Consuming the country house: from acquisition to

Consuming the country house: from acquisition to presentation
University of Northampton, 18-19th April 2012
Session 1a. Food and drink in the country house
Paul Cleave (University of Exeter)
Dinner is served: the significance of food in the country house and its presentation to the public
Mandler (1997: p 1) suggests that country houses are perhaps quintessential symbols of
Englishness, epitomizing the English love of domesticity, the countryside, of hierarchy,
continuity and tradition. This paper aspires to demonstrate how; within such symbols of
Englishness food has played a vital role in the life and evolution of the country house. As an
example, food (ingredients and dishes) will be presented in the background of the country house
that is open to the public. The paper utilises a National Trust property to show how the
consumption of food influenced the design and organisation of the country house. A timescale of
the twentieth century identifies opportunities to illustrate the relationships between the spaces of
masters and servants in the context of food. Current interests in diet and food, and social history
reflect consumers’ growing interests in all aspects of country house life, above and below stairs.
Food reflects fashions, trends and tastes in consumption. It is also a vehicle for presenting the
country house to the public. Three eras will be used to present food in the country house, the
1920s, 1930s and 1940s - World War Two. These provide opportunities to connect social change
(and the world order) to the life of the country house and the significance of food consumption.
Equipment, utensils, recipes, and table settings may contribute to the interpretation and
presentation of the country house. It is often the seemingly mundane and everyday dimensions
that attract the visitors’ interest, the storerooms, larder and servant’s quarters. Food is an
important factor in the presentation and interpretation of the country house. From the provision
of hospitality and entertaining to the domestic arrangements food reflects the status and lifestyles
of its occupants, masters and servants.
Annie Gray (Historic Food and Dining)
Broccoli, bunnies and beef: the raw and the cooked in the Victorian country house
Culinary history is increasingly recognised for its ability to shed light on past societies. Study of
dining etiquette and the material culture of the table in particular has been instrumental in
considering the way in which class and gender were negotiated through apparently everyday
actions. The ways in which raw ingredients were acquired, transformed and eventually disposed
of have been less studied, except in passing, to inform displays at the increasing numbers of
historic kitchens open to the public.
This paper uses data from Audley End House (Essex) and Ickworth House (Suffolk) as well as
other examples, to consider the relationship between the dining table and its suppliers through the
vital hub of the country house kitchen. It will look at influences on the choice and acquisition of
ingredients, in the shape of cooks, mistresses and advice book writers, as well as the suppliers
themselves; and demonstrate how dining fashion could be adopted or resisted through the way in
which ingredients were obtained and prepared. It will also consider the relationship between the
various groups connected to the supply chain and how the act of acquiring, transforming and
disposing of goods could be used in the negotiation and expression of status within the household.
Overall, the paper will demonstrate the importance of viewing the country house in the context,
not just of its estate, but of the wider physical landscape, including local (and not so local) shops.
It will highlight the tension between technological and attitudinal changes in the culinary sphere
and the specific needs of country houses, including consideration of the difference between ‘old’
and ‘new’ money.
Session 1b. Memory and the country house
Henrika Tandefelt and Marai Vainio-Kurakko (University of Helsinki)
The manor house and the country estate as heritage. A case study of manorial culture in Finland in a time of
social and political change 1880–1960
Our paper deals with the layers of meaning as well as the concrete living space of a mansion. Our
case study is Sarvlax (also Sarvlaks), a mansion dating from the late 15th century, with a corps de
logis built in the 1680s, situated in the south-east of Finland, some 70 kilometers east of the capital
Helsinki. Sarvlax is situated in a prosperous part of Finland, and has been a significant mansion
in a national context. Yet, Finnish mansions have been in the margins of a rich and influential
European elite culture. On the other hand cosmopolitism and a feeling of belonging to a European
cultural context has always been a vivid part of the self-conception of the nobility. With three
owner families (Creutz, von Morian, von Born, since the mansion was twice handed down on the
distaff side) and a large estate and family archive, Sarvlax offers a rich material for the study of
material culture, economy, life style and values.
In this paper we will focus on the time of the last private owners and their descendants in the 19th
and 20th centuries. We discuss the meaning of heritage in the culture of the nobility, and study
how this influenced the ways in which the mansion was furnished and refurnished as a stage for a
noble way of life. To this context we bring the conception of the country house and the estate as a
home for a family, with emphasis on the idealization of the home in late the 19th and early 20th
century. The ideal and memory of the home forms a strong narrative in the traditions of the
owner family since the 1880s. We will show how the 19th century bourgeoisie ideal of the family
and the home as a kernel of society became a part of the heritage that the owners of the Sarvlax
estate passed on to the following generations. Today the estate is owned by a foundation, but in
accordance with the last owner’s will, Sarvlax should always be inhabited by a descendant of the
last owner family, preserving the atmosphere of a home in the old house.
Michael Ashby (University of Cambridge)
Memory, heritage and the episcopal palace from the civil war to the present day
In the midst of attacks on bankers and their multi-million pound bonuses, it is easy to forget that
the Church of England retains vast wealth in its episcopal palaces, a group of buildings that
occupy a dominant place in most cathedral cities and their surrounding countryside. Yet, today
these buildings—some of which enjoy nearly a thousand year history—are in a precarious
position: Rose Castle, until recently the residence of the Bishops of Carlisle, faces an undecided
future following the Church Commissioners’ decision to sell, while Hartlebury Castle, home to
Richard Hurd’s eighteenth-century library, shares similar uncertainty. Operating in a political
climate hostile to old wealth, and with maintenance costs soaring, the Church of England is
struggling to justify its continued association with buildings that now seem out of religious
fashion. As the current Bishop of Carlisle, James Newcome, suggests, ‘in these days of
challenging choices, it is right to prioritise spending on the mission of the Church above
preserving this historical connection.’
