Life in the English Country House

Publisher / date: Yale University Press, 1978
pages: 344
genre: architectural and cultural study

The subtitle of the book, “A Social and Architectural History” precisely outlines the intent of author Mark Girouard. I also have his Life in a French Country House and Town and Country. Girouard is an author worth seeking out.

This particular book gives the history of the country house in England from mediaeval times through the early World War II period. I, of course, have been reading his chapter most relevant to the Smith&Gosling research: “The Arrival of Informality, 1770-1830.” Girouard’s vivid writing and succinct commentary on the rise of the garden-related house, with its French Windows and its relationship to the landscape really puts into perspective the purpose behind such a gentry estate as Roehampton Grove (Grove House now a Grade II listed building, part of Roehampton University). I had seen the plans for William Gosling’s Conservatory, but Girouard made a case for the layout and character of the house that I had never contemplated before. And, in writing about the character of the gentry, the improvement of the roads and ability of travel, as well as the idea of country house parties, my thoughts on the world portrayed by Austen’s novels and Emma and Mary’s diaries and letters just fit everything together, perfectly.

Girouard’s books are always well illustrated, nicely placed so there’s not a lot of flipping back and forth between text and accompanying illustration. Many color plates. He is cognizant not only of the gentry, but also the servants who made such estates tick. Reading a short paragraph about the advent of bell pulls made sense of all that comes later, with the elaborate system of which room was calling for attention (and therefore which servant might be summoned). To read that as the gentry “sank groundwards” – in order to commune with nature – the servants sank further below ground, before splitting off into a “servants’ wing” now made perfect sense of how to classify country houses that I have toured.

Highly recommended, for country house lovers and armchair travellers, as well as social and architectural historians.

*NEW* peek inside this book on YouTube!