Category Archives: The Destruction of the Country House

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Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, Part II: Whitley Beaumont

After the purge of Christmas food and several breeds of alcohol, the tendency is to tackle outdoors and attempt to go for a walk on Boxing Day. This year I thought I would seek out the landscape at Whitley Beaumont near Huddersfield based on my interest being sparked by the recent exhibition at Harrogate’s Mercer Gallery.

Whitley Beaumont Hall c.1900 ? Image taken from http://mirfield-2ndlook.info website

Whitley Beaumont Hall c.1900 ? Image taken from http://mirfield-2ndlook.info website

The house was demolished in the 1950s after exhaustive mining (and presently quarrying) took over the estate in similar fashion to many sites from Huddersfield to Sheffield. This wasn’t an easy discovery and the land is privately owned so there is only a certain level of access. Add to that two very busy roads, no proper space to park a car as well as imposing industrial barriers strongly suggesting no-go areas. However, several public footpaths skirting the edges of the parkland provided me with enough visual information to pinpoint aspects of the landscape as Brown and his patron intended.

Brown visited Whitley in the late 1770s but it is likely the land survey was undertaken by William Crossley, Snr from nearby Brighouse rather than Brown and his own men. Crossley is important for a few reasons as he would eventually move into surveying for the canal network working across much of Yorkshire particularly but had previously also assisted a William Jessop on several projects and may have known John Smeaton (from Leeds) who established a more efficient water system on the estate at Temple Newsam in the second half of the 18th century. To this extent Brown was not alone and there existed a comprehensive network of individuals jointly employed on sites or undertaking surveys for landowners for development or sale. The second half of the 18th century was a critical time where may landowners sought to enclose common land, achieve greater agricultural efficiency and develop their parkland for ornamental use. For the latter, Brown was the household name, but there were clearly regional pockets of surveyors who most certainly were aware of each other and their teams.

The Whitley estate was owned by Richard Henry Beaumont (1748-1810) at the time of Brown’s visit. The Beaumonts were a well established minor gentry family in West Yorkshire with marital ties across Yorkshire. Beaumont wished to have something in tune with current trends, but compared to the estates of the elite Whitley may never have been intended as something showy. On closer inspection, the existing landscape suggests that this may not have been possible anyway as there is little space for slow carriage drives, open parkland and sweeping lawns. The site is relatively compact with creaking turns accommodating the sharp rise and fall of the land.

What was intended by Beaumont and Brown still incorporated the trademark carriage drive which wound through woodland and out into meadow; this was in marked contrast to the dead straight approach from the north which had previously failed to absorb any other part of the estate. Further rides took the visitor around the edges of the estate, and attempts to smooth the land with the use of ha-has are all still visible on the edge of low lying woodland today. The Brown signature clumps of trees were also established and much of these are visible from the air and from the ground including Deer Hill (as seen below). I could only approach from one side of the old estate and the map below shows where the images were taken.

Ordnance Survey section dating from 1894 (old-maps repository online)

Ordnance Survey section dating from 1894 (old-maps repository online website)

 

Modern satellite image of Whitley Beaumont - Google imaging

Modern satellite image of Whitley Beaumont – Google imaging

Given that there must be scars across the site from extensive mining in the 1940s, it has done little to take away the feeling of awe for the viewer.

Image from point one on the map, facing north east through woodland and across the bridge in Coal Pit Scroggs. Author's own image

Image from Point One on the 1894 map, facing north east through woodland and across the bridge at Coal Pit Scrog. (Author’s own image).

Approaching directly from the village of Lepton to the south, I followed the road north east to Whitley Beaumont Scout Camp in the direction of the parkland and continued across the opening downwards to the stream and dip in the woodland where a part of the old carriage drive appeared to stretch out but actually ended in impassable shrubs and dense overgrowth. Signs that the Brown landscape were added to in the 19th century are visible in the plantations of azaleas and rhododendrons – a now troublesome part of the overgrowth unfortunately!

View from Point Two n the 1894 map looking northwards toward to site of the house. (Author's own image).

View from Point Two on the 1894 map looking northwards towards the site of the house. (Author’s own image).

Eventually reaching the edge of the woodland from a slight turn of direction it was possible to frame the section of high ground on which the house would have stood. The image left should give an idea of the rise of the land in all directions to the north, east and west. The house would have been just over the crest of the hill to the left of the patch of woodland. The kitchen gardens (a section of wall still exists at the edge of the woodland) were situated further towards where the image was taken and are visible on the 1894 map.

View looking out eastwards from Point Three on the 1894 map. The image shows Deer Hill. (Author's own image).

