Tag Archives: Architecture

Giles Waterfield, 1949-2016

waterfield

The independent art historian and curator Giles Waterfield died on 5th November of an unexpected heart attack. He was Director of Dulwich Picture Gallery between 1979 and 1996, an associate lecturer at London’s Courtauld Institute of Art, acted as advisor to numerous museum and heritage organisations, including the Heritage Lottery Fund, and was co-director for the Attingham Trust from 1995-2003, as well as the founding director of Royal Collection Studies there in 1996.

One of the more honest obituaries in a wealth of very matter of fact ones comes from The Art Newspaper in which Waterfield is described as both erudite and amusing. I never shook hands with the man, but did meet him in October 2012 at the Attingham Trust conference. He spoke passionately about the country house and its many histories and I remember thinking he had a great smiling presence in the room which merrily balanced the flamboyant manner of Julian Fellowes who also attended.

2012 was the peak of popular interest in the social history of the country house where Downton Abbey was running to nearly 12 million viewers for its 3rd and 4th series. This was also the 60th anniversary of the Attingham Trust and there appeared to be a flicker of interest in every aspect of the country house, not just its architecture and fine art collections.

In many respects this was due to those like Waterfield who sought to highlight the eras in which these houses were built and the contemporary moral codes of behaviour imposed on their inhabitants. Attempts to define the servant hierarchy and the spaces which acted as identifiers of work rather than entertainment were also gaining greater impetus for research.

Giles Waterfield aided the promotion of such research through publication and curation. Most relevant here is the exhibition and its accompanying publication written and edited by Waterfield and Anne French Below Stairs: 400 Years of Servant Portraits which ran from October 2003 to January 2004 at The National Portrait Gallery in London. With a series of lectures connected to the exhibition, Waterfield would demonstrate his specialist interest in the representation of servants in English literature from the early 19th century onwards.

belwo-stairs

Dare I admit and quite cowardly in hindsight, but I wrote a review of his Markham Thorpe (2006) a couple of years ago for this blog. I was a harsh critic and I deleted it several months later when I was knew I would meet Waterfield and hoped to promote my own research at that time. In the blog post I recall suggesting how detailed and perhaps a little contrived his backdrops were – an easy task given who he rubbed shoulders with – adding that his characters were stereotypes and his female protagonist was too sweet! However, the accompanying publication for the Below Stairs exhibition is obviously not fiction but a scholarly approach to a collection of images which need consideration without prejudice.

Much of my own research since the date of the exhibition has looked into the status of servants from the late 17th century and so my own knowledge is fairly extensive. Nonetheless, that the publication is an accompaniment to an exhibition does not hold it back or allow for patchy source material. It is instead a well written piece and on the one hand appears to bring the subject matter up-to-date whilst on the other it offers a stimulating and unique take on a subject often severely lacking in images.

Heads of Six of Hogarth's Servants c.1750-5 William Hogarth 1697-1764 Purchased 1892 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N01374

Heads of Six of Hogarth’s Servants c.1750-5 William Hogarth (1697-1764), Oil on canvas. Tate Collection.

As often seems the case, I was unable to get to the exhibition at the time as I had just started a new job, but I did have the book delivered instead. It covers most ground and includes the essential study of servant portraits from Bramham Park, Yorkshire and Erdigg, Wales as well as those stand alone images like that of Heads of Six of Hogarth’s Servants (above) by William Hogarth (c.1750-55) or Robert Shaw, Keeper of the Forest of Bowland by James Northcote (c.1806) which have evolved from mere contemporary representation of real people to objects that for the viewer should raise questions about the character and lifestyle of the sitters. French and Waterfield discuss this in light of the servant and master relationship and the production of servant portraiture as a symbol of loyalty and extended family.

ssancho

Ignatius Sancho, 1768 Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), oil on canvas. National Gallery of Canada

Other themes covered by Waterfield particularly include servants working in institutions, life in service, and black and Indian servants. The latter illustrating some of the finer portraits of the 18th and 19th centuries including Ignatius Sancho (above) by Thomas Gainsborough (1768) and The Munshi Abdul Karim by Rudolph Swoboda (1888).

The images are obviously central to the book and this is not a cheap general publication about servants illustrated with unrelated pictures of maids or gardeners. It is analytical and puts the images in context and wherever possible provides contemporary commentary of the sitter and/or painter/photographer. Servants are the backbone of country house social history and kept these sites running daily. Their status and their numbers were disadvantages which limited their representation so this publication is essential in allowing us to visualise the servant workspace, their daily tasks and study their features in order to try and see something more of the person rather than a job role. Equally so, Hogarth’s representation of six of his servants allows the viewer to hear them speak as it is almost possible to match their faces to the tone of voice or how they may have expressed themselves with the smallest of gestures.

In order to push this to a more general reader, it takes someone like Waterfield to suggest this notion and there was incredible devotion in the work he undertook. My lasting impression of Waterfield from the Attingham Trust conference four years ago was of someone rather unassuming. There were many big voices wanting to talk about their research or pat themselves on the back for their project leadership skills at such-and-such institution. Waterfield was able to navigate through this by simultaneously showing direct interest delivered with a wry smile. People gravitated to him and wanted to know his thoughts on developments in country house interpretation and preservation, and he knew exactly who was connected to which trust, funding body or academic department.

I’m sure there will be a gap left behind as Giles Waterfield was a character essential to the modern day study of heritage. As funding narrows and dismantles the enthusiasm many have for history and heritage sites we desperately need individuals like him who can operate underneath this and motivate and collaborate in order to challenge any normalisation of weak interpretation and cultural obscurity for many places.

Links to obituaries and articles in his memory markham-thorpe

From The Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/obituaries/2016/11/17/giles-waterfield-art-gallery-director-and-novelist–obituary/

From Apollo Magazine http://www.apollo-magazine.com/tribute-giles-waterfield/

From The Times http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/giles-waterfield-68wg3tzq6

Art Forum https://www.artforum.com/news/id=64555

Other pieces:

Home page with full list of exhibitions and publications http://www.gileswaterfield.com/

And to end, something a little more lighthearted: When Lucy Worsley and Giles Waterfield met http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/giles-waterfield-lucy-worsley-i-gave-a-talk-about-a-woman-who-went-mad-in-the-tower-he-told-me-it-10316533.html

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Filed under Book reviews, Collections, Exhibitions, Servants

…In Time for Halloween : What Makes Victorian Houses look and feel Haunted?