Such uncertainty over the future of the bishop’s palace raises problems in terms of both history
and heritage. On the one hand, there is a range of questions that historians have not yet put to
these buildings: how did contemporary expectations of the episcopal palace differ from those of
the ‘ordinary’ country house?; in what ways did the decoration and layout of its rooms reflect the
palace’s clerical role?; and how far were habits of consumption constrained by a Christian vision
of modesty and humility? But, on the other hand, there are more pressing concerns regarding
heritage: with the Church of England loosening its grip on buildings whose layered structures
reflect a complex Christian past, there is an imminent need for heritage organisations to help
ensure that this past is not forgotten. In light of these concerns, this paper will chart the history of
episcopal palaces from the civil war, focusing on the ways in which memories of these buildings
have changed since the mid seventeenth-century upheavals threatened to eliminate them
Session 2a. Consuming and displaying art
Nicola Pickering (Kings, University of London)
Mayer Amschel Rothschild and Mentmore House: consuming le style Rothschild
My paper focuses on Mentmore House, a grand country mansion commissioned by Mayer
Amschel de Rothschild (1818-1874) near Leighton Buzzard, Buckinghamshire, in 1851-55. Designed
by Sir Joseph Paxton, the mansion was the first of seven to be built by the Rothschild family in
the Vale of Aylesbury in the nineteenth century. As I will show, the interiors of Mentmore
epitomised a style of decoration and collecting which came to be known as le gout Rothschild. I will
argue that one of the primary reasons for the construction of Mentmore was Mayer Amschel’s
conspicuous consumption of certain luxury goods (namely antique paintings, furniture and objets
d’art), and his desire to create a suitable setting in which to display them. I will further assert that
Mentmore was one of the most lavish and luxurious examples of a nouveau riche residence, and
that its collections illustrate to an exceptional degree the contemporary opinion that newly-rich
men of the nineteenth century were ‘maniacs for collecting things’ (Spectator, 1872). I will also
propose that the reception of the house and its interiors by visitors and the general public (which
reveals just quite how impressive many thought the decoration and collections were) suggests le
style Rothschild had a very particular function for the Rothschild family.
I will discuss the deliberate interior schemes for Mentmore devised by Mayer Amschel in light of
his conspicuous consumption and considered display of his luxury goods. I will consider Mayer
Amschel’s collecting activities in terms of his exceptionally lavish tastes, as well as contemporary
fashions in collecting and interior decoration (and particularly the nineteenth-century nouveau
riche man). Of note is the fact that Mentmore’s interiors were on the whole foreign in character
and designed specifically to recreate French historical styles. Mayer Amschel’s collections within
these rooms were equally interesting: composed almost exclusively of Old Master paintings and
eighteenth-century English portraits, French furniture, and porcelain of the same period.
Mentmore and its collections will be compared with other nouveau riche country residences in
order to show that the interiors and collections were some of the most luxurious examples of this
category, and well-known by contemporaries as such. It will be revealing to examine the processes
and economics involved in Mayer Amschel’s collecting, some of which diverted from more usual
behaviour. That the very specific needs of Mentmore’s owner dictated the function of certain
rooms, will reveal it as a showcase for the luxury collections, an entertainment venue, as well as a
lived in space.
Helene Bremer (Independent Historian)
Staging the Grant Tour: collecting and presenting classical sculpture in 18th-century England
The exhibition Anticomania mounted by the gallery of the brothers Kugel at the end of 2010 was a
very good example of a presentation of Grand Tour collection of classical sculpture. Staged at
their Parisian hôtel particulier this exhibition had a commercial goal, it felt though as if you entered
in a private house. The visitors were able to walk around the freestanding sculpture, antique
fragments were used as support for other works of art and the lighting was perfectly done. The
classical sculpture filled the domed central room whereas in the adjacent cabinets ceramics,
bronzes and other the smaller objects as well as paintings were displayed. In England collections
with a similar content can still be found in some of the country’s greatest country houses. Some of
the Grand Tour collections can still be seen in their more or less original setting dating back to the
eighteenth century, like for example at Holkham Hall, Castle Howard or Woburn Abbey. For my
PhD research I am looking at the display of classical sculpture in eighteenth century private
collections in Europe. The aim of that research is to find Italian examples for the British country
houses, not so much for the architecture, but to the way the collectors installed and displayed their
For this paper I will look at the descriptions noted by visitors from the British Isles to Italian
(mostly Roman) collections to reconstruct the way the Italian palazzos were opened up to foreign
visitors. Most of these visits had a rather formal character and people would need to have
introduction letters to enter a collectors home. But when invited in the private house the
interested tourists and artists could walk around, admire and sometimes even draw the works
displayed. It is interesting to see that some of the British visitors who became collectors
themselves used the impact of their Italian impressions on staging their own collection of classical
sculpture and other memories of their travels to Italy in the form of paintings, gems, books and
objects of virtue.
M.J. Von Ferscht-Fountain (University of Cambridge)
The heirloom portrait as a visual record for the material culture of 17th-century British society
This paper will seek to address a curious incident in the history of British art where the
traditional genre of still life painting with its allusions to the vanity of the material world was
subverted by revered portrayals of their patron’s most prized possessions. Focusing on the AngloDutch artist Pieter van Roestraeten (1630-1700) who came to England in 1660 we find a
transformation of the genre of still life to suit the taste of a patronage mainly concerned with
dynastic portraiture, the only stable market at the time. These still life paintings are more than
the moralising vanitas paintings so keenly admired on the continent, but rather naturalistic
representations of precious decorative objects, which might be termed ‘heirloom portraits.’ As was
the intention of ‘heirloom portraits’ the objects depicted allude to the identity of the collector,
especially when the objects that still survive have a full provenance. This will be explored in the
case study of the Whitfield Cup and the still life painting in which it is depicted.
Such paintings therefore are not just to be considered in traditional art historical terms because
they act as an invaluable visual record of material culture in this period. The paintings reflect the
aspirations, value systems and social projections of ‘objects’ for their owners, especially when we
consider that the artist was also painting for a more middling market as well as an elite patronage.
