This elegant biography of a little-known Cumbrian landowner, builder and local daughter captures the rural and industrial changes in Georgian England.
Accomplished British historian Uglow (A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration, 2010, etc.) ably depicts the picturesque landscape of Carlisle, just south of the Scottish border. As the eldest daughter of deep descendants of the Wreay landed gentry, who pioneered the iron and alkali works feeding the Industrial Revolution, Sarah Losh (1785–1853) and her beloved younger sister, Katharine, did not feel compelled to marry and relinquish their independence. Rich from their father’s and uncles’ early industriousness, well-educated, strong-willed and bookish, the daughters were able to travel to Italy and elsewhere to study art and architecture, and they brought their ideas home to “improve” their estate and local structures such as the Carlisle school and church. After the death of her sister in 1834, Sarah threw herself into the work of building, combining her love of poetry, antiquities and her ancient land into a distinct, original style that was not Gothic, but that melded simple, rustic elements of the old Saxon and Norman, what she considered Lombard Romanesque. Employing in the woodwork designs of available flora and fauna like eagles and pine cones, Sarah embarked on work as a sculptor herself. With a light touch, Uglow integrates greater historical developments—e.g., the Napoleonic wars and the development of Romanticism—within an intimate bucolic story of people whose life was the land.
A writer who knows her subject intimately creates a fully fleshed portrait of an England that would soon vanish with the advent of the railroads.