Understanding The English Country House

Country house planning, architecture, entertainment, dining, dancing, sport, servants, technology

21 September - 19 October 2017
Thursdays 10.45am - 12.45pm
The University Women’s Club, 2 Audley Square, London W1K 1DB
Jeremy Musson
Full course (5 lectures) £249.00
Single lecture £59.00
(includes morning coffee, tea and biscuits)

Book your place now on Understanding The English Country House Course

“Excellent course – very detailed and most interesting – Jeremy is outstanding and enthusiastic”

‘Of all the great things that the English have invented and made part of the credit of the national character, the most perfect, the most characteristic, the only one they have mastered completely in all its details, so that it becomes a compendious illustration of their social genius and their manners, is the well-appointed, well-administered, well-filled country house.’ Henry James

Jeremy Musson has spent over twenty years visiting and studying English country houses, and in this new specially designed course, takes some different approaches to understanding how the ‘well-appointed, well-administered, well-filled country house’ was planned, designed, built and used. Above all, he brings the architectural story to life by exploring the history of people in the country house, through domestic service, evolving technology, as well as the significant social life and ritual of the English country house from the mid sixteenth century.

Holkham Hall, The Green State Bedroom
Highclere Castle Arundel Castle

Course outline

The Country House: Architecture and Planning c.1550 – 1900

The country house represented one of the most ambitious building types of English architecture from the later sixteenth century onwards; the residence of the landowner of an estate, it was a centre of administration and hospitality, and the careful planning of the principal apartments reveals much about the practical needs and social ambitions of every age. This lecture explores the evolution from the traditional great house planning, through new ideals of classical inspiration, symmetrical planning and design, to the more fluid ‘circuit’ planning of the later eighteenth-century country house, as well as the elaborate zoning and specialisations of the nineteenth century country house. The latter was designed for extensive hospitality and display, supported by specialised service areas.

The Country House: Servants, Technology and Servicing

The country house was defined not just by the nature of its architecture, decoration and furnishing, but by the smooth running of its daily life and functioning as a place of entertainment; until the mid twentieth century this depended on a large, resident and highly trained population of servants, devoted to the daily ritual, care and comfort of the landowner’s family, the maintenance of the house and contents; we will explore the evolution of the story of country house servants, and set it in the illuminating context of evolving country house technology, lighting, heating and related transport.

The Country House: Hospitality – Dining, Dancing, Sports

The country house was designed as a place for hospitality and entertaining, and this lecture surveys the history of this entertainment, especially dining, and drinking, music and dancing, and traces how these features of entertainment influenced country house design. It will also look at the parallel evolution of field sports, and other aspects of country house pleasure and fun, over the past four centuries, from the masque entertainment to the late Victorian amateur dramatics, from cards to billiards, and all the features of the nineteenth-century ‘house party’.

The Country House and The Two World Wars

Early and mid twentieth century country house life was changed by the first and second world wars; here we will look at the various great country houses which were volunteered as hospitals and convalescent homes in the first war; and then how most country houses of any scale were requisitioned for military purposes in the second world war, or were used to house evacuated schools or hospitals. This represented one of the greatest interventions in the private ownership of land in English history, and many of the houses did not return to single residence use after the war. This lecture will also consider the early years of the National Trust’s country house scheme promoted by Lord Lothian (Britain’s wartime ambassador to the United States).

The Country House Since 1945

This lecture analyses the story of the country house since 1945. This has been a complex one: from decay, despondency and demolitions in the late 40s and 50s, and a rising sense of the cultural and heritage importance of the country house lead to campaigns to preserve and rescue important houses and legislation intended to help preserve historic collections in situ. The National Trust has become an admired national custodian of many important houses (from Ightham Mote to Kedleston), and many more remain as family residences of which some have also been trailblazers in the heritage world, including Chatsworth, Goodwood and Arundel Castle.