In some cases it will be shown that such value was attached to these ‘treasures’ that those of a
more modest income could purchase ‘off-the-shelf’ compositions because it was the closest they
could get to ownership of the real objects in this burgeoning consumer society. The decorative
objects depicted in these paintings vary widely, recording the fascinating collecting fashions of
newly imported materials from the new world (including the first known images in Britain
revering Chinese porcelain for tea drinking). These paintings also display the beginnings of an
admiration for antiques, such as silver, usually with some heraldic association.
This paper relates to the consumption of the country house because many of these paintings were
originally found in provincial collections, and record the collecting and consumption of decorative
objects, which have often been dispersed or lost to us today. The paper relates not just to art
history but also to material culture, social and economic history as well as anthropology.
Session 2b. Ancient and modern: continuity in the country house
Hannah Ranneke (University of Amsterdam)
A sense of heritage: renewal versus preservation in 17th- and 18th-century Dutch country houses
The country house is generally portrayed as a power house, a symbol of wealth, standing and
authority. Given its status as an instrument of power, the country house was required to be big
and up to date with the latest fashion. This perspective on the country house leaves out a different
and much less told story of the same building. The country house often also functioned as a
Stamschloss encapsulating and representing a genealogy or family history. Instead of modern and
fashionable, these houses could also ooze an air of times gone by - of history - with their owners
keen to maintain and pass on their antiques. Frequently, owners aspired for modernisation and
preservation at the same time in the same house. It is this conflict of renewal versus preservation
in the 17th- and 18th- century country house that takes centre stage in the proposed paper.
Hannah Waugh (University of Northampton)
Fashion and affectionate recollection: material culture at Audley End, 1762-1797
Gradually restored and remodelled by Sir John Griffin Griffin at a cost of over £72,000, Audley
End has long been recognised as a well-documented example of consumption in the context of a
substantial country house. Most prominently, the alterations included Robert Adam’s creation of
a series of reception rooms within the south wing of the building; Sir John is also known to have
spent c. £12,000 on furnishings, turning to the highly-regarded London firms of Chipcase &
Lambert and Gordon & Taitt. Albeit displaced and reassembled during the nineteenth- and
twentieth centuries, many of the eighteenth-century purchases remain today within the house.
This is not, however, a balanced picture, for despite Sir John’s extensive programme of repairwork and decoration, the number of rooms comprehensively furnished anew was limited: even in
the Adam Library and the gilded Saloon, much of the inherited furniture was repaired or reupholstered but never replaced. This introduces questions of practicality and economic sense, as
well as the degree to which the resulting palimpsest was regarded as a virtue or compromise. ‘I
am pleased you took possession of dear Audley End on his birthday’, the widowed Lady Howard
wrote to her husband’s successor, the new occupant of their Essex country seat. ‘The best return
you can make me, is living in this place with comfort to yourself & affectionate recollection of
those who have inhabited it with so much delight.’ Often overshadowed by preoccupations with
fashion and novelty, this paper examines the co-existing themes of tradition and continuity in the
context of an eighteenth-century country house.
Elizabeth Griffiths (University of Exeter)
Renaissance man in the Norfolk countryside. Sir Hamon le Strange of Hunstanton, 1583-1654
By any measure Sir Hamon Le Strange was a Renaissance man; he collected and wrote books,
played the viols, designed buildings, dabbled in science, enjoyed sports, educated his children,
improved his estates and performed military and civic duties for his county and country. These
activities were played out in the Norfolk countryside which in itself was a conscious decision. As
a very young man he appeared destined for royal service, but on his marriage in 1604 he opted for
a life in the country. Such a course, newly identified as the virtuous path, was entirely in tune
with the spirit of the times. What makes Sir Hamon unusual was the evidence he left of putting
his knowledge into practice; this allows us to explore the impact of courtly behaviour and classical
influences on the countryside. At the same time, Sir Hamon was shaped by his ancient lineage,
the family’s long association with the locality and his physical environment. The result was an
interaction with, rather than an imposition of, new ideas and attitudes. By his wife’s account, Sir
Hamon rebuilt his estate ‘out of the ground’, a process which included the completion of
Hunstanton Hall and the construction of well-equipped farmhouses.
This paper will focus on that building programme as it demonstrates most vividly the interplay of
different cultural forces and how these major items of consumption, which defined the status of
the family, were decided and acted upon. Many of these structures still survive, raising the
question why the Le Stranges adhered to such old fashioned designs while other Norfolk gentry
families, such as the Townshends at Raynham, embraced more fully the Classical model. To
provide a coherent narrative for visitors, we need to explain the history and philosophy behind
individual country houses which ultimately determined their development, character and
Session 3a. Managing expectations and experiences
James Lomax (Leeds Museums)
Reinventing the country house: Temple Newsam in the 20th century
In 1922 the future Lord Halifax sold Temple Newsam, the great Tudor-Jacobean mansion,
together with its 900 acre Park, to Leeds City Council for £25,000. The Council were reputedly
offered the entire contents for a further £10,000, but turned it down. The house was then left as an
empty shell until its ‘adoption’ by Philip Hendy, the Curator at Leeds City Art Gallery, who saw
the enormous potential of its interiors as a backdrop for the display of works of art. From the late
1930s through to the early 1980s, Hendy and his successors re-built the fortunes of the house with
brilliant acquisitions of furniture, paintings, ceramics, silver and textiles, making it a major
collection of British decorative art. In addition, during World War II the house became the home
to the City Art Gallery’s evacuated collections and a venue for major exhibitions of Henry
Moore, Barbara Hepworth and many others. But somehow it had been forgotten that the most
significant item of the collection was the mansion itself with its complex stories involving 500
years of architecture, interiors, collections and social history. Thus from the early 1980s onwards
the process of a new re-invention as a country house began. It involved research, restoration, and
the continuous (but usually successful) struggle to repatriate the lost heirlooms.
This paper will look at the changing attitudes of curators towards the house during the 20th
century as a location for material culture: whether for non-indigenous ‘museum’ collections, for
temporary exhibitions, or for the ‘authentic’ display of fine and decorative art in a sympathetic
context. It will chart the story of a genuinely organic re-invention which continues today.
