Unexpected Find-Country houses

My husband leaves things around sometimes. And sometimes I pick up after him. One item he left around recently was a 1985 issue of National Geographic (because, doesn’t every husband?). Imagine my surprise when I leafed through it and found an article on England’s Country Houses, called The Great Good Places. I was even more surprised to see it was written by Mark Girouard.

Mark Girouard is more known to me for writing books on my research shelf, books like The Country House Companion or Life in the English Country House .

Girouard begins the article:

When I was an undergraduate in the 1950s, I used to stay with my old great-aunt, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, at Hardwick Hall…

The idea of visiting such a house as a relation boggled my mind! Perhaps Girouard’s love of English architecture began with such visits. He later read the old account books, letters, and other documents from Hardwick Hall, piecing together what happened there.

In the time of Bess of Hardwicke, for example, Girouard described how, in the early 1600s, the Earl of Rutland would arrive on horseback, the gate opened by the porter, the servants who could take away the horses, the greeting by the Usher of the Hall. Girouard goes on to describe a meal and the entertainment.

In addition to Hardwicke Hall, the article includes photos (by Fred J. Moon) of several other Houses, such as Blenheim, Penshurst Place, Knoll, Burghley House, and Castle Howard, mentioning that Castle Howard was the location for the recent (in 1985) TV miniseries, Brideshead Revisited

Girouard talks about the 1700s as the most pompous age of the country house. He discusses Queen Victoria setting the style for “elegance and importance without ostentation.” He moves on to another country house heyday, the Edwardian Age.

What does he leave UNDONE?
Not a mention of the Regency era, not one. Not even a peep about the Pavilion.

Do you have a favorite English Country House? I remember loving Stratfield Saye, Wellington’s house, because it still seemed like a real home. In fact, members of the family still lived there. I also was amazed by Chatsworth.
How about you?

Remember, I’m still giving away prizes this week at Diane’s Blog. My plans for Wednesday are UNDONE, but Friday I’ll feature my story in Pleasurably Undone, The Unlacing of Miss Leigh.
Blogging at DianeGaston.com

About diane

Diane Gaston is the RITA award-winning author of Historical Romance for Harlequin Historical and Mills and Boon, with books that feature the darker side of the Regency. Formerly a mental health social worker, she is happiest now when deep in the psyches of soldiers, rakes and women who don’t always act like ladies.
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16 Responses to Unexpected Find-Country houses

  1. Oh, Diana, to only pick one country house! One of my favorites is Knole House in Kent.


    This magnificent medieval home changed ownership several times during King Henry VIII’s reign. His daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, gave it to her cousin, Thomas Sackville. Today, it remains the home of Lord Sackville (although it is owned and maintained by the National Trust).

    Knole is considered a calendar house with 365 rooms, 52 staircases, 14 entrances and 7 courtyards. One time resident Vita Sackville West published Knole and the Sackvilles in 1922, creating a classic book about English country houses. Her lover, Virginia Wolff, also drew upon Knole and the Sackvilles to inspire her book, Orlando.

    But I vividly remember the leopards in the coat of arms. My children remember the deer walking around the parked cars, looking for a treat from the tourists!

  2. I love Hardwick Hall but I suppose my favorite will always be Leeds Castle because that’s where Catherine of Valois and Owen Tudor met and fell in love.

  3. Jane Austen says:

    Well it’s not a country house by any way, shape or form I have to admit to loving Neuschwanstein in Bavaria. It is truly an amazing castle and just amazing in detail…especially if you love Wagnerian operas. Every picture I took there looks like a postcard. That is how perfect everything is.

    I loved Leeds Castle as well Elizabeth. I went in November and the leaves were changing colors. Gorgeous and I loved the dog collar museum.

    As far as the US goes…how about the Biltmore Estate? Not bad for a bunch of Yanks.

  4. I don’t have a favorite country house, or house in general, but I love perusing the Connoisseur Period Guide I have on the Regency.
    Really helps give a flavor of where we’re setting our characters.

  5. Judy says:

    Sackville? Really? Should have known Tolkien didn’t make it up, except the Bagginses part. 🙂

    Choose? I have to choose? I haven’t visited that many but I remember living with my Uncle and Aunt in London. I remember him telling me that it was a new house because it was only 100 years old. Down the street an old church was being turned into flats. The original arches and stain-glass windows were incorporated into the flats. I wanted one of those but at 99,000 pounds for a 99-year lease, it was out of my budget. 🙂

  6. “What he leave UNDONE?”

