. With their Several Relations to the Interests of the Landlord, the Tenant, and the Public. Etc., etc.              

The author is John Lawrence, and the publication date was 1801. You see the challenge in obtaining a copy. World Cat didn’t have a copy anywhere. Prices begin at $300. on Amazon, considerably more on It is, however, available in full on Google Book. There’s even a dropdown to the table of contents, and you can choose a chapter from there.

Second on the list: The Complete Steward. Or, the Duty of a Steward to his Lord. Containing. General Rules and Directions for the Management and Improvement of His Lord’s Estate.

This is by John Mordant, and is available as print on demand, for quite a reasonable price, as well as in Google Book. It was originally published in 1761. It was originally printed in two volumes, but available here as one. It is in the form of an encyclopedia, with topics listed alphabetically. Great reading, but I didn’t think it would present a concise picture of a land steward’s job description. Then I found:

The Duty and Office of a Land Steward. Represented under Several Plain and Distinct Articles, to which is Added and Appendix.

The author here is Edward Laurence, and it was originally printed in 1743, and reprinted this year. Hallelujah. You can get it for about $20, and from reading bits of it in Google Book, I think it’s exactly what I needed. So I bought one. And I’m enjoying it very much. The voice of the steward, far-seeing, punctilious, resourceful, sounds like the perfect overseer. He manages a few swipes at the landowners who hire a local attorney, and have him supervise things from afar.  He claims they bring no real knowledge of farming and care of the land, just of the legal regulations, which a competent steward can manage as well. Included is “An Abstract of General Covenants” which covers the basic rules for the tenants, the date for planting winter wheat, the punishment for excess timber cutting, proper fencing for hogs. You’ll find it all here, and and I think you’ll find it fascinating and informative.

One  book I found at the library that looked promising was: Stewards, Lord, and People: The estate steward and his world in later Stuart England. Hainsworth, D. R. Cambridge: University Press, 1992. This traces the development of the role of the land steward at a time when estates were becoming very large, and scattered, and the owner of the estate was much more likely to be spending most of his time in London, so more careful local oversight was needed. This presents a more scholarly, broader view to the duties and functions of a land steward than the contemporary guides. But I must confess it’s not nearly as entertaining as my friend Edward Laurence’s work.

You might take a look at Dorothy Hartley’s Lost Country Life for more detailed knowledge about the rhythms and processes of farm life. Life in the English Country House by Mark Girouard provides information about the noble families and their beautiful country houses. Both are annotated in my “Resources” section.

Another thing to keep in mind is that this was a time of great agricultural innovation and experimentation. Individual stewards and landowners would have different reactions to all these possible changes, and that would make for a good story. A good place to start reading up on this would be:

Thanks to Cassie P. for sending me a good question to wrestle with, and I’m always grateful when I find a marvelous book to add to my research library.


Lunch with Stefanie

Here it is. The Bistro Maison restaurant in McMinnville,  possibly my favorite restaurant in Oregon, and maybe the whole world.

Here it is again. It’s in a wonderful old Victorian house, right next to a charming train station in the vibrant-but-funky historic downtown of McMinnville.

There’s a wonderful garden in the back, and during nice weather everyone eats outdoors, where the chef’s dog serves as maitre d’. McMinnville is in the heart of Oregon’s wine country, and much thought is given to the pairings of food and wine at the bistro.

I’ve been working with author Stefanie Sloane on her Young Corinthians series, and having way more fun than one should ever receive payment for. So we decided that while she was in Oregon visiting her in-laws for Christmas, we should get together. Of course, I recommended the Bistro. Bien sur! We even managed, independently, to coerce our respective dh’s into driving us, but NOT joining us for lunch, so we could get pleasantly schnockered, if we so chose. Well, we did. A little. Me, anyway. I am the world’s fastest, happiest drunk, but Stefanie’s Norwegian ancestry has given her a much harder head than I have.

Deborah, the chef’s wife, and our server, recommended an especially good California bubbly.

And even got a photo of us enjoying our first flute.

I don’t know if you can see the front of my sweatshirt, but it’s actually from the Bistro Maison, and I wear it every time I go there, which isn’t nearly often enough.

On my recommendation, we started with the soup; here it is:

 It was a creamy, divinely smooth winter squash, (which grows very well in the Willamette Valley) topped with a dollop of herby creme fraiche. Notice the genuine baguette on the plate.

Then we moved on to the entree.

