Tag Archives: Dan Cruickshank

Concluding The Country House Revealed

          Dan Cruickshank’s The Country House Revealed finally came to a conclusion this Tuesday on BBC2. In his last two programmes, Cruickshank looked at Clandeboye, County Down, and Marshcourt, Hampshire; the first an example of the wider changing social order and economic structure of the country house, the second was the result of this change and the symbol of plutocracy.

          At Clandeboye we saw Cruickshank in his element with the surroundings as he flitted from room to room and enjoyed the company

Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava

W Magazine photo of the Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava upon the Clandeboye estate (February 2009)

of its owner Lindy Guinness, the Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava. An interesting woman and the very epitome of elite presence in the modern age. We learnt that Cruickshank had attended a social event at Clandeboye some 35 years earlier, but we were not permitted the full story as to what circumstances he attained the invite in the first place. As a result the often giggly moments shared by Cruickshank and the Marchioness were cloaked in mystique which was added to with flirtatious undertones often allowing the main themes to be ignored. The life study of a ‘French boy’ tucked away in a closet space set the pair into rosey-faced sniggers, but on the other hand it was a pleasant departure to the more formal and scholarly encounters Cruickshank had had with the people connected with his case studies.

          At Marshcourt, Cruickshank seemed more sober in his approach (despite a moment which saw him purposefully scrape his elbow along the chalk walls), and there seemed a looming presence resembling unfinished business or stunted happiness. Where Clandeboye had stood as a symbol of landed wealth in the nineteenth century and had seen the financial struggles of its then owner – Frederick Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava and his climb up the ladder to elite success, Marshcourt represented the ‘last hurrah’ in country house building. Built for Herbert Johnson by Edwin Lutyens between 1901 and 1904, Marshcourt was created for a member of the new elite who had made money away from landownership. This country house was intended to be a retreat from city life, and a vision of its owners playful character. On several occasions Cruickshank made reference to Marshcourt or Herbert ‘Johnny’ Johnson and his circle as playful, wayward and vivacious.
 
 
          Having watched the last two episodes back to back, there was a sense that Cruickshank had covered most angles of country house building and development from the fifteenth century to the twentieth century. We had witnessed the establishment of the country house as a power base, as the self-sufficient estate and home of the landowner, as the shelter for the spoils of the Grand Tour and worldly travels, and as a symbol of private wealth. Dan Cruickshank had done this with just six houses not normally open to the general public. We had met with private owners; many of which had little or no link with the older families who had built these houses, but all had different visions for the future. All expressed their feelings of responsibility for the maintenance and ‘homeliness’ of these buildings and emphasised a desire to recreate or continue the heritage of that specific property.
 
 
          Yet, within the murky depths of internet writing and reviewing there lies a comment which argues for more interest to be shown inside the usual boundaries of the United Kingdom and Britain generally – more specifically Wales. This is true of this kind of history documentary but is probably a reflection on the interests and academic knowledge of those involved or those the tv producers wish to work with. Amanda Vickery’s latest installment At Home with the Georgians for example was based on her Behind Closed Doors book of 2009 which made England its main focus. Lucy Worsley’s If Walls Could Talk let her explore only a few aspects of domestic arrangements outside her own place of work – the Historic Royal Palaces. Of course, Wales has country houses and not just lots of castles; Erddig is a fantastic example of how an eighteenth and nineteenth-century house worked. It may be owned by the National Trust, but its more recent history proves that modern-day hopes of retrieving local heritage are always prevalent. But what about Hawarden Castle which is privately owned by the descendants of British Prime Minister William Gladstone? And did Cruickshank and his producers fear treading on the toes of Ruth Watson and her Country House Rescue  team if they were to explore the histories of Pen-Y-Lan or Plas Teg? The demolition of hundreds of Welsh country houses in the twentieth century leaving vastly smaller numbers than in England only suggests that Cruickshank and his team should have focussed on one all the more. At least in that respect it would have been a more rounded examination of the British country house.  
        