Heck-Andrews House in Raleigh, North Carolina (Worldwide Public Domain)

The Heck-Andrews House in Raleigh, North Carolina.

As my hectic year draws to a close and I can soon pick up where I left off with my blog, I thought it appropriate to add a lovely guest post by author Stephanie Carroll. It is no secret that the purpose of the post is to add a certain flavour to any up and coming Halloween festivities, but both Stephanie and I agreed something should be said about how a particular era and its architectural styles project peculiar and eerie feelings for the viewer.

The focus of the piece is nineteenth-century US domestic architecture which had its origins in Europe, but came into its own across a fairly widespread area of the country with industrial expansion. Many of these styles exist in the UK, but a viewer (even with limited architectural knowledge) will quickly recognise the cultural differences. Reinforced by film and literature, there are certain architectural qualities which we today associate with certain emotional responses.

These are not country houses, but historic houses and are subject to care and conservation in the same way. For example, Stephanie has pinpointed the incredible Doyle-Mounce house, Hannibal, Missouri as a main influence on her writing. The image below comes from Dave’s Victorian House website which I say illustrates Stephanie’s piece perfectly.

hannibal09

The Doyle-Mounce house, Hannibal, Missouri (copyright David Taylor)

Stephanie Carroll is the author of Gothic Victorian novel, A White Room, a story inspired by Art Nouveau furniture and a house with a mixture of Gothic Revival and Second Empire characteristics called the Doyle-Mounce House. As a reporter and community editor, Stephanie Carroll earned first place awards from the National Newspaper Association and from the Nevada Press Association. She holds degrees in history and social science. Her key inspiration comes from authors Charlotte Perkins Gilman (The Yellow Wallpaper), Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden), and Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights).

Find Stephanie Carroll on FacebookTwitterGoodreads or on her website at www.stephaniecarroll.net. The blurb for A White Room follows the post. Enjoy!

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How is it that some Victorian houses are the cutest darn things you’ve ever seen and some are right out of a Gothic horror story? It’s not as simple as adding dark colors. There are particular styles, cultural symbols, and historical associations which make some Victorian houses scarier than others.

Architecture

There are several different types of Victorian architecture. Some like Queen Anne houses, Greek-Revivals, and Italianates are really cute, usually painted in pastel colors, and represent refined prominence and achievement. There are probably some houses in these styles that one could say look creepy, but that is usually due to deterioration as opposed to the original appearance. The two types of Victorian houses that seemingly represent the quintessential haunted house are designed in either the Gothic Revival or Second Empire styles.

Gothic Revivals are literally a throwback to the Gothic castles and churches of the medieval period, and include steep or peeked rooftops, arches, pinnacles, and decorative ornamentation especially over and around windows. Arches were also popular for entryways, doorways, porches, windows, etc. Sometimes these types of houses will have a lot of height to them or may include a large tower.

The original Gothic horror stories were all set in or around decaying Gothic churches or castles from medieval times and the architectural style became a worldwide symbol of the horror genre. The look of Gothic architecture is culturally embedded into our minds as a symbol of something dreadful and sinister. Nineteenth-century writers developed this further within literature as the Gothic genre evolved new tactics for creating fear. Gothic Revival houses and mansions not only look reminiscent of the horror story castles, but they became a fundamental setting for Victorian Gothic literature. Recognizable symbols of Gothic literature still commonly populate modern day horror genres.

Second Empire architecture was inspired by the reconstruction of Paris, France under the direction of Napoleon III who had much of the city torn down and rebuilt with wider roads and large elaborate buildings. Victorian Second Empire houses are usually very large and ornate, with lots of floors and windows. They are styled in a box shape with mansard roofs and often include a foreboding tower as a focal point. Some people have said the squared levels and roofs make these houses resemble stacked boxes or a tiered cake. Second Empire houses have been used in twentieth century Halloween and horror movies including Psycho, The Adams Family, and Beetlejuice.

Bates Motel Set from the movie Psycho at Universal Studio Hollywood CA (Worldwide Public Domain)

Interior Design

Victorian floor plans were designed so that each room came off a central hallway and but were closed off from other rooms. The small enclosed space was easier to heat. Unlike modern living rooms, dining rooms, and family rooms that are bright and open, Victorian common rooms were intimate spaces, but often times dark because heat could escape easily through large windows. If a room did have windows, they would be covered with heavy velvet curtains that kept heat in during the winter. Although parlors and ballrooms needed to be larger to serve their purposes, most spaces in nineteenth century middle-class homes were smaller than modern day rooms.

It’s an almost universal fear to be trapped in a dark, cramped space, so Victorian rooms can easily be used to create a sense of unease, especially if the objects filling the space have the ability to send chills down a person’s spine!

Interior decoration during the Victorian Era was very ornamental, busy, and overbearing. It was also known for a mixture of old world, new world, and multi-cultural styles that created rooms designed like frantic and chaotic representations of the world and beasts that coexisted within it.

1850 New York Parlor PD-US Published Prior to 1923

New York Parlour c. 1850 (Public Domain)

The most popular styles at the time included the Arts and Crafts Movement, the Anglo-Japanese Style, and the Aesthetic Movement. Although each of these styles contributed key characteristics to the creepy Victorian interior design, including the busyness, ornamental influences, and dark colors, none of these were as disturbing as the Art Nouveau Style.

The Art Nouveau style incorporated a lot of animal and human faces or body parts into the designs, such as in the ‘claw-footed’ tub or bedsteads with cherub faces carved into the wood. The style was also characterized by ‘whiplash’ curves and twirling designs. The designers incorporated a life form or some kind of movement into nearly every piece. Art Nouveau furniture, jewelry, and decorations like statues, knick-knacks, mirrors, lamps, etc., were inspired by the world of nature.

There are also a lot of monsters and fantasy creatures like fairies, dragons, and gargoyles in Art Nouveau decoration. This is due to the fact that the movement was a type of rejection of the modernization, industrialization, and technological revolution of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Some artists wanted to revert to the old world or a world without science where fairy tales and magical creatures ruled the world of fantasy – not scientific discovery.