I went for the salmon, as I always do, this time with French green lentils. Stef decided on the tartiflette, a pure comfort food combination of potato, onion, and bacon in a creamy sauce, kind of like gourmet scallopped potatoes, made virtuous with a fluffy salad of baby greens. And they don’t ask you want kind of dressing you want on your salad. They put on what they want you to have. And they’re always right. Toujours.

Dessert, mesdames? Mais oui! Deborah listed several possibilities, and mostly the word “chocolate” penetrated my calorie-clogged brain. But Stefanie had a better idea: let’s split a baked Alaska, which neither of us had ever had. The magic of baking an elegant meringue without melting the ice cream inside sounds irresistable. And it was.

Right here:

The final offering of the meal were the filberts, no doubt grown locally:

We weren’t even tempted. Not remotely. I had room to finish my cafe au lait, but that was it.

But, really, I think I enjoyed visiting with Stefanie even more than the food, which is really saying something. I am very much a hermit, and have met only a couple of the authors with whom I’ve worked. I communicate only by e-mail, as I truly dread phone conversations. Stefanie is as much an introvert as I am, and happy with just her dog for company. But we had SO MUCH to talk about, her work, my work, kids, pets, schools, backgrounds, hobbies, travel, plans, dreams. We covered it all, talking non-stop during our very leisurely lunch.

I brought Stefanie a couple batches of my buttermilk scones, she picked up the check, and we talked about doing this again, while exploring restaurants in Portland. I can’t wait. Stay tuned.

Questions about Travel Times

Kathryn and I had an interesting discussion about travel times in Regency England. She wrote:

Hello! I was referred to you by Eloisa with a question.  Though it is possible that I might find the answer to this question in one of the titles mentioned above I figure I will ask any way! How do you calculate the traveling time (via coach, horseback or ship) for your authors? Is there a website that has a such a calculator on it or something to that effect? I was very curious how one goes about finding that information. Thank you!

And I wrote back:

Thanks for the good question.
Mostly, I punt. I look up the two cities the character is traveling between in Google maps, get directions, and figure the mileage that way. (If you have a Regency-era setting, all the travel distances were still in miles, so no need to do complicated metric calculations.) I figure 20-30 miles a day, for a carriage traveling, with servants, luggage, etc. In addition, I presume roads were in better shape nearer London, and travel times would be extended from someplace in the middle of nowhere. For a man or couple of men traveling on horseback, willing to change horses at every posting inn on the way, the daily distance could be greatly increased–remember Dick Turpin’s ride to York in one day. But for a middle-aged man, riding his own horse, and not changing horses, his daily distance would be closer to that of a private carriage .
Roads got a lot better as time progressed. The real progress started with when Telford and McAdam began their road improvements. so use that, depending on the date you’re working with. Even before McAdam, the popularity of stage coaches and post coaches necessitated some attempts to maintain and improve the roads.
I haven’t spent a lot of time with the books I’ve mentioned in my travel section, though I was looking at the Margetson book, and found some very interesting bits of information about stage coaches, the public transportation of the day. For instance, by the late 1700s, one could reach Bath from London, a distance of almost 120 miles, in seventeen hours by stage coach. Also, a circular from 1799 boasts that the new post coach that sets out from London every evening except Saturday, arrives in Carlisle, in northern England, in three days, and in Glasgow in just four days. The stage coaches traveled at night, and their stops to change horses at the posting inns were very brief. The poor passengers were not allowed to bring food into the coach, but didn’t have enough time to eat at the inns while the horses were being changed, so it was not a comfortable ride. Servants or tradesmen might travel by the stage coaches, but probably not the higher classes, unless there was a good reason demanded by your plot. Unlike today’s Greyhound schedules, arrival times were not predicted to the minute for the coaches. All sorts of random events could affect travelers, such as highwaymen, mechanical breakdowns, lamed horses, bad weather, etc.
For travel within a city, say, London, then you have new factors. What time of day was the journey? How far apart were the destinations? By the river? By the roads? On foot, in a hackney, on horseback? I think five miles an hour would be an adequate travel time within a City, at least if not on Market Day.
I’m not sure about travel by water. These were still the days of sail (though steam engines were starting to appear in the Thames around then) and hence, dependent on the wind, or lack of wind. I usually figure around one night with a good wind for the Calais to Dover smuggling run, but anything else would take a long time. It might well take a couple months to cross the Atlantic from England to the United States.
I think trying to imagine travel times is especially difficult for modern readers. We are so utterly accustomed to, and dependent upon, totally reliable mechanized transportation that it’s hard to imagine how unreliable and unmechnized it all was two centuries ago.
Be sure and go to my Romance University tab for more information about travel in Regency times.