Front cover for The Country House Revealed (April 2011)

  Overall, this was an enjoyable series to watch. I have read some of the book, and admit I do not have a copy of my own at the moment. That Dan Cruickshank is sole author however is misleading since the book is probably better described as a compilation of articles from several academic minds. The elusive Jonathan Parker is one of the main researchers with additions from those more well-known in the field. But Dan Cruickshank is afterall an architectural historian who has travelled the world in order to highlight some of the grandest buildings other countries have to offer. He has also entered more humble dwellings and compared urban development with that of the rural setting. He would be the obvious choice of commentator to link with a glossy hardback and to front a programme such as The Country House Revealed.

 
          Perhaps what follows should be a ‘demolition’ of the country house and we could delve into the archives of those no longer standing but were equally important establishments in marking out a true ‘hidden history’ of our nation. There are many historians at work on this theme, so Dan Cruickshank, if you’re reading this……
 
 
 
Links:
Clandeboye website http://www.clandeboye.co.uk/
 
The full article from W Magazine‘s interview with the Marchioness of Clandeboye, February 2009 (includes glossy pictures of the interior of Clandeboye)  http://www.wmagazine.com/artdesign/2009/02/lady_dufferin
 
 
For more indepth reading on the circumstances surrounding the building of Clandeboye see The Country Seat blog http://countryhouses.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/the-country-house-revealed-%e2%80%93-clandeboye-county-down/ 
 
For the review mentioned in this text see the Reviews, Snippets and Articles section in the right-hand column here; ‘The Independent review of The Country House Revealed’.

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Wentworth Woodhouse Revisited: 2011 (part 2)

         

Charles Watson-Wentworth as the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1766-8

           The inhabitants of Wentworth Woodhouse and their relationship with the house is not unlike those of the previous case studies examined by Cruickshank. This is due greatly to the twentieth-century inhabitants experiencing problems of descent. However, punctuated with the usual financial fluctuations and difficulties in maintaining such a vast sprawl of building, Wentworth Woodhouse has survived almost intact. Upon the 1st Marquess’s death in 1750, the estate and title passed to Charles Watson-Wentworth, his fifth son and eighth child in a family of ten (the two older sons having died young). A man of a slight nervous disposition, Charles suffered from regular health problems and often sought advice from friends and his resident doctor. His wife Mary would send him supportive letters whilst he was away in London and also helped him with much of his administration, to which he called her his ‘Minerva at my side’. On Charles’s death in 1782 without male issue, his widow moved out to accommodate his nephew the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam and family.

          The 8thEarl died prematurely in a flying accident in 1948 without male issue and although the

The 8th Earl Fitzwilliam (taken from http://www.thepeerage.com)

house passed separately to the heirs of later Earls, the contents were dispersed and the house became two separate living quarters. Parts of the west front accommodated the remaining family members until the death of the 10th Earl in 1979, whilst the east front experienced a mix of inhabitants. Most of that part of the house was let to the West Riding County Council in 1950 for use as a teaching-training college but by the 1970s with local government reorganisation the lease was assigned to Rotherham Metropolitan District Council which then became part of Sheffield Polytechnic (now Sheffield Hallam University). Eventually, with incredible running costs to meet, the Polytechnic were forced to surrender the lease in 1986. The daughter of the 10th Earl placed the house and 30 acres on the market in 1988, and a year later it was bought by Wensley Haydon-Baillie, a businessman who struggled to maintain the place, and it was repossessed. At some point plans to convert Wentworth Woodhouse into a hotel were granted but not implemented.

          When Clifford Newbold bought the house for a mere £1.5million in 1999, the local community were especially intrigued to discover information on its new owner. By 2006 rumours had spread that the house was lived in by some mysterious solitary figure, who would sit at one window every evening and whose quarters would be lit by a single light. When The Sunday Times Magazine published an article on Catherine Bailey’s Black Diamonds in February 2007 residents of a nearby village were ready to comment on the reclusive nature of Wentworth Woodhouse’s inhabitant. For many it was pure curiosity, but for others the house represented agricultural and industrial communities which were once bound together through economic necessity. The owners of Wentworth Woodhouse provided employment on a large scale, both within and without its walls. Local village residents were therefore eager to know what impact the latest owner would have on their lives and cultural landscape. One resident said she had never seen him, adding that ‘no-one I know ever has’. This is about to change when Clifford Newbold shall appear on BBC2 in the company of Dan Cruickshank.

