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

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

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

EICaH wallpapers[2]

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

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

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

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

EICaH John McAleer

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

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

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

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

EICaH me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 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

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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Filed under Architecture and Design, Building the Country House, Men and the Country House, Recommended Literature, Women and 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

Country House Amenities; Part I, Lighting with Candles.

A selection of candle holders 1700-1800.

Creamware candlestick. Leeds or Staffordshire 1770s-1780s.

This is the first of a series of four posts concerned with the particulars of running the country house through lighting, heating and cleaning. Their purpose is to bring together several sources in order to demonstrate how the country house operated at a domestic level, and perhaps in a way we might hope to understand today. As visitors we see the grandeur of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the plush clutter of the nineteenth century and steady modernisation of the twentieth century, and yet we often ask how architectural arrangements affected daily routines. Many houses have opened their servants’ halls, butler’s pantries, or nurseries for the public to view over the past two decades, but many struggle within the laws of health and safety to reconstruct the ‘feel’ of daily living. Of course, as visitors we cannot expect to stay overnight in drafty chambers, clean our hands and feet in wash basins, read by candlelight, or sit by open fires but we can understand the needs of past generations in creating warm, well-lit, clean and secure homes.  For the social microcosm that is the country house, these needs were expensive to achieve and demanded a great deal of manual labour.

Cut glass chandelier from Uppark, Sussex. Possibly made by Christopher Haedy, 1770s.

This post is a glimpse at how developments in artificial lighting changed the way in which the country house operated. There are four components to the history of lighting in the home; candle (naked flame), oil, gas, and electricity. The apparatus of which are usually still visible in some country houses, but in most cases have been swept away. There is a lot to be covered within this topic, so I shall begin with the humble candle!

I am most grateful to Anthony Wells-Cole and James Lomax whose knowledge of the Temple Newsam collections in Leeds have proved invaluable for this subject matter and the lighting of the country house generally.

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The Candle

The types of candle lighting; Spermaceti, the best were made from the fatty white substance found in the head of the sperm whale and produced a clear white smokeless flame; Beeswax produced a clear smokeless flame with an indifferent smell, and initially used only in churches; Tallow, the most common type of candle was made from the hard white fat found around the kidneys and caul of animals (mainly beef cattle and sheep), but they produced an inferior flame as well as a foul smell in comparison to the more expensive spermaceti and beeswax candles; Rushlight or dip candle, was the poor man’s candle and was an ancient method of producing light made from the pithy part of a peeled rush dipped, often repeatedly, into hot liquid animal fat in order to build up layers around the wick.

A selection of rushlight holders with decorative hinged arms. The dipped rush would be held between the pincer-like nib. The holder third from right also has a candle socket.

The best thing when writing about the lighting equipment associated with the country house is that almost all these varieties would have been present at some point. Rushlights or hand-dipped candles were an ancient device and would have still been used by some servants when rising before daylight and completing their evening duties. They would also have been the presence of rushlights throughout dark basement corridors. On average they would burn for about fifteen to twenty minutes, and would need constant attention in order for the rush to be drawn up through the holder. Wax and tallow candles formed the backbone of the lighting industry from the Middle Ages with each having their own guild but with vastly different costs in the retail value of their produce. Influenced by specific laws on production and pricing, wax and tallow candles eventually fell foul of Customs and Excise when in 1709 a tax was introduced on all English and imported candles; the rate at this time on wax was fourpence per pound, and one halfpenny per pound on tallow.

In attempts to keep costs down in the country house, many candles were made from estate produce. In other instances, pure wax could be obtained from the open market, including scented and coloured waxes from the Colonies. At Castle Howard, Isabella Carlisle noted the cost of essentials in her own abstract of the household accounts between 1744 and 1755. ‘Fire and Candle’ as categorised by Isabella, came to £13 02s 00d for one week in May 1745,  £5 17s 2d for one week in October 1748 and £5 2s 3d for one week in July 1753. Clearly the times of year and special occasions had a marked affect upon the costs of heating and lighting this particular country house.