    For a minute, Diane, I couldn’t parse this sentence, because I was thinking of Undones. #IAmScarred

    On my blog, I’ve talked about Peel Castle and Ashdown House. The only magnificient country house I’ve come close to is Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, B.C., Canada.

    I’ve visited castles and palaces in France, Germany, and Scandinavia, but no country houses yet. Am about to rectify that in August. 🙂

  7. Alison says:

    My very favourite English Country House is Audley End, just stunning, and very welcoming at the same time.

    I love Girouard’s books, especially his Victorian Country House one.

  8. Jane George says:

    I have an inexplicable fondness for Cotehele House in Devon, though I’ve never been to England.

  9. I love finding things like that in unexpected places! (where did the 1985 NG come from??). I’d also love to visit Hardwick Hall–Bess of Hardwick is fascinating…

  10. What does he leave UNDONE?
    The REGENCY!!!!
    Not a mention of the Regency era, not one. Not even a peep about the Pavilion.

    Wouldn’t he include Regency architecture under the definition of Georgian architecture? And the Royal Pavilion was atypical of the era–an example of how money can’t buy taste!

  11. Barbara in Florida says:

    My daughter, Kim in Hawaii, asked me to comment on my favorite country house. I used to volunteer with the National Trust, so I have visited many country houses.

    My favorite is Arlington Court in Barnstaple, Devon. From the National Trust website, http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-vh/w-visits/w-findaplace/w-arlingtoncourt/

    “Arlington Court is an unexpected jewel: a complete family estate. The intimate Regency house contains treasures for all tastes, from model ships to shells, all collected by the Chichesters. The walled kitchen garden provides fruit and vegetables for the tearoom and flowers for the house. The tranquil estate, abundant with wildlife, includes an ancient heronry.”

    Arlington Court is the home of Sir Frances Chichester, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for becoming the first person to sail single-handed around the world by the clipper route in the fastest time, nine mnohts and one day.

    I also recommend two other NT properities – Wallington and Craigside House – both in Northumberland.

    Barbara Adams
    Safety Harbor, Florida

  12. Diane Gaston says:

    Eeps. I just realized I haven’t responded to anybody! I’ve been reading the comments though.

    I loved reading of everyone’s favorites, places visited or only dreamed of. And I resisted looking up each and every one (had to finish my review of the copy edits of Chivalrous Captain, Rebel Mistress.)

    Amanda, I think I bought the National Geographic from a library sale. I used to pick them up so my kids would have magazines to cut pictures from or to use for school papers. I’m not really sure where in our house my husband unearthed them, though.

    Janet, I know that the Regency was not a big time for Country Houses, but I needed to say UNDONE somewhere!!!!

    Jane Austen mentions the Biltmore and last week I visited Hillwood House. We do have interesting houses here in the US, too.

  13. Diane Gaston says:

    Barbara! You found us a Regency house. Arlington Court sounds like a great place to visit.

    How wonderful to volunteer at National Trust Houses! I would love to do that. The times I visited Country Houses, the volunteers were alway so eager to answer questions and so obviously fond of “their” houses.

  14. librarypat says:

    No favorite English homes, but I’d love to go to England to check them out and find a favorite. It was (is?) a life style so different from what we live. Would be wonderful to experience what it was like several hundred years ago.
    The closest thing we have here in America is the Biltmore Estate near Asheville, NC which is America’s largest home.. Have been there several times and the house is incredible. It is hard to imagine living in a place that large. It sits on 8,000 acres and was completed in 1895. It has 4 acres of floor space, 250 rooms, 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces.

  15. Library Pat – Having visited both the NTS properties and Ashville’s Biltimore, I assure you that the Biltmore can compete with its English cousins!

    For anyone in the Boston area, consider driving down to Newport to check out the “Old Money” Mansions that served as the summer “country” homes for NYC’s elite:


    We even have a “Victorian” country home here in Hawaii, Queen Emma’s Summer Place. It has been lovingly restored by the Daughters of Hawaii:


    It is conveniently located on the Pali Highway, leading up to the Koolau Mountain and offering the Queen some respite from the oppressive Honolulu heat. Hawaii hosts the only three royal residences in the US.

    Thanks, Diane, for a fun post!

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