Thursday, 19 July 2012

Placing your country house

I took advantage of one of the rare sunny days forecast lately and visited Calke Abbey in Derbyshire. There had been a priory but it was long gone, disappeared in the abolishment of all catholic organised religious communities by Henry VIII. Later the land was passed to private ownership and belonged to the local gentry who built their Tudor country house on the land. Later this building was replaced by more upmarket stone house in the 18th century.

The country house

Was it for the effect of the emerging major building work in a valley when the visitors approached from the road above or the ready source of water, the owners chose to place the country house in a hollow and had to cut the nearby slope at a later stage to give their new house a little more breathing space. The monastic houses did lie near a stream in order to help with their fish ponds and provide fish for Fridays and Lent. The slightly awkward location of the private house meant that at the later stage when the garden fashion moved to favour ponds these were not visible from the country house itself. There was very little that resembled a traditional view. The original garden was next to the house but when natural landscaping became the order of the day the walled gardens relocated up to the hill and could not be directly admired from the house either.

One part of the bird collection

No wonder the owners turned inside little by little. Those who have visited this National Trust property know that it is more a house museum than a country house for the traditional entertaining and that the last of the Harpur Crewes lived a solitary existence surrounded by a vast collection of stuffed birds. They kept everything they could and left their house as a testament of obsessive collecting with a paper trail running back to the 17th century. The house is a monument to the 20th century decay of the large country houses but it is also a prime example of private collecting. But that is another story.

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