This type of furniture and decoration was made use of by Shirley Jackson in her 1959 Gothic novel The Haunting of Hill House, which has since been adapted for film twice; in 1963 and 1999, both under the shortened title of The Haunting.

Art Nouveau is also a form of architecture but it wasn’t generally used to create houses. It was used to embellish parts of houses, such as stairwells, doors, archways, etc. Most Art Nouveau architecture came in the form of larger non-domestic buildings.

History

Of course, the history of Victorian homes is what makes them seem quite eerie. It’s common to feel like those who used to live in the house are present when surrounded by the historical objects that remind us how people lived and suffered in the home during this period in history.

Premature death was common during the Victorian Era. A large percentage of babies and children died as well as adults. New discoveries about death spurred even more questions than answers. It wasn’t clear if death occurred due to the heart stopping or the brain dying first or what triggered these things at all. This uncertainty led to societal fear that people could be misdiagnosed as dead and then buried or dissected alive.

Unlike modern times, death most commonly occurred within the home as a result of an illness. Lack of clinical care and instead the use of family members to care for the ill meant that all the messy and difficult parts of an illness were witnessed by the direct relatives. Furthermore, the byproducts of the human body ceasing to function were experienced and cleaned by family members or by servants in an upper class home. Elaborate sets of traditions called Mourning Etiquette were a conspicuous response to the emotional upheaval of losing a family member. For those who could afford it, these traditions involved rather ostentatious funerals and burials as well as keeping memorabilia including post mortem photos, known as Memento Mori, and hair jewelry made with locks of hair from the deceased.

The home was prepared after a death to be a quiet, dark solitude of grief. One Victorian tradition was the covering of mirrors with black sheaths because vanity was considered highly inappropriate; the more sorrowful and pitiful the face, the better. Someone would drape a piece of black velvet over the portrait of the patriarch if he had passed. They would drape the family carriage with black velvet too. They also locked the piano because no one was to play any music, and there would be no dinner parties or festivities in the house for some time.

There were a variety of traditions to signal outsiders that the house was in mourning. Some people hung black wreaths on the door, or the family covered the doorknobs in white crepe for a child’s death or black crepe for an adult’s death. Markers like these signaled to visitors that they should prepare to speak quietly and quickly so they would not overtax or burden the bereaved. The family might also muffle the doorbell to prevent any loud noises, which would startle the already anxious nerves of those inside.

Many Victorian houses are quite cheery, but the ones that often times deliberately stand out in movies or literature are the ones that are less so. It’s not just the age or decay that makes them so disturbing or sinister. Certain architectural styles have been manipulated to become the symbols of our cultural fears, the interior layout and decoration can be quite fantastical, and the history of death in the home makes some Victorian houses just more haunting than others.

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A White Room 600x900 by Jenny Q of Historical EditorialAbout A White Room by Stephanie Carroll.

At the close of the Victorian Era, society still expected middle-class women to be “the angels of the house,” even as a select few strived to become something more. In this time of change, Emeline Evans dreamed of becoming a nurse. But when her father dies unexpectedly, Emeline sacrifices her ambitions and rescues her family from destitution by marrying John Dorr, a reserved lawyer who can provide for her family.

John moves Emeline to the remote Missouri town of Labellum and into an unusual house where her sorrow and uneasiness edge toward madness. Furniture twists and turns before her eyes, people stare out at her from empty rooms, and the house itself conspires against her. The doctor diagnoses hysteria, but the treatment merely reinforces the house’s grip on her mind.

Emeline only finds solace after pursuing an opportunity to serve the poor as an unlicensed nurse. Yet in order to bring comfort to the needy she must secretly defy her husband, whose employer viciously hunts down and prosecutes unlicensed practitioners. Although women are no longer burned at the stake in 1900, disobedience is a symptom of psychological defect, and hysterical women must be controlled.

A novel of madness and secrets, A White Room presents a fantastical glimpse into the forgotten cult of domesticity, where one’s own home could become a prison and a woman has to be willing to risk everything to be free.

Links:

http://www.stephaniecarroll.net/

Stephanie Carroll at The Unhinged Historian http://unhingedhistorian.blogspot.co.uk/

Some fantastic images of Second Empire style architecture http://www.ontarioarchitecture.com/Second.htm#SecondEmpireEurope

National Park Service – National Register of Historic Places http://nrhp.focus.nps.gov/npsbrowse.do?thesaurusID=2&isnatreg=Y

Dave’s Victorian House Site (US) http://faculty.wcas.northwestern.edu/~infocom/scndempr/index.html

The Gothic Revival on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gothic_Revival_architecture

Queen Anne Revival (US) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Anne_style_architecture_in_the_United_States

Architectural styles including Second Empire http://nookstowersandturrets.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/name-that-style-second-empire.html

The Psycho House/Bates Motel http://www.thepsychomovies.com/psychohouse/about.html

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Filed under Architecture and Design, Book reviews, Non-British country houses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out with the Old, In with the New.

The last few weeks have been particularly hectic for me. I have been massively distracted by the Olympics, and needless to say, I wish I’d maintained the skills I had in hockey when I left college! Nevermind though, perhaps I could take up handball in time for Rio. Apart from sport, I have kept to my books a little bit, and whilst I clearly haven’t attended to my blog, that doesn’t mean to say that it hasn’t been a platform for activity.

I have had several requests and queries from folk including the desire of an elderly lady to deposit her great great grandfather’s photograph album of Halton House, Buckinghamshire at the archives there, through to prompts and ‘shout-outs’ regarding academic courses, image copyright and project developments.

Besides all that, I’m about to move house too. After almost two years in rural Oxfordshire, I am packing my things and going to the Big Smoke of England – London. And so, this got me thinking about elements of house moving on a larger scale than that of a standard three bedroomed semi-detached house. Typically, the country house is synonymous with patrilineal inheritance, static wealth and legacies, so much so, that we forget how common it is for houses themselves to have had several occupiers and owners over the decades or centuries. Houses and portions of estate might have formed part of a bargaining tool in times of political turmoil, or merely advertised as leasehold properties in newspapers, rented out to close friends or family, or simply sold on the market. Whatever the circumstances, many houses have seen a great deal of movement. Imagine the hubbub as the house move gains pace; the packing of crates and boxes, the taking of inventories, the to and fro of servants and agents, the anguish over a lost item.

