If it’s a good house, I still think about it. I can smell it. Feel its patina.
One such house’s patina that lingers on the end of my senses is Hoghton Tower, near Preston (Lancashire). Standing in Hoghton Tower I could close my eyes and see James VI of Scotland and I of England roaming the place on his small pony, in search of a room with only one door and where he would be safe from slaughter. One I have still to write up.
2014 marked 30 years since the 1974 V&A exhibition “The Destruction of the Country House” and in November I attended a V&A study day on the subject. It was interesting to see that only Roy Strong went off piste towards anything near to voicing an opinion; the remainder of the speakers started from the position that if one owns a country/historic home, then one should carry on as custodian through thick and thin (even if that means going to such lengths as, when in one’s 80s, doing the washing up at midnight after a wedding party, if that’s what it takes to pay the bills). This made me question what qualifies a house such that its owners have an obligation to protect it for future generations (i.e. to act as so-called “custodians” rather than owners). Can we distinguish between those houses that should be open to the public and those where their destiny should lie at the hand of their owner?
I was tempted to ask Richard Compton (of Newby Hall) whether he thinks too many “big houses” rely on opening to the public when in fact many lack both the architecture and contents (the latter often having been sold) to draw in the tourists. Shouldn’t some owners sell their property to the another family, a family with the wealth to maintain the house?
Many Victorians bought from the down and out Georgians and in recent years we’ve seen new wealth (such as Leon Max at Easton Neston or James Dyson at Doddington Park) buying up wonderful piles and once again employing decent numbers of staff. Personally, even as an avid visitor I think some owners should sell their houses, assuming of course an owner can be found: there will always be cases where such is the work required on a property that struggling on is really the only option for the family, in their eyes. This may be where English Heritage, SAVE or the National Trust can step in. Dare I say, though, that there may be instances where semi-derelict piles are pulled down and we accept that we do not have to preserve everything, even if it is “heritage”.
Nevertheless, this said one can imagine a situation where there is the added dilemma for a family who only opens their home due to a picture having being accepted under the Acceptance in Lieu scheme in payment of inheritance tax. In such instances, a picture may remain hanging on the wall of the family seat on the basis that for, say, 28 days of the year the public can come in and look at it. If that property were to be sold, the question would arise of what would happen to that picture. I’m not sure I’ve come across such a situation in practice to date, but I fear the picture could be whisked away into a museum and the family could lose a long-held family piece. A quick search of the AIL list of properties took me to Wassand Hall, a house that looks rather ordinary and which I can’t imagine would have to open were it not for the fact that the family wanted to remain in the property and decided at some point in the past to gamble their assets with HMRC to pay their IHT.
This musing takes me back to Cornwall House in Monmouth, where when we visited the house had been open all week (complying with the Acceptance in Lieu terms) but we were the first visitors, on Saturday afternoon. The family were sitting down to afternoon coffee when we arrived; they had put the tiniest note reading “Open” on their front door and do not invest in any publicity.
I know HMRC have recently tweaked their acceptance rules and so I do wonder if this will weed out houses such as Cornwall House, which while pretty little things don’t really need to keep their doors open just in case someone may happen to stumble upon it (I of course sought it out and knew exactly what my target was).
The closest the speakers on the day came to accepting that some houses don’t really have a ready tourism market was when the discussion touched upon the Scottish Borders. In this context it was acknowledged that there’s a glut of houses open on the Borders and not many people/visitors to spread about. Indeed, this is something I witnessed first-hand during early July 2014 when we visited a number of houses in the Scottish borders, often being given a personal tour because no one else was around.
2014 also marked 300 years since George I came to the throne. There was a wonderful exhibition on William Kent (again at the V&A) and mini celebrations throughout the art and history world. I hope some of you too were able to visit that exhibition.
A good year all round (and lots of houses & gardens visited).
Happy New Year all & signing off.
