Hall, Michael. Lasting Elegance: English Country Houses, 1830-1900.

NY: Monacelli Press, 2009.

I’ve developed, over the past couple of decades, a deep interest in the social phenomenon of the English country house — sparked, probably, by Mark Girouard’s marvelous Life in the English Country House. Much of this interest is rooted in my background in social history, but part of it, I confess, is a fascination with the pretty pictures in volumes like this.

Country Life magazine was founded in 1897 and almost immediately began publishing articles on aristocratic country residences and architecture. (Girouard’s own work began appearing here in the late 1950s.) Over time, its earlier concern with golf and auto racing faded and country houses took over almost completely, assisted by a very high standard of photography of both exteriors and interiors. Hall’s book digs deeply into the magazine’s archives to present a graphic history of new country house development (as opposed to the renovation of ancient buildings) during the reign of Victoria. He begins with Harlaxton Manor in Shropshire, which was built in the 1830s, and finishes with Wood House, in Essex, a Tudor-style house that was designed in 1897. The only exception to this rule is the expansion and extensive redesign of Arundel Castle, the 12th-century home of the dukes of Norfolk, at the turn of the 20th century, turning its interior into “the biggest Gothic Revival house in England; it is Gothic to its last keyhole.” The large color plates and detailed black-and-white photos — more than 150 of them — are absorbing, and the accompanying text summarizes both family history and architectural concepts. If you have any interest in the history of architecture or of Victorian England, you’ll find this the best kind of coffee table book.

Published in: on 25 January 2014 at 7:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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