Moving House by Vincenzo Campi 1580-90, Oil on canvas (previously shown at the V&A)

Another aspect of the large-scale house move would be in building and creating the country house from the moment the first stone was set. Landed gains of the 16th century after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, or industrial wealth of the 18th and 19th centuries are part of this debate, but I want to take a peek at one family – the Cokes. Their ‘house move’ epitomised the desire for residential expansion in the 18th century as well as conspicuous consumption of fashionable goods and design on a large scale. It also highlights the giant sense of resettlement in order to gain dynastic stability for an elite family.

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The Cokes owned the manor of Minster Lovell, Oxfordshire from the turn of the 17th century.  The manor house at Minster Lovell is now a ruin perched romantically on the edge of the River Windrush as it winds away from the Cotswolds.

Minster Lovell

Minster Lovell (owned by English Heritage, author’s own image)

There had been a house on the site since the 12th century, but the ruins are mainly what remains of a large new structure built in the 1430s by William, Baron of Lovell and Holand. William and his descendants, most notably his grandson Francis Lovell were to make good political connections and riches through marriage, and loyalty to the king. This was, however undone when Francis supported Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. The Lovell estates were turned over to the Crown, and so Minster Lovell was stripped of its owner/occupier. The Cokes made their appearance by 1603 when it came into the possession of the most successful and influential lawyer of his time Sir Edward Coke, who may have viewed the manor house as a retreat or lodge close enough to England’s capital, but far away enough to experience peace and serenity. In any case, the house itself provided him with a good rental income.

Portrait of Thomas Coke by Francesco Trevisani (Earl of Leicester Collection)

It his descendant, Thomas Coke, (1697-1759, Earl of Leicester created 1744) who is important here as it is claimed he was in residence at Minster Lovell in the 1720s, even advancing to the peerage with the title of Baron Lovell of Minster Lovell in May 1728. Coke had been on an extensive Grand Tour as a teenager and returned to England in 1718 with a plethora of goods including art works by Claude, several sculptures and some works of Leonardo da Vinci – most notable of his Grand Tour treasures being the Codex Leicester. It is unlikely that any of these fine things ever reached Minster Lovell, as Coke had other plans. The family obviously held other estates. Stoke Poges in Buckinghamshire was where Sir Edward Coke retired to in the early 1600s, but it was in the possession of Sir Richard Halsey by the 1720s. So, where else was there? John Hostettler in his book on Sir Edward Coke mentions ‘the estates’ as a collective and only one in particular – Holkham in Norfolk.*

It is likely there was a residence on the Holkham estate in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, though much of that part of the Norfolk landscape was barren marshland before Thomas Coke reclaimed it in 1722 for landscaping. As far as I can tell there seems to be a connection to a Waterden Hill Hall which was described as ‘near falling down for want of an inhabitant’ in 1678. Today, wherever Hill Hall existed (possibly now known as Waterden Farm), it is only 3 or 4 kilometres n0rth from Waterden farmland to one of the most gorgeous pieces of Palladian architecture in England.

The south front of Holkham Hall, Norfolk.

Thomas Coke started Holkham Hall in 1734, with the intention of housing his wealth of Grand Tour treasures as well as showcasing his appreciation of classical art and culture. The awesome nature of Holkham is found in the magnificent Marble Hall with its plaster dome ceiling and alabaster shipped from Derbyshire – ingredients which marked the beginning of a new era in country house building and design. There is much to be said about Holkham Hall and Thomas Coke. He was well acquainted with Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington and William Kent, he was clearly a key part of the social network known as the ‘dilettanti’, but like many elite men of his generation he made hasty investments and financial losses during the South Sea Bubble in 1720 delayed the building work. It is likely therefore that Holkham may have been started even earlier if it was not for this depletion of funds.

Conjectured view of Minster Lovell Hall and Dovecote in the 18th century (copyright English Heritage)

Minster Lovell and other Coke estates were but stepping stones to greater things. The old Oxfordshire manor was incredibly outdated, dusty even, it was too compact and secluded. The characteristics which presumably had made it attractive to Sir Edward Coke were now disadvantageous. The new house at Holkham was meant to be an architectural cabinet of riches. Coke’s sculptures were to be displayed in his Marble Hall, and so numerous were they, that some were placed in the dining room and a gallery which incidentally was also used for entertaining. The experience of visiting Holkham Hall both in the 18th century and today is certainly one of pomp. The educated Coke returning from the European Continent was a sophisticated, well-connected young man, and was eager to declare this to a wider audience. Upon advancement to the peerage in 1728 with a title which linked him so closely to Minster Lovell, Coke had already been planning his new house, he was just waiting for the right moment to begin.

The Statue Gallery at Holkham Hall (copyright England’s Finest)

This was all about consolidating funds and creating a grand establishment from where the Coke estates could be efficiently administered. Anything resembling a residence on the other estates could be leased and therefore generated further income. However, the Cokes still held onto the manor at Minster Lovell, even selling off building materials from the house in 1747. The remainder of the land still in the possession of the Cokes (mainly woodland) was sold by 1854. Unfortunately, Thomas Coke never got to see his new house on the Holkham estate finished, dying in 1759 around the age of 62 and still struggling to recover his financial losses: it would take another five years for the house to be completed. His descendants still reside at Holkham throughout the year, and make regular use of the state rooms out of season.

My house move is rather more ordinary. I do not have estates to manage, or capital to expand. My dynastic legacy will still be a suburban semi-detached house with a garage and garden. Nor do I have aspirations to appear on Grand Designs, but if I did have the finances, I’d be sure to purchase a good bit of land and build something suitably generous and accommodating.

* According to the index of Holkham Hall papers, audit books for the 1720s show estates in Suffolk, Kent, Dorset, and Norfolk, amongst others.