In the country house, like any home, the tallow candle had to be carefully stored as they were apt to rot. The housekeeper would have had this responsibility as she had access to the main dry store. She might have had a large box

Candle box 19th century (part of the Temple Newsam collection, Leeds Museums and Galleries)

as well as free standing cupboards and cabinets to keep a range of candles in. In other instances rooms may have had cylindrical tin boxes which were hung high on the wall – to keep the rats out – for the storage of tallow candles. Moreover, in her book of housekeeping, Susanna Whatman noted that the first thing a housekeeper should teach a new servant was to carry her candle upright, since it was no good wasting taxed consumables when the wax stub could be reused in lighting fires. Such careful action also stopped hot wax dripping to the carpets and floor boards.

From the second half of the eighteenth century, and with the rise of the whaling industry, a new kind of wax candle began to appear on the London market – the spermaceti candle. These were the best candles, and were initially more expensive than beeswax candles. The wax and spermaceti candles would have been used by the family, but probably reserved for special occasions. In the first half of the nineteenth century Elizabeth, Lady Breadalbane instructed her servants that, ‘all pieces of spermaceti candles to be collected by the under Butler and given over to the Housekeeper at least once a fortnight for the lanterns and the lighting of fires.’  The expense of these candles also dictated their recyclable qualities.

The candle tax was abolished in 1831, the beginning of the decade which also marked another key event in the history of lighting – the invention of the friction match. Previously, the method of striking a light involved the ignition of tinder with a sharp flint struck against another metal. Tinder was extremely dry linen or flax and other highly inflammable materials kept in special boxes at the hearthside or in designated stores again accessed by the housekeeper, butler or footmen.

Most rooms would have been lit by portable candlesticks and holders, which is why many rooms in country houses have not been adapted for ceiling lighting. This form of portable light was perpetuated well into the days of gas and electric lighting in many homes. Types of candlestick however were signifiers of wealth, and the materials they were made from covered a vast spectrum including cheap metals, ceramics, silver, a variety of woods, marble and glass.

One of a pair of girandoles supplied by James Pascall to Temple Newsam in 1745.

In the more public spaces and state apartments the permanent fixtures for candle lighting are the chandeliers, sconces, tourchieres and girandoles. The word ‘chandelier’ comes from the French ‘chandelles’ (tallow candles) and was understood from the fifteenth century, but became more common at the end of the seventeenth century. In the country house inventory a chandelier as we understand it may be written as ‘branches’, or ‘hanging candlesticks’. Sconce also has origins in French and has been understood to mean the cover provided by the attachment fixing the candle socket or holder to the wall. Tourchiere is again of French origin and simply means torch and more specifically the apparatus providing upward lighting. The origin of the word girandole seems more charming in comparison and comes from the French (as a derivative of the Italian verb girare ‘to turn’ and ‘girandola’ a rotating firework similar to the UK Catherine Wheel); the setting of candle sockets on a girandole, often backed by a mirror displays a spiralling pattern and thus a turning sparkle of light.

If the rushlight and sparing use of tallow represented the servants’ domain then so too were there degrees of opulance above stairs. Brass chandeliers were being used from the fifteenth century. Gilded wood and glass chandeliers were making an appearance by the first half of the eighteenth century, but the most extravagant and awesome of chandeliers were those of silver or crystal. Of course cleaning these would be considered both a tremendous and perilous job by the housemaids and a tense time for the upper servant. At twentieth-century Brodsworth Hall, Sylvia Grant-Dalton would announce when it was time to clean the glass crystals of the drawing room chandeliers ‘when they’d lost their glitter’, a phrase which would send shivers of apprehension throughout the servant hierarchy.

The colour of the room also mattered and may explain why whites and cool colours were preferable (as well as fashionable) before the 1800s and the introduction of gas and electricity. Isaac Ware noted in 1746 that a room ‘which if wainscoted [panelled] will take six candles to light it, will in stucco [plastered] require eight or if hung [papered] ten’ (Complete Body or Architecture). The decorative finishes were crucial in recognising the potential of lighting the space. The dark pannelling we see today is the result of age – or the nineteenth-century romantic disposition, since these woods would have been fairly pale and would have offered a warm glow next to candle light. The depth of colour produced by wallpapers in the large country house merely reinforced the conspicuous consumption of its owner. Its matt finish or dark flocking required extra candles, but the sparkle would have been tremendous and deliberately impressive for any visitor.

