Category Archives: Building the Country House

Introduction

The World Monuments Fund – Wentworth Woodhouse is back in the news

Country: United Kingdom Site: Wentworth Woodhouse Caption: The Palladian east front Image Date: 2010 Photographer: Marcus Binney/World Monuments Fund Provenance: 2016 Watch Nomination Original: from Watch team

The Palladian east front, copyright, Marcus Binney/World Monuments Fund

A few days ago the World Monuments Fund released its list of 50 Watch Sites for 2016 from across 36 countries. In line with their own statement these sites are ‘at risk from the forces of nature and the impact of social, political, and economic change’. Sites included are Rumiqolqa, Andahuaylillas, Peru, Boix House, Manila, Philippines, Petra Archaeological Site, Wadi Mousa, Jordan, National Art Schools, Havana, Cuba, and the Averly Foundry, Zaragoza, Spain. There are two British sites included – Moseley Road Baths in Birmingham and Wentworth Woodhouse near Rotherham.

I have written about Wentworth Woodhouse on several occasions, most notably here and here, and its social history here. That the site has been included by the WMF in their Watch List is merely a step further along an incredibly long journey towards its restoration and also recognition for its role in the cultural landscape of England as well as further afield.

Known as the largest privately owned house in the UK, its palatial frontage at 606 feet/180 metres ensures Wentworth Woodhouse’s visual impact is truly established. Yet, its struggle for attention has been a long time coming with one blog in 2011 describing it as ‘the greatest house you’ve never heard of’ due to a lack of high drama and a more northerly position compared to the likes of Petworth or Chatsworth. As far as the first is concerned, a lack of fuss and melodrama should be considered as natural a sentiment as the still waters that run deep since its present owners have invested a great deal of emotional effort and financial resources over the past 15 years to drag the house into a fit state for public tours. For the second,  Wentworth Woodhouse fell foul of a combination of sour attitudes towards the north and an industry which literally clawed away at the landscape. Uniting the two in the demise of its structure (both architecturally and socially) was the general disregard of Wentworth Woodhouse’s symbolism; its political and aesthetic investment made by several families for over 250 years. And while it was talked about in academic circles, the increasing lack of access rendered it underappreciated and understudied – something the WMF readily acknowledges.

Its palatial grandeur may very well jar with many as elite and pompous. There is too much of it for sure which is why there is difficulty in maintaining it in the present climate, but Wentworth Woodhouse is not without use. The plans of the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust is to see the most significant interior spaces of the house opened to the public, while other areas would be turned into residential units, and other spaces to be used commercially as venues for hire.

The Hall at Wentworth Woodhouse, copyright dine.co.uk

The Hall at Wentworth Woodhouse, copyright dine.co.uk

There is business to be gained here and if done imaginatively, Wentworth Woodhouse can easily provide a great many with inspiration and an appetite for cultural learning. A troubling trend in under-funding of the arts in Britain continues especially where hard graft is necessary, but let’s not dismiss old practices as entirely elitist. There are stories to be told and worlds which are massively overdue attention from younger generations. There are skills which can be gained from research and practice and Wentworth Woodhouse can provide all this and more.

The List http://www.wmf.org.uk/wmf_watch/ and the project vision https://www.wmf.org/project/wentworth-woodhouse

The Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust including ways to pledge support and the proposed plans http://www.savewentworth.co.uk/

http://www.savebritainsheritage.org/news/campaign.php?id=327

Local reactions http://www.rothbiz.co.uk/2012/02/news-2549-wentworth-woodhouse-coal.html and http://www.rothbiz.co.uk/2015/10/news-5540-wentworth-woodhouse-on-world.html

http://blogs.artinfo.com/artintheair/2015/10/20/world-monuments-fund-announces-2016-watchlist/

The list as seen from across the Atlantic (spot the error in the name…!) http://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/most-endangered-monuments-in-the-world/29/

And lastly, one to watch out for? http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/downton-abbey/11819080/Black-Diamond-Downtons-real-life-rival.html

A must-read: Bailey, Catherine, Black Diamonds: The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty. (2008)

 

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Kirby Hall, Northamptonshire.

Kirby Hall, Northamptonshire. The Courtyard viewed from the Loggia.

Kirby Hall, Northamptonshire. The Courtyard viewed from the Loggia (author’s own image).

 

After three years of research and emotional storytelling, I finally made the personal pilgrimage to Northamptonshire in search of some of my ancestors and a part of the English countryside they knew as their home.

I was not disappointed. This was an opportunity to take in great swathes of rural Northamptonshire between Oundle and Corby without actually travelling very far at all; the landscape is essentially English, and luckily for me, packed with truly outstanding (and eclectic) architecture!

