Category Archives: In the News

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, Part I: Marking the Tercentenary of his Birth

by Nathaniel Dance (later Sir Nathaniel Holland, Bt), oil on canvas, circa 1769

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown by Nathaniel Dance (later Sir Nathaniel Holland, Bt), oil on canvas, circa 1769. National Portrait Gallery, London

With 2016 being the tercentenary of his birth, it would be silly not to write about Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Even better still, as I struggled to compose something over the last few days, Classic FM came up with just the perfect inspiration with a programme dedicated entirely to the landscape gardener. So, as I sat down for the tenth time working out where to start, it didn’t matter what was played on the radio next to me, the music finally brought the imagery I needed to the front of my tired brain.

Baptised in the parish church of St. Wilfrid’s at Kirkharle in Northumberland in August 1716, Lancelot Brown would spend much of his youth employed on the local estate. Little is known of these early years, except that Brown eventually left Northumberland to travel to Lincolnshire perhaps for work in water management. By the 1740s Brown came to work alongside William Kent at Stowe in Buckinghamshire and soon became head gardener there. He would leave Stowe in 1751 having gained worthy connections via his employer Lord Cobham to members of the elite in Buckinghamshire and much of the Midlands.

Highly perceptive and hard-working, Brown was very much a celebrity for his time and showed an awareness of the society within which he both served and influenced. That he told his clients their estate had ‘capabilities’ suggests great persuasive tactics. That it became habit, and thus adopted as a nickname suggests Brown happily assumed a sort of personal branding. As ‘Capability’ Brown he was highly sought after and by name he was recognisable for both skill and profession.

Aske Hall View from the South 1769-80 by George Cuit (1743-1818) oil on canvas. Zetland Collection

Aske Hall View from the South 1769-80 by George Cuit (1743-1818) oil on canvas. Zetland Collection

To mark the tercentenary, there are several exhibitions and events taking place across sites connected to Brown. Much of Brown’s place in the history of landscape gardening is fairly well-researched. For this post, I simply want to share a small part of the events marking the tercentenary of his birth where I took off to Harrogate’s Mercer Gallery to see ‘Noble Prospects: Capability Brown and the Yorkshire Landscape’ which will run until 11th September. This small yet thoughtful exhibition does replicate some of the material already exhibited elsewhere as part of individual projects in recent years. Yet, it pulls together present research well and has already attracted worldwide interest according to its Facebook page.

The exhibition explores the nearly 20 or so recognised sites in Yorkshire associated with him, supposedly one of the greatest concentrations in the country. Featured in the exhibition are portraits of Brown and his Yorkshire clients, original plans, drawings and documents by Brown, paintings of his creations and works of art that inspired his landscapes. Thankfully, I bought the guidebook which meant I could scrutinise the items a little closer – albeit on the page rather than in the flesh.

Many similar exhibitions began at sites in the spring months to coincide with seasonal opening times. Yet, I agree with the Classic FM presenter since the best time to visit Brown’s landscapes are late summer and early Autumn just when the trees begin to change colour and the grass has its last flush of growth before winter. This is the time of year when the air changes, when it grows heavy and the sun hovers over panes of glass and stone pillars. Utterly romanticised, I know, but Brown is not only part of a culture supposedly obsessed with gardening, he represents the human desire to simultaneously manipulate and emulate the natural landscape – and to frame it.

The Palladian bridge designed by Brown at Scampston Hall near Malton.

The Palladian bridge designed by Brown at Scampston Hall near Malton.

His clients were fully versed in classicism and such imagery would have been their source material. The Irwins at Temple Newsam commissioned Brown in the early 1760s as part of their plans for large scale improvements. Once work began and all outside was in disarray, Lady Irwin wrote to her close friends explaining how she sought comfort from the pastoral landscape paintings in the family collection, most notably Claude Lorrain whose arcadian imagery provided great inspiration. Here was Brown with the knowledge and practical skills ready to encapsulate the landscape of myth within the rural British countryside.