          Cruickshank’s quest to uncover ‘our nation’s hidden history’ is set to be a challenge with his exploration of Wentworth Woodhouse. In revealing this country house, Cruickshank will have several tasks to complete. The first is undoubtedly aspects of the construction of the house as two almost separate buildings. Dedication to the topic of twentieth-century Wentworth Woodhouse should be shown, especially in terms of its socio-economic status as the home of mine owners and their relationship with the post-war Labour government. A third point (though not really a final point) should be to ‘out’ the current owner Clifford Newbold and allow him to demonstrate his plans of restoration and refurbishment. It will be interesting to see who else Dan Cruickshank calls on to help illustrate Wentworth Woodhouse’s past, as it is essential that the history of this house is given the limelight. The Country House Revealed at Wentworth Woodhouse will most certainly be multi-layered.

References:

Elaine Chalus, ‘Elite Women, Social Politics, and the Political World of Late Eighteenth-Century England, The Historical Journal 43, 3(2000), pp.669-697

Tim Rayment, ‘The Mansion of Mystery and Malice’, Sunday Times Magazine, (11 February 2007), pp.16-25

Country Life articles:

Marcus Binney, ‘Wentworth Woodhouse Revisited I’, (March 17 1983), pp.624-627

Marcus Binney, ‘Wentworth Woodhouse Revisited II’, (March 24, 1983), pp.708-711

John Martin Robinson, ‘Realise the Worth of Wentworth Woodhouse’, (21 January 1999), pp.58-61

Links:        

Marquess of Rockingham from Wikipedia,  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marquess_of_Rockingham

The Earls Fitzwilliam from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earl_Fitzwilliam, particularly the 4th Earl, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Fitzwilliam,_4th_Earl_Fitzwilliam

Regional newspaper, The Star on the current inhabitants of Wentworth Woodhouse, 21 May 2011, http://tiny.cc/v21wa

WentworthVillage local history and community pages, http://www.wentworthvillage.net/history/wentworth-woodhouse

Marjorie Bloy’s website dedicated to Charles Watson-Wentworth, http://www.historyhome.co.uk/pms/rocky.htm

The Wentworth Follies, http://www.inkamera.ukgo.com/wfolly/4rm0-0.htm (These are also discussed by Marcus Binney for Country Life, 24 January 1991)

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Wentworth Woodhouse Revisited: 2011 (part 1)

          I realise that I have already written a post on some aspect of Wentworth Woodhouse, Yorkshire, but there is something extremely attractive about this place. In anticipation of Dan Cruickshank’s The Country House Revealed episode on Wentworth Woodhouse, on 31st May (and because I might not have access to a television or computer next week) I wanted to jot down what I believe are crucial points relating to this specific house and its owners. These may be more amateurish in delivery than Cruickshank’s method, but my own studies on Wentworth Woodhouse have revealed some fantastic stories.

Wentworth Woodhouse (copyright Country Life Magazine, May 1946)

          Currently the subject of a court hearing that must seem rather more contentious than others, Wentworth Woodhouse has played host to large elite families, politicians, teachers and students, a businessman, and a self-made architect. Unlike Dan Cruickshank’s previous case studies, Wentworth Woodhouse is better known thanks in the main to Catherine Bailey’s Black Diamonds which discusses the socio-economic circumstances of coal mining on the estate during the twentieth century. Most of Bailey’s book details the often strained relationships between the mine owners – the Earls Fitzwilliam – the local and governmental committees, and the local coal-mining families. Given that Black Diamonds has been well-received and is considered a good piece of scholarly reference, it’s high time the house itself received a bit more recognition.

            I am reliant on several sources for Wentworth Woodhouse since no history of the house has been bound together in the same way a guidebook might present a single biography. This also means compromising on a lot of detail here. For greater discussion of the destructive mining processes and the social impact this had, then Black Diamonds is the best place to start. The focus here however, will be in two parts; the first on the house, and the second part on the families and owners of Wentworth Woodhouse.

*********

           Several authors including Marcus Binney have written articles on the house and its parkland for Country Life magazine.  A few scholars have also produced comprehensive (yet unpublished) studies on the owners and their influences in political and socio-economic spheres (see references below). Arthur Young’s A Six Months Tour Through the North of England (1770) is also a fine contemporary source for eighteenth-century Wentworth Woodhouse relating the agricultural innovations on the estate.

