Travel to an English Manor With Music


Hardwicke Hall, England
Hardwick Hall, England

Destination: England

Music: The Plum Tree and the Rose by Sarah McQuaid (from Waterbug Records)

Article by Kerry Dexter

It has been nearly five centuries since Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury — more informally known as Bess of Hardwick — put her fortune and her imagination to work to commission the building of Hardwick Hall in the midlands of England. Still the hall stands,  noted especially for its extensive use of large windows,  unusual for buildings in the Renaissance. What’s also prominent in the design is the recurrence of Bess of Hardwick’s initials, ES  for Elizabeth of Shrewsbury (Note: Clearly seen in photo above), worked into the stonework on the roof line.

Sarah McQuaid
Sarah McQuaid, photo by Photo by Colm Henry (

All these things got singer and songwriter Sarah McQuaid  thinking about what sort of person Bess of Hardwick might have been, and what sort of life she led. In history books she’s usually mentioned for great wealth and power, but McQuaid took a more personal focus  for her song Hardwick’s Lofty Towers, which proves a thoughtful and illuminating idea of a woman’s life that connects across the centuries  in just a few short verses.

McQuaid is well qualified to tell such a story: born in Spain, raised in Chicago, living for more than a decade in Ireland and now raising her family in the southwest of England, she brings a poet’s ear and a songwriter’s voice to the music she has chosen for The Plum Tree and the Rose.  There are songs she’s written and songs from several sources recent and past that she covers. Some have to do with or are inspired by ideas from history, often English history, while others are more personal. Rather than offering history lessons only by fact, through all the songs McQuaid invites listeners to consider permanence and impermanence, and what may last and carry on after we are gone.

These ideas and questions play out in the title track, as McQuaid intertwines the legacy of memory with nature and family in The Plum Tree and The Rose, and considers  the changes and uncertainties of love in the song So Much Rain. History takes its places again through reflection in the song  In Derby Cathedral, and there is a meditation on the loving and letting go that comes with parenthood in Lift You Up and Let You Fly. Though that focus on time and change is perhaps less explicit through the other songs, it is there, as McQuaid looks at Robert Dudley’s courting of the first Queen Elizabeth in the song Kenilworth, covers songs by John Martyn and John Dowland, and closes with a six part canon called In Gratitude I Sing. Through the album, McQuaid’s many hued alto voice and creative guitar work are well supported by Trevor Hutchinson on double bass, Gerry O O’Beirne (who produced the album) on guitar, Rosie Shipley on fiddle, Niamh  Parsons on voice, and others.

You might also like to see A Traveler’s Librarys suggestions about films to inspire travel to England .

Hardwick Hall , a British National Trust site, was the backdrop for several scenes in the movie Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. learn about Harry Potter related sites in Scotland.


As a policy of A Traveler’s Library, we tell you about affiliate links. The links included here may make it possible for you to listen to excerpts of the music, and the ones to Amazon in this post are affiliate links. If you buy anything through the affiliate links in this post, you will be supporting the site Music Road . Thank you. The picture at the top of the page is from Flickr, used with a Creative Commons license.  Click on the photo to learn about the photographer.



Kerry Dexter

About Kerry Dexter

Kerry Dexter is a regular contributor to A Traveler’s Library, bringing her knowledge of music and musicians who share a sense of place and travel. Her work also appears in Journey to Scotland and the Encyclopedia of Ireland and the Americas, among other places. Check out her bio on the contributor’s page to learn more and see her site at Music Road.

6 thoughts on “Travel to an English Manor With Music

  1. Even with the title, the Plum Tree and the Rose I can tell that her songs are probably dominated by amazing imagery and metaphors. I like the idea of history finding its way into her songs.

  2. I sure the music is beautiful and heartfelt. She’s had quite an interesting life living in so many different places.

  3. How absolutely fascinating- what a great way to be inspired and what great songs to listen to- as I’m sure they will cause me to envision historical settings.

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