Links:

Minster Lovell Hall (English Heritage) http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/minster-lovell-hall-and-dovecote/

British History Online – Minster Lovell http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=117025

Some gorgeous pictures of Minster Lovell http://katie-randomnest.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/little-wander-round-minster-lovell.html

Historic Houses Association and Holkham Hall http://www.hha.org.uk/Property/62/Holkham-Hall

Art Collections at Holkham Hall http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_collections_of_Holkham_Hall

Creating Holkham Hall http://lifetakeslemons.wordpress.com/2011/05/26/the-bones-of-holkham-hall/

A visit to Holkham http://glasspilgrim.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/holkham-hall.html

References:

Olive Cook, The English Country House. (1974)

John Hostettler, Sir Edward Coke: A Force for Freedom. (Chichester, 1997)

Leo Schmidt and Christian B. Keller, Holkham. (2005)

A. J. Taylor, Minster Lovell Hall. (English Heritage Guidebooks, 1985)

Richard Wilson and Alan Mackley, The Building of the English Country House. (2000)

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The Country House and the Motor Car

          This post is based on a brilliant piece of research undertaken in 2010 by Pete Smith for English Heritage, presumably as part of The Car Project

The Motor Car and the Country House is a great read, and I would recommend saving or printing the file for your own records – even if cars are not ‘your thing’!  Until the end of the nineteenth century, moving on foot or by horse was the norm. Within a very short space of time, automobile transport changed everything. Today, travelling to the country house is so simple in the car, and we may even pity the odd member of staff who makes the walk from the main gate to work. Country living is even synonymous with certain types of vehicle – the Land Rover and the Range Rover. And who hasn’t visited a British country house without stumbling through some classic car show?

What follows is an overview of the research paper (images from the paper have not been included, as these are author copyright of Pete Smith 2010).

Preparing for the 1000 Mile Trial, possibly at Welbeck Park, Nottinghamshire, 1900 (Science and Society Picture Library).

          The country house’s relationship with the motor car began in the final decade of the nineteenth century. Smith offers some useful facts and figures here: car ownership numbered less than 10 in 1895 but had grown to over 16,000 registered cars by 1906 and over 150,000 by 1912 (p. 1). In this time, car ownership had therefore developed from a pleasurable pastime to a fairly reliable means of regular transport. A neighbourly visit could be rather more impromptu and did not require advance ‘booking’ of the head groom, and attending to matters of the estate became increasingly efficient. Strikingly, the early models were constructed by coach makers and preserved ancient coaching names like ‘Phaeton’ or simply the ‘horseless carriage’ and according to The Autocar of 1 June 1901 cars were in ‘brisk demand because of their elegance, ease of handling and reasonable prices’. I worked this out – not very mathematically – but an early US model would cost about $750, which in the exchange rates of 1900 would be about £150. The spending power of £150 in Britain in 1900 is the equivalent of about £8,500 in today’s money. That would buy a nice runaround these days but would get you about 5 horses in 1900.

US advert from The National Automobile and Electric Company, 1901

          The young elite such as 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu (1866–1929) formed the core of those involved in the development and spread of motoring in this early period due in the main to leisure time and wealth. Yet, motor car ownership was clearly an expensive business. The decline of the country estate from the end of the nineteenth century put many off the purchase of such a smelly, noisy and often unreliable object (p. 5). Moreover, they were seen as obtrusive and a nuisance; they spoilt the calm of the countryside. A typical owner was either the offspring of a landed family who spent most of their time in London, or a member of the professional middle classes, like doctors for example, who found this mode of transport exceptionally useful for work. Nonetheless, the country house was often a venue for motoring club meetings,

… the Lincolnshire Automobile Club had a very pleasant run on Saturday, July 5th, on the invitation of Mr. C. Godson, a member of the club … The day was a perfect one for motoring, and the roads were in pretty good condition, although there was plenty of dust. A long halt was made at Asgarby Hall [Heckington, near Sleaford], where Mr. Godson entertained the members to tea under the shade of the fine old trees on the lawn in front of the house.

(The Car Illustrated, July 16th, 1902, p. 287)

          Perhaps the most famous member of the elite to have a major impact on the development and popularity of

The Hon. C. S. Rolls in is autocar with the future King Edward VII. Photograph taken about 1900 (The National Archives UK)

the motor car was the Hon Charles Stewart Rolls (1877-1910) the third son of John Alan Rolls, who was created 1st Baron Llangattock in 1892 (p. 13). Whilst at Cambridge, Rolls was introduced to motoring through Sir David Salomons. He soon had his own car imported, a 3.75 horsepower Peugeot, at a cost of £225 (a modern car will have up to 100 horsepower and beyond). Rolls became an active member of several motoring clubs and organised a meet of the Automobile Club at his father’s country seat, The Hendre in Monmouthshire, in October 1900. By the end of the decade, and with the financial help of his father, Rolls had co-founded with Sir Frederick Henry Royce the Rolls-Royce Company including a new purpose-built factory in Derby. His fascination with new technology eventually took him to his death whilst participating in an aviation tournament in Bournemouth in 1910. Yet, as Smith states, Rolls had made ‘an incalculable contribution to the promotion of motoring in Britain’ and it would be the Rolls-Royce car which, more than any other, would find themselves parked outside the country houses of England in the years ahead (p. 14).

          The architectural impact of motoring was not a sudden or glorious one, and Smith pays particular attention to this in his research. Due to the type of car ownership in this early period, relatively few country house owners had purpose-built motor houses. Before the days of car dealerships and garages, the early motor car required daily maintenance which had to be provided on site. New country houses were designed with accommodation for the motor car like at Broomhill (Salomons Museum), Kent, and at Rosenau House, Buckinghamshire – both motor houses dated c.1902. But older establishments had to adapt and in this instance the ever more redundant stables and coach house became the most obvious alternative. For some country house owners, a new road layout or resurfacing of an existing one to the house was also seen as an essential part of the development into motoring. Rows of garages would be needed for housing the vehicles, and extra space was needed for a workshop and inspection pit. Add to this the living quarters of the chauffeur and an entirely new country house department evolved.

          Some were beautifully designed buildings, and Smith has included several of his own images. Generally, the motor

Porter Limo advert from 1920 Country Life magazine

house was seen as functional, and its lower status was reflected in its architectural proportions compared with existing stable blocks which still retained elements of grandeur. A more general view was reflected in Country Life magazine which was happy to include discussion on the motor car but only amongst its arts and fashion section, and rarely with a good photograph.