View looking out eastwards from Point Three on the 1894 map. The image shows Deer Hill. (Author’s own image).

Turning south and following the farm track for a few steps another view pinpoints one of a few clumps of trees. Again the sense of height should be clear and from both the house and Deer Hill it is obvious that the views would have been spectacular across this part of Yorkshire. Today one of the most striking features is not of this period but is instead that of Emley Moor TV mast further south (out of frame and to the right in the image above).

There were two follies at Whitley but only one remains in part which is seen from Liley Lane and formed part of the earlier straight north approach. This is known as The Temple on old Ordnance Survey maps or later as ‘Black Dick’s Tower’. Another temple or monument stood close to Deer Hill and a dark speck on the 1894 map is visible of this building which has long since been cleared away. I have not been able to trace a date for the latter building, but neither construction have little to do with Brown and his designs.

Very little of the family papers have been published but what primary documentation exists appears to be fairly extensive, not to mention the exterior and interior details of the house itself which once stood at the site. Local history groups and projects have also been set up which have ventured out past the barriers with the correct permission and I have listed a few of these since their own explorations have thrown up fantastic images of the remnants of the 18th century landscape.

When Brown drew up plans for Temple Newsam the optimism was severely challenged once work began and huge swathes of ground were churned over for planting and creating the desired open grandeur of lawn and unbroken green. At Whitley, the level of work involved is now clear amongst the overgrowth and patches of woodland – the removal and alteration of these being only a part of what may have been a similar task in creating the original ornamental landscape for Richard Henry Beaumont in the 1770s. The ‘capabilities’ of which Brown noted time and again suggest vision for a site and how it might be manipulated, but also the realistic degree of work involved. Whitley is indeed compact in comparison to the elegant Stowe and has a roughness around the edges due to its recent industrial past, yet it remains a true example of the lengths humans will go to in order to alter the natural environment both in light of 18th century desires and the equivalent modern-day exploitation.

Links to local projects and sites:

http://thefolliesofyouth.co.uk/?page_id=25 and http://thefolliesofyouth.co.uk/?page_id=176

http://wyorksarchivestreasures.weebly.com/beaumont-of-whitley-family-and-estate-records.html

Follies relating to the Beaumont family including ‘Whitley Moor Gazebo’ http://jimjarratt.co.uk/follies/page20.html

Child friendly walks around Whitley http://www.kirkburtonparishwalks.co.uk/Grange%20Mo…pdf

More general links including local news

Black Dick’s Tower http://www.examiner.co.uk/news/west-yorkshire-news/black-dicks-famous-tower-could-5082838

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whitley_Beaumont

http://www.lostheritage.org.uk/houses/lh_yorkshire_whitleybeaumont_info_gallery.html

http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1604-1629/member/beaumont-sir-richard-1574-1631

http://www.examiner.co.uk/news/west-yorkshire-news/lepton-estate-capability-brown-9100637

Location of Beaumont family archives http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/rd/b69946eb-8d76-4e39-8f22-a9db6f034d7f

 

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Filed under Men and the Country House, Parks and Gardens, The Destruction of the Country House

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

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

Genre: The Country House Novel – the Social House

Downton-Abbey-Season-1-downton-abbey-31759161-333-500Without doubt, the social country house has become the version of the country house most would recognise currently due in the main to Downton Abbey. It is almost impossible to avoid the series if you like country houses just a little bit because it pops up in internet searches left, right and centre! Its popularity is something which I want to look at in a later post. Yet its content is typical of the social house regardless of how much gloss is placed on the presentation. If the casual viewer can command a good knowledge of servant hierarchies, household politics and daily routines then the programme has done more than merely entertain. Forget the table settings, the beautiful costumes and the fine furniture; this is all about human interaction.

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This, the third of three posts looking at the literary country house explores some of the themes presented by staging the house as a location for social discourse. Previous Genre posts here have addressed the country house poem  and the country house as haunted house. The social house however, is where the genre really takes off.

Returning to John Lucas and more specifically Blake Morrison both writing for The Guardian (February and June 2011 respectively), it is possible to see how popular this aspect has become in recent years.

There are two distinctive definitions of the country house in its social guise. The first a solid symbol of artificial hierarchies to the extent that it has become inextricably linked with British class distinctions and notions of ‘knowing one’s place’ throughout history. As Stevens expresses in The Remains of the Day, ‘It has been my privilege to see the best of England over the years, sir, within these very walls.’ Lucas notes, ‘Country houses are nothing if not a symbol of upper class hegemony: the novel provides an apparatus through which this can be examined, sometimes humorously, sometimes with gentle satire.’ This is certainly true of the works of Thomas Love Peacock for example, particularly Headlong Hall (1816) and Nightmare Abbey (1818). In academic circles this is the traditional country house novel, and the true definition of the genre. These works acknowledge greatness and elite authority even if they mock its eccentricities.