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Left to right: St. Rumbold’s Church, Stoke Doyle (author’s own); The courtyard at The Talbot Inn, Oundle (TripAdvisor); and the incomplete Lyveden New Bield (author’s own).

 

One of the most exhilarating sites by far was Kirby Hall. I can say with confidence that Kirby Hall is most certainly an architectural treasure; at once bold and ambitious, yet accepting and somehow thoughtful. It must be impossible for visitors to dislike this place.

As much as I write about the social history of the country house, I would not be able to understand the physical movements of a household without knowing the construction and design of a particular house. Kirby Hall is a ruined country house, and it’s all the better for it in this instance. Stripped of most of its interior decoration, the walls are free to be admired for the patchwork of ambitions imposed upon them by the owners of Kirby since the 16th century.

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The east front, 16th century with 17th century additions (author’s own).

 

Begun in 1570, the house that stands today is mainly the result of the ambitions of Sir Humphrey Stafford (a man who is frustratingly elusive in any of the searches I have undertaken). At first Stafford’s plan was simple and typical of the traditional Elizabethan plan with protruding bays and pitched roofs. However, building was rapid suggesting that Stafford and his surveyor and mason were all in close correspondence. In 5 years the site was transformed into a large four-sided house with spacious lodgings for the family, the household and visitors. Despite the cultural insistence upon retaining features like a Great Hall, this new Kirby Hall demonstrated the desire to emulate something more cosmopolitan – something European.

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One of the decorative friezes above a door in the courtyard. The Stafford family crest can be seen in the centre of the image.

 

Stafford employed local man Thomas Thorpe who hailed from a family of respected masons from the nearby village of Kingscliffe. Thorpe had referred to French architectural pattern books for the finishing touches at Kirby, and aspects of this Anglo-French style can be seen in much of the ground floor level including the porch and the arches of the loggia or arcade which in Stafford’s time was known as the ‘cloister’.

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The loggia as seen from the east. The plan and lower portions date from Stafford’s time, the rounded and triangular pediments are later.

 

Stafford’s death in 1575 halted the building at Kirby but its innovative architectural features such as the giant pilasters within the courtyard and delicate stone friezes quickly caught the eye of one of Elizabeth I’s favourites.

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Sir Christopher Hatton (1540-91) bought Kirby that same year and intended the house to be for the sole purpose of accommodating and entertaining the queen. A glamorous figure at the Elizabethan court, Hatton was reputed to have been a handsome spirited man who effortlessly climbed the ladder of courtly professions. Between 1564 and 1577 he had risen as one of the Queen’s gentlemen pensioners and a gentleman of the privy chamber, through the position as captain of the yeomen of the guard to vice-chamberlain of the royal household. He was also knighted in 1577, and by 1587 had become Lord Chancellor. Hatton famously held property at Holdenby House also in Northamptonshire which at time of his death was one of the largest residences in England. Yet, it was a project which would also bankrupt him and his descendants were forced to sell Holdenby to the Crown. Sadly it was largely demolished in the 17th century after the English Civil War.

As for Kirby Hall, the queen never came, but Hatton and his descendants were determined to set about extending and embellishing the house further. By the second decade of the 17th century, Kirby was a fine mix of practical, playful and elegant spaces. The West Garden (though rather plainly set out) was beginning to assume its later importance. The Great Stair was added, a Great Parlour, and best of all the shapely bay windows to the south which housed the bedchambers and the Great Withdrawing Room. All were united by a string of decorative gables, and through sheer practicality this is the only part of the house which still has a roof today.

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The south west corner of Kirby (author’s own)

 

It was at this time that Kirby would see its first Royal visitor in the form of James I who visited four times between 1612 and 1624. The grandeur of the south west corner rooms where the royal visitor would have been accommodated were recorded in an inventory taken on the death of a later Hatton (also Sir Christopher) in 1619 which listed amongst many other things; a chair under a canopy of white taffeta with purple and gold stars, a mirror inlaid in mother-of-pearl, Persian carpets, and furnishings made from moire satin and gold lace.

Today, such sumptuous fabrics are often confined to bridal wear, so to imagine the craftsmanship and delicacy of fine lace and embroidered silks and taffetas catching human movement in these now empty spaces is almost magical.