Karen Fielder (University of Southampton)
X marks the spot: narratives of a lost country house
Coleshill House was a much admired seventeenth century country house in Berkshire which the
architectural historian John Summerson referred to as ‘a statement of the utmost value to British
architecture’. Following a disastrous fire in September 1952 the remains of the house were
demolished amidst much controversy, shortly before the Coleshill estate together with the house
were due to pass to the National Trust. In 1953 the editor of The Connoisseur, L.G.G. Ramsey,
published a piece in the magazine lamenting the loss of what he described as ‘the most important
and significant single house in England’. ‘Now’, he wrote, ‘only X marks the spot where Coleshill
once stood’.
Visiting the site of the house today on the Trust’s Coleshill estate there is still a palpable sense of
the absent building, although it is ‘uncurated’ by the Trust. In part this derives from physical
signals that remain at the site and around the estate, such as piles of discarded masonry, ancillary
buildings, great seventeenth-century gate piers, below-ground remains and historic landscape
features. But more than this the house continues to exist there in the realm of the imagination,
prompting the visitor to try to recover the lost house and its past life. This site represents a
challenge for the Trust in its duties of preservation and promoting public engagement with the
historic places in its care. It turns the normal experience of a National Trust country house on its
head, and subverts the traditional boundaries between buildings and landscape.
The site of Coleshill House invites us to seek alternative models for thinking about and
presenting country houses, when the materiality of the house itself is stripped away and the
context is left behind. This paper will address what we can learn from this place in relation to the
consumption of a country house today as a heritage site, when we are liberated from the usual
materialist constraints.
Lauren Johnson (Past Pleasures Ltd)
Where’s the dungeon?
This persistently asked question at castle heritage sites reflects the image of castles in popular
imagination as one inhabited by arrow slits, murder holes and dank corners; four walls of military
intimidation and mortal threat. Yet recent historiography has challenged this image of the castle
as military installation, locating it instead within the context of the local landscape, social
environment and medieval worldview. The interpretation of these sites has also evolved, with
more emphasis placed on the castle’s role as home, as symbol of prestige, and as nexus of relations
across class (for instance, landowner and tenant). Re-representation of traditional ‘fortresses’ has
taken place at a number of sites, including the Tower of London and Dover Castle.
Many interpretive methods are now being used to enable the public consumption of such
previously foreboding ‘country houses’. This paper considers costumed interpretation in the
context of Dover Castle and the Tower to show how live interpretation can be used to enhance
the public’s experience of such sites. It will argue that, far from dumbing-down, costumed
interpretation can render comprehensible to a varied public audience the complex and sometimes
alienating worldview of those who dwelt within what are now heritage sites, but were once
homes. Working within spaces without barriers, live interpretation offers the visitor a chance to
engage directly with the domestic history of such sites: to participate in the relations between lord
and servant, to occupy the refurbished rooms by listening to stories told around the dining table,
and to perceive not merely the literal use of such spaces (e.g. people slept in the bedchamber) but
to connect further, consuming layers of knowledge of the medieval world through active
engagement with it. Thus, the tourist who arrives expecting grim dungeons, leaves having a sense
of the direct relevance of, and connections between, such medieval sites and their own lives.
Session 3b. Suppliers and consumers in the country house
Jane Whittle (University of Exeter)
The gentry as consumers: social relationships of consumption in the early 17th-century household
This paper will discuss the relative neglect of the gentry as consumers in early modern England in
the existing literature. Using a case study from the early seventeenth century of the Le Stranges
of Hunstanton in Norfolk, it will illuminate consumption patterns in that period, drawing
attention to innovations and traditional forms of consumption. The main focus of the paper
however, will be the use of household accounts to reconstruct social relationships of consumption.
While most studies look at the things owned, the concentration here will be how they were
acquired, and the importance of known producers and suppliers. It will show how webs of social
connections can be reconstructed through household accounts, and draw attention to the changing
methods of supplying large households across the early modern period and how these affected the
gentry’s relationship with the local community.
Rosie MacArthur (National Gallery)
Settling into the country house: the Hanburys at Kelmarsh Hall
When the roof was set on the newly built Kelmarsh Hall in 1732, the owner William Hanbury
wrote that ‘nothing could add to the happiness I enjoy’. Eight years later, with the interiors
incomplete, the saloon storing meat hooks, and the furnishings of the south east parlour including
48 iron hoops and two old saddles, his excitement may have begun to wane. This paper tells the
story of the early years of the new Kelmarsh Hall, built to replace a ‘miserable old’ Jacobean
mansion on this Northamptonshire estate. The house was designed by James Gibbs on timetested Palladian principles, making it both elegant and functional. However research reveals that
by 1740 the arrangements of the house did not reflect those intended by the architect, with a
disjuncture between the simple, modern architecture and the ramshackle and sparsely furnished
interiors. Whilst some new items of furniture had been purchased for the house, the majority of
goods seem to have been transferred from elsewhere with kitchenware carried over from the old
mansion, books brought up from London and poor quality paintings inherited from aunts. With
the costs of building leaving many with little money readily available for the commission of full
decorative and furnishing schemes, (especially in the smaller houses of the gentry), the material
culture of the country house may often have been mismatching or even unsuitable. At Kelmarsh
this had a significant impact on room use, especially in the early stages of the family’s occupancy.
Although not often discussed or analysed in flux, all houses would have had periods of
incoherence during their creation, and whenever alterations were made. Examining a house in
these circumstances uncovers the processes and difficulties involved in the construction of élite
interiors and reveals the ways in which a house and its accoutrements were assembled, used and
arranged between the stages of acquisition and presentation to a wider public.
