Sherwood Lodge and chapel, c.1910.
THE proverbial dullness of late autumn is sometimes broken by days of exceptional brightness, when the sky is full, not of sober depths of grey, as one of the poets would have us believe it always is in November, but of lively blue, and when the air is so still that you may bear the fall of a shaken leaf. This year the leaves have lingered long, as though they had not bad enough of life during the too brief summer; so that the beeches and other trees at Sherwood Lodge have not yet become “bare ruined choirs,” for this morning they are liberally clothed with the golden and umber tints of the autumn season, and brightened by a sunlight which has none of those sickly characteristics of the November sun that the poet Thompson observed. But the gardens, which, earlier in the year, arc bright with a variety of colours, are flowerless, for the summer is ended, and dead shrivelled leaves, flying before the gale, have settled upon the lawn, where the tennis nets are still left standing. If all days were like this, Colonel Seely would not have ordered that large square of ground to be filled up with asphalte, in order to provide facilities for the perpetual practice of a game which has properly been voted one of best ever invented. Going through a small plantation towards the kitchen garden, one walks ankle deep in dead leaves, from which a pleasant and freshening odour arises. Some men are clearing them from the gravel, and putting them into a cart. To-morrow, the effect of their labour will be destroyed, for every breath of wind brings more leaves from the branches, and the ground is quickly strewn. The wych elm is a variety of tree which has done well in the grounds of Sherwood Lodge. Its proportions, defined in skeleton fashion, now that the leaves are gone, are very fine. Its branches project in graceful sweeping lines, and its shape is at once imposing and symmetrical.
When Colonel Seely came to Sherwood Lodge, there was nothing worthy the name of an estate attached to it. The house was built about a century ago, and has had some four or five tenants. Colonel Samuel Coape, who was heir to Mrs. Sherbrooke, of Oxton, once resided here, and before Mr. Seely purchased the property, it was the residence of the Rev. George Francis Holcombe, who was Vicar of Arnold, a county magistrate, the possessor of rare social qualities, and a very good judge of horse flesh. Mr. Holcombe was a tenant of Colonel Welfitt’s, of Langwith Lodge, who sold the property some time back, and Mr. Seely no sooner came into possession than he threw the house into a state of bricks and mortar, and commenced improvements on a scale, the magnitude of which may be imagined when it is stated that Sherwood Lodge is about twice as large as it was in Mr. Holcombe’s time. The two most important rooms in the house, are the drawing room and library, both of which have been added by Colonel Seely, who evidently intends to make this very desirable residence a permanent home in making these alterations, care seems to have been taken not to mar the general character of the building, which it would perhaps be impossible to redeem from a certain conventionalism. In these additions, its character has been very wisely preserved, so that Sherwood Lodge, from the Mansfield Road, looks just what it is—a solid brick mansion, imposing enough to indicate the position of its owner, and commodious enough to meet the requirements of a large and influential family. The new rooms are very fine, and furnished with perfect taste. The library is entered through handsome doors of unpolished oak; the mantelpiece is of oak richly carved, and this beautiful woodwork is carried throughout the whole room, even to the organ, which occupies the end opposite the entrance. It may here be mentioned that when the family is at home, this charming apartment is used on Sundays for the purposes of worship. The nearest church is some considerable distance from the house, so service is conducted here, by a clergyman of the Established Church, with the assistance of this beautiful organ, which, in its silent intervals, is a conspicuous ornament in the rooms. This service is attended by those who belong to the household, and by any who choose to come and take their seats upon the forms which are kept for this interesting devotional gathering. There are some very fine examples of modern pictorial art in this room— amongst them, one in John Linnell’s best style. It is called “The Last Load.” Probably the waggoner, who is conducting this last load of bay or corn to the rickyard, is as indifferent as is the slow-paced horse in the shafts, to the wonderful light which suffuses the sky and reddens the surface of the mere in the background. I often think that pictures are affected by weather influences. The soft light of this autumnal morning seems to bring out the intenser glow of this summer sky of Linnell’s, which illumines the landscape whilst the waggoner is taking the last load to its destination. The pictures at Sherwood Lodge are numerous, modern, and well chosen. There are no knights in armour, or questionable characters, belonging to the court of Charles. They are chiefly landscapes and seascapes by first-rate modern artists. In the bright drawing room, with its pleasant south-easterly aspect, there are several of Birket Foster’s happiest efforts, full of transparency and vitality—gems which shine in the world of water-colour. The water-colours, numerous and admirably chosen, are amongst the best of the pictures at Sherwood Lodge, though they do not represent the whole of the collection, which is distributed over library, drawing room, dining room, and halt, and contains some really good oils. There are water-colours by Birket Foster, Lewis, and Duncan, some of which once formed part of the collection of Lord Dunmore, and oils by Royal Academicians, and by painters of modern notoriety. The sculptors’ art is represented in the hall, where there are two exquisite marble pieces, one delineating the recumbent figures of children; the other representing the graceful figure of a young girl who is caressing a pet lamb. These two beautiful pieces were shown in the International Exhibition of 1851.