The 18th century was not so kind to Kirby, the reasons for which are difficult to pinpoint other than the desire of the Hatton men to become more engrossed in business elsewhere. A Hatton descendant married into the Finch family – the Earls of Winchelsea – and took both names. However, the main home of the Finch-Hattons was in Kent and Kirby perhaps felt too cumbersome. Perhaps its intended purpose as a royal lodging was proving too demanding. The impression upon visiting Kirby today is one of gradual shrinkage; a contraction of the energy and ambition needed to keep such a building up-to-date. That the remaining roofed part contains remnants of 18th century fashionable decoration only goes some way to suggest that efforts still continued for a time.

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The late 18th-century apse with decorative cornice in the Great Withdrawing Room; and a close up of behind the curved walls showing the lath and plaster construction.

 

Yet, two large sales of the contents, one in 1772 and another in 1824, highlight a desire to make a swift break. By the 1830s, the once grandest rooms in the south west corner were occupied by a Finch-Hatton agent and then later a farmer.

Gradually, the rest of the house began to fall into decay; becoming open to the elements and whoever passed by. The guidebook offers up a romantic yet earnest quote made by the Reverend Canon James who saw ‘the very action of decomposition going on, the crumbling stucco of the ceiling feeding the vampire ivy, the tattered tapestry yet hanging on the wall, the picture flapping in its broken frame.’

The ruined service wing viewed from the Bedchamber/billiard room (author's own)

The ruined service wing viewed from the Bedchamber/Billiard room (author’s own)

For a long time the roof above the service wing remained, eventually falling to the pressing of time and neglect before the end of the 19th century. The same fate was met throughout the house, but despite this, it seems that the locals were eager to spend time socialising within the courtyard and around the ruins,; intrigued by this almost entirely accessible romanticism and past grandeur. At Lyveden New Bield a few miles away, graffiti is ripe and legible scrawlings date between  1850 to the more recent past. It seems the Earl of Winchelsea did not wish to see Kirby succumb to the same violation , but actively discouraged such behaviour with the use of warning notices pasted to walls in the 1880s. Subsequently, there are few local credentials to search for here.

 

And this still persists in a very respectful manner. As a visitor to Kirby Hall today, there is a strange feeling of limbo – it’s a ruin, but a ruin of a house, not a castle or abbey. Given it was an extremely cold December day, there were few visitors, but those that had made the effort consisted of young couples and the traditional group of retirees. No-one touched walls and no-one shouted across to members of their party. People acted as they do when walking through any ‘regular’ country house – audio guide in one hand and a guidebook or leaflet in the other. It all felt too normal, so much so, that I even heard sniggers from a group I was following closely as I slipped into the void behind the 18th century apse to take photos.

The Earls of Winchelsea still own Kirby Hall, but it is managed by English Heritage. The latter want you to peek into these corners and examine the spaces and look at the fabric of a building and ask questions about architectural detailing or the past habits of long gone residents. Kirby is an excellent place to start doing this or to refresh that curiosity. I know that English Heritage are eager to continue their research into Kirby Hall because there is still a great deal to unearth and documentation to sift through. In the meantime, the house maintains a distinctive shape within the Northamptonshire countryside, and the Hatton gables and pinnacles will tempt any and everyone from the beaten track.

 

Links:

English Heritage information for teachers http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/kirby-hall-info-for-teachers/kirbyhall.pdf

Kirby Hall as an Austen setting http://austenonly.com/2011/02/23/jane-austen-film-locations-kirby-hall-northamptonshire-used-as-mansfield-park/

The deserted village of Kirby http://www.british-history.ac.uk/rchme/northants/vol1/pp33-35

Pocket history from The Heritage Trail http://www.theheritagetrail.co.uk/stately%20homes/kirby%20hall.htm

Holdenby Hall included in a post by The Country Seat blog http://thecountryseat.org.uk/2013/11/14/a-minor-prodigy-brereton-hall-for-sale/

The West Gardens at Kirby in Google books https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=mRdern2HY5QC&pg=PA176&dq=kirby+hall&hl=en&sa=X&ei=EhnIVOimE4K3ac2cgpAJ&ved=0CDYQ6AEwBDgK#v=onepage&q=kirby%20hall&f=false

Pevsner at Kirby Hall in Google Books  https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=soI35rrNLMIC&pg=PA280&dq=kirby+hall&hl=en&sa=X&ei=QRrIVIaTOsPlaMCagZgM&ved=0CC4Q6AEwAzgy#v=onepage&q=kirby%20hall&f=false

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Deene Park, Northamptonshire

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Deene Park, Northamptonshire (Deene Park website banner)

Deene Park, Northamptonshire is the ancestral home of the Brudenell family with whom the property has remained since 1514 when it was acquired by Sir Robert Brudenell (1461-1531).