Mark Rothery and Jon Stobart (University of Northampton)
Geographies of supply: Stoneleigh Abbey and Arbury Hall in the eighteenth century
London is often seen as having an overweening importance in the lives of the English elite. The
location there of both parliament and court underlined its significance as a centre of supply,
fashion and sociability, and made links to and presence in the capital essential. Conversely,
country houses and elites are also seen as being deeply embedded in their locality. Food and other
goods were drawn from the estate and the surrounding district, whilst the owners acted as
employers, patrons and patriarchs in local communities. In this paper, we examine in detail the
patterns of supply of two houses: Stoneleigh Abbey and Arbury Hall, situated in close proximity
to one another in central Warwickshire. Our aim is to assess the relative importance and role of
metropolitan and local suppliers in the construction and running of the country house. Of
particular interest are: first, the long term stability of systems of supply (was there a gradual shift
towards London taste and suppliers and were there favoured suppliers who served both houses?);
second, the ways in which geographies of supply varied with the personal preferences and
consumption priorities of the owner (to what extent were individuals making independent
choices and what was the basis of these choices?). In addressing these issues, we place the country
house more clearly into its layered geographical context.
Session 4. Eastern goods and western identities
Kate Smith (University of Warwick)
Objects and identities in the English Hindostaan
This paper outlines some of the preliminary findings from the Leverhulme Trust-funded ‘The
East India Company at Home, 1757-1857’ project, which is currently running in the Department of
History at the University of Warwick ( It
explores aspects of material culture in three country houses in Berkshire, which were owned by
families connected to the East India Company in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. They
include Englefield House, home to Richard Benyon; Swallowfield Park, home to the Russells and
Warfield Park, home to John Walsh. In the mid-eighteenth century the popular press renamed
Berkshire the ‘English Hindostaan’, such was the perceived prevalence of ‘nabob’ families in the
county. The nabob is a caricature of opulence and extravagance: this paper, in contrast to this
contemporary representation, argues that the material culture of these families demonstrates the
presence of a highly complex set of identities.
The paper explores the range of objects that entered these houses and the routes along which they
passed. First, it focuses upon the contrast between the consumer cultures that these families
experienced in India and their consumption activities upon their return to Britain. While these
families were subject to the rapid circulation of goods through auctions and sales in India (and the
material ephemerality it engendered), once in Britain their consumption appears less frequent and
often seemed to involve elongated discussions about purchasing and its significance. At the same
time their consumption of European rather than Indian goods tended to increase. Such a change
in practice and taste suggests that once in Britain families, who were keen to re-establish
themselves as members of the British elite, purchased objects that would remain within the
family and upon which a stable meaning and thus identity could be constructed.
Focusing on the objects themselves, however, problematizes this reading of country house
material culture. The idea that Indian objects were ambiguous and transient while European
objects were transparent and stable needs to be examined in a global context. In a period shaped
by the global circulation of design and technology, the range of design sources and methods of
production which culminated in the manufacture of these objects resulted in the ambiguity of
both ‘Indian’ and ‘European’ wares. Hence, by examining the consumption and production
practices, which led to the accumulation of a rich material culture by East India Company
families, this paper begins to demonstrate the complex relationships that existed between material
culture and identity in this period.
Emile de Bruijn (National Trust)
Consuming East Asia: the changing significance of chinoiserie
The fluctuating appeal and serial resurgence of chinoiserie in the decoration of British country
houses between about 1600 and 1850 is a fascinating and puzzling phenomenon - fascinating
because the taste for orientalising decoration kept resurfacing in different forms; puzzling because
it is not always clear why chinoiserie was popular at certain points in time, and what the craze for
oriental style was responding to.
The phenomenon of chinoiserie is obviously linked to the economic processes of consumption, in
that the international flow of goods determined what kind of objects reached Britain and how
they were valued and imitated. Another aspect of chinoiserie is its role as a counterpoint, as a
refreshing or escapist element of otherness set against the received European or British modes of
decoration and display. In addition, the perceived stability and rationality of the Chinese state
lent East Asian objects and their imitations a certain political and philosophical gravitas.
However, these three constituent elements of chinoiserie were all subject to continuous mutation
and interaction. In this paper I will explore the changing significance of chinoiserie, using a
number of country house interiors and gardens as case studies, to analyse how it fluctuated
between admiration and derision, strangeness and familiarity, gaiety and seriousness.
Examples will include: Chinoiserie as part of baroque display at Ham House, Dyrham Park and
Belton House; the implicit political meaning of the Chinese House at Stowe; the intermingling of
Classical, Gothic and Chinese elements in the gardens of Stourhead and Shugborough Hall;
Thomas Chippendale’s assimilation of Chinese motifs into an ‘English’ style at Nostell Priory;
Chinoiserie as an escapist, nostalgic phenomenon in the Regency period, for instance at Belton
House, Castle Coole and Penrhyn Castle; the mixture of scientific interest in and prejudice
towards China as evident at Biddulph Grange
Patricia Ferguson (Independent Researcher)
Consuming ceramics: foreign luxury porcelain and the English country house, 1700-50
Before the advent of a native porcelain industry in England in the mid-1740s, the nobility and
gentry furnished their various seats, villas and town residences with imported Chinese and
Japanese porcelain, as well as Continental porcelain, wares from Meissen, Chantilly and SaintCloud. Throughout this period, the most sought after was colourful Japanese Kakiemon-style
porcelain, the finest produced between 1670 and the mid-1690s. Privileged nobles inherited
assembled sets, while from at least the 1730s others purchased theirs at auctions, advertised as ‘old
brown-edged Japan China’, or from toymen, retailers of luxury goods, and chinamen. The
distinctive brown glaze on the rim framing the design was appropriated by Meissen and other
manufacturers and even used on non-Kakiemon designs, as consumers identified the “brown
edge” as an essential feature of quality wares. To capitalize on this demand for second hand goods,
merchants illegally imported modern Continental copies for sale; since 1464, by an act of
parliament, it had been illegal to import ‘painted earthenware’ from the Continent other than for
private use, by the 1700s, this included Continental porcelain, but excluded Chinese porcelain.