This more natural style (as opposed to the formal avenues and parterres of the century before) consisted of sweeping unbroken lawns, serpentine lakes, clumps of trees, classical style follies and winding carriage rides. He was, by no means, the only working towards this style and many estate owners employed others or took on the challenge themselves.

As my own interest in the country house evolves, it is the landscape which has always had different degrees of personal attraction. Certainly as a child I found gardens far more enticing and the country house itself was a steady burner. The wider landscape has only in recent years become something more for me. Perhaps in this context, the exhibition at Harrogate offered me a chance to see how Brown interacted with the landscape and brought the visions of his clients to life. This it does well, and it is possible to understand the practicalities of landscape gardening on a vast scale and how the eighteenth-century country house sat within this design framework.

One of the most intriguing aspects from this exhibition was the mention of the landscape at Whitley Beaumont near Huddersfield. This was the seat of Richard Henry Beaumont to which Brown made a visit in the late 1770s. Brown’s vision included all the usual characteristics. However, the house is one of many lost English country houses having been demolished in the 1950s, but the patterns of Brown’s landscape and the signature marks of the natural or arcadian style are still visible today.

Whitley Beaumont by J. T. Taite (fl. 1850s), 1858, oil on canvas. Huddersfield Examiner courtesy pf Stephen Beaumont

Whitley Beaumont by J. T. Taite (fl. 1850s), 1858, oil on canvas. Huddersfield Examiner courtesy of Stephen Beaumont

The exhibition has been curated by Karen Lynch who pieced together the guidebook from her recent essay for The New Arcadian Journal (see below) but has previously published works on other Yorkshire sites – Harewood House, Plumpton Rocks and Bretton Hall. What would be interesting to discover is the influence of the contemporary Yorkshire countryside on those instructing Brown in the mid-eighteenth century – a point not fully touched upon in this exhibition. Perhaps there was little influence at all but if the county has such a high concentration, then the ‘capabilities’ must also be high and certainly worthy of exploration.

Links:

Exhibition link http://www.capabilitybrown.org/event/noble-prospects-capability-brown-and-yorkshire-landscape or simply http://www.capabilitybrown.org/ and Facebook link with good options to read reviews and articles elsewhere https://www.facebook.com/nobleprospects

The hosting website http://www.capabilitybrown.org/

The Guardian exhibition review https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/aug/24/research-shows-capability-brown-earned-equivalent-of-500m

Historic Houses Association http://www.hhacapabilitybrown.co.uk/

Other events running into Autumn and beyond including associated landscapes and sites:

The Embroiderer’s Guild are holding exhibitions across several sites into 2017 https://embroiderersguild.com/index.php?page_no=278&page_menu=capability-brown-festival

Wimpole Hall – https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wimpole-estate

Croome Court – https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/croome

Kirkharle Courtyard – http://kirkharlecourtyard.co.uk/capability-brown/about-capability-brown/

Sherborne Castle – http://www.sherbornecastle.com/

Harewood House – http://harewood.org/

Scampston – http://www.scampston.co.uk/

Further reading:

Jane Brown, The Omnipotent Magician: Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown 1716-1783 (2011)

Karen Lynch, Noble Prospects: Capability Brown and the Yorkshire Landscape. Yorkshire Gardens Trust and Harrogate Borough Council (2016) and in more comprehensive form ‘Capability Brown in Yorkshire’, Yorkshire Capabilities: New Arcadian Journal 75/76 (2016), pp.37-107

Allan R. Ruff, Arcadian Visions: Pastoral Influences on Poetry, Painting and the Design of Landscape. (2015)

Dorothy Stroud, Capability Brown (1975)

 

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Filed under Architecture and Design, Collections, Exhibitions, In the News, Men and the Country House, Parks and Gardens

Press release: Preservation trust to acquire Wentworth Woodhouse

The following is a Press Release made by Save Britain’s Heritage. This is fantastic news and totally tips the balance in favour of a more local, regional and national plan of action which benefits so many. As before, fingers crossed for the future! Many thanks to readers of this blog for highlighting the link especially (see below for the full link).