Film still from The Remains of the Day with Anthony Hopkins as Stevens - longstanding butler (1993. Novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989).

Film still from The Remains of the Day with Anthony Hopkins as Stevens – longstanding butler (1993). Novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989).

The social house is a commentary upon the political and cultural scene using gender and race (and class) as the tools for negotiating the main narrative. The other definition and a more refreshing approach sees the social house as more about perceptions of the human condition – past and present. Morrison concludes his article with, ‘What the contemporary novelist finds in country houses isn’t greatness but loss, failure and everyday human struggle, writ large.’ It does not have to be about servants and masters or inheritance and title. The country house in this instance is attractive because it is a convenient box in which to place any number of people and their experiences and desires. From here the author can construct plots concerning deception, family breakdown, heady romance or illicit sex, isolation and the inevitability of aging. In much the same way that the haunted house works with its dark corners and dusty attics, the social house plays host to everything from dinner table talk to hushed liaisons within any and every room, garden and outbuilding.

Cover for the first UK edition of A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh (Chapman and Hall, 1934)

Cover for the first UK edition of A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh (Chapman and Hall, 1934)

The role of the haunted house is mysterious; its aging walls suffocating and passages misleading. The role of the social house is slightly more mobile because authors can deposit their characters there and unravel the tale ‘on site’ or they can establish it as a silent asset. The latter sees the country house assume the characteristics of one of the other players, usually a previous owner as in Forster’s Howard’s End (1910) or even Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (1945). The house might have some stoical presence that the human players severely lack, or it might represent resignation; a fate driven by alimony and unwanted inheritance as suggested in Waugh’s A Handful of Dust (1934).

It is the ‘on site’ stories which hold so much fascination for readers though, and many are drawn to the narratives which focus on personal or wider historical events. Descriptions of the house provide a force which is either repulsive or magnificent for the key characters but is nonetheless a place which ultimately controls their motives, behaviour and consciousness,

Morning sunlight, or any light, could not conceal the ugliness of the Tallis home – barely forty years old, bright orange brick, squat, lead-paned baronial Gothic, to be condemned one day in an article by Pevsner, or one of his team, as a tragedy of wasted chances.                                           (Ian McEwan, Atonement, p. 22)

The wasted chances are as much about the architectural structure as they are about the emotional development and perceptions of freedom made by the inhabitants. As readers we might wonder how we would react to a character’s experience as it unfolds upon the page. Do we relate to it immediately? Does it fill us with disgust or passion? Or do we long to be involved as more than observer?

Cover for Ian McEwan's Atonement (unknown publishing date)

Cover for Ian McEwan’s Atonement (unknown publishing date)

Interestingly, the greatest wealth of literature absorbed with the social house seems to be confined to a particular era – the twentieth century. The nineteenth-century country house novel is to some extent restrained by tradition. Contemporary nineteenth-century authors were writing about a world which had changed very little in centuries; the characters are therefore the focus (including the house as presence) and the plot is devised around the nuances of social interaction. From the dawn of the twentieth century, the country house was on its way to decline. During the second half of the century hundreds of houses had been demolished and their estates built upon. Authors like Waugh and Forster were well aware of this shift and their novels are commentary on the coping mechanisms made by owners as they faced threats to lineage, financial security and their cultural values.

Moreover, authors of the modern country house novel – those making appearances in the twenty-first century – are eqaully attracted to the vanishing Belle Epoque with its grand parties and bustling households. The Downton Abbey effect reinforces this and the social house is marketed as the literary Highclere. I like what Lev Grossman in Time Entertainment (May 2012) says, ‘The paradox of the English country house is that its state of permanent decline, the fact that its heyday is always behind it, is part of the seduction, just as it is part of the seduction of books in general.’

Cover for Kate Morton's The House at Riverton (Pan,  2007)

Cover for Kate Morton’s The House at Riverton (Pan, 2007)

But this probably says something more about the present human condition. Houses and people have a symbiotic relationship which is emotionally complex. The house is the static body which grows old, it has seen a great deal of life and death, and every occupant has left their mark. That its heyday is behind it only reinforces this poignancy. When we visit a well furnished, well curated house we stand to look at the paintings. Offer a visitor the chance to visit the drab cellars or offices and the attention immediately turns to the people who used these spaces. When that world no longer exists in the way it was meant, or its ending is nigh we cling to its memory. The existence of people or otherwise is how we formulate similar narratives. So for an author of the country house novel in the twenty-first century, the social house maintains its grip because people are always full of surprises. The country house is the tool chosen for concealment or liberation of these stories.