           Yet, in line with Dan Cruickshank’s programme, I would like to draw attention to John Martin Robinson’s article, ‘Realise the Worth of Wentworth Woodhouse’ for Country Life in 1999. Here, Robinson stated the key issues which have affected the house, and to some degree he offered remedies to the many constraints still attached to the house in 2011:

                 The failure of Wentworth Woodhouse to become a ‘stately home’ open to the public after the Second World War and thus to have secured its future … is an architectural tragedy. [However,] it is important to recognise that the value of the house and estate lies in more than its architecture. Wentworth Woodhouse represents as nowhere else the Whig synthesis of political liberty, scientific and economic development, patronage of the arts, landscape gardening, industrial and agricultural improvement.

          John Martin Robinson’s reaction to Wentworth Woodhouse being placed on the open market in 1998 was characteristic of many individuals working in the heritage sector and academia. It is in the capable hands of self-made architect Clifford Newbold and his family these days who has long-term plans of restoration and refurbishment. This episode of the house’s history was the main focus for two editions of Country Life magazine published in February 2010. Whether Newbold’s plans will mean greater public access over the coming years is yet unclear.

          This is what makes Wentworth Woodhouse so unique; people want to see it open and accessible for the very reasons John Martin Robinson states in his article. It is architecturally significant, but it should not be viewed as a shell to be filled with the appropriate chattels in the same way as South Wraxall, Kinross House and Easton Neston. Its foundations were laid as part of a spirited rivalry between family members in the early 1700s and grew in both size and reputation throughout the eighteenth century. Therefore, its ‘working’ history is also relevant as a home and administrative base for the Marquesses of Rockingham, and later the Earls Fitzwilliam. It is of national and regional significance, possibly international too, given the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham’s political role and connection with Colonial America.

Engraving of the west front by John Cole c.1728 (Bodleian Library)

Wentworth Woodhouse is a hybrid of Baroque and Palladianism with an east front longer than that of Buckingham Palace and stretching across 606ft of ground. Its greatest features are certainly its hall or saloon, the lower or pillared hall and Whistlejacket Room. Built for Thomas Wentworth (1693-1750), Lord Malton, later 1st Marquess of Rockingham in two phases, the house can be viewed as two distinct blocks united with courts and interlinked wings. The west front (garden front) was begun in 1725 (incorporating an older seventeenth century house later known as the Clifford Lodgings) in brick with stone dressings in the Baroque style. A neat engraving dating from c.1728 by John Cole shows the west front and its approach (as shown). The east front was underway before the west front was complete in 1734 which has raised questions about the drastic stylistic changes occurring within a continuous building programme. Marcus Binney suggests that the 1st Marquess may have ‘been forced into a stylistic about-turn under pressure from Lord Burlington, Sir Thomas Robinson and other Palladian apostles and converts among Yorkshire landowners.’ This development hid the west front behind a new façade and turned the approach through 180 degrees. No doubt Cruickshank will make this a key point in his episode on Wentworth Woodhouse.

          The designer of the west front may still remain a mystery, but the east front was the product of designs made by R. Tunnicliffe and Henry Flitcroft and completed c.1750. Additions were made at later periods, especially to the Clifford Lodgings by John Carr in the 1760s, who also added an extra storey to parts of the east front, and James ‘Athenian’ Stuart who may have provided plans for some internal design work. The building of Wentworth Woodhouse provides many routes of enquiry for the architectural historian and it would be fantastic to see some of the anomalies pointed out by Dan Cruickshank. To ‘reveal’ the architectural and design details at this house would not only be necessary but a terrible misdemeanour if not explored deeply enough.
 