3 February 2016

Press release: Preservation trust to acquire Wentworth Woodhouse

SAVE is delighted to announce that agreement has been reached with the Newbold family on the purchase of one of the finest and grandest historic houses in Britain, Wentworth Woodhouse.

The property will be purchased by the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust (WWPT) and will continue to be open to the public.  The public opening of the property will be supported by the National Trust for the first five years. It is hoped completion of the sale will take place within two to three months.

The £7m pledged for the acquisition includes a £3.575m grant offer from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, and grants from the Monument Trust, the Art Fund, Sir Siegmund Warburg’s Voluntary Settlement and the John Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust. Pledges and donations have also been received from many individual members of the public. SAVE and the trustees of the WWPT extend their warmest thanks for all pledges and support received.

The long term strategy is for the public to visit and enjoy all the most interesting parts of the property while restoring the others for revenue-earning uses such as events and holiday lets with business units in the stables. Traditionally a historic house of this size would have required a vast endowment.  This business model will provide a substantial income stream intended to cover both running costs and periodic bouts of repair.

Extensive repairs will be phased over 10 to 15 years allowing time for funds to be raised and the work to be carried out in phases while the property is opened to the public.

The Trust will build on the pioneering work of the Newbold family in opening the house to pre-booked visitors for the first time on a regular basis.  An annual Clifford Newbold lecture will be held to mark the work of the Newbold family in opening the house to the public.

The trustees of the new WWPT are: The Duke of Devonshire, Lady Juliet Tadgell, Sir Philip Naylor-Leyland, Julie Kenny (Chair), Timothy Cooke, Martin Drury, and Merlin Waterson.

For more information please contact Marcus Binney or Mike Fox at SAVE on 0207 253 3500 or mike.fox@savebritainsheritage.org, or Julie Kenny, Chair of WWPT, on 01709 535218

 

Notes to Editors:

The Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust has been established to secure the long term future of Wentworth Woodhouse.

SAVE Britain’s Heritage has been campaigning for historic buildings since its formation in 1975 by a group of architectural historians, writers, journalists and planners. It is a strong, independent voice in conservation, free to respond rapidly to emergencies and to speak out loud for the historic built environment.

Press release issued by SAVE Britain’s Heritage

70 Cowcross Street, London EC1M 6EJ

Registered Charity 269129

Tel. 020 7253 3500  Email office@savebritainsheritage.org

www.savebritainsheritage.org

Follow SAVE on Twitter: @SAVEBrit

Donate to SAVE via Justgiving

 

Full Press Release here:

http://www.savebritainsheritage.org/docs/articles/03.02_.16_Press_Release_-_Preservation_Trust_to_Acquire_WW_.pdf

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Filed under In the News, restoration, The Destruction of the Country House, The running of the country house

Thinking about the Country House in 2016

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A portion of the cast from Dowton Abbey giving their acceptance speech at the Screen Actors Guild in Los Angeles 30 January 2016

In 2012, I wrote a piece here about the current trends in country house studies as well as general literature and popular culture. A lot can happen in four years, so I thought a return to the subject matter seemed overdue. Spurred on by the recurring themes of country house social history highlighted by this blog’s statistics, there is indeed some things to be thinking about in 2016.

Since 2012 the country house has been discussed a lot less on British television that’s for sure and in hindsight, programmes like The Country House Revealed from 2011 seemed like a passing phase. That’s probably more to do with the producers of popular TV rather than the wider interests of those watching. Yet, there has been a shift and without doubt there is a strong fan base surrounding the country house united by the subject’s social themes more than anything else in 2016. That’s not to say that architectural history and the decorative arts have dropped from favour, but overall there appears to be a collective demand for knowledge about how people interacted with the country house; as designers, owners, servants or suppliers. This is not new, and there has certainly been an excess of publications on the country house servant specifically since the 1950s – partly as a result of the decline of the country house and the nostalgia that followed. Yet, the social history of the country house in the second decade of the millennium is rather more epic in its presentation.