However, by the 1750s, the Meissen brand, then known as ‘Dresden China’, was so well known in
England, that the factory mark or logo of crossed swords was used by English porcelain
manufacturers on their own wares, while other entrepreneurs peppered their promotional
literature with comparisons to the familiar foreign brand. During this period, country house
inventories reveal that originals and copies were mixed together as the table and tea ware of
choice, however, in the second half of the 18th century, this exotic taste was replaced by the
influence of France. The domestification of Japanese designs into the English aesthetic is a
popular ceramic theme, however, this paper focuses on its supply and demand, and the beginnings
of a collectors or ‘antique’ market for second hand imported luxury porcelain.
Session 5a. Status and building the country house
Johanna Ilmakunnas (University of Helsinki)
To build according to one’s status: Count Axel von Fersen’s country house Ljung in late 18th-century Sweden
In the 1770s count Axel von Fersen erected a country house, Ljung, in the mid-Sweden, a day’s
journey from Stockholm. Fersen was at the time leading figure in Swedish politics and high
officer in the Swedish army. Fersen owned already several country houses both in Sweden and
Finland. Why build another one?
The paper will discuss the planning, building and decorating of Ljung in 1770s and 1780s. Erecting
a country house after French ideals was important for French-oriented count von Fersen, and
Ljung was at the time both modern and traditional. Its planning reflected both latest French
architectural influences and archaic standards from seventeenth-century Swedish palaces and
country houses. French ideals were largely significant for cosmopolitan Swedish aristocracy,
whose lifestyle reflected the French aristocracy’s style of life. Fersen himself had spent more than
a decade as officer in France. Nevertheless, he sent his sons later not only to France, but also to
England because, as he wrote to his sons, it was the land of future. Fersen chose famous architects
and artisans to complete his great building project. The Stockholmian masters spend months in
construction site of Ljung especially when decorating the interiors. However, much of the work
carried on at Ljung was made by local workmen and craftsmen from nearby towns. At the same
time Fersen made agricultural improvements at Ljung, which was one of the most productive of
his estates, and founded also ironworks which became extremely profitable.
The paper concentrates on the first decennials of Ljung, especially on the aristocratic ideology
which was represented in the house, its material culture and its situation in the landscape, as well
as the everyday practices of building, decorating and living in the house. Furthermore, a short
review on Ljung’s, still today private property, later history will be given.
Caroline Eadsforth (Leeds Metropolitan University)
Early twentieth-century aristocratic rebuilding of country houses in north-west England
Focusing on the north-west of England during the early years of the twentieth century, this paper
examines the nature of owner involvement in the furnishing and presentation of rooms following
the rebuilding of country houses. It uses archival material – largely diaries and personal
correspondence – from two of the region’s leading country estates, namely Croxteth Hall, which
belonged to the earl of Sefton, and Dunham Massey Hall, belonging to the earl of Stamford. Both
estates underwent a change of ownership resulting in the new heirs of the two families marking
their inheritance by launching substantial rebuilding programmes at their respective country
houses. Both aristocratic husband and wife teams renovated their properties to create impressive
spaces to entertain visitors, which also functioned to provide a comfortable home for their young
families. Interestingly, though, there were marked contrasts in how the rebuilding projects were
organised at the two properties - in terms of the nature of personal involvement in the decisions
regarding the sourcing of appropriate furniture and furnishings and their arrangement within the
new interiors, and, more fundamentally, in terms of the overall objectives sought by each of the
aristocratic households. This era of the social history of the elite has had relatively little
attention. Analysis of the two contrasting approaches provides a good opportunity to delve into
the nature of aristocratic life-styles in the years before World War I.
Victor Borges (V&A Museum)
An English country house in Spain: El Palacio Castrelos
This paper would be based on my on-going research about the lost history of The Palace of
Castrelos (Vigo, Galicia, Spain), concentrating on its interiors and the relation with its last
inhabitants from 1907 to 1931 before it became a Museum by donation. Castrelos is a typical
Galician stately home, on the outside, dating back to the 17th century. Its late British inhabitants
and Edwardian interiors, now partially lost, are a rare example of interaction and dialogue
between two different cultures, the English and the Spanish-Galician, as well as representing an
unique vehicle to the history of the city of Vigo in the early 20th century almost forgotten.
The state of Castrelos, includes one of the finest examples of Galician “Pazos” (Palaces in
Galician), and States in Northwest Spain. The House would be transformed in the early 1900
after becoming the inheritance of Fernando Quiñones de León y Elduayen, Marqués de Valladares
and Mos, Grandee of Spain of first class and Honorary Attaché of the Spanish Embassy in
London. After marrying Maryanne St George Montenach White from Newtown Manor in Sligo,
Ireland, the house would become a paradigm of a perfect British Edwardian Home with the
unique characteristic of not being built on English grounds but those of the wild Galician atlantic
coasts of Spain.
Fernando and Maryanne embarked on the refurbishment on the interior of the house and grounds
following the most typical Edwardian principles, creating a home of Jacobean flavour where the
mixture of styles and the taste for the exotic and extravagant is evident throughout the house.
Their Irish architect, Page L Dickinson, provide us with an account of the use and adaptation of
local knowledge into foreign construction techniques, as well as the selection of materials and
furnishings mainly imported from Britain. An interaction of Galician masons, carpenters and
their skills with an Irish Architect reflecting an interesting interaction of cultures resulting on an
English country house abroad. The same interaction appears with the running of the estate, when
the late husband of Maryanne, Colonel Cecil Allanson, tried to implement changes to the crops.
The house, its interiors and gardens were synonymous of “English style”, good taste and social
position praised by society and contemporary publications. This status enabled Castrelos to
become the favourite backdrop for Royalty, aristocracy and important characters for the history of
Spain and Europe of the 20th century. At the same time becomes a favourite hub for the dynamic
British colony of the city of Vigo. The city had branch of the English cable and its important
harbour was base to the Atlantic cruise liner routes to the Americas.
Session 5b. Country house visiting
Anna McEvoy (Stowe House)
The visitor experience of Stowe over three hundred years
The tourism of country houses is not a 20th century phenomena and indeed has been happening
since the 1700s. Stowe, in north Buckinghamshire, is considered on of the earliest tourist
destinations in Britain, with maps and guides books to accompany a visit for over 100 years.
