Jane Seymours English Sanctuary
By Claire Whitcomb
If you have ever fallen hopelessly in love with a house in the movies, you understand how actress Jane Seymour felt when she first saw St. Catherines Court on a hill near Bath, England. "I came here in 1982 to make Jamaica Inn", she recalls. By the end of the first day of filming, I'd bought the house. It was completley impulsive" Fifteen years and endless restoration projects later, St. Catherine's offers Jane, and her bustling family, sanctuary from the hubbub of Hollywood.
"Ever since the time of Henry VIII, there's been a redhead or a Catherine in this house", says Jane. "The only reason the owner sold it to us was my daughter Katie"- a redhead of course. Equally important was Janes willingness to assume stewardship of a rare English property. A 15th century monastery that was given by Henry VIII to his illegitimate daughter, St Catherines has historic features rivaled only by the likes of Hampton Court. Yet in Janes hands it lives as an expansive family house. The libary, is where she, her husband, director James Keach, Katie, 15, and Sean, 11, like to gather, espeacially since Jane can keep an ear out for her one-year old twins, Kristopher and John, whose room is next door.
Because of the demands of her long running television series, "Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman", Jane is only able to escape to St Catherines for a few weeks in the summer and at Christmas time. The rest of the year she leases the house to people who will respond to its beauty and uses the rent to continue restoring the gardens, the plumbing, and whatever needs doing. But when she is in residence, the house is very much hers, filled with guests, her English realitives, and of course the laughter of children. "My sister has three children, so there are always lots of kids. They tear around and hide in different parts of the house, take walks, ride horses. They have so much more freedom here than anywhere else in the world." Jane too has a measure of freedom. She often ventures into Bath where the decidedly un-starstruck shopkeepers tell her that its"nice to have you back". She seldom returns without an old book or an antique for the house. She's had a hand in arranging every room and has made sure that many of the furnishings, including those in the dining room are Elizabethan. "The chairs were a little formidable until we added cushions. The table is wonderfully wide-it's amazing to realize that people have been dining at it for 500 years. Though Jane tries to spend her time at St Catherines relaxing, playing with the children and pursuing her love of painting, inevitably a restoration project rears it's head. "James has become a very enthusiastic horticulturist and has taken it upon himself to bring back the grounds", says Jane. Though there is much to do, there is also much to enjoy-the ancient roses that ramble over porches, fish ponds left over from the monastery, Elizabethan grass steps-the only ones outside of Hampton Court, and a Victorian plunge pool. "I love St Catherines because it is the essence of England," says Jane, a woman very much at home in a national treasure.