In order to support this view, there is no need to look any further than the global appeal of Downton Abbey. At the close of 2015, rumours of a film abounded but as I write this blog post, it is neither confirmed nor denied as to whether the cast and crew are set for a large scale production. However, coming up trumps with a win at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles for Best TV Ensemble, Downton Abbey shows its exceptional success in the US particularly and a continued appeal which looks set to blaze through many other countries still.

And it is the word ‘ensemble’ which is really intriguing! Of course the SAG Awards are identifying the on screen cohesion of a large cast, but in writing country house histories it has never been a word I thought to use – or one suggested to me as a PhD student. The country house hierarchy of servants is indeed an ensemble; the household is an ensemble of characters that work together. Acting these parts on screen is part of the story-telling process which has created the mass appeal of Downton which is an admirable achievement. It also goes to show the curiosity and demand for ever more detail and individual accounts (fictional or otherwise) set against the historical backdrop of the country house and its estate.

Rather more tentatively I would also say that the architectural aspect of the country house has become academic for most in 2016. Downton Abbey is certainly popularist but it allows some themes of the country house to become accessible to many – a point made time and again in this blog. Yet, I always feel a little dismayed at the types of literature available either online or at the local bookshop dedicated to the country house. The architecture of the British (mainly English) country house is confined to glossy coffee table tomes which lack depth and lengthy discourse. The most recent additions to my local bookshop’s shelves are repetitive and assert the author’s own connections to particular sites and families. More importantly, they’re out of many enthusiastic readers’ budgets.

As for the social histories, there are the semi-autobiographical pieces hidden away in the history section or selected for their seasonal relevance – usually at Christmas. Based on the literature being published alone, the argument would be that studies of the country house have become divisive in recent years. In academia this is reinforced by the capabilities of departments seeking funding for projects based on the specialisms of their existing staff, and in most cases one is either an architectural specialist or a social historian. For the moment, one cannot be both.

My diagnosis of this issue is the speed at which academic institutions are encouraged to deliver and the place these institutions have in our cultural landscape. It is easier to divide themes and examine them more closely that way, but also reach the targets set by funding bodies and peer group assessment. At the same time as academic institutions turn inwards to their research (be it architectural, material culture or social history), the well-connected TV broadcasters are inviting more viewers to think about past lives and discover semi-fictional accounts of families from ‘the big house’. Thus, it is television which is currently at the forefront of presenting the country house to a wider audience and not the traditional body of academics and curators and their respective assistants.

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So are things shifting again in 2016? Perhaps taking advantage of the popularity of Downton but also as a means of identifying as well as dismantling the popularist aspect of country house social history, it is my ambition this year to focus on the country house servant and household and the material culture that supports these. Not in the usual sense though – the nostalgia and ten-a-penny reminiscences – instead it will something more constructive and debatable. Of course, personal experiences are always valued and are critical to social history, yet the social history of the country house covers huge ground; it is every aspect of human life literally under one roof.  This year in blogging will see highlighted discussion concerning not just servants and their roles, but also love, marriage, children and parenthood, and even crime. Themes which themselves are an ensemble of varying aspects of day-to-day routine or circumstance influenced by or indeed an influence upon the country house and its development.

Let’s not forget that Downton Abbey is complete and its final series was aired in the UK in September 2015. Long may its reign continue, but something will move into the void left behind. I am not convinced academia will manage this without looking more outwardly than it does currently in Britain at least. Yet, there are many findings to hit the shelves in 2016 and I look forward to reading into these. It may still be possible to unite the architectural with the social before we meet 2017 and I hope to offer a narrative as we go!

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Filed under Book reviews, In the News, Servants

BBC News: Wentworth Woodhouse sold to Hong Kong investment company 

Wentworth WoodhouseImage copyright Dave Pickersgill

One of Europe’s biggest private stately homes is due to be sold to a Hong Kong based investment company.

The Grade I listed Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham, South Yorkshire, is larger than Buckingham Palace. It was on the market since May with a price tag in excess of £8m.

Estate Agents Savills said it had agreed a sale with Lake House Group but would not disclose the selling price.

