Posted by: billpurdue | June 13, 2013

Lesser known country houses

On a cold raw day, towards the end of 2012, I was lucky enough to be able to visit one of the largest stately homes in the country, but possibly also one of the least known, as until recently it was not open to the public.

Country HouseI’m referring to Wentworth Woodhouse in South Yorkshire, a house with so many rooms, it’s almost impossible to count them and end up with the same number twice running.  It would be even less well known except for the fact that it was featured in one of a series of BBC programmes about ancestral houses that were (at the time of the making of the series) private residences. Along with five other houses, Wentworth Woodhouse (not to be confused with Wentworth Castle) is featured in a book which accompanies the series, called The Country House Revealed by Dan Cruickshank.

Dan Cruickshank doesn’t merely concentrate on the architectural aspects of the houses, but tells the stories of the succession of families occupying the houses over the years. In the case of Wentworth Woodhouse it was built by the first Marquess of Rockingham, but it was the 2nd Marquess and the descendants who made the house the “political powerhouse” that it became.

The other houses featured are South Wraxall Manor, Wiltshire (15th Cent.), Kinross House, Perthshire (Late 17th Cent.), Easton Neston, Northants. (18th Cent.), Clandeboye House, County Down, N.I. (19th Cent.) and Marshcourt, Hants (20th Cent.). The last mentioned house was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, whom Cruickshank describes as “arguably the wittiest of English architects”.

It’s what I would call a ‘really nice’ book, with plenty of photographs, both historical and current and a very readable text.

Village History


English VillageWe often think of life in an English village as being truly idyllic, but in truth that was rarely the case. This is one of the qualities of village life that Martin Wainwright alludes to in his book The English Village: History and Traditions. He looks at every aspect of life in the village down the centuries : the religious life – churches and chapels, the ‘big house’ where the local squire lived and its relationship to the rest of the inhabitants; the village industries and so on.

It’s interesting that, when describing the relationship between the ‘big house’ and the local villagers, one particular incident  comes up, which is also described in the chapter on Wentworth Woodhouse in Dan Cruickshank’s book. It refers to an example of the unlikely alliances that emerged between local villagers and the landed gentry. In 1946, when the then minister for fuel and power in the Labour government, Manny Shinwell,  decided that the grounds of Wentworth Woodhouse should be turned into an opencast coal mine, the local mineworkers were up in arms. Even the NUM president of the time made a speech deploring the plan, which unfortunately went ahead.

This is an interesting book about life in the typical village in England over the years, but I can’t say that it has kept my attention that well.-  but I will return to it from time to time.

My column in this week’s Chad is about booktowns – Wigtown, Hay-on-Wye and Sedbergh and how your family and friends can spend their time whilst you are browsing in the shops! Next month I’ll have a round up of some recent local publications for Notts and Derbys.

Diary date: last Saturday in October – a book fair at Sutton-in-Ashfield Library.


  1. Readers might be interested in my blog which tells of a visit to Wentworth Woodhouse

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