References and suggested reading:

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (1814).

Ned Beauman, Boxer, Beetle (2011).

Isabel Colegate, The Shooting Party (Penguin Classics, 2007)

Lord Julian Fellowes, Snobs (2004).

E. M. Forster, Howard’s End (1910).

John Galsworthy. The Country House (1907).

Linda Gillard, House of Silence (2011).

Mark Girouard, A Country House Companion (1987).

Rumer Godden. China Court: the Hours of a Country House; a novel (1961).

Alan Hollinghurst, The Stranger’s Child (2011).

Kazuo Ishiguro, Remains of the Day (1989).

D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover (privately printed, 1928, full text 1960).

Henry James, The Spoils of Poynton (1896).

Malcolm Kelsall, The Great Good Place: the Country House and English Literature (1993).

Virginia C. Kenny, The Country House Ethos in English literature, 1688-1750: Themes of Personal Retreat and National Expansion. (1984).

William Hurrell Mallock. The New Republic; or, Culture, Faith and Philosophy in an English Country House. New York (1878).

Ian McEwan, Atonement (2001).

Kate Morton, The House at Riverton (2008) and The Distant Hours (2010).

Thomas Love Peacock, Headlong Hall (1816), Melincourt (1817) and Nightmare Abbey (1818).

Jane Sanderson, Netherwood (2011).

Tom Stoppard, Arcadia (1993).

Giles Waterfield, Markham Thorpe (2007).

Evelyn Waugh, A Handful of Dust (1934) and Brideshead Revisited (1945).

Lucie Whitehouse, The House at Midnight (2008).

Links:

John Lucas in The Guardian, full link http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2011/feb/01/country-house-novel

Blake Morrison in The Guardian, full link http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/jun/11/country-house-novels-blake-morrison

The country house in modern culture http://arts.nationalpost.com/2012/01/17/downton-abbey-and-the-cult-of-the-english-country-house/

Lev Grossman in Time Entertainment full link The Tragedy of the English Country House | TIME.com http://entertainment.time.com/2012/05/02/the-tragedy-of-the-english-country-house/#ixzz2qYzpD2Yx

Book review blog including Rumer Godden’s China Court http://www.essbeevee.co.uk/2013_04_01_archive.html

The Country House Myth in The Remains of the Day http://www.postcolonialweb.org/uk/ishiguro/ed9.html

A fantastic link which helps summarise the genre entirely http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/english_literature_in_transition/v053/53.1.larabee.html

A wider view http://splendidlabyrinths.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/country-house-literature.html

Perhaps do a course? University of Leicester http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/english/postgraduate/madegrees/ma-option-modules/en7222

Country House Conference focussing on film and television, Newcastle University http://countryhouseconference.wordpress.com/

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Filed under Men and the Country House, Servants, The Destruction of the Country House, The running of the country house, Women and the Country House

Guest Post: Professor Terence Dooley and the Irish Historic House.

After attending the Attingham Trust 60th Anniversary Conference in October, I thought it only appropriate that I share some of the thoughts that were featured. In my last post I hinted at my own desire to obtain a greater understanding of the interpretation and presentation of the country house outside Britain. Several papers at the Conference opened my eyes to the architectural heritage of historic houses around the world. These also offered up a fascinating insight into how vastly different socio-economic and political backgrounds have provided contrasting approaches to modern-day heritage management.

One such paper was given by Professor Terence Dooley from the National University of Ireland, Maynooth (NUIM). Dooley’s own specialisms are in Irish social and political history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with particular focus upon the Irish country house and the landed class. A quick read of his staff profile will tell you he is well-versed in ‘policy matters relating to heritage and restoration’. Moreover, he has placed a great deal of energy into creating fantastic links with fellow academics, researchers and those working directly in country house management at an international level. This has been a significant accomplishment, and one which stems from the establishment of the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates (CSHIHE), of which Dooley is currently the Director.

The main aims of the CSHIHE are to secure and enhance public appreciation of historic properties by supporting education, research and scholarly publication. Its foundation was in large part due to Dooley’s report, A future for Irish historic houses? A study of fifty houses (2003) which was jointly commissioned by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Irish Georgian Society. This was crucial in informing government policy as well as leading to the establishment of the Irish Heritage Trust. Dooley’s conclusion to the report stated that,

An appreciation of historical and cultural heritage values should be promoted through exhibitions of historic house art, contents and archive collections and conferences to raise public awareness. Houses should be regarded as an educational asset, offering a unique insight into the country’s social, economic, cultural and political history as well as the architectural heritage which they represent.