Lake House Group said it was “delighted to be involved with the purchase”.

“It is our hope that we can work with some of the organisations which have also shown an interest in the property in order to save and preserve this magnificent historic house”, the company added.

Savills said the buyer was due to exchange contracts and complete the purchase “shortly”.

Mining past

An estimated £42m is needed to spend on repairs, campaign group Save Britain’s Heritage says.

The Georgian mansion, which is open to the public, sits in 82 acres of grounds and the earliest wing of the house was started in 1725.

The Palladian-style east wing has a front that extends for 606ft (184m).

It was bought in 1999 by architect Clifford Newbold, who died in April. His family made the “reluctant decision” to sell the property after his death.

Restoration work was under way but it had been hampered by subsidence caused by mining, which was a key source of income to help with running costs for the house’s former owners.

The interiors of the house are the work of three patrons -– the First and Second Marquess of Rockingham and the Fourth Earl Fitzwilliam.

The history of Wentworth Woodhouse and the nearby village of Wentworth is linked with three aristocratic families, the Wentworths, Watsons and Fitzwilliams.

Original article here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-south-yorkshire-34755590

And from a previous post regarding the ownership of British country houses https://countryhousereader.wordpress.com/2015/03/15/bbc-news-who-holds-the-keys-to-our-mansions-march-2015/

For updates on this, please see the comments below.

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Filed under In the News

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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Filed under Architecture and Design, Building the Country House, In the News, restoration, The Destruction of the Country House

‘Wonder! Wonder! Wonder!’ The experimental philosopher comes to Nostell Priory

Having been greatly entertained by the recent series of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell on BBC One, it reminded me of something I stumbled across a while ago when still researching the social history of Nostell Priory in Yorkshire. Needless to say, the suitably impressive Yorkshire locations chosen by the BBC for the drama meant I would also be wasting a golden opportunity to show some hidden connections to both the themes and backdrop of the series.

Filming at Oakwell Hall. From The Huddersfield Daily Examiner (15 May 2015).

Filming at Oakwell Hall. From The Huddersfield Daily Examiner (15 May 2015).

The drama is an adaptation of a book of the same name by Susanna Clarke and much of the reviews highlight the work as historical fiction and fantasy. Set in the early nineteenth century, the theory and practice of magic is the very heart of the tale and allows Clarke to subvert traditional systems and social frameworks such as class and industry: the north of England is mystical not industrial and the black servant may yet be destined to be a king. On a wider scale even Englishness itself is toyed with.

The drama is set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars and the Battle of Waterloo more specifically. The latter saw its 200 year anniversary only recently on the 18th June. Therefore there is obviously something immensely topical about the timing of the production. And yet, there is intentional English patriotism which sees the English Army and Navy look for ever more inventive ways to defeat the niggling French enemy of old. Here’s where Strange and Norrell attempt to give English magic a firm platform from which it can be taken seriously once again.

I’m all for an eerie tale of make-believe set against gritty real life and the human condition, moral codes and physical frailties. I think it helps us see the past better. And so, it made me recall a snippet I read in the Leeds Intelligencer dated 12 December 1786 about a Dr. Katterfelto who had been to stay at Lady Winn’s at Nostell for 5 nights and had therefore missed an engagement in town. That engagement was to be his first lecture in Leeds and one which was to have incorporated the varied themes of ‘philosophical, mathematical, electrical, magnetical, optical, physical, pneumatic, hydraulic, hydrostatic, proctic, and styangraphic art.’ In other words, he was experimental!