Images of such visitors are recorded as are the thoughts of such a visit. Three hundred years later,
we are still welcoming tourists and while their reasons for coming haven’t changed, their
expectations of the visitor experience has. I will be exploring what people expected from their
visit to any estate throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, what they recieved and what made a visit
to Stowe so sought after.
The talk will consider, with a focus on Stowe: the historical definition of a tourist and a visitor;
the historical motives for opening up country houses to the public; the type of people that
visited/visit country houses; facilitating the visit ; the visitor experience in the 20th century (while
Stowe becomes a new school and the National Trust take on the gardens); managing visitor
expectations in the 21st century; issues of interpretation versus education; broadening markets –
aiming for new audiences while retaining the old/ the importance of engaging families;
commercial ventures – films, TV, weddings, fairs, holiday schools, conferences, balls; the
changing face of guide books; the marketing of a county house through changing media.
Alison Oram (Leeds Metropolitan University)
“We liked the Ladies’ little double bed”: queer pilgrimage and the country house
One “market segment” that has a long, if as yet unexamined, history in country house visiting, is
those tourists interested in the same-sex love relationships of the former inhabitants. Some
historic houses have long been associated with prominent figures who have been claimed for
lesbian and gay history. Plas Newydd, Llangollen, the home of the Ladies of Llangollen, drew
admiring and fascinated visitors during the Ladies’ own lifetimes and since. These tourists were
frequently keen to replicate or fantasise about a similar romantic friendship or sexual relationship,
depending on their particular interpretation of its nature. More recently, houses associated with
the Bloomsbury group and their ‘queer’ bohemian circles, such as Charleston, W Sussex (Duncan
Grant) and Sissinghurst, Kent (Vita Sackville-West) have become part of a genteel culture of
lesbian and gay public history.
This paper will briefly discuss the changing interpretation strategies at such sites, and the tension
between the embedded queer heritage of country houses and the traditional curatorial focus on
heteronormative family life. It will also explore whether particular concepts in the tourism and
sociological literatures, especially the ideas of pilgrimage and celebrity (or iconicity), are useful in
developing a new framework for analysis of the queer country house.
Harvey Edgington (National Trust)
Filming, the National Trust and visiting houses
Is having your house filmed by Tim Burton and different than having it painted by Reynolds?
Two artists using different tools. Does being in a successful film alter people’s perceptions of the
house and how do you capitalise that on that success to put extra visitors through the door? Can
you attract new audiences using film? This paper will explore the physical aspects of how to
protect a house during a manufacturing process and then give case studies of various films, TV
dramas and documentaries have helped get people off their sofas and into the heritage buildings.
It also illustrates how the Trust using the media to get its message across.
Session 6a. Social and spatial relations in the country house
Susan Law (University of Warwick)
Through the keyhole. Adultery and the secret life of domestic spaces in late Georgian England
The country house is not merely the shadowy display cabinet of dusty historical artefacts, but the
living theatre of a vibrant past which staged performances of countless dramatic stories of
everyday life. Empty rooms and inanimate objects have little meaning if they are not understood
in relation to the lives of the aristocratic families who used them, and the servants who took care
of them. Accessing detailed accounts of exactly how such domestic spaces were actually used in
the past can be problematic, as manuscript evidence in letters or personal diaries is often patchy
and traditional public narratives of the elite rarely stray beyond the closed mahogany door. One
fascinating source of historical evidence which gets right to the heart of lived experience within
the country house, is the wealth of aristocratic adultery trial literature which flourished in late
Georgian England when fears that an epidemic of infidelity threatened the whole structure of
English society became a national concern.
This paper will discuss some of the hidden minutiae of daily life for the nobility and their
servants, which was revealed during criminal conversation trials. The layout of rooms and
furniture, the pattern of household routines and everyday activities such as meal arrangements,
sending for coals, lighting candles and closing shutters, was frequently recounted in detail by
servants called as witnesses in the courtroom. Such narratives of daily life are also rich sources for
understanding the symbiotic relationship between peers and their families, servants, and the
country house. The evidence from a series of adultery trials will be uncovered, to provide fresh
insights into the hidden domestic life of a stately home during this period.
Karol Mullaney-Dignam (National University of Ireland Maynooth)
Useless and extravagant? The consumption of music in the 18th- and 19th-century Irish country house
This paper surveys the consumption of music in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Irish
country house. Although the reception and practice of music were integral aspects of
contemporary country house life, these have largely been overlooked by historians. The
consideration of domiciliary music-making, however, provides a useful framework for
investigating material objects acquired and displayed by the landed elite. It also offers
perspectives on relationships between landlords and their tenants, servants and employees, and on
the use of space within the Irish country house.
The latter was impacted to a large degree by dancing and by urban sociability in centres like
Dublin, London and Bath; these also had a particular bearing on the types of musical goods
acquired by or for elite women. The examination of these goods reveals as much about
contemporary notions of gender propriety as it does about motivations for consumption. While it
had become acceptable by the nineteenth century for elite male amateurs to practice music in a
‘public’ capacity, domiciliary music-making became a perfunctory and ‘private’ female diversion
propagated by instruction manuals and conduct literature. It was, nevertheless, an effective agent
of cultural exchange. Musical instruments, too, had functions beyond the production of music.
Consequently, the professional musicians, music-masters and music tradesmen who facilitated
music-making at the homes of their employers also contributed to the gendering of that activity.
This paper draws on research carried out as part of the 'Music in the Irish Country House' project,
funded in 2010-12 by the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences
(IRCHSS). The findings of this research project will undoubtedly enrich our understanding of
Irish musical and social history and provide new, relevant and reliable information for the
interpretation, presentation and promotion of country houses in Ireland.
Richard Flamein (University of Rouen)
The country house in the construction of bourgeois social identities: ‘La Malmaison’ in the second half of the
eighteenth century
It was not by chance that ‘La Malmaison’, near Paris, became the place of an intense courtly life
under the Consulat and the Empire. An attentive study of practises and distinctive social
networks throws into relief the role of social mobility in the acquisition of such properties.