References: 

Marjorie Bloy, ‘Rockingham and Yorkshire: The Political, Economic and Social Role of Charles Watson-Wentworth, the Second Marquis of Rockingham’ (PhD thesis, University of Sheffield, 1986)

Paul James Nunn, ‘The Management of Some South Yorkshire Landed Estates in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, Linked with the Central Economic Development of the Area’ (PhD thesis, University of Sheffield, 1985)

Country Life articles:

Unknown author, ‘Wentworth Woodhouse: the Seat of Earl Fitzwilliam’, May 10 1946, pp.854-857

Marcus Binney, ‘Wentworth Woodhouse Revisited I’, (March 17 1983), pp.624-627

Marcus Binney, ‘Wentworth Woodhouse Revisited II’, (March 24, 1983), pp.708-711

Marcus Binney, ‘Wentworth Woodhouse,Yorkshire’, (January 24, 1991), pp.60-63

John Martin Robinson, ‘Realise the Worth of Wentworth Woodhouse’, (21 January 1999), pp.58-61

 Also, Country Life produced articles with images from the years 1906, 1924 (5 articles that year), and 1934. See, http://www.countrylifeimages.co.uk/ or scroll to Learning Resources on your right in this blog.

Links:         

Regional newspaper, The Star on the current inhabitants of Wentworth Woodhouse, 21 May 2011, http://tiny.cc/v21wa

WentworthVillage local history and community pages, http://www.wentworthvillage.net/history/wentworth-woodhouse

Blog ‘The Country Seat’ entry on Wentworth Woodhouse, http://countryhouses.wordpress.com/2010/02/17/the-greatest-country-house-youve-never-heard-of-wentworth-woodhouse/

The Wikipedia entry (adapted from the DiCamillo Companion database entry) for Wentworth Woodhouse, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wentworth_Woodhouse

Dr Marjorie Bloy’s website dedicated to the politics of the second half of the eighteenth century including Charles Watson-Wentworth, http://www.historyhome.co.uk/pms/rocky.htm

Stories and Reminiscences: ‘Wentworth Woodhouse was My Home’, http://www.dooyoo.co.uk/sightseeing-national/wentworth-woodhouse-wentworth/1239735/

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Review: The Country House Revealed at Easton Neston

          

Model of Easton Neston

Victoria and Albert Museum image of Nicholas Hawksmoor's architectural model for Easton Neston

After this episode of The Country House Revealed (May 24th, 2011) finished, I felt that this was quite an exhilarating (if not exhausting) journey into the English Baroque and the Fermor family of Easton Neston, Northamptonshire. Ending with Noel Coward’s gentle swipe at the English ruling classes of the inter-war period, ‘The Stately Homes of England’, Dan Cruickshank’s latest offering perfectly summarised the nature of elite living, inheritance, marriage and the complications arising from the two factors when a country seat was at stake.

          The main focus was the Fermor, and then later the Hesketh families, and how the house had provided a backdrop to the often comical dramas played out by successive male heirs (particularly George Fermor, 3rd Earl of Pomfret) and their financial gains made by the usual providential marriages. The architectural presence of Easton Neston however, was confined more to the search for its true designer which saw Cruickshank meet up with the floppy-haired Ptolemy Dean (of Restoration fame) who had commissioned a tree-ring dating exercise on the remaining wing of the house as well as in the roof void of the main building. Despite Dean’s jumpy expressiveness whilst demonstrating the altered vaulting in the basement of the house, this exploration proved quite fascinating. For anyone working in the field of architectural preservation, the drilling, chiseling and hammering of beams and walls can seem strangely invigorating if the aim is to reveal another layer of history or, as in this instance to prove a theory.

         Primary sources suggest that Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736) had had a role to play in its design, perhaps with some contribution by his ‘revered’ mentor and later collaborator Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) who had been approached by Sir William Fermor by 1680 seeking advice for a new house on this site. Cruickshank could be seen at once on the outside of the building viewing the great order of architecture in the massive columns adorning each elevation. Then, he was back inside admiring the great staircase again and an old photograph of the hall with its double height ceiling (diminished in the late nineteenth century). We were then shown a model made by Hawksmoor of Easton Neston at the Royal Institute of British Architects, one of the few architectural models of its type to survive in tact.

          Eventually, the tree-ring dating exercise had its results delivered to us by dendrochronologist Robert Howard who offered a clear felling date between the spring of 1700 and the summer of 1701. This somehow eliminated Wren’s involvement in the final design, leaving Hawksmoor as Easton Neston’s prime architect. For Ptolemy Dean this was fantastic news. For enthusiasts of the country house, this was eagerly anticipated; even the Wikipedia entry on Easton Neston was updated the same evening!