18th-century contemporary print of Gustavus Katterfelto

18th-century contemporary print of Gustavus Katterfelto

Gustavus Katterfelto was Belgium-born and had been keen to make a name for himself in London using his Solar Microscope with which he claimed the ‘insects’ causing the flu pandemic of 1782 could be seen. By 1784 his shows had attracted royalty. However, Katterfelto wasn’t so great at handling fame when it did catch up with him. The public inevitably raised concerns about the freedom given to his ‘insects’ and whether they were implicit in spreading the flu. Such bad press persuaded Katterfelto to publicise the death of his ‘insects’ in some terrible accident. Within days Katterfelto had suddenly been struck with the flu himself…or so he wanted people to believe. He took to travelling north to Yorkshire and frequently visited Whitby. Throughout the region he attempted to sell elixirs and perform conjuring tricks in the form of lectures in order to maintain an air of scientific capability and mysticism hinting that his powers and the black cats with which he entertained had demonic origins.

katterfelto balloon

The new mail carriers, or Montgolfier and Katterfelto taking an airing in balloons. From The Ramblers Magazine, 1784. The British Museum.

Sabine, Lady Winn (nee d’Herwart) was of Swiss French origin and had come to Nostell Priory in the mid 1760s as the wife of Sir Rowland Winn later the 5th Baronet. Although vivacious and carefree, Sabine struggled to connect with Rowland’s extended family and was perpetually concerned with health matters especially those associated with aging. When Rowland died in an accident in 1785, Sabine withdrew from public life and became reclusive. Katterfelto’s presence in her adopted land must have presented her with a cause to reclaim something of her former self.

Without doubt it was Sabine’s hypochondriac nature that made Katterfelto so attractive a guest. And just like Jonathan Strange and Norrell his occupation brought hope as well as wonderment. Here is a simple snippet, an apology for absence reported in the local press, but Katterfelto would have been well-received at Nostell Priory by the  the reclusive Lady Winn. There is nothing unbecoming or untoward about the meeting – Sabine is difficult to analyse for sure but during her widowhood suffered greatly from sheer detachment – this strange conjurer was something of a curiosity. He came from the continent like Sabine, and had also experienced high society which he too had chosen to dismiss. For five nights they would have discussed these, the borders between conjuring and science, and the study of disease and general maladies.

Having studied Sabine for a long time, I admit it is difficult to see her as a truly compassionate creature. There is something frivolous about her personality. Yet, I like to think that her guest offered a mix of magic and awe, but also philosophical debate which had been dismantled from her social life since the untimely death of her husband. And here is the human condition laid out in similar fashion throughout Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Human frailties – disease, madness, mortality, and loneliness are challenged but to win is to come at a heavy price. We hope that magic can exist when really it is the imagination which provides the best means of survival.

So these men are intellectually alluring as well as captivating in their occupation. What the book and BBC adaptation alludes to so well is the setting and the involvement of the elite in the promotion and manipulation of these characters. Lady Winn plays host to Katterfelto, but she is intrigued by him in the same way any number of wealthy individuals are in the early episodes of the TV drama. Like Mr. Norrell, Katterfelto is invited into sumptuous town houses and country residences. He put himself on display and attempted to champion something loosely based on academic theory and practice.

Dancing for Lost Hope – or in the Great Hall at Wentworth Woodhouse.

Though Nostell doesn’t feature in the BBC drama adaptation of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, it struck me that the Yorkshire locations are linked by fine threads. We see furniture made for Nostell in the bookshop (a withdrawing room at Temple Newsam), and the immense facade and austere interiors of the mighty Wentworth Woodhouse – a political base for the Rockinghamites and close friends of the Winn family. Indeed, the majority of locations are interlinked somewhere because they are in Yorkshire and therefore neighbours. Norrell is a Yorkshireman in full stereotype; he is stubborn and earthy, cautious yet outspoken. I wonder what Katterfelto thought of Yorkshire in the end, afterall, he didn’t leave – he died in 1799 and was buried at Bedale Church!