          After the first world war, the motor car became a necessary component of the country house party and the ‘bright young things’ lifestyle. It is difficult to imagine all those jazz-inspired characters flitting from one party to the next by horse and carriage. The motor car enabled the hasty visitor to arrive on time, but leave early – and probably rather discreetly as they moved onto the next house party. This mode of transport also added a degree of sprightliness to an afternoon of tennis, or a breezy picnic. The growing distances to which a car could cover meant that far away neighbours, friends, events and places of interest were visited in greater frequency (p. 20). For the country house and the estate the motor car had even better impact since it meant official duties could be carried out with efficiency. The estate steward may have even been offered use of a motor vehicle in his own duties visiting tenants and inspecting crops and game (p. 20). There was suddenly a cleaner, more reliable way of moving around the estate. Here, Smith makes use of some particularly funny photos from magazines The Car Illustrated and The Motor which suggest that a decent track was not always needed and many owners were happy to see their cars used in more traditional sporting activities!

Donington Park race circuit – the house and associated outbuildings are at the top of the picture (Google maps)

          Throughout the twentieth century, the relationship between motor car and country house developed into three main threads; sport, leisure and of course, necessity. The country house became the venue for motoring club meetings where those who could afford one might discuss horse power, bodywork, distance and speed as well as comfort. The car also aided the development of existing sports like golf and cricket enabling shorter journey times over greater distances. Crucially, the car had its own sports – races, rallies and hill climbs. Donington Park (see above) even made itself the home of motorsports in the 1930s with motorcycle races; a move which later kept the house safe from destruction. A combination of these factors together with its growing reliability in getting from ‘A to B’ meant that the motor car was in fact a decisive tool in saving many a country house from demolition or neglect in post-war Britain. Some are the settings for golf clubs, others are spa hotels and places of retreat. Some are accessible to the general motorist whilst some simply remain working estates. All of these would be impossible without a determined driver and their car.

Links:

More on the Research Department Report Series http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/research-reports/

The Automotive Industry in Britain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automotive_industry_in_the_United_Kingdom

Tha National Motor Museum at Beaulieu http://nationalmotormuseum.org.uk/homepage

Britain’s oldest Automobile Marque http://www.daimler.co.uk/ and King Edward VII and his Daimlers http://www.rvondeh.dircon.co.uk/vehicles/edward.html

The Rolls of Monmouth Golf Club – The Hendre http://www.therollsgolfclub.co.uk/

… And not forgetting Dorothy Levitt http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Levitt

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The Eighteenth-Century Common.

I’m not all that fond of doing massive copy and paste exercises for my blog, but I felt that this was a great opportunity for advertising this admirable project.

I have been following the Enfilade blog for some time, not because of its obvious acknowledgement towards an architectural feature found in many country houses, but more because its aim is to share activities, publications and exhibitions with all those who hold an interest in eighteenth-century art and architecture. As a serial newsletter in the form of a blog, I get to find out what events are taking place almost all over the world. Most recently, their newsletter informed me of a massive project still under construction; The 18th Century Common. This is the sort of thing I really like, and it deserves a mention.

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(Source: Enfilade)

One aim of Enfilade has been to help bridge the divide between academics and a much larger world also interested in the eighteenth century. While the site is intended to serve scholars, I’ve always hoped to make others welcome here, too. With that spirit of inclusiveness in mind, I’m especially excited to hear about The 18th-Century Common. The following announcement from Jessica Richard appeared on the C18-L listserv. -Craig Hanson at Enfilade

 

The following is a brief statement about the project by Jessica Richard (Wake Forest University) and Andrew Burkett (Union College).

I want to announce and solicit contributions to a new public humanities website called The 18th-Century Common which will debut at American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. The 18th-Century Common is a joint project of scholars and students of the long eighteenth century at Union College and Wake Forest University and is funded by the Wake Forest University Humanities Institute.

The aim of the website is to present the published work of eighteenth-century scholars to a general audience. Our initial focus is Richard Holmes’ popular book The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science (2009). This book captured the imagination of the general reader, but it omits the more complex contexts that scholarly accounts offer. We hope to provide general readers an accessible view of those contexts, and to move beyond Holmes’ book to the wide range of eighteenth-century studies. The site will feature short versions of published scholarship written for a general audience, as well as links to related resources, texts, and images around the web for readers who want to explore further.

We think this is the beginning of an exciting opportunity to reach the interested nonacademic, nonstudent readers who made Holmes’ book a bestseller, to “translate” what we do and to reach out beyond the academy as digital platforms in the humanities make particularly possible.

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So if you have an ounce of interest in the eighteenth century, I suggest you register for information when the project goes live and then wait and see what else you can learn.

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The East India at Home Project – University College London 2011-2014

          As I mentioned in my post on Thinking About the Country House, there has been a great deal of interest in this subject area over the last two years or so. Present excitement is reflected in television shows like Downton Abbey which portray upstairs/downstairs divides and socio-economic themes of Britain in the early twentieth century. Such is public interest in these elements of country house living, that many houses open to the public feel the need to show their ‘secret’ rooms and dark domestic quarters for a short time each year.

          There has also been a flourish of interest in the grander apartments, perhaps to counterbalance the austere or the uncharacteristic calm of the kitchens, pantries and nurseries. Restored pieces of furniture are celebrated and entire rooms have been in receipt of funding in order to return them to a key moment in their history. This sort of activity has eventually led a few British academic institutions to consider the thought processes of country house owners in creating their homes. This has in turn prompted debate on the wider position of the country house, in Britain particularly, through themes of trade, politics and even military presence.

          The University of Warwick’s three year project on The East India Company at Home, 1757-1857 is one of these resulting debates. The main purpose of the project is to explore the significance of the country house in an imperial and global context by uniting relevant houses, families, and material culture by means of one detailed study. Funded by the Leverhulme Trust and led by Professor Margot Finn, in the Department of History at Warwick, the project ‘seeks to work in collaboration with family and local historians, curators, academics and other researchers to illuminate Britain’s global material culture from the eighteenth century to the present.’

          It has become quite a large undertaking, and so far the project team have amassed a great deal of material to present on their website. Arguably, some of it is rather more general country house reference material, but nonetheless, for anyone interested in British country houses, this is a must-see.

The project has five main objectives:

i) to produce a series of interlinked case studies,

ii) to situate the Asian goods that furnished Georgian and Victorian homes,

iii) to illuminate the ways in which material culture helped to mediate wider historical processes

iv) to assess the ways in which Asian luxuries incorporated within British country houses expressed regional, national and global identities,

v) and to integrate academic and museum-based research on the global genealogies of British country house interiors.

