A country house is a centuries-old institution virtually unique to Britain and Ireland. We define a country house as a manor house, or larger, built from approximately 1500 A.D. that at some point in its history was the country seat of a landed family that had or has an estate (agricultural land) that served as the center for local community life and may have included farmland, villages, or other supporting acreage. These estates range from a couple of hundred acres to hundreds of thousands of acres and can employ hundreds of people. (In the 18th century the term villa referred to the secondary seat of a gentleman, and was usually applied to a compact house of five bays or less.) Please note that in some cases castles were converted from defensive buildings to country houses and are classified as country houses by us.
A wonderful snapshot of the British country house comes from Brian Masters, writing in his 1975 book, The Dukes: "The large country estate, with the house as its pivot, was (and is) a peculiarly English affair. In many ways it was a perfect example in miniature of the welfare state, self-sufficient and self-protecting, with every member of the 'family,' from shepherds to carpenters to kitchen-maids, provided for from cradle to grave."
If you are using The Database of Houses for the first time, or would like to know more about how we define a country house, please read About The Database of Houses.
Over 350 estates in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland are owned by The National Trust. In Scotland, The National Trust for Scotland owns over 128 properties. Both Trusts are non-profit charities that are independent of government and depend on individuals and institutions for support of their operations. These amazing organizations provide unparalleled visiting opportunities through the hundreds of properties they have open to the public. The work of the Trusts can best be summed up by William Packer, writing in the Financial Times in November of 1978:
The National Trust for Scotland, like its English counterpart, is all too easily taken for granted. The responsibilities it takes upon itself are enormous, and its very success a kind of general rebuke that its intervention should ever be necessary. The thought of what this kingdom would be like now had the two Trusts never been is just too hard to bear, for human nature seems not to change, and official indifference to history and beauty in the face of the lucrative, short-term investment, the myth of progress, and private rapacity, remain powerful enemies still...We need constantly to remind ourselves of the great work of conservation done on our behalf by this private initiative, and to support every effort to raise funds.
One of England's most famous estates still in private hands is Chatsworth, in Derbyshire. This amazing house is still the home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. The estate comprises about 35,000 acres in the counties of Derbyshire and Staffordshire. The extended estate includes farms, rivers, moorland, woods, villages, quarries, and other industries, large and small. The House and Garden together provide approximately 66 full-time and 23 part-time jobs. Many of these people learn their trade on the estate, and most of them live in estate houses in local villages that are part of the estate. During the summer the number of staff swells by more than 100 as waitresses, cooks, ticket sellers, shop clerks, parking lot attendants, and guides join the staff. With over one million people per year visiting the estate, Chatsworth is an important part of the local economy.
Chatsworth has a long tradition of service, as do many estates. Awards recognizing length of service have been given at the annual staff party every year since 1963. By 2002 there had been 212 awards given for 25 years and 107 awards for 40 years of service.
This information from the Chatsworth website: www.chatsworth.org
If you're interested in learning more about British country houses, we've put together a pdf recommended reading list, which you can see and download by clicking here. There are an astoudning number of publications on the subject and this is by no means a comprehensive list, but a simply a starting point. If you think there are particularly important titles that we've omitted, email us and let us know! Click Here to Email Us
For more detailed information about the accessibility of houses open to the public, we recommend Hudson's Historic Houses & Gardens. Hudson's is the most comprehensive and informative publication available on the subject.
The DiCamillo Companion, Ltd. is not affiliated with, nor receives any compensation from, Amazon or Hudson's. These links are provided only as a service to users of The DiCamillo Companion website.
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