          For Cruickshank, we had come full circle in terms of the architectural and social history of Easton Neston. The house had seen both subtle and exaggerated changes; summarised well by a former employee of the Heskeths, Trish York who had been a ladies maid in the 1970s, ‘the clientele were different’ she exclaimed when referencing the Heskeths foray into Formula One racing. The house had played host to aristocrats, elite beings and those with political connections. By the 1970s, it was full of young model types, and fast-living young men who did not understand the genteel etiquette required of them as guests in an English country house. Yet, for all its desire for necessary rules and formality, the house proved too expensive for habitation and the Hesketh family sold the house and part of the estate for a supposedly compromising figure of £15 million in 2005 to LA based, Russian born Leon Max, founder of the Max Studio fashion chain. This meant we got to see a handful of more young models draped about furniture and statues throughout the interiors. Dan Cruickshank’s final point was a suggestion that in fact, Easton Neston had been designed for this purpose all along; the models were not the Arundel Marbles once owned by the Earls of Pomfret, but instead represented the ‘fashion’ for being fashionable and cultured. Easton Neston therefore was the requisite type of building for display and ostentation.

Links:

The Wikipedia entry on Easton Weston, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easton_Neston

Great Buildings entry for Easton Neston with plans, http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/Easton_Neston.html

On the sale of house and parkland in 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/northamptonshire/4551509.stm

The 2005 sale of the contents at Easton Neston managed by James Miller at Sotherby’s, http://www.sothebys.com/liveauctions/sneak/archive/la_easton_0505.html

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Review: The Country House Revealed

            So, I finally managed a moment of quiet in order to catch up with The Country House Revealed (BBC2 9pm, Tuesdays) and listen to the soft tones of Dan Cruickshank whilst he explored ‘our nation’s hidden history’.

            The first episode set out to establish several introductory points in relation to the chronology of the British country house and its owners against the cultural, socio-economic and political changes within the landscape of the nation. Against a soundtrack which mainly consisted of the Boards of Canada’s Dayvan Cowboy, came sweeping views of South Wraxall in Wiltshire, the first of Cruickshank’s studies. Here was, as Cruickshank suggested a fine example of sixteenth-century status architecture, and although he never uttered the phrase ‘power house’ it was clear that South Wraxall was chosen as an example of wealth; an emblem of authority and the physical base for establishing a dynasty.

South Wraxall (Bradford on Avon Museum image)

            Cruickshank deftly argued that the Long family of South Wraxall were fine examples of how money and the right connections could be beneficial for manipulating the physical environment. We were told of the Longs’ humble beginnings and shady practices of cattle stealing, and how such crooked dexterity gave them recognition as well as money. Through providential marriages the men of the Long family soon became what their last remaining descendant Sara Morrison called ‘efficient breeders and self-serving individuals’. For the sixteenth-century country house this was set in the very fabric of the building itself as Cruickshank returned time and again to the ever more elaborate fireplaces and mantelpieces throughout South Wraxall. The Long family had risen from their dark past with each successive male heir achieving status in the fields of law, politics and after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, landownership. The country house was the cultural statement of this achievement and expressed the self-aggrandisement of its owner.
 
 
            These themes were a little more complex in Cruickshank’s second episode on Kinross in Scotland. Built by Palladian advocate Sir William Bruce in the 1680s, Kinross came almost 250 years later than South Wraxall. This was, in part due to the political landscape of England and Scotland between these two dates. South Wraxall had begun as parts rather than a whole working manor with outbuildings and a chapel. Extensions were made eventually uniting these parts to create a block of interlinked living spaces. Cruickshank neatly referred to computerised plans of this development on a couple of occasions.
 

            Yet, it was the style of building which marked the country house out from its predecessor the castle or fortified manor house. Gone were the battlements, towers and winding stairs, and moats. The owners of these new foundations were a part of a different and more stable backdrop. Anything similar in Scotland was delayed until the Restoration when civil war and struggles for outright independence from the English throne had impeded some aspects of cultural flourish. Kinross in this respect was something ‘shockingly new’ on the Scottish landscape and the first house to be inspired by Italian Renaissance architecture in Scotland. While Bruce’s neighbours were still adding to their country piles with turrets and crenellated wings, Kinross represented a side of Scotland’s character which was as Cruickshank exclaimed, eager to ‘shed its Medieval skin’.