It is with many thanks to Prof. Terence Dooley that I can now include the following overview of the activities and developments of the CSHIHE since the delivery of the report.

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CSHIHE logo

Prof. Terence Dooley

National University of Ireland

In 2004, the proposal for the establishment of a Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth was enthusiastically supported by the Office of Public Works (OPW). Its main strength was perceived to be that the central thrust of the Centre would be educational in the broadest sense: to support teaching and research on Ireland’s country house heritage at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels at NUI Maynooth; to initiate an outreach programme with local schools; and to collaborate with those involved in the heritage industry in Ireland. The CSHIHE is now a unique public-private venture with no equivalent elsewhere in Ireland or Britain.

As part of its educational brief and to provide a forum for debate and the dissemination of new heritage-related research findings, the CSHIHE embarked on a series of annual conferences at Maynooth. These conferences have attracted audiences from a broad cross section of Irish society and overseas including owners and managers of historic properties; heritage professionals; academics and students; specialists in architecture, landscape and conservation; secondary school teachers; and those with a general interest in the built heritage. The success of these occasions has been determined by the range of topics, the quality of speakers, and the mix of audiences. Moreover, overseas speakers have generously facilitated tours for groups from the Centre to Paris, Moscow and Sicily.

At university level, educational initiatives have included the development of modules at undergraduate level on the social, political, economic and cultural history of Irish country houses, their architectural evolution, their material culture and the creation (and destruction) of their surrounding landscapes. Teaching modules have also included visits to the UK which have enabled a comparative study of country houses in Ireland and Yorkshire in collaboration with the Yorkshire Country House Partnership.

An important recent development has been the introduction in September 2010 of an MA in Historic Houses Studies, offering modules on historical context, architectural design, material culture, heritage and tourism, restoration and conservation.

stairwell at fota

Stairwell at Fota House, County Cork (Irish Heritage Trust)

The work of the Centre is also focused upon linking the fruits of academic study with contemporary heritage issues at historic properties, and collaboration has been at the heart of these activities. The Historic Houses Association of Ireland (founded in 2009) has been a welcome partner, keen to show how many of their properties have educational assets that could be deployed in a number of ways. There is the acknowledgement that countless projects could be fashioned in relation to specific houses that would allow students and owners to work closely to the mutual benefit of both parties; the ‘Music in the Irish Country House Project’ and ‘Famine and the Country House and Estate’ being cases in point.

In 2008 the establishment of the Archive and Research Centre at Castletown, under the joint auspices of the OPW and NUIM, has presented further opportunities for those working in architecture, the decorative and fine arts, landscape, and conservation. Launched by President Mary McAleese, the Centreaims to facilitate the care and study of archives that deal with the history of Irish estates, their houses and inhabitants. The transfer of the Strokestown Park archive signalled a pioneering collaboration between a house in public ownership, a privately owned house that incorporates the National Famine Museum, and a third level institute. Dr Ciaran Reilly was appointed Post-doctoral Research Fellow to investigate the archive and organise a series of public outcomes relating to his research.

The CSHIHE, in association with the OPW, has also organised a very successful series of seminars at Castletown, addressing key issues relating to the management and understanding of the historic house in Ireland. These gatherings are aimed at those working across the historic house sector – managers, curators, academics, administrators, guides, education officers, marketing personnel, house staff and other heritage professionals.

Morpeth2_400x447

The 1841 Irish Testimonial to Lord Morpeth (collaborative research between YCHP and CSHIHE and others)

Since 2004 the Yorkshire Country House Partnership (YCHP) based at the University of York, England, and the CSHIHE have held a highly successful series of seminars, conferences and exhibitions in Yorkshire and in Ireland. Like the CSHIHE, the YCHP is committed to re-evaluating the role and meaning of the historic house in its broadest understanding, encompassing architecture, families, collections, landscapes and archives. It has been widely acknowledged within the heritage sector that these events have been instrumental in refashioning the interpretation of the historic house in the UK, Ireland, and Europe.

In 2007, the YCHP and CSHIHE launched a joint scoping exercise aimed at exploring and recording the connections which existed between landed estates in Yorkshire and Ireland, and the respective families connected to these estates. This exercise was carried through by Desmond Konopka, a PhD student of Dr Dooley’s, and David Ghent, a PhD student of the History Department at the University of York. Their findings have yielded a great deal of material that is already supporting new post-graduate research at the University of York, and post-doctoral research at Maynooth on the Lord Morpeth Testimonial of 1841 under Dr Patrick Cosgrove. These projects have opened up an additional dimension to the collaboration between Maynooth and Yorkshire.

