It's time for me to write about another one of those placemats that Mom bought at an estate sale. You know the ones I mean: the placemats with fox hunt prints on them. Anyway, today's print is called The Meet at Blagdon, and it was painted by a man named John W. Snow. The engraver's name was Thomas Lupton, and he dedicated his work:
To Sir Matthew White Ridley Baronet
This Engraving from the Original Picture
In his possession
In this scene, we see a few riders and lots of fox hounds. Some of the riders and dogs got chopped off at each end of the picture on Mom's placemat, so here's what the whole print looks like:
The hounds in this picture are all hanging out, wondering when the hunt will get started. Some of them seem patient, but others are trying to play with each other. And there's a hole or a mud puddle or something like that right in front, so maybe some of the dogs have been digging there. Except that none of them look very dirty. And far away, in the middle of the scene, there is one of those big English country houses, and it turns out that this house is called Blagdon.
When I first started doing my in-depth research on this print, I discovered that there was a town called Blagdon in the county of Somerset, which is kind of in the southwest part of England. I was learning all kinds of interesting things about this town, and I found out that blagdon probably came from Old English and it meant "black down," which is how a moor or "down" looks with blackish heather growing on it.
|Blagdon Hall with squirrel|
But then I was shocked to realize that I was chasing the wrong squirrel, so to speak, and that the Blagdon in the hunting print was actually a manor house all the way up in Northumbria, not too far from Newcastle-upon-Tyne. I am glad I got all this important information straightened out before I wrote about it in my blog, because otherwise, I could have been very embarrassed.
So it turns out that Blagdon Hall has been owned by the White Ridley family ever since 1698. Many generations of men with the last name White or Ridley have lived there, and most of these men had the first name Matthew. At first, the Whites and the Ridleys were Baronets, which is the lowest rank of nobility you can have, but people still have to call you "Sir."
After a while, one of the Ridleys got promoted to Viscount, which is one step up from Baron. I don't know how these things happen because the whole British nobility thing is very mysterious to me. But I do know that many of the Ridleys served in Parliament, which made them pretty important.
|Blagdon Hall without squirrel|
I couldn't find out any information about Mr. John Snow, who painted this picture. And I couldn't find a date for when it was painted or when the engraving was made. Also, I couldn't figure out for a long time which Sir Matthew White Ridley was in the painting. But then I found a website for Blagdon Hall, and there is a history of all the generations of Whites and Ridleys.
It turns out that the man in the painting was Sir Matthew White Ridley, 3rd Baronet. He lived from 1779-1836, and he was the fifth generation of the family to live at Blagdon. When his father resigned from Parliament, the son took his place. Also he was into banking and the family's coal mining business. But in the end, the 3rd Baronet was more interested in doing fun stuff in the country than he was in doing business.
|Sir Matthew White Ridley, 3rd Baronet|
So he put together a pack of fox hounds in 1815, and he appears in the painting with two of his sons. I think he is probably the man on the dark brown horse, to the right of the center. On Mom's placemat, this horse looks black. I think this man is Sir Ridley because he looks like the most important person in the picture. Sir Ridley also owned a famous racehorse named Fleur-de-Lys, which he later sold to the Prince Regent.
In 1803, Sir Ridley married Laura Hawkins, and they had 10 children. When they moved to Blagdon in 1813, they added a large dining room to the house and also a wing with 10 small bedrooms for their children.
Anyway, the family home kept being passed down through the generations of White Ridleys. The man who lives there now, Matthew White Ridley, 5th Viscount Ridley, was born in 1958. He mostly goes by the name of Matt Ridley. He is a scientist and a journalist, and he has written several popular books about science. His first book, which was published in 1993, was called The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature, and the latest one, in 2010, is The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. Also, Sir Ridley writes a weekly column for the Wall Street Journal called "Mind and Matter."
|Matthew White Ridley, 5th Viscount Ridley|
I wish I knew whether the Ridley family still keeps dogs at Blagdon House, but I could not find the answer to this important question. Of course, fox hunting is illegal now in Great Britain, but I like to think that there are still some dogs living very happily at Blagdon.