Admittedly, this is an utterly self-indulgent piece! My own ancestors lived in the adjacent hamlet of Deenethorpe and were employed on the Brudenell estates from the 18th century. Though I have explored plenty of parish registers for the area, and I’m yet to view the relevant papers pertaining to estate workers, I do know that I hail from typical agricultural labouring stock and the odd shepherd! But that’s quite enough of that.

Deene Park has a far more diverse history. The manor of Deene belonged to Westminster Abbey and from 1215 the manor was let to various families including the Colets and Lyttons. Though Brudenell had legally gained ownership of the manor in 1514, Westminster Abbey was still able to subject it to a fee-farm rent of £18 per year which the family continued to pay until 1970, when the Church of Commissioners sold it to them for under £200.

Undoubtedly, the best thing about Deene Park is its irregularity and very obvious combination of different architectural and decorative styles. The appearance of present day Deene is the result of six centuries of expansion, development and remodelling with the earliest part existing as remnants behind the East front outside wall. Likely this was part of the original small manor house or ‘grange‘ connected to Westminster.

The guidebook for Deene Park notes how each generation seems to have made alterations and additions to the house. As much of the early Brudenell capital came from landownership and roles in government office, building work could be rather piecemeal. Yet, the more substantial alterations can be tied to particular events in the Brudenell lineage such as marriage, inheritance or ambitions for superior titles within the peerage.

Sir Edmund Brudenell (copyright Deene Park)

The first of these to truly impact at Deene was the marriage of Sir Edmund Brudenell (1521-85) to Agnes Bussy, daughter of John Bussy of Hougham in 1539. This union was celebrated by both families in its early years and represented the ideal match sought out by elite families in order to expand capital. Though Agnes was not phenomenally wealthy at the time of her marriage into the Brudenells, she was set to inherit her family’s vast estates in Lincolnshire, Rutland and Derbyshire upon her father’s death.

Deene (renamed Deene Hall by this point), took on much of its present size and footprint during Edmund’s time and large-scale building work began in the 1570s. Yet, his motives for expansion would certainly have been twofold. The Brudenells and Bussys fought hard over Agnes’s inheritance after her father died in 1542; husband and wife quarrelled, cousins schemed, and Agnes was often forced to borrow ready cash from family members. On the outside things appeared more orderly and during the construction of the new house, Edmund was sure to decorate his new house with Brudenell and Bussy heraldry and insignia.

Sir Edmund Brudenell was also declaring his power in the Northamptonshire countryside, and he was not alone. Northamptonshire was a popular county in the 16th century for the established and expanding gentry alike. As quoted by Joan Wake in The Brudenells of Deene (1953), a contemporary of Sir Edmund Brudenell noted, ‘the fertility, good air, pleasant prospects, and convenience of this Shire in all things to a generous and noble mind, have so allured nobility to plant themselves with the same, that no Shire within this Realm can answer the like number of noblemen as are seated in these parts.’ Indeed, Northamptonshire is often referred to as the county of ‘Squires and Spires’ due to its vast numbers of country seats and churches.

Location of Deene Park, Northamptonshire and surrounding areas including Corby to the south west and Oundle to the east.

Location of Deene Park, Northamptonshire and surrounding areas including Corby to the south west and Oundle to the east.

Quarries near Corby and further east provided a plentiful supply of very good building stone for Brudenell, and it is no coincidence that houses at Rockingham, Apethorpe, Kirby and Southwick were also making their mark in the landscape during this period.

The next eras of substantial building work at Deene came in the early 17th and 18th centuries when Sir Thomas (1578-1663) and George (1685-1732) were eager to secure themselves notable titles and a good reputation respectively. Sir Thomas was created Baron Brudenell in 1628 (a title which he bought for £6,000), becoming Earl Cardigan in 1661 because of his Royalist support during the English Civil War. George Brudenell, 3rd Earl of Cardigan was the stereotypical young elite gentleman who had experienced the Grand Tour and a life of suspiciously licentious quality whilst away, but made solid attempts to overturn this behaviour shortly after coming of age in 1706.

Both Brudenell men were passionate about art and architecture and were certainly the product of a sophisticated education thought compulsory for the male heir in a time when culture was regarded as the signifier of wealth.

With finances also enriched through beneficial marriage, Thomas added the distinguished crenelated tower to the north-east corner at Deene as well as similar decorative aspects to the north wing during much of the 17th century, and added a chapel sometime before 1640. George and his wife Elizabeth (née Bruce) were instrumental in making drastic changes to the interiors at Deene which had grown dated by the time of their residence in the early years of the 18th century. Modernisation took place in the principal rooms, a new staircase was put in, sash windows were added where appropriate, the Great Hall was repaved, new cellars were constructed and marble chimney pieces were put in – amongst many other things.