Borris House County Carlow (Irish Historic Houses Association)

Borris House County Carlow (Irish Historic Houses Association)

Such is the extent of its activities in the eight years since its inception that the Centre can fairly be said to be leading and determining the debate with regard to historic houses in Ireland, and, indeed, much further afield, both in academic terms (through research, teaching and publication), and in a more general political sense. In September 2005 the internationally renowned Arts journal, Apollo, described the CSHIHE as ‘an academic endeavour that has no parallel in England’ and generously praised its educational efforts particularly the outstanding success of its annual Historic Houses of Ireland Conferences.

The range of organisations, departments and individuals linked with the Centre through these diverse activities is testimony to the central tenet that those working across the entire spectrum of the built heritage sector cannot do things in isolation. Academic research needs to demonstrate a public outcome in addition to its own intrinsic requirements; equally for those who work in the heritage sector their knowledge and understanding is best enhanced by taking advantage of such research. Moreover as the historic house grows in significance so too does its appeal as a visitor attraction. Consequently the collaborative efforts of scholars, owners, managers and other professionals can also translate into economic activity with a defined public value.

Links:

Staff profile for Dr. Terence Dooley http://historicirishhouses.ie/people/professor-terence-dooley and the homepage for the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates http://historicirishhouses.ie/

Full links for Irish Historic Houses Association http://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm and the Irish Heritage Trust http://www.irishheritagetrust.ie/

Archive and Research Centre Castletown http://www.nuim.ie/opwnuim/

Yorkshire Country House Partnership http://www.ychp.org.uk/main/home.php

The 1841 Irish Testimonial  to Lord Morpeth (George Howard, later 7th Earl of Carlisle) http://historicirishhouses.ie/research/postdoctoral-research-projects/1841-irish-testimonial-lord-morpeth

Strokestown Park: Irish National Famine Museum http://www.strokestownpark.ie/

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Filed under Architecture and Design, Collections, Non-British country houses, The Destruction of the Country House

The Attingham Trust 60th Anniversary Conference, 12th and 13th October 2012

Attingham Park House

After a particularly tough house move in the second week of October, the weekend brightened with attendance at The Attingham Trust 60th Anniversary Conference – ‘Looking Ahead: The Future of the Country House’. Always slightly anxious that I might not have my ‘clever head’ engaged at these sorts of things, I was relieved to discover many familiar faces amongst the delegates.

I attended on the Saturday of the conference. Whilst I know those involved with The Attingham Trust will be reading, this was not without purpose. Certainly, I work through the week, but I was intrigued far more by the papers on offer that day. Split into four sessions, the first theme encompassed the ownership of mainly British country houses by national institutions and local authorities. The second looked at the Irish country house particularly in light of funding and a nation’s tumultuous history. The third was, for me, a proper introduction to the ‘historic house’ in the United States, with the final session examining the position of the country house in Australia.

The previous day would have given me the opportunity to hear Tim Knox – Director of the Sir John Soane’s Museum, interview John Harris – author and architectural historian about country house snooping, or Giles Waterfield from The Attingham Trust interview Julian Fellowes. Attending as I did on the Saturday only, I felt I had missed a great deal. And not surprisingly, Downton Abbey was thus quite high on the agenda!

Julian Fellowes (centre) with Elizabeth McGovern and Hugh Bonneville, copyright The Sun

So conspicuous was the latter that I fully understood the intense fever of the ITV period drama outside of the comfort of my own living room. Whenever I tell people what I ‘do’, their eyes light up. Inevitably, Downton Abbey enters the conversation and I am required to smile sweetly whilst all the time supporting their idea that country houses at the turn of the 20th century were ALL like this. Yet, I am not attempting to bite my nose off to spite my face. Downton Abbey has certainly earned its place in the discourse of the country house. It is glossy, television-land escapism – the perfect ingredient for a Sunday evening, and although I do watch it occasionally (given the chance at all), I feel I already know these stories.

Downton Abbey has brought the country house to the masses and has provided a generalised interpretation which encourages people to understand a little more about life in the country house. For several years this has been one of the main objectives of institutions in charge of historic houses. However, there is still a divide of interest amongst those involved in making decisions on how houses should be presented, marketed and cared for. The social history of the country house is still a relatively new ingredient to the visitor experience, but there are those who wish to cling to the old trends surrounding architecture and collections.

At the Attingham conference these ideals were definitely tangled up together within thoughts on the future of the country house. This is typically a British symptom of class and the need to categorise our heritage and the people who should and could visit sites. Anna Keay (now at The Landmark Trust) provided her personal take on visiting a site with her children who were immediately pounced upon by overbearing room attendants. I know this feeling well, and appreciate the need for a velvet rope to provide physical boundaries for my own child in such circumstances! That Keay made a swift apology for the inclusion of an image of herself with her children was frankly strange. But then, so too did Lisa White (Chairman of the National Trust Arts Panel) when she included a picture of National Trust marketing which incorporated children playing in the grounds of a country house. The educational aspect of the future of the country house was therefore made obvious by its absence.