Within the last few years, Colonel Seely has made large purchases of land in the neighbourhood of his house, and he has now a considerable stake in the county, in addition to his interest in the family estates in Derbyshire, Surrey, and the Isle of Wight. He is the owner of some 3,000 acres of land in Nottinghamshire indeed, he seems to have bought whatever he could lay his hands upon in the neighbourhood of his residence. One of his recent purchases is an estate called Haywood Oaks, not far from Blidworth, which includes a substantial house, some 600 acres of land, and some fifty or sixty grand oak trees, specimens as fine as any in the county, or elsewhere. This portion of the estate is somewhat sequestered ; it stands in the midst of a picturesque country, and its superb cluster of oaks gives it a kind of interest, which attaches to but few places in these days. Ramsdale, another portion of Colonel Seely’s recently acquired estate, is nearer home, and upon it there is a lofty hill, from which, on a clear day, can be seen the towers of Lincoln Cathedral. At one time the Colonel thought of making that hill the site of his new house, the situation appeared so favourable, and the views were so fine. All about here the land belongs to the senior Member for Nottingham, who has already inaugurated many improvements. Colonel Seely having thus become a considerable landowner in the county, what more natural than that he should turn his attention to farming? It is very evident, both from his public utterances and from the condition of the some 1,400 acres at present under his control, that Colonel Seely has given considerable attention to agricultural matters, and those immediately interested in the cultivation of the soil may fairly look with some degree of expectency for the result of the experience of one, who has been so eminently successful in another important department of industrial life. I may perhaps be permitted to state that Colonel Seely, with his yet limited experience as a practical farmer, has developed certain opinions concerning the chances of agriculture in the future. He has a habit of reducing these matters to statistical proportions, and he thinks that agricultural operations ought to be so systematised as to show, in account form, the sources of gain or loss, with a view, I suppose, to enable people to provide remedies for mistakes, or facilities for pursuing a successful course. In collieries, Colonel Seely has had considerable experience. Every quarter there is submitted to him an elaborate statement of account bristling with figures, by which he can tell—as surely as he can tell the hour of day by looking at his watch, the financial result of the operations at the several great collieries, of which he and his father are the owners. These figures are an index of what is being done at the collieries ; they tell the cost per ton of getting every seam of coal, and when it is mentioned that between 800,000 and 900,000 tons are got annually from these collieries, it will be understood that the figures referred to are not unimportant. They represent, in fact, a complete analysis of the working of the several collieries, and a system upon which the proper management of the great operations which the Messrs. Seely direct, depends.
Weighted, as he must necessarily be, with the responsibilities attaching to the very large colliery undertakings in which he is engaged, the younger Mr. Seely has devoted himself assiduously for a number of years to various branches of the public service, so that the margin of time left for his own private enjoyment must be very narrow indeed. The public exercises a threefold call upon his time and upon his energies. He is the senior Parliamentary representative of a large constituency, he is Colonel of the Robin Hood Rifles, and he is a magistrate for two counties, in one of which he officiates with some regularity. In these days of long sittings, interminable debate, and persistent opposition of a factious order, the duties of a Member of Parliament are by no means light, and the benches of the House of Commons can hardly be described as seats in Paradise. Mr. Seely is not an inexperienced Member of Parliament. His father has sat in the House of Commons for upwards of a quarter of a century; he himself has been twice elected for a great commercial constituency. At the general election of 1868 he first solicited the suffrages of the electors of Nottingham, when he came forward, in conj unction with Mr. P. W. Clayden as a Liberal candidate. On that occasion there were five candidates in the field, the late Sir Robert Clifton, Colonel Wright, and Mr. Bernal Osborne being the other three. Mr. Seely was defeated, and Sir Robert Clifton and Colonel Wright elected, Mr. Seely being 587 votes behind the last-named gentleman. On the death of the senior member, in 1869, Mr. Seely was returned for Nottingham, in opposition to Mr. Digby Seymour. He continued to represent the borough until 1874, when he retired from the representation, for reasons which were perfectly justifiable. At the last election, in April of 1880, he was returned at the head of the poll by a majority, which showed that the people of Nottingham had long been anxious again to have him as their representative. Meanwhile, Mr. Seely had been appointed Colonel of the Robin Hood Rifles—a position of which any man might well be proud. This was certainly a post to which duties, at once arduous and responsible, were attached, but when Colonel Wright resigned the command of the regiment the choice of his successor was made without demur. The appointment of Colonel Seely was at once popular and appropriate, and, under the influence of his strict and even discipline and soldierly ability, the regiment has maintained its proud position. With all these things on hand—his collieries, farming, and Parliamentary, military, and magisterial duties—Colonel Seely has not much leisure at his disposal, and with his time so fully occupied, and his energy so fully taxed, he must of necessity sacrifice many of those social and other pleasures, which are within the reach of men of wealth and position.