The alterations of the early 18th century did not stop with the house, as the 3rd Earl also turned his attention to the gardens at Deene. No doubt influenced by the changing trends in garden and landscape design, he sought to enliven the grounds with then quite fanciful features – sadly, the canal, stone bridge and kitchen gardens are the main remnants of this period.

Deene and the Brudenells stretch much further afield too. Two periods are significant here; the marriage of Francis Lord Brudenell to Lady Frances Savile in 1668, and the character and ambition of James 7th Earl of Cardigan during the middle of the 19th century.

The first is essential knowledge for any University of Leeds student who has ever resided in Headingley, Hyde Park or Kirkstall. The Saviles were extensive landowners in Leeds and much of Yorkshire by the 17th century. Sir John Savile was elected the first Alderman of the Borough of Leeds in 1626, and much of the Leeds coat of arms is based the Savile family’s own arms. The marriage of Lord Brudenell to Lady Frances saw two families unite their vast landed wealth and the Brudenells absorbed much of what Frances brought with her as part of the settlement. Today, these areas of Leeds are riddled with street names easily connected to the Brudenells and Saviles: Cardigan Road, Brudenell Street/Grove/Avenue, Savile Drive and sites such as Cardigan Fields, Brudenell Primary School and the Brudenell Social Club.

A fashionably whiskered James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan in the uniform of the 11th Hussars (1860s?)

James 7th Earl of Cardigan is perhaps better associated with the Charge of the Light Brigade of 1854 during the Crimean War and there is a great deal of accessible material to read on the subject. Yet, it should be noted here that his role in this military campaign, and in the words of Joan Wake, ‘that brief twenty minutes which raised his status from that of the most notoriously unpopular officer in the British army to one of imperishable renown’ had certainly impacted at home. This ability to change public opinion also existed in the years beforehand.

Criticised for his harsh and abrupt nature towards his officers many had begun to feel demoralised and belittled by his apparent relentless chastising and frequent punishments. This reached a crescendo in the spring/summer of 1840 when Captain John Reynolds served a bottle of Moselle before it as decanted, causing Cardigan to reprimand Reynolds the next day. Reynolds’s written reply was seen as inappropriate by Cardigan who was already involved in matters surrounding a duel he had had with a junior officer. Such was the frustration involved that Reynolds was placed in open arrest and by the autumn of that year Reynolds was tried by court martial. The episode became known as the Black Bottle affair.

At Deene during the same year, the gulf between the immensely wealthy Brudenells and those living and working on the estates was growing ever wider. Cardigan had used his power and personal finances to wriggle his way out of bad form with his officers, but between September and November 1840, the papers attacked him, calling him ‘captious and tyrannical’. By February the following year this had all changed. The large majority of people of nearby Deene, Deenethorpe, Stanion, and Glapthorne were suddenly in receipt of a ‘quartern loaf and ale’ each. This may not have been a first, but the papers were sure to make a great deal more of this gesture than they had done previously.

Interestingly, successive gestures were not issued in Cardigan’s name, but that of his first wife Elizabeth’s.

Deene Park is the product of the ambitious, often ruthless, but very typical landowners of their time. The Brudenells are perhaps a very good example of how the elite have functioned over the centuries, and how marriage, inheritance, and title have all created pivotal moments in a family’s history. The house has simultaneously been the silent backdrop and active player for all of these. And this is what makes Deene an intriguing place, but its steady presence in the Northamptonshire countryside has almost kept it out of mind for many. Though rich in country houses, the county clearly has its favourites, and Deene could be one of them. Yet, coming from an academic background, I have only ever been aware of studies which focus upon Lamport Hall, Kirby Hall and Kelmarsh Hall. There is something alluring about Deene because of this obvious absence.

Poignantly, my ancestors made the decision to move out of Deenethorpe (and Northamptonshire altogether) in the 1880s, and I know it was not easy. I have been the first to look back, and I am sure to continue my own story.

Links:

Deene Park website http://www.deenepark.com/

Deene Park on Wikipedia with good references http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deene_Park

A bite size history http://www.touruk.co.uk/houses/housenorthants_deene_park.htm

Northamptonshire on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northamptonshire#cite_note-15

Statement of Nene Valley Association for the areas covering Oundle and Thrapston, including notes on the topography and history of the area http://www.east-northamptonshire.gov.uk/downloads/00200_-_Nene_Valley.pdf

Famous Brudenells http://freespace.virgin.net/brudenell.forum/famous.html

References:

Joan Wake, The Brudenells of Deene. (1953)

Deene Park. Guidebook (1998)

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Kinross House – Winner of the HHA Restoration Award 2013.