Leaving aside identity as an a priori notion, we wish to offer, through an examination of country
houses, a matrix based upon a minute analysis of material belongings in order to arrive at an
empirical construction of bourgeois identities in the Ancien Regime
The country house is a reliable indicator of the fluid formation of bourgeois identities under the
Ancien Régime: it articulates the various constituents of mobility and favours the progressive
passage between bourgeois and aristocratic identities. It encourages social dynamics as well as the
fluidity of membership (commercial, political, worldly). The country house is at the crossroads of
the material universe in both its multiple dimensions and in the social meanings of consumption.
It brings to light the mechanisms of (re)production and transmission of social models (material
culture), participates in the dynastic entrepreneurship logic (networks of properties). It registers
the continuity of the salonnière's sociability towards the end of the Ancien Régime.
This paper is interested in all the social dimensions of ‘La Malmaison’ through its inscription in
the patrimony of a very important dynasty of Parisian bankers, the Le Couteulx, between 1771 and
1799. It brings to light the role played by the country house in a diversified and coherent network
of properties (head offices and seigneuries) and illustrates the various forms of material transfers
of social models through a reflection on luxury, splendor, ostentation (circulation of furniture,
development of parks and gardens). An accurate analysis of the various floors' distribution and
furniture relates material culture with social dynamics. It brings to light the heterogeneous logics
of spatial uses of the rising bourgeoisie.
These different approaches towards the country house reflect the composite nature of bourgeois
identities in the second half of the eighteenth century, including social practises. Indeed, they
underline the increase of the worldly practises on the eve of the Revolution, as a missing link
between the aristocratic “bureau d'esprit” in the reign of Louis XVI and the “salon bourgeois” of
the next century. The prestigious salonnière life of the Le Couteulx at Malmaison (Elisabeth
Vigee Lebrun, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Dellile, Marmontel or l'abbé Morellet) demonstrates a
paradigm shift in the mode of formation of bourgeois identities in the late eighteenth century
Session 6b. Peeling back the layers of history
Margaret Ponsonby (University of Wolverhampton)
Faded and threadbare: the attractions of preserved interiors in English country houses open to the public
Country houses owned by the National Trust for England and Wales that are open to the public
frequently display layers of history rather than being restored to a distinct period with the
reinstatement of an earlier decorative and furnishing scheme. These layers are the result of the
dynastic descent of houses and their contents and the accumulation of possessions over time. In
addition, the economic problems experienced by country house owners in the twentieth century,
often resulted in the neglect of houses and their interiors or at least brought about economies in
staffing levels and the failure to replace worn out furnishings. These economic constraints
ultimately led to many houses passing into the hands of the National Trust and therefore rather
than being lived in they have become museums. Through the process of preservation has evolved
a particular aesthetic of aged and patinated, even shabby interiors that are a far cry from the
luxurious schemes as they were first created. Shabby and faded interiors are now associated with
‘old’ money and good taste and are seen as embodying a particularly English style. This paper will
examine the representation of historic interiors through an evaluation of the layered appearance
present in some houses open to the public, using a few examples of sites with varying histories
and with particular emphasis on interiors where historic textiles have been retained. The paper
seeks to question whether these are authentic representations of twentieth-century interiors from
which we can learn about the social, economic and artistic taste of their owners or the result of the
adoption of a distinct interpretative style and one that might limit our understanding.
Miriam Cady (University of Leicester)
What’s conservation got to do with it? The impact of conservation on interpretation at country house ruins
Country houses have been described as the greatest British contribution to art and culture. They
were built to illustrate the power of not only the owner, but also Britain as a whole. However,
from the late 19th century through to the mid-20th century, many of these great houses fell into
decline, some of which eventually became ruins. English Heritage and the National Trust have
taken on a portion of these ruins and are currently interpreting them, as ruins, to the public.
Kirby Hall, Northamptonshire, entered the care of the Ministry of Works, now English Heritage,
in 1930 after a long period of decline and ruination. In the over eighty years that Kirby has been in
the care of English Heritage it has undergone a wide variety of interpretive programs. Since the
1990s, English Heritage has conducted various types of historic fabric analysis and subsequently
has completed conservation and restoration projects at Kirby. Following these projects, the
interpretation of restored rooms has been changed to match the historic finds. However, as the
historic fabric analysis recovered evidence of decorating schemes from different eras in the rooms,
English Heritage was presented with a difficult decision as to what period to interpret and how to
do so. Using Kirby Hall as an example, this paper will examine how the decisions made by
heritage organizations in matching conservation with interpretation affects the visitor experience.
Ann Eatwell (V&A Museum)
‘Selling the family silver’. The changing value of silver in the country house
This paper will examine the origin and usage of the oft quoted phrase “selling the family silver”
and how and why the thrust of the meaning retained its power over subsequent generations.
Within the context of the country house, what did the “selling of the family silver” mean for the
inhabitants of the houses and for the subsequent display of those houses by organisations like the
National Trust?
Many houses, when opened to the public, were devoid of their original silver although other
content types had been retained or bought back. How did this lack, of what would have been
almost the most important and expensive element of any house contents, impact on the house
owner or custodian’s ability to present a meaningful story about the interiors and culture of the
The collections of several country houses will be explored to show how silver was viewed by
gentry and aristocracy in the 19th and early 20th century and how, why and what came to be sold.
Once these houses were opened, what were the display choices and how was silver subsequently
presented to the public. At Dunham Massey, for example, the surviving core of the silver
collections has been added to over a number of years and it is one of very few National Trust
houses to hold and display significant quantities of family silver. In contrast, The Royal Pavilion,
Brighton shows silver in the dining room but it is a construct using silver given to the nation in
lieu of tax from other country house collections. At Kedleston, the family sold the silver in 1947,
but the National Trust commissioned replicas to fill the buffet. Are these pragmatic responses to
the lack of “family silver” sufficient to inform the public of the place of silver in the country
house narrative?
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