A pair of ormolu candelabra, originally part of the collection at Longleat house, Wiltshire, late eighteenth century (Christie's image copyright)

Today, candles are a different kind of necessity becoming our main source of light when the electricity sub-station fails or a mains fuse has blown. Otherwise they help set a specific mood with their scented qualities or romantic glow. But we are no longer governed by sunrise and sunset hours, so our stash of tealights and stubby candles remain tucked away in boxes with torches and spare batteries, or stored lovingly in the bathroom or dining room for intimate or familiar scenarios. Providing light for the home outside the hours of daylight was a cautious process before gas and powerful electric lighting. It recalls the comments of actors in period dramas when they complain about the restriction of dress compared to their modern-day clothing. When the electricity does blow, it’s hard work especially without a proper candleholder (an old wine bottle might have to suffice in most situations), and ensuring wax doesn’t spill on the floor normally means waxy fingertips. Yet, it’s the movement from room to room which proves unappealing without a working light switch. The skills and levels of ingenuity we’ve lost to electric power are numerous, and understanding the gratitude felt towards a single flame is forgotten. In the country house, the necessity of candlelight for the early riser to the opulence of several burning and glistening candles suggests great variety of function, and yet a single flame offered any individual some peace of mind.

References:

Jacqueline Fearn, Domestic Bygones. Shire Publications (2nd edition 1999).

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

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

Pamela Sambrook, The Country House Servant (1999)

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

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

Susanna Whatman, The Housekeeping Book of Susanna Whatman. (1776) Introduced by Christina Hardyment. The National Trust (1997).

Temple Newsam Country House Studies, number 4, (text by Anthony Wells-Cole), Country House Lighting (1992)

Links:

Achieving the candle-lit look in the present day http://ntenvironmentalwork.net/2011/11/01/led-candle-bulbs-measure-a-hundred-times-cut-only-once/

The National Trust, The Argory, County Armagh and the history of lighting the country house http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-the__argory_lighting__list.pdf (2010).

Lighting the American home by candlelight http://www.candlecomfort.com/historyofcandles.html

The Geffrye Museum, London. http://www.geffrye-museum.org.uk/collections/thematics/

Country Life article on the history of domestic lighting http://www.countrylife.co.uk/property/article/528152/From-fish-oil-to-chandeliers-early-domestic-lighting.html

Lighting the Victorian home, with attention on Linley Sambourne House in London http://www.buildingconservation.com/articles/lighting/lighting.htm

Fantastic blog on the practicalities of domestic routine. This post relates to rushlights or dip candles  http://www.oldandinteresting.com/rushlights.aspx

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‘Old English Furniture’. A Connoisseur Booklet.

          Occasionally you come across those odd finds in charity shops or the crevices of secondhand bookshops which you end up buying because it’s something to read on the bus home. This is my logic anyway, since 50p for a book rather than £3.99 for a magazine seems quite reasonable really. This is one of those finds.

          Old English Furniture from Tudor to Regency by F. Gordon Roe came into my hands at a community book fair for about 20p or thereabouts a few months ago. I thought it would make for a good bit of reference material, and yet it is a little more interesting than that because it seems so dated. F. Gordon Roe (1864-1947) was a distinguished painter in his own right, gaining recognition and fellowships with his large historical compositions. He later went on to become a leading expert in antiques with specialisms in oak furniture. The Connoisseur Booklets were published around the middle of the twentieth century and covered a range of topics suitable for the ‘collector’ of antiques: pottery and ceramics, pewter and silverware, furniture, watercolours and clocks. The tagline for these little pamphlets read, ‘A preliminary guide for the collector’.

          The booklets are illustrated towards the end in black and white mainly and include advertisements for reputable antique dealers; presumably according to antique type and relevant to the particular topic of the booklet.

