So the National Lottery or an hitherto-unknown-and-childless uncle have again failed to give me the route to my spending a Christmas in front of a roaring fire in my own country house drawing room. That said, I have had the pleasure of visiting other people’s houses either independently or via such wonderful organisations such as The Georgian Group. Delights of the last year have included:
- Kelly House, Devon (and on Twitter as @KellyHouseDevon)
- Iford Manor, Wiltshire (@IfordManor)
- Trafalgar Park, Wiltshire (@TrafParkArts)
- Glemham Hall, Suffolk (@GlemhamHall)
- Heveningham Hall, Suffolk (@HeveninghamHall)
- Riverhill, Kent (@RiverhillGardens)
- Chevening, Kent (not on Twitter)
- Houghton Hall, Norfolk (@HoughtonHall2)
- Chiswick House, Middlesex (@Chiswick_House)
- Milton Hall, Northamptonshire (not on Twitter)
- Ham House, Surrey (@HamHouseNT)
- Apethorpe, Northamptonshire (not on Twitter)
Each has had a fascinating story to tell; be it the Italianate beauty of the gardens at Iford, the statesmanlike Chevening, the exciting return of the Old Masters collection to Houghton, the sensitive restoration of Heveningham Hall, or the endless architectural complexity and beauty of Apethorpe, to name just a few highlights. Some stories stretch over centuries, others more recent, but for every one their history is constantly evolving in terms of their past, as more is discovered, and their present and future as new uses show them adapting and evolving today.
It’s this constantly changing nature, like light playing on mother-of-pearl, which makes country houses so endlessly fascinating. Again, it’s been a pleasure to write the blog (though, as ever, work pressures have prevented greater frequency) and to have experts such as Amicia de Moubray provide articles (‘White knights – the 20th-century castle rescuers‘) – and I hope to have others in 2014. Interest has remained strong, though slightly less than last year, which is likely due to the lack of TV series such as Country House Rescue. One of the earliest articles of 2013, which also proved to be one of the most popular, was about a house which never came to be created: Harry Gordon Selfridge and his grand plans: Hengistbury Head. I am working on creating an index to make it easier to find older articles, as there are now hundreds. Twitter has also proved to be a remarkably effective way of communicating both about and with houses so I would recommend it – even if you just follow @thecountryseat (over 1,900 followers and rising) and any houses of interest.
The year has presented country houses with the usual challenges and some new ones. The threat posed by the HS2 rail link, and the plans which affected a significant number of houses, has not abated and may yet come to pass. Country house sales this year have seen some notable examples, including the Grade-I listed Castle Goring and Halswell House (both misleadingly described in press coverage as ‘bargains’), change hands, whilst there has been relatively few of the premier league (exceptions being Kingston Lisle, The Mynde and Tyringham Hall) appearing in the front pages of Country Life, which I take to be a positive indicator. Signs are that well-managed estates (of which there are thankfully many) are thriving and those which have diversified are finding a sustainable income. For others, it will still be a challenge, as the English Heritage ‘At Risk’ Report highlighted, and, as has always been the case, some will change hands. If Scotland chooses independence, this may trigger further sales – and, in theory, some interesting questions for the scope of the blog.
Thank you again for taking the time to share my passion in the UK’s country houses and the architectural history which they embody. It’s humbling that you visit and subscribe and I hope that I can continue to provide articles and knowledge which you find interesting. As always, I’m keen for your feedback, including which were your favourite articles (and why) and topics or houses you might like me to have a look at.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and all the best for 2014; a year which I hope will involve further discoveries and delights from the great treasures that are the nation’s country houses.
Articles published in 2013:
- HS2 Northern Extensions, Part 1 – Birmingham to Leeds: good for some, bad for others
- HS2 Northern Extensions, Part 2 – Birmingham to Manchester: a delicate dance with one mis-step
- Harry Gordon Selfridge and his grand plans: Hengistbury Head
- Bylaugh Hall: the hidden history to a remarkable restoration opportunity
- ‘A brighter, richer landscape lies display’d’; the battles for the views of country houses
- Welcome to the market: Lutyens’ The Salutation, Kent
- Mynde the gap; 2013 country house market finally comes to life
- Guest blogger – Amicia de Moubray: ‘White knights – the 20th-century castle rescuers’
- Soane’s happy commission: Tyringham Hall for sale
- Rothschild-shire: the wider fate of UK country houses mirrored in a family (1/3)
- Rothschild-shire: the grand and the glorious (2/3)
- Rothschild-shire: the lost, the ‘cottage’, and the home (3/3)
- Thomas Archer: the unsung master of English Baroque, and the revival of Roehampton House
- Guest article: ‘Sir Winston Churchill, Chartwell, and Philip Tilden’ – National Trust ‘Uncovered’
- ‘A land where it is always afternoon’; the life and talents of Philip Tilden
- England’s most ‘at risk’ country houses; English Heritage 2013 report
- A minor prodigy: Brereton Hall for sale
- A deceptive bargain: Halswell House, Somerset