- Lytham Hall, Lancashire
- Eastbury Manor House, Barking (NT)
- Seizergh Castle, Cumbria (NT)
- Muncaster Castle, Cumbria (HHA)
- Wordsworth House, Cumbria (NT)
- Dalemain Mansion, Cumbria (NT)
- Hutton in the Forest, Cumbria (HHA)
- Levens Hall, Cumbria (HHA)
- Le Manoir aux Quat’saisons – Great Milton Manor House, Oxfordshire
- Highgrove House & Gardens, Gloucs
- Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Warwickshire
- Mary Arden’s Tudor Farm, Warwickshire
- Whittington Court, Gloucs (HHA)
- Snowshill Manor (NT)
- Sudeley Castle (HHA)
- Croome Court, Worcs (HHA)
- Spetchley Park Gardens, Worcs (HHA)
- Ragley Hall (HHA)
- Greyfriar’s House, Worcs (NT)
- Winterbourne House & Birmingham University Botanic Gardens, Birmingham
- Soho House, Birmingham
- Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham
- Spitalfields Gardens (Yellow Book Gardens): 20 Fournier Street, 21 Princelet Street, 21 Wilkes Street, 31 Fournier Street, 34 Hanbury Street, 7 Fournier Street
- King Henry’s Walk Community Garden
- Nomura Roof Garden
- Tower Bridge Barge Gardens
- Gardening Leave at Royal Chelsea Hospital
- Cadogan Square Garden
- Eltham Palace (EH/Art Fund)
- Captain Cook’s Memorial Museum, Whitby (Art Fund)
- Hovingham Hall, N. Yorkshire (HHA)
- Nunnington Hall, North Yorkshire (NT)
- Norton Conyers, N. Yorkshire (HHA)
- Markenfield Hall, N.Yorkshire (HHA)
- Bowes Museum, County Durham (Art Fund)
- Rokeby Park, County Durham (HHA)
- Cragside, Northumberland (NT)
- Bessie Surtees House, Newcastle (English Heritage)
- Floors Castle, Roxburgshire, Scotland (HHA)
- Carolside, Berwickshire, Scotland (HHA)
- Chillingham Castle, Northumberland (HHA)
- Alnwick Castle, Northumberland (HHA)
- Alnwick Castle Gardens, Northumberland
- Paxton House, Berwickshire (HHA)
- Mellerstain House, Scotland (HHA)
- Chain Bridge Honey Farm
- Georgian House, Edinburgh (NT)
- Gladstone’s Land, Edinburgh (NT)
- Scone Palace, Perthshire, Scotland (HHA)
- Falkland Palace, Fife, Scotland (NT)
- Dalmeny House, nr Edinburgh (HHA)
- Dumfries House, Cumnock, Scotland (HHA/Art Fund)
- Drumlanrigh House, Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland (HHA)
- Canon Hall, Barnsley
- Hoghton Tower, Lancashire (HHA)
- Samlesbury Hall, Lancashire (HHA)
- Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire (NT)
- Grimsthorpe Castle, Lincolnshire (HHA)
- Unilever House, London (Open House)
- Barnard’s Inn, London (Open House)
- Trinity House, London (Open House)
- Perronet House, London (Open House)
- Rutland House (London home of the Dukes of Rutland, of Belvoir Castle & Haddon Hall – Royal Overseas League, London (Open House)
- Vernon House, now incorporated into the HQ of the Royal Overseas League, London (Open House)
- Embassy of Slovakia, London (Open House)
- 17 Elgin Crescent, London (Open House)
- High Top, Cumbria (NT)
- Beatrix Potter Gallery, Hawkshead, Cumbria (NT)
- Wray Castle, Cumbria (NT)
- Allan Bank & Grasmere, Cumbria (NT)
- Harewood House, Yorkshire
- Tatton Park, Cheshire (NT)
Favourite house of 2014: Grimsthorpe Castle (I like its chattels more than its architecture)
Favourite garden of 2014: Highgrove Garden