Fountains Abbey, once a centre of learning, then a rather large garden ornament in a formal garden made by John Aislabie (1670 – 1742) , now part of the Studley Royal Park which we visited with the boys last week.
Our boys are what the Brits and Americans would call “Free range”. In Germany this is called ‘normal': they cross the village alone to go to school, see friends, and return when they are bored/hungry/broke something. Eldest goes to school on the other side of the city, which involves riding a bus and a tram every day, on his own, so when we went to Fountains Abbey they decided to do a treasure hunt with their usual enthusiasm.
And promptly vanished, somewhere in the 323 hectare (800 acre) estate.
After walking the length of the place three times and mindful that it was getting dark -and more importantly, this is a world heritage site and we’re liable if the boys break anything- we asked the staff of the park to keep an eye open, which they duly did, bless them. The boys were found soon after, walking back to the gate after finding the last clue. Of course, yours truly was at the far end of the estate by this time, and so they then came to find me, and get us all back together again. The boys all got ice cream from Grandma.
Heroic rescuer was happy to sit down and used the excuse that I was researching the history of the place, so here it is…
John Aislabie was quite a ‘character’ defining ‘character’ as “Lying corrupt toff who sells his principles to the highest bidder”. He went from being rich to very rich on the basis of the South Sea Company, which specialised in slaves, government debt and dodgy deals, all ‘backed’ by a slightly illegal bank and in cahoots with the government, the king and the kings girlfriend. Aislabie was the Chancellor of the Exchequer and took bribes to persuade the government to allow the formation of the company, so when the ‘South Sea Bubble’ inevitably collapsed causing hundreds of thousands of people to lose all they had and get stuck in debt*, he wasn’t terribly popular.
Aislabie was found guilty of the “most notorious, dangerous and infamous corruption”: by the the House of Commons: being called a very, very, corrupt person by politicians must have hurt. There was a serious suggestion that the bankers should all be tied up in a sack full of snakes and thrown into the Thames but the river was filthy enough as it was, so Aislabie was imprisoned in the tower of London (don’t feel sorry for him: it was a nice snug apartment) then sent back home for being a naughty boy, where he showed his remorse by building the water gardens and introducing landscape gardening to England. He died at 72 and his son managed to scrape enough together to buy the Abbey soon after as a garden ornament.
I’m sure all the thousands of slaves and bankrupted investors must have felt it was all worthwhile.
*Thousands of people who were happy to make a profit from the slave trade; my heart bleeds.