Further reading:

David Paton-Williams, Katterfelto: Prince of Puff (Leicester), 2008

Links:

Gustavus Katterfelto http://www.geniimagazine.com/magicpedia/Gustavus_Katterfelto and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustavus_Katterfelto

http://www.obscurehistories.com/#!katterfeltos-live-insects/c1t0t

Jonathan Strange, Mr. Norrell and their creator author Susanna Clarke https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Strange_%26_Mr_Norrell and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susanna_Clarke

BBC locations for Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/2y60xGs7C1QpyLkx4zBpcPl/where-was-jonathan-strange-mr-norrell-filmed

General overview of locations for Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell http://www.creativeengland.co.uk/story/where-was-bbc-drama-jonathan-strange-and-mr-norrell-filmed-

Filming in Yorkshire http://www.creativeengland.co.uk/story/i-love-filming-in…yorkshire

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Filed under In the News, The Nostell Project, Women and the Country House

BBC News: Who holds the keys to our mansions? March 2015

Here’s an important debate currently passing through academic and property consultancy circles – the foreign buyer of the country house (the full article follows further below).

There is quite a lot to say here, and I’m not sure what my own thoughts are on this just yet. Ultimately this is all about money, and the spending power of those with a great deal of existing capital. Perhaps it has nothing to do with the ‘occidental’ nature of the buyer at all, but on the other hand, it does raise questions about the future of a part of Britain’s cultural identity.

In the first instance, a willing buyer with the adequate funds to purchase any of the empty country houses in Britain should be a good thing as it brings these buildings back into use. However, the article highlights how a purchase does not always guarantee that a house will even become occupied. Such a purchase is about increasing personal capital – or misguided investment. Where the argument concerns the finances of the buyer, we must consider how the country house as residence has infiltrated our psyche. Inheritance, estate income and family matters have to offer stability within a setting of high staff turnover, regional and national economies and possible political influence. The country house as residence is therefore an administrative centre and must have a business model if it is to survive. Having the correct funds to purchase must be accompanied by such, otherwise the country house just becomes another new toy to be discarded when it looks worn out and dirty.

Where the argument concerns the origin of the buyer, things become much murkier. The Downton Abbey effect reassures many of a past world nostalgia which is somehow uniquely British. The TV series makes itself known everywhere – it makes a cameo in Iron Man 3, and animated children’s television show Arthur even celebrated its existence with one episode dedicated to ancestral awakenings! Though Downton has not single-handedly drawn wealthy magnates to the British county house, it has surely provided a vast influence over individual desires. Thus, cultural identity comes into play: Downton Abbey isn’t real, of course, but it is pivotal in this argument because it has skewed both native and foreign visions of country house living. Are we really threatened by a foreign buyer because they might bring some ‘otherness’ to the mix, or is it really because we would feel excluded from the process and be denied some sort of access past the front door? Lest we forget, these are private establishments and not all museums and depositories for collections of statuary or paintings and furniture.

The cultural identity of the British country house is awkward because it represents both sides of the social strata. We have come to expect greater access to them as visitors, but often do not realise that many houses are still true residences. Some are open to the public or offered up as conference or wedding venues, others are simply homes. That the buyer is foreign – and provided they know their business model – it should have no bearing on how we negotiate past their new house. The privacy of the country house and its family has been sought after since the end of the seventeenth century, culturally a foreign buyer wouldn’t be changing anything, so perhaps it’s best to sit tight and remain optimistic.

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The east front of Apethorpe HallApethorpe Hall was once a favourite haunt of King James I.

A stately home which was once a haunt of the rich and royal has been sold to a French baron. It’s the latest in a string of mansions sold to international buyers, raising questions about the safety of England’s heritage. But does it matter who holds the keys?

Author Henry James once said: “Of all the great things that the English have invented and made part of the credit of the national character, the most perfect, the most characteristic, the only one they have mastered completely in all its details… is the well-appointed, well-administered, well-filled country house.”

It was an opinion shared by many when the stately home was the highest symbol of aristocratic wealth. However, in the early 20th Century the English upper classes began to lose their grip on their palaces.

Not unlike the scenes in TV’s Downton Abbey, the fight to save the country home was a very real concern for the landed gentry in the face of heavy taxation.

It was this chink in the armour of England’s upper classes that gave some international buyers a first class ticket to tradition and class.

“At the beginning of the 20th Century there were a lot of historic houses and people married rich American wives,” said Dr Timothy Brittain-Catlin, lecturer in architecture at the University of Kent.

“In the 1920s and 1930s there was a lot more money in America and if it wasn’t for them, the houses would have been demolished.