D801244 - KH Exterior

The following is taken from the Historic Houses Association website. This is good news for Kinross – a house that was featured in The Country House Revealed on BBC2 in 2011, and reviewed here by me. There are many large restoration projects at country houses across Britain and Ireland at the moment including Mount Stewart and Knole (both National Trust), but crucial to Kinross and its journey out of restoration is the house’s accessibility to visitors. As Richard Compton (President of the Historic Houses Association) notes, ‘it is terrific to see the house coming back to life and being filled once again.’

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Winner of the Historic Houses Association and Sotheby’s Restoration Award 2013.

The Historic Houses Association and Sotheby’s are delighted to announce that the 2013 Restoration Award has been awarded to Kinross House, Scotland’s first neo-classical Palladian mansion.

Built in 1685 by Sir William Bruce, one of the foremost architects of the classical form, the historic house was in need of extensive restoration when its present owner, Mr Donald Fothergill, acquired the property in 2011. In a labour of love, Kinross House and Gardens have been saved from disrepair and meticulously restored to their former glory. Six other applicants from across the UK have been commended or shortlisted for this year’s Award. Please see PDF for details (link below).

The entire roof, every single pipe, and every single wire in the 55 room property had to be replaced. Working with sensitivity and respect, and using traditional products and craftsmanship wherever possible, the restoration team remodelled every room drawing inspiration from the house’s own history, historic furniture and artworks. The project also enabled parts of the interior of the house to be completed for the very first time – such as the pediments above the door and the fireplaces in the Grand Salon – elements which Sir William Bruce had been unable to finish by the time of his fall from royal favour and financial ruin.

In line with Sir William Bruce’s vision for the house 350 years ago, the original seventeenth century garden designs have also been reinstalled – restoring the long lost historic views, geometries and horticultural plans which were so integral to Bruce’s neo-classical design.

“The major restoration programme which has been undertaken over the past two years at Kinross has saved and revitalised this hugely important house from deterioration and possible future loss. The scale of the renovation is magnificent, and the house can now be seen by more people than perhaps ever in its long history – it is terrific to see the house coming back to life and being filled once again. Active use of the house is already having a beneficial effect on employment and incomes in the surrounding area. I would also like to congratulate all those projects which the judges have commended as well as those on the shortlist”
– Richard Compton, President of the Historic Houses Association

“This is an heroic restoration of the grandest classical house in Scotland. To see an owner devote such love, care and attention to a house which will continue as a home, is a thorough vindication of the aims of the award “
– Harry Dalmeny, Chairman of Sotheby’s UK

As well as functioning as a contemporary home, the house is now open to the public for the first time in its history. The house is available for special events, weddings and tours. http://www.kinrosshouse.com/

 

The link to the PDF for the Award Announcement is here

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East India Company at Home Mid-Project Conference, 31st May – 1st June 2013.

Since the East India Company at Home Project started in September 2011, there has been a buzz surrounding its methodological framework, its research findings and range of subject matter. I last covered this project here after they released their first case study.

The project (EICaH for short) began at the University of Warwick but has since been transferred to University College London (UCL) for a variety of reasons, but mainly due to funding opportunities and departmental interests.* The premise of the project is to examine the British country house in an imperial and global context through material culture and the families linked with these houses on the one hand and the connections they may have had with the East India Company on the other.

EICaH wallpapers[2]

Helen Clifford and Emile de Bruijn presenting their paper on Chinese wallpapers in National Trust properties ‘every good country house has its Chinese wallpaper’!

What makes the EICaH project so unique and perhaps even dynamic, is its attempt to pull together knowledge from a spectrum of sources and people. By putting this bluntly, the project’s diverse pool of thought comes from academics, museum professionals, archivists and librarians, students, local and family historians and independent scholars. The core team consists of Professor Margot Finn, Helen Clifford, and Kate Smith. Then there is an Advisory Board consisting of those affiliated with institutions like the V&A, the British Library or local authorities to mention a few. Project associates make up the next segment of those involved and are a healthy mix of those with interests in the British country house, the East India Company, trade and consumption and all the bits in the middle. I’m a project associate simply because I clearly adore country houses and the mixture of histories which can be applied to them.

I don’t want to talk at length about the details of the project as this is fully accessible through the links already given. What I do want to do is address the topics discussed at the mid-project conference which took place at the end of last week.