         It does sound very long-winded for anyone outside academic study, or with a general interest. What the website for the project can do, however, is provide a platform for further reading. For example, over the term of the project there will be a series of published studies on individual houses. The first ‘went live’ this week – Swallowfield Park, Berkshire. With separate sections to leaf through, and a full PDF of the case study to download, there is plenty to get into. Crucially, the study is comprehensive enough to include histories of architecture, family, design, and fine art. There are several pages to navigate through, and the illustrations are wonderful! Especially as the house is now owned by Sunley Heritage, a company which converts country houses into luxury apartments.

Swallowfield Park, Berkshire. (From the East India Company at Home project website)

         Clearly there are a lot of minds working on this project, and a lot of thought has gone into making this fully accessible. It may be academic, but this has not made it exclusive or entirely high-brow. I would even suggest that many more academic institutions could take heed of this method of promoting similar research, as it would definitely benefit those hungry to discover more about specialist areas of heritage study. 

Links:

East India Company at Home (full link) http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/history/ghcc/research/eicah/about/

The East India Company today http://www.theeastindiacompany.com/

Swallowfield Park on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swallowfield_Park

Sunley Heritage – Swallowfield Park http://www.sunleyheritage.co.uk/SP_index.cfm

Geffrye Museum, London. The Histories of Home and the Warwick project http://historiesofhomessn.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/the-east-india-company-at-home-1757-1857/

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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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Country House Amenities; Part III, Heating.

William Kent design for a fireplace and overmantle, published by John Vardy in 1735.

… to remove the fireplace from the English home would be to remove the soul from the body.’ (Hermann Muthesius, The English House. Part III. 1904-05 )

Often when I visit country houses, it’s the fireplaces which hold little interest to me. I’m not sure why, perhaps it’s the emptiness of the black dusty mouth-like thing that should be giving warmth. It is apparently an instinctive characteristic of humans to need a focal point in a central living space. This is an obvious statement when we consider that a fire also provides heat and light, but in modern life this focal point has shifted to entertainment centres and huge televisions. So much so, that many builders will throw up houses without any semblence of a fireplace; where do we sit to converse and keep cosy? Of course, there is more to heating a home these days than a burning fire, we have central heating systems which can be fixed into corners and walls, under floors, and under cupboards. We have the freedom to move about our homes without passing into cold hallways. The concept of setting timers to ignite boilers would be intriguing to many of our elderly relatives, nevermind ancestors of long ago!

In the country house, these developments have not gone unnoticed. As residences it is necessary to keep warm; this is beneficial to the humans inside as much as it is to the fabric of the building. As places of historic value and as tourist attractions, the country house has to be warm a great deal of the time. Lighting a fire has the added attraction of nostalgia for visitors, and in winter offers a depth of living history to the static exhibits. In most country houses the developments in heating exist all over the building. Some will be very obvious, others not so much and might be well hidden underneath panelling and eras of later alterations or simply not accessible to someone coming in through the ‘front’ door.

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Heating materials. Coal and charcoal, peat, wood. All are early fuels, and where one was used, it was probably supplemented with another. Surface coal deposits were used by the Romans to help with their hypocausts, but wood was the most common fuel to the point where laws had to be passed prohibiting the felling of trees to make charcoal. Coal in the Middle Ages was viewed as crude because it was used by blacksmiths, but with shortages in wood, coal became the choice of many in towns and cities. Prejudice over the use of coal was also bourne out of its heavy smoke and strong smell neither of which were favourable to the expensive country house interior. Clever devices within the hearth as well as in the flue reduced some of the smoke but cleaner methods of heating were not available in Britain until the 18th century.

Location of heating. From generous to stylish – the fireplace.

          In the Medieval predecessors to the country house – the castles and manor houses – a fire would have been placed at the upper end of the communal area but the fireplace as we know it was established once a hood or alcove became part of the architectural design. In early country houses, especially those of the 16th and 17th centuries, these large fireplaces held a dual purpose for those who had profited from good relations with the king and had gained landed wealth which once belonged to the Church or ‘wrong-doers’. Grand rooms like great halls and chambers were now fantastically embellished with family mottos and coats of arms; devices that aimed to promote the supposed ancient heritage of those who now owned the property. What better interior place to position these things other than the fireplace and overmantle? Afterall, this is the focal point of the room.

The Holbein Hall 16th century fireplace at Reigate Priory, Surrey (previously at Nonsuch Palace and later Bletchingley Place) Copyright Ian Capper

German tiled stove from 1577: decorative and efficient. (V&A Collection)

Christina Hardyment notes of this period,

Open fires remained far more popular in Britain than they were on the continent. At a time when the Dutch, the Scandinavians, the Russians and the Germans were constructing tiled room -stoves [see left] … the Elizabethans were building chimney pieces like elaborate altarscreens around huge open hearths.                 (Home Comfort: A History of Domestic Arrangements, 1992, p. 156)

          The example above from Reigate Priory in Surrey is relevant to this development simply because it reflects the status of the ornamental fireplaces in large establishments. The massive carved oak surround was originally commissioned by Henry VIII for Nonsuch Palace, and is believed to be to the design of Hans Holbein. It was later installed at Bletchingley Place by Henry VIII perhaps as part of a ‘gift’ for his divorced wife Anne of Cleves. As Bletchingley fell into decline in the 17th century, the surround was removed to its present position at Reigate Priory in about 1655. The Reigate Priory estate was (as the name suggests) once monastic lands, but with the Dissolution of the Monasteries the land was granted to Lord William Howard – uncle of Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s unfortunate 5th wife. It is the Howard coat of arms which can be seen on the stone section of the surround. The wealth and status these magnificent pieces conveyed was important to their longevity. They would go out of fashion in the late 17th century, but their dark splendour proved inviting for the romantic sensibilities of the early 19th century. If you see something on this scale be sure to check its provenance!