Kinross House

          Symbolic of this change was the layout at Kinross inspired by growing needs for privacy and segregation between servants and masters. Cruickshank led us through several rooms, often quite dramatically, in order to demonstrate the route of status from the openly public and formal saloon to that of the intimate and informal chamber and closet. With more humbled gestures we saw him attempt to manoeuvre a water-filled chamber pot down incredibly cramped backstairs. It is difficult to imagine the coquettish Lucy Worsley doing such a thing in If Walls Could Talk, but Dan Cruickshank managed mixed expressions of gratitude and humility once he reached the service corridor below.

            The similarities to South Wraxall lay in Kinross’s purpose. It was a statement as a place for establishing a dynasty and as the cultural hive for the family. A descendant of Bruce, Charles Wemyss reiterates the same sentiments felt by the Long family descendant. Words like ‘opportunistic’, ‘avaricious’ and ‘irrepressible’ merely echo those made by Sara Morrison. Unlike South Wraxall however, Kinross was to prove a heavy drain on one man as Bruce struggled with bad experiences and great misfortune within his political career.

            This was rather more to do with the fickleness of royalty than anything Bruce had said or done but the funds ran out for his building and Kinross was left incomplete. It was at this moment in the episode that Cruickshank’s applied soft tones seemed so appropriate as he read a particularly poignant letter from Bruce’s wife stating her need for decent travelling clothes.

            At his conclusion to the second episode, Dan Cruickshank remarked upon the influence and weight of the past of Kinross upon its owners; a single statement which surely emphasised the reason for the choice of country houses throughout the series and Cruickshank’s book of the same title. The modern-day fate of both South Wraxall and Kinross are the same. They have proved difficult places to live in, they are time-consuming, both are financial drains and labour intensive. This is true of any large establishment (see the previous post here on Wentworth Woodhouse – another of Cruickshank’s later case studies). So how do Cruickshank’s choices differ from those of historians exploring the many country houses welcoming thousands of visitors to walk upon their trodden sacrificial carpets every year?

            Of course, every country house has a different story and it would be foolish to describe all the disadvantageous

Vogue image of Gela Nash-Taylor (second from right) with husband, son and friend Yasmin Le Bon

factors to which many may have succumbed. Yet, Cruickshank implies that there is a stimulus within some houses as well as external factors which impress upon the owner a desire to maintain their country house, perhaps dynastically or as an expression of eccentricity within a nouveau elite. Cruickshank does not use these terms, but none of his case studies remain in the ownership of their founders. South Wraxall is owned by Gela Nash-Taylor, co-founder of Juicy Couture and wife of John Taylor from Duran Duran.

          Kinross was sold at the end of 2010 with plans being made to convert much of it into a hotel. The ‘influence’ of these houses therefore rests with their power to deny absolute dominance. ‘Ownership’ is the title offered to the dweller – the shot of Gela Nash-Taylor shuffling through gravel in 4 inch heels was a delight to see, but does not suggest this family can ever be a part of the building’s fabric. The sheer generosity of the present owners however, has been made into a gift in the hands of Dan Cruickshank who has so far laid bare the vital ingredients of country house histories and their reflection of social and cultural change.

References: Dan Cruickshank, The Country House Revealed: A Secret History of the British Ancestral Home. (BBC books, 2011)

Mark Girouard, Life in the English Country House: A Social and Architectural History. (Yale University Press, 1978)

Please also see the core reading list provided in this blog, many of these sources will provide further discussion on the building of the country house, including the social and cultural themes offered by Dan Cruickshank.

Links:

The Country House Revealed website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01186vq

Kinross: The DiCamillo country house database entry http://www.dicamillocompanion.com/Houses_detail.asp?ID=1181

Articles relating to the sale and plans for Kinross: http://www.perthshireadvertiser.co.uk/perthshire-news/local-news-perthshire/perthshire/2010/12/24/hotel-plans-for-kinross-house-73103-27877815/

http://www.countrylife.co.uk/news/article/386921/A-renaissance-masterpiece-in-Scotland.html

South Wraxall: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Wraxall_Manor

Full Vogue USA article 2009: http://www.duranasty.com/scans/vogue_usa_sept_09/vogue_sept_09_jt_gela.htm

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