The conference was split over two days and roughly by content and methodology. The link to the programme is here. On Friday some fascinating papers concerning particular people and places associated with the East India Company were presented to the cosy audience of about 70 avid listeners.

EICaH John McAleer

John McAleer and the architecture of the East India Company’s Offices (image courtesy of Rachael Barnwell)

My favourites were Georgina Green’s research into supercargoes and the roles of East India Company captains; John McAleer’s look at the architecture of the Company’s offices; Stephen McDowall’s extensive and thoughtful examination of material culture and the meanings placed upon specific objects; and Janice Sibthorpe’s Sezincote’s case study. In the evening a keynote lecture by Giorgio Riello about the trade and consumption of cotton textiles finished the day on a high.

Saturday was the day of debate with the focus on how collaboration between academic institutions and those outside the ‘academy’ work effectively or otherwise. Here it was necessary to understand the structure of the project – its framework, but also the questions it was hoping to ask as well as answer. There was  lot to cover.

The most anticipated part of the Saturday sessions was undoubtedly the trip to Osterley Park (which I was unable to attend) but for me in particular it was the discussion concerning the methodology of the project since I was taking part. Upon the very kind invitation of Margot Finn, Helen Clifford and Kate Smith, also participating were Margaret Makepeace (Lead Curator of East India Company Collections at the British Library), Cliff Pereira (Public Engagement Consultant), and Keith Sweetmore (Development Manager at the North Yorkshire Country Record Office) That’s the four of us pictured below.

EICaH me

In the words of Margot Finn, the project is fairly ‘experimental’ in terms of previous attempts by historians to collaborate. I’ve found other projects to be rather formulaic and incredibly constrained by academic protocol (for want of a better word) and so I was eager to see some part of the discussion aimed at how the EICaH project had been able to challenge this. My belief is that for something of this scale to thrive, individual academics must be willing to show motivation and share their professional development both within their respective departments but also elsewhere.

I, for one, despise the Research Excellence Framework (replacing the Research Assessment Exercise) since it encourages exclusivity through peer review whilst exposing a neat way to keep academic research knotted tightly to the academy. In more simple terms, any research undertaken by an academic institution, regardless of wider collaboration eventually becomes the possession of that institution and the doors close to those without academic affiliation.

So where does the EICaH project fit in? I understand there to be two distinct parts to its methodology and its collaborative efforts represent the major part; the role of the country houuse as means of posing and answering questions, the lesser part. Margot Finn and Helen Clifford are the highly motivated academics who initiated the project and discussed its possibilities long before it began. They also have a desire to promote greater dissemination of their own findings to wider audiences. Inevitably, they are bound by academic protocol because funding for projects like this comes with certain criteria to which any published material or outcome must adhere.

However, it should be noted that the EICaH project is perhaps transitional. Finn declared it to be experimental, indeed there is still more to be said about exactly how the country house community and household may be placed within an imperial and global context, but the project can provide a working model for future historians.

At the end of the conference though, I came away satisfied that history can be made more accessible both to bigger audiences and to those wishing to undertake historical research. The academic can put something into context, and the museum professional can provide layers of interpretation, but a historian is not limited to fancy apparatus like the scientist, or material compounds like the chemist in order to test a theory; history is about thinking. Many of Britain’s archives, libraries and collections are freely accessible to everyone, working collaboratively can enrich the pools of thought and maintain a flow of intellect whether someone has an academic tenure or not.

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* Warwick University links are still accessible and currently functional. I have left the original post on countryhousereader (dated March 2012) with these links in tact. The same case studies are also available on the UCL blog which has transferred everything over to this new site. The links in this post are for the UCL blog.

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Filed under Building the Country House, Men and the Country House, Women and the Country House

The News for the New Year: an Exhibition for Nostell Priory.

Sir Rowland Winn, 5th Baronet and his wife Sabine Louise Winn in the library at Nostell Priory, 1770.

Sir Rowland Winn, 5th Baronet and his wife Sabine Louise Winn in the library at Nostell Priory, 1770 (copyright National Trust Collection).

Over three years ago the archive of the Winn family of Nostell Priory, Yorkshire were put into the ownership of the West Yorkshire Archives Service* under the jurisdiction of Wakefield Metropolitan Council as part of an Acceptance in Lieu grant.

I was still floating about in a post doctoral haze and was in need of something new to get my claws into.

I had written about Nostell Priory, especially Sabine Winn, the wife of the 5th Baronet (both pictured above) and her role as household manager including her relationship with the Nostell servants. So, wherever I went, whoever I spoke with, whatever I wanted to research, Nostell Priory was always there – looming.

