Renting a property has long been associated with those starting out on the property ladder but there is a long history of country houses, large and small, being tenanted for long periods of time. Now the focus is very much on the sale of country houses with rentals being in the shade of their high-spending counterparts but there are still many fine houses available to those wishing to experiment with the country life or as a short-term solution.
Jane Austen was well-known for reflecting the social conventions of the aristocracy in her work and it’s interesting that one of the main characters in ‘Pride and Prejudice’, the wealthy Mr Bingley, rents ‘Netherfield House’ whilst he considered which house and estate he would establish himself in. This again is a pattern that still holds true today with those seeking to move to either a new area or out of town, renting to get a better understanding of an area. These opportunities are available today where houses such as Puddletown Manor in Dorset are available for rent (£9,000 pcm) but also for sale (£6m) at the same time.
Country houses have been let for a variety of reasons. One of the most common was simply that it might be a subsidiary seat and rather than simply leave it empty it was often let as a source of income. Sometimes this included the entire working estate so that the new occupant could fully assume the role and responsibilities of the country gent. Increasingly though in the Victorian era the house was let separately from the estate which would continue to be managed and run by the original family. This was often the preferred option for the newly wealthy who aspired to the status and amenity of a ‘country seat’ but did not require the estate to generate an income.
This is why houses such as the Faringdon House in Oxfordshire [pictured above] are attractive as they allow someone else to simply move in (albeit for a significant monthly rent of £10,000) and enjoy a grade-I listed Palladian villa without the added burdens of ownership.
Letting was a handy solution when the family finances were insufficient for they themselves to live there. The Marquess of Lansdowne became first Governor General of Canada and then Viceroy of India from 1883-1894 specifically to improve his financial position and keep hold of his estates. These jobs came with benefit of government accommodation which freed up the family seat for letting. In a letter to his mother he explained,
“India means saving Lansdowne House for the family. I should be able while there not only to live on my official income, but to save something every year. If I can let Lansdowne House, I might by the time I come home have materially reduced the load of debt which has become so terrible an incubus to us all…”.
The Second World War also offered a convenient escape route for some owners as country houses were taken over by evacuated schools who then stayed on such as at Motcombe House in Dorset. Although the use of country houses as schools had been an established practice for many years (the 1920s saw Stowe, Canford and Bryanston all become schools) the widespread use during wartime meant that it gained even greater acceptability. For the Earl Fitzwilliam at Wentworth Woodhouse who had seen his spectacular house vandalised by troops and a vindictive Minister for Fuel and Power, Manny Shinwell, ordering the needless open cast mining of the gardens right up to the house, it was all too much and he let the house to become a training college for female PE teachers.
The letting of country houses has a long and varied history but it has mostly been driven by the need for country house owners to maximise their incomes. Once the country house had ceased to be the physical embodiment of local political power following the reforms of the early 20th-century it became easier for families to simply move out and bring in tenants turning a costly extravagance into revenue.
Property details: ‘Faringdon House, Oxfordshire‘ [Knight Frank]