          The evolution in architectural styles of fireplaces from the earliest country houses onwards changed significantly, eventually becoming an important fashionable feature in any living space. Yet, such style evolution would require discussion in an altogether separate post. The size of hearth and overmantle generally grew more compact as spaces became recognised as more private interiors. In the older houses this evolution in style might be evident under layers of more modern decoration. Clearly, the fireplace remained a key element in design. The sought after architects of the time like Inigo Jones, Daniel Garrett, William Kent (see first image above) and Robert Adam in the 18th century, or Augustus Pugin and Sir Charles Barry in the 19th century, all incorporated elegant versions for their commissions. However, there came (somewhat overdue in Britain) to be more sophisticated methods of heating the country house than the open-hearth from the 18th century onwards, and architects were more than happy to accommodate designs for these amenities and their structural requirements.

Classical style stove designed by James Wyatt, c.1790 at the aptly name Castle Coole, Enniskillen, Northern Ireland (Photo by Ian West, University of Leicester)

The stove and cast iron elegance.

The open-hearth is messy, and needs daily attention (prepatellar bursitis is an inflammation of the kneecap brought on by kneeling for prolonged periods, it’s more common name is Housemaid’s Knee). The cold, hard floor of the hearth was one of the more uninviting areas demanding a thorough clean. A free-standing method of heating in the country house became popular in the early 18th century, and was much cleaner. This was the hall stove, and was designed to provide a certain degree of warmth to communal areas, and although they were regarded as less cheerful than the fireplace, the stove could be equally stylish.

There are several types of stove to be found in the country house; the anthracite stove, the paraffin stove, and  the coal stove are the main types. Early models would certainly be free-standing with a section for the coal, a grille or grate and pan. There are some fantastic examples in most country houses (see image above left), but may not initially be very obvious to the eye. Decorative art museums

A cast iron stove, probably to the designs by Robert Adam. Supplied to Compton Place, Sussex for Lord George Cavendish, c.1780. (V&A Collection)

will no doubt have some too, like this one from the V&A in London (right). The British take on the stove was nothing compared to what the northern Europeans had been installing in their houses, as size alone simply dwarfs the Wyatt and Adam models (see especially the Gallery at Kuskovo ,Moscow and Tullgarn Palace, Stockholm). Interestingly, cast iron provided a great tool for decorative pieces and many stove makers were based in Scotland where iron industries already existed, and yet the tiled stove afforded better luxury and more surface area for aesthetic display. This was probably symptomatic of British taste from the 18th century which though flamboyant by modern standards was restrained compared to Europe at the time. As developments in heating and comfort continued, Britain would always be slow to catch on.

The introduction of centralised heating systems to the country house was really only the next step from the static stove which pushed heat through floors and wall voids. Some houses made use of their gas supply for fires or had free-standing gas heaters, but these were generally reserved for the service and staff apartments. The Roman hypocaust is a very obvious predecessor to central heating, but technological advances, materials and industrialisation offered something more powerful. Initially, central heating was installed in larger houses in order to warm the air and cure damp in open spaces like the hall stove had done. The radiator as we know it came later in the 19th century, as earlier systems would have included a central heating apparatus which pushed heat through pipes laid in existing gaps and underneath fixed items of furniture like bookcases, or through elaborate floor grates in usually drafty areas like doorways and staircases.

‘Classical’ style radiator in stairwell at Coughton Court, Warwickshire. Possibly made by Vincent Skinner in Bristol (mid 19th century)

A heating system like this had been in use in hothouses, but there was some debate about whether steam heating was as reliable as hot-water heating for interior warmth. By the end of the 19th century, most country houses had some sort of central heating system which incorporated stylistic models used in previous centuries. Newly built houses had central heating put in as a matter of course throughout. Cragside, Northumberland is the most obvious example again, and there are some brilliant images here of how massive the system of pipes are underneath the house. A much older house like that of Coughton Court, Warwickshire (which will have seen every form of heating in its 600 years history) sought sleek ways of placing hot pipes within its walls and interior spaces (see left).

Many houses will still use their 19th-century heating systems, and find them just as efficient as purely modern ones. Of course, there will have been up-to-date repairs and modern fittings added, but the clanking sound of an elderly boiler reminds us that there is a mechanical presence keeping us warm and providing hot water. Once the province of the gardener, these boilers now need certified/registered plumbers and engineers to check and repair them. And this is only right, these boilers are monstrous things and require a lot of room. Even the old coal fuelled things have been connected to the electrical supply whilst their redundant units sit staring stoically at those passing through.

As for the fireplace, and its supposed primeval role in the hearts and minds of the English, it does seem to be making a comeback. More so in the smaller domestic property and countless property programmes will have their presenters ripping out plywood boards or ill-fitting bricks in old fireplaces to see what lies behind it all. In the country house, the fireplace still takes pride of place whether it is ornate or otherwise. Often it is an essential part of a restoration project that sees hearths, surrounds and mantles returned to their original setting, whilst Victorian radiators are left needing a new coat of paint.

References;

Elizabeth Burton, The Georgians at Home, 1714-1830 (1967).

Mark Girouard, Life in the English Country House, (1978).

Christina Hardyment, Home Comfort: A History of Domestic Arrangements, (1992).

Judith and Martin Miller, Period Details: The Definitive Source Book for House Renovation. (1997).

Temple Newsam Country House Studies, (text by Anthony Wells-Cole and Christopher Gilbert) The Fashionable Fireplace 1660-1840. (1985).

John Vince, The Country House: How it Worked (1991).

Merlin Waterson, The Servants’ Hall: A Domestic History of Erddig (1980)

Richard Wilson and Alan Mackley, Creating Paradise: The Building of the English Country House 1660-1880 (2000)

Links;

Country House Technology project at the University of Leicester http://tiny.cc/0vrbhw

Commercial site with general history on fireplaces and heating the home http://www.fireplace.co.uk/text/texthistory.htm#intro

The European stove, its advantages and disadvantages http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2008/12/tile-stoves.html

Extremely useful website dedicated to engineering heritage at CIBSE (Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers) http://www.hevac-heritage.org/homepage.htm

Castle Coole, Enniskillen, Ireland http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/castlecoole/

Coughton Court http://www.coughtoncourt.co.uk/

Coping with the Cold at Colonial Williamsburg http://www.history.org/foundation/journal/winter09/cold.cfm

Ode to Abraham Buzaglo and his stove (with good references) http://stovehistory.blogspot.com/2010/12/early-stove-poem.html

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Filed under Architecture and Design, Building the Country House, Servants, The running of the country house