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Copyright (c) Jane Austen’s World. Lyme Park in Chesire is best known today as the exterior of Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice 1995. The house, situated near the village of Disley, was the principal seat of the ancient family of Leghs, whose ancestor fought bravely in the battle of Cressy. Once a hunting lodge, the building dates back to Elizabethan times. Its classical facade was designed in the 1720’s by the famed Venetian architect, Giacomo Leoni. The lake made famous by Colin Firth’s dip was once the source of a cascade, or a staircase with water running down it, from 1703-1818.

Lyme Park. Image @Lesley Rigby, Panoramio

The vast moors and lands of Lyme Park housed herds wild cattle and fallow and red deer, which had roamed the area for around five hundred years. Lyme Park’s stags were famous for their size and fierceness, but their wildness did not prevent them from being driven annually across the water. The two sources below do not list the reason for this custom, but one imagines it was to drive the herds to “greener” pastures.

Manners & Customs of all Nations

CURIOUS CEREMONY OF DRIVING DEER THROUGH THE WATER (FORMERLY PRACTISED) IN LYME PARK CHESHIRE

(For the Mirror)

ORMEROD, in his splendid History of Cheshire, says, “The park of Lyme, which is very extensive, is celebrated for the fine flavour of its venison, and contains a herd of wild cattle, the remains of a breed which has been kept here from time immemorial, and is supposed indigenous. In the last century a custom was observed here of driving the deer round the park about Midsummer, or rather earlier, collecting them in a body before the house, and then swimming them through a pool of water, with which the exhibition terminated.”

Driving the stags, a view of Lyme Park, 1745. Engraved by F. Vivares after a painting by Thomas Smith. Notice the differences in details between the print and the painting.

There is a large print of it by Vivares, after a painting by T. Smith, representing Lyme Park during the performance of the annual ceremony, with the great Vale of Cheshire and Lancashire as far as the Rivington Hills in the distance, and in the foreground the great body of the deer passing through the pool, the last just entering it, and the old stags emerging on the opposite bank, two of which are contending with their forefeet, the horns at that season being too tender to combat with. This art of driving the deer like a herd of ordinary cattle, is stated on a monument at Disley, to have been first perfected by Joseph Watson, who died in 1753, at the age of 104, “having been park keeper at Lyme more than sixty four years.”

Red deer stag and hind, George Stubbs, 1792

The custom however appears not to have been peculiar to Lyme, as Dr Whitaker describes, in his Account of Townley, ( the seat of a collateral line of Legh,) near the summit of the park, and where it declines to the south, the remains of a large pool, through which tradition reports that the deer were driven by their keepers in the manner still practised in the park at Lyme.” – The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Vol 14, Percy and Timbs, 1829, p 101-102

In connexion with these deer a very curious custom prevailed at Lyme from earliest times, namely, the driving of the stags at midsummer across a pond, called the Stag Pond — now no longer in existence. This performance was attended by a certain amount of ceremony, it formed a species of entertainment, and neighbours and friends from a distance were invited to be present and to take part in the chase. Vivares,* in a print after a picture by T. Smith,| still preserved at Lyme, represents the stags swimming across the pond, those in the foreground emerging from the water and fighting with their forefeet, the horns being in velvet : in the background are the ladies and gentlemen following the hunt on horseback, dressed in eighteenth-century costume. The print is inscribed :

A View in Lyme Park
With that extraordinary Custom of driving the Stag,

the property of Peter Legh Esqr

to whom this plate is inscribed by his most humble

servant T. Smith

Published Aug : 17. 1745.

* Fran9ois Vivares (1709-1780), a French landscape engraver; came to London 1727 ; kept a print shop, 1750-1780. – The House of Lyme, From its Foundation to the end of the Eighteenth CenturyEvelyn Caroline Bromley-Davenport Legh Newton (baroness), Lady Newton, G.P. Putnam, 1917

The Cage at Lyme Park overlooking the moors. Image @Wikimedia Commons. The structure was built as a hunting lodge and later used as a lockup for poachers.

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