The Attingham Trust is the finest of academies from which to study the country house. And whilst its Summer School remains exclusive to those already working in museums, art galleries or with a conservation body, it provides a fantastic platform from which debates of this nature can arise. This was why I decided to attend the conference on the Saturday.

As the papers moved away from matters of British ownership, but still within the boundaries of historic house management and collections, there was an air of optimism which hadn’t been so prevalent in the first session. Both Terence Dooley and Kevin Baird, as representatives of the Irish country house, spoke with charm and enthusiasm about the sites under their guardianship. Plus there was no apology for the inclusion of images portraying children examining objects or peering over reconstructed period dress. Moving onto the later sessions, this mood remained. Admittedly, this could have been the chance for many of the speakers to promote their work, their heritage sites and indeed their part of the world to a largely British audience, but there were many themes I would be interested in covering here. I was particularly intrigued by Craig Hanson’s paper (Associate Professor, Calvin College, Michigan) which noted the activities of women as private citizens during the 1850s onwards for establishing preservation societies and associations in the United States. This was an entirely new concept for me, but one which had clearly resonated with American women like Nancy Lancaster in the 20th century.

By the time Professors Gini Lee and Mark Taylor came to give their respective papers on the Australian country house, the number of delegates had shrunk. Perhaps noticeably, but having watched people leave in dribs and drabs between papers, I was a little disheartened by the change. Understandably it had been a long day, nonetheless, there were some interesting points made, especially given Lee’s own academic background in landscape architecture and interior design, and so this was a refreshing stance on a subject about which many probably knew very little.

Attingham newsletter from 2011

Overall, it was matters of funding that were at the heart of the conference. Visitor experiences, educational outreach, research, acquisitions, and housekeeping all require funding. Heritage is currently suffering from a mixed bag of opportunities which has pushed country house management to extremes. Jeremy Musson (Architectural Historian and TV Presenter) highlighted the plight of one of my favourite houses, Temple Newsam in Leeds, which is struggling under the weight of years of unpredictable local authority ownership. Many houses, both here in Britain as well as abroad have had important cultural legacies established through decades of well-meaning curatorial departments, conservation teams and front-of-house staff. Things have not always been done properly and layers of bad interpretation have had to be stripped back (or re-applied) in order to meet contemporary trends in country house presentation and purpose. By trashing, or at least procrastinating about the past ideals and hard work of those is to forget what history is meant to do. It is therefore unforgivable to see a measly £10,000 set aside for one heritage department merrily scrapped from a budget because it is deemed unimportant or no longer financially viable. There is, or course, no quick fix and every house has its own requirements; like running a business, some demand heavy footfall, while others simply want their stories telling.

The Attingham Trust 60th Anniversary Conference was indeed a great place to shake hands over drinks and to chat with old friends, but it put things into perspective. We need to imagine ourselves in the future already, and to be looking back on how we encouraged those funding bodies to accept the necessity for heritage in its many forms. Places need not become corporate and soulless, but they do need to recognise the expectations and aspirations of those with an inkling of interest in the country house – whether this has its foundations in Downton Abbey or otherwise. The country house audience is changing, and in competing for funding many institutions probably feel overwhelmed in choosing what to present to the public. These are businesses which are uniquely contained within the buildings that defines them and the work they do and so without them the businesses would dissolve. Accepting change is the first part, passing this notion on is pivotal to the future of the country house.

Links:

Full link to the conference programme http://www.attinghamtrust.org/60th-anniversary-conference/programme.pdf and transcriptions of all the papers given here http://www.attinghamtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Conference-Papers1.pdf

The Attingham Trust Newsletter page http://www.attinghamtrust.org/at_newsletter.html

There was a report produced by The Attingham Trust in 2004 entitled OPENING DOORS: LEARNING IN THE HISTORIC ENVIRONMENT which ‘examined the educational provision in a wide range of historic buildings and sites across the British Isles and the Irish Republic. It makes numerous recommendations to Government and to other bodies for improvements in an active but fragmented and heavily under-resourced field.’ Currently the link is not working, but it would make for good reading. It is available to purchase as a book from the Attingham Trust.