Not surprisingly, the thought of being able to make a complete fuss about the importance of keeping the Winn family papers in Yorkshire was going to be very high on my agenda.

Together with the expertise of a senior academic from the University of Leeds, in May 2010 research began for an exhibition (and book) to be held at the house commencing in 2015. The working title for this is ‘From House to Home’, and will focus on two generations of the family – Sir Rowland Winn, 4th Baronet and his son the 5th Baronet and his wife.

Our ambitions are grand, to be sure, and we are hoping to show how rich these papers are. Nostell Priory is associated with famous names in architecture and design including Thomas Chippendale, the Adam Brothers, James Paine, as well as fine art by Kauffman, Zucchi and Brueghel. Yet, the Winn family papers also reveal several interesting layers in social and cultural history. The exhibition will therefore highlight many themes associated with country house living in the eighteenth century and attempt to show the relationships the Winns had with their architects, suppliers, extended family, and staff, as well as demonstrate the eccentricities of particular family members and how they came to be perceived by society.

Ultimately, the exhibition will encourage visitors to think about how an elite family like the Winns made their mark in the cultural landscape of the period at regional and national levels through their consumer tastes, shopping habits, sociability, and of course, their house.

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My intention is to provide updates here as the project progresses, and any comments and questions are welcome, so long as they’re constructive!

*The papers are of great importance to the nation, their location at the West Yorkshire Archives Service (WYAS) however is something the region is understandably proud of given the associations with well-known names. The papers were recently voted as one of the Archives’ treasures by the public and archive staff, and in May 2012 the WYAS received a £37,000 grant to complete and improve the Winn family papers.

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Filed under Architecture and Design, Building the Country House, Collections, The Nostell Project

Guest Post: Ian West and Country House Technology – a New Book

As the administration of my own research steps up a gear, less time will be devoted to my dear blog. However, my aim over the coming months is to invite others to help disseminate and promote what is currently taking place within the study, conservation, restoration and funding of country houses. This may not necessarily be throughout the UK, and I would like to think that I can encourage some guest posts from those working or studying in this field overseas. No doubt I shall drop by from time to time as I am sure many readers will be eager to hear about my research as it unfolds. For the time being though I will hand over to those scurrying away amongst archival papers, dusty workshops, and fundraising events.

The first guest spot is from Dr Ian West, who alongside Professor Marilyn Palmer is co-author of The Country House Technology Project at the University of Leicester. Research began in 2008, and quite interestingly was established within the Centre for Historical Archaeology rather than the more obvious Centre for the Study of the Country House also at Leicester. This approach probably lends a refreshing view to the growing curiosity in how the country house worked and suitably links industrial archaeology with the art and social histories of the country house.

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Ian West

University of Leicester

From the eighteenth century onwards, country houses were seen by their owners as a visible manifestation, not just of their wealth and power, but also of their taste and refinement; increasing emphasis was placed on the comfort and privacy of the family and their guests. Technology played an important role in this: cold, dark rooms became warm and brightly lit, bells were used to summon servants from the basements or service wings to which they had been banished, and lifts and even railways carried food from distant kitchens and coal from the cellars.

Since 2008, I have been working with Marilyn Palmer, Emeritus Professor of Industrial Archaeology at the University of Leicester, on a project studying the adoption of technology in country houses and the impact this had on the occupants of the houses. This work has attracted growing interest, as public fascination with life “below stairs” – fuelled by television series like Downton Abbey and by the popularity of family history research – has encouraged more properties to open up their service areas. Our research is helping in the interpretation of these areas and of the remains of other historic technologies, some of which, like hydro-electric generation, are being brought back into use.

Another manifestation of the interest in this subject was the sell-out weekend conference which the project organised in Oxford in 2010. This month sees the publication of a book based on the proceedings of that event. As well as examining the social impact of domestic technology, the book includes essays on country house lighting, sanitation and gas and electricity generation, together with detailed case studies of the technology employed at Lanhydrock and Holkham Hall, in the gardens at Calke Abbey and the security measures adopted at Wollaton Hall. Beyond the confines of the house, the book also describes the development of industry and model farms on country house estates. Country House Technology, edited by Paul Barnwell and Marilyn Palmer, is published by Shaun Tyas, price £40. With the support of the National Trust, Professor Palmer and I are also working on a major book covering all aspects of country house technology which is expected to be published in 2014.

For more information on the work of the Country House Technology Project, go to:

http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/archaeology/research/centre-for-historical-archaeology/research-1/country-house-technology

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Filed under Book reviews, Building the Country House, Recommended Literature, The running of the country house