“Everyone [here] was broke and houses weren’t protected and many of them were bought up by people like [American] William Randolph Hearst.

“Some were remodelled and rebuilt and in England it led to a serious conservation lobby, so in a way it was a good thing because it made people aware.”

Minley ManorMinley Manor was sold by the Ministry of Defence for a figure exceeding the £5m guide price

It is estimated that between 1880 and 1980, about 2,000 country homes across England, Wales and Scotland were demolished. But the grass of the English countryside has always appeared greener to international buyers.

“A lot of people regard England as a safe haven of heritage,” said Jasper Feilding, of property consultants Carter Jonas which dealt with the sale in November of Minley Manor in Hampshire.

“You can buy a schloss in Germany or a chateau in France which may be equally as important from a historical point of view.

“But they’re not making any more country houses and if you’re looking for a trophy property there’s more kudos in buying something in England which has that historical importance.”

There have been a number of high profile sales of country homes to overseas buyers in recent months.

A bidding war in January 2014 saw the sale of Hadspen House in Somerset to an international buyer – rumoured to be Hollywood star, Johnny Depp – for a reported £12m, while Dunstall Hall in Staffordshire was sold to a Middle Eastern businessman for £4m in July. In January of this year, Apethorpe Hall in Northamptonshire was sold to French academic, Baron von Pfetten.

Dunstall HallDunstall Hall is just one in a long list of country properties bought by overseas buyers

“There’s definitely been some kind of movement towards foreign buyers purchasing country houses and in recent months there has been something of a trend,” said Mike Fox, from Save Britain’s Heritage.

“Providing the houses don’t suffer as a result of them being bought by international buyers, we’ve got no problem.

“But the concern is if they’re just bought up as trophy properties and then left. There are a number of houses where that has happened.”

Apethorpe, which was once a favourite haunt of King James I, is a prime example of a property left to rot.

Apethorpe HallApethorpe Hall’s new owner said he hopes it will regain a place in British history
The sunken garden at Apethorpe HallThe grounds features a number of green spaces including the sunken garden

The Jacobean country house was bought by a Libyan businessman in 1983, who neither lived in it or maintained it and left it to crumble for almost two decades.

It was eventually bought by the government in 2001 and handed to English Heritage in 2005, who sold it following £8m worth of restoration work.

Its new owner has agreed to open the doors to the public for 50 days a year to help it “regain the place in British history it deserves”.

“The house was bought for a foreign owner who let it fall to pieces and now has another foreign owner,” said Dr Brittain-Catlin.

“Conservationists will tell you that they have lost a manor, but on the other hand, an important house has now been saved by someone who is living in it and appreciates it.

“The [nationality] of the buyer isn’t the important thing, it’s that the buyer looks after it,” he added.

Highclere CastleHighclere Castle has found fame as the home of Downton Abbey…
Montacute House, Somerset…while the grounds of Montacute House provided the backdrop for scenes in Wolf Hall

Despite attempts to preserve these quintessentially British properties, the Historic House Association says times are still tough for owners, with about 60% of members opening their homes to the public and offering them as film sets for TV programmes like Wolf Hall and Downton Abbey.

“These are very uncertain times for historic houses and gardens,” said Richard Compton, president of the HHA. “Competition to attract visitors with disposable incomes has increased; at the same time, costs have also risen.

“Many historic house businesses face threats to their very survival.”

A question mark currently hangs over the future of one of Europe’s biggest private stately homes.

Wentworth WoodhouseWentworth Woodhouse requires millions of pounds worth of repairs

Wentworth Woodhouse, in South Yorkshire, has been open to the public for more than 25 years but its owners are planning to put the Grade I listed property on the market.

It means anyone who can afford the reputed £7m price tag plus the £40m needed for repairs could snap up a piece of England’s heritage.

But Mr Fox hopes the house can be purchased by a preservation trust which has so far raised £3.5m in pledges.

“The family need to consider their options and that includes putting it on the market,” he said, “But we remain confident we can do some kind of deal

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