Further reading and links in connection with some of the papers given:

Pevsner Architectural Guides http://yalebooks.co.uk/pevsner.asp

Historic Houses Association http://www.hha.org.uk/

The Buccleuch Group and Estates http://www.buccleuch.com/

Burghley House http://www.burghley.co.uk/

Jeremy Musson http://www.jeremymusson.com/

Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates http://historicirishhouses.ie/

Newport Preservation Society http://www.newportmansions.org/

The Royal Oak Foundation http://www.royal-oak.org/index.php

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Filed under Architecture and Design, Non-British country houses, Parks and Gardens, The Destruction of the Country House, The running of the country house

Thinking about the Country House in 2012.

I started this blog in March 2011 after failing in yet another job application with an academic institution. You see, academic institutions like you to be ‘active’ and attend conferences, give seminar papers, publish, publish and publish some more. I’ve done all this, but at my own expense, and there’s more financially rewarding things for me to do than spend money on train tickets (especially in Britain), a hotel for the night, dinners, conference tickets and incidental publishing costs. So, I decided to do what I like best, and simply write about the country house in a way that suited me.

Over the last 10 months or so, the blog has proved fairly popular and I have been thinking about why this might be. One specific thread of thought concerned our present day perception of the British country house. For example, I’ve often been asked why I haven’t posted a blog entry on Downton Abbey. I can spend days completely consumed by the country house, the people who lived and worked in them, the furniture, the paintings, the architecture … the list could be endless. To be honest I haven’t watched a full series of Downton Abbey, and don’t wish to; I think I’d be country house saturated if  did, and I need to admire other things sometimes. However, I have read several articles about the impact Downton Abbey has had (and is still having) on international audiences, especially those in the US and Canada. Authors of these articles perceive the Downton Abbey watcher as romantically inclined, sentimental and detached. Presumably that would mean that those who would hate to watch Downton Abbey are somehow realistic, sensible and switched on. I’m none and yet all of these things. I love period dramas, but I also have a car that needs fuel, a family to feed and a rather more humble house to look after. So for an international audience that enjoys a country house epic the drama is purely escapism. It’s the British version of the Hollywood silver screen where the people are model types of their real life counterparts. And who cares ? Even Shirley Maclaine is due to join in the performance.

And yet there is something more profound about the country house than a setting for a period drama. Recently, a handful of British academic institutions have been focussing their attentions on the country house in detail. This is for a number of reasons. Firstly, it has a lot to do with changes in the academic system. When I started at university, my degree was in the History of Art, Design and Architecture, by the time I’d finished three years later, the university had renamed it the History of Material Culture. This new degree title is still in operation and represents the current trend for learning about our heritage through objects. It would be petty to discuss how architecture fits into this criteria, as degrees on architectural history exist, but the built environment is not regarded as truly object based learning. Therefore the country house has been able to establish itself as a separate area of academic interest. Best of all, the country house is full of material culture; not to mention the social, local, art and decorative art histories.

Website banner for the University of Northampton's project on consumption and the country house

Another reason for this academic attention is the shifting zeitgeist within a new generation of country house visitors. Those houses lost to fire, town planners and developers are no longer part of living memory. The houses that still stand are only partially open to the public (if at all) and are architectural exhibits in their own right. Very few country houses are working histories with large families and servants. To grasp how the country house worked, people want to visit pantries, kitchens, stable yards, nurseries, go down dark passageways, go through every door, and understand every space. Academics see their role as being one to aid the development in understanding this area of our heritage. As ‘thinkers’ however, the interpretation of the country house in this way can be lost on those visitors who helped establish the shift in the first place! I will be writing about two of the most prominent academic projects in the next few months.

Perhaps it really is romanticism that drives our interest in the country house though? A lost world we might never regain in that same shape and form? The academic will study the ceramics and chairs, the visitor will remain curious about the attic windows and service passageways, and somewhere inbetween there is always an element of supernatural interest too. I’ve often heard the most open-minded and sophisticated of curators question whether the portraits take a mortal sigh and step down from the walls at night. And such a statement is revealing in another way too since the country house connects with us; it can be welcoming or dismissive, but it holds our attention through novels, in films and television dramas. They were built to inspire awe and curiosity, to display wealth and family connection – all devices which keep us modern-day people eager for more.

Further Reading.

Mavisbank, A Tragically Neglected Eighteenth-Century Country House and Playing the Part of Downton Abbey. From Two Nerdy History Girls blog.

Inspired by Downton Abbey. From The National (UAE)

A Memorial to the Lost Houses of England. Fantastic website dedicated to the lost country houses of England.

The New Build Country House and The Country House and the Artocracy. From The Country Seat blog.

Downton Abbey and the Cult of the English Country House. Robert Fulford in the Canadian National Post.

Back from the Dead – the English Country House. Harry Mount for The Telegraph.

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