         In Old English Furniture, Roe describes the evolution through materials used in common furniture types from about 1530 to about 1810. He starts with the oak age and discusses examples of this type from church and private collections with acknowledgment of earlier medieval pieces. From the start the pamphlet reveals its age (apart from its pre-decimal era price in shillings and pence on the cover!), as Roe’s use of language asserts, ‘On the other hand, such extreme abnormalities as Elizabethan cabinets in mahogany (!) – one has heard highly dubious rumours of such – may well impose too heavy a strain on our credulity.’ The Connoisseur Booklets clearly had a highly regarded place in the world of antique collecting, afterall they were the product of The Connoisseur – a magazine produced from the turn of the twentieth century under title variations, the main one being The Connoisseur. An Illustrated Magazine For Collectors. Many a country house will have some editions stashed away somewhere, whether it is privately owned or otherwise. Perhaps this is quite ironic for later generations of country house owners since they had to sell vast quantities of household contents to meet growing debts. However, these pamphlets do prove useful and it is interesting to observe the purpose of them within the world of twentieth-century collecting.

Table-desk of 'Nonsuch' type, late sixteenth century (V&A Collection)

      I first thought that this was a good example of the kinds of things you would find at any country house in terms of furniture. On closer inspection Roe uses images from several sources which highlights the importance of antique furniture throughout several layers of society. For example, there are pieces photographed from the private collections of Roe himself and that of a Mr. William Randolph Hearst, newspaper magnate and amongst other things, builder of Hearst Castle, California. Then there are images of pieces from prominent antique dealers including Phillips of Hitchin Ltd, M. Harris and Sons, and Leonard Knight Ltd. Finally there are pieces which could be found at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (see above image, also p.23 in Roe). The exclusivity of certain pieces as collector’s items, and the subsequent arenas of purchase highlight the top end of the market. The museum pieces on the other hand mark out the accessibility of pieces for a slightly wider audience, albeit as exhibits.

          What I like so much about this little booklet though, is its place in time. The collectors, the dealers, the specialists, and curators are all part of a fading world which was a predominantly male one. It’s antiquarian and authoritarian – and therefore distinctly ‘connoisseurial’. And there is nothing wrong with this, indeed this type of specialism has delivered many scholarly tomes on various aspects of the decorative and fine arts. Moreover, this connoisseurship helps drive the itineraries of all historical societies today who frequent country houses and galleries in search of craftmanship and examples of specific designers and artists. We can’t all have decorative art degrees, and so where better to start than from the sources themselves? As Roe says, ‘Often one may learn something from such inspections that might be vainly sought in public collections, though these, and especially the great array of furniture at the Victoria and Albert Museum, can be of the utmost value to collectors and students.’ (p.17)

          Again, the language of the Connoisseur Booklets is tremendously dated, but their content is very useful. Once Roe completes his travels through the ages of English furniture, he carefully points out the value of knowledge in recognising fakes, a piece’s pedigree (provenance), and pests. I was once told that even the smallest of wooden objects infested with wood worm should never be brought into the home because it spreads! The ever anecdotal Roe adds, ‘…one has heard of a primitive method of treatment involving the placing of the infected item in a stone-floored cellar or outhouse with a piece of fresh sap-wood, to which the pest would (presumably) transfer its attentions … a device sometimes more remarkable for quaintness then for efficacy.’ (p.20) At the time of writing, Roe was well aware of proper chemical preparations in ridding wood worm.

        Perhaps these booklets could be put back into print? There are many books and magazines for the modern collector of antiques, some may even contain well-researched essays on decorative art topics. Antiques are extremely popular, and we only need see a rundown of daytime television programmes where about 80% are concerned with period furniture, paintings, textiles, and tableware. There is still a sphere for the collector and antiquarian in modern times since their techniques for learning are still practiced at universities and colleges. The writers of these booklets are almost as significant as the pieces they enjoyed writing about, so maybe their texts could be left unaltered and we could visit this faded world whilst learning a thing or two about objects we never really noticed before.

Links:

Search the Collections at The Victoria and Albert Museum  http://collections.vam.ac.uk/

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