I do apologise for not having reviewed this book before. I received it as a present at Christmas and always planned to tell you all about it…I left it until now and, sadly, I find it is currently out of print in the UK but is available in the US. Go here to visit the Amazon.com site where it can be purchased. I have found it is a very useful entertaining and delightfully produced book about the type of houses -country houses- that surrounded London from the 17th century until the present day.
The author, Caroline Knight has used a modern edifice, the M25 –the orbital motorway that encircles London – as the cut off point.
And it might surprise you to find that even in these days of crowded housing developments around the capital that she can find over 80 first class houses and over 30 minor country houses to chronicle within that circle, and that is still not exhaustive.
The first part of the book is a very readable and scholarly explanation as to why these houses were built; not far from London –within an easy distance- they provided a healthy country lifestyle to many rich merchant sand aristocrats, who though in possession of smart town houses also felt the need to escape to the nearby countryside as often as they could, without necessarily having to travel to their far-flung large country estates.
Caroline Knight also explains why many of the country houses fell foul of the growing suburbs of London and disappeared in the 20th century, as well as being demolished due to fortunes waning and the social change after the two world wars which left many families with no option but to sell.
But it is the Second and Third parts of the book that I adore: a parish by parish directory of the best houses ( Part Two) and in Part Three a selection of over 30 minor country houses organised on the same manner.
These brief vignettes are written with verve and style and it is the perfect book for dipping into.
You can learn all about Moor Park in Rickmansworth(above) -where Mrs Norris’s apricot originated (or not as I do suspect Dr Grant was correct, and she, or rather Sir Thomas’s purse, was imposed upon)which is now a golf course
You can also see some of the types of houses -or more correctly villas that peppered the scenery around fashionable Richmond, where Mrs Churchill spent her last days in Emma
Or the type of house you could expect to find in Twickenham, like Marble Hill above, or Orelans House, below
Twickenham was of course where Mary Crawford’s evil uncle had a “cottage”.
The descriptions of the houses are very entertaining: each is given a concise history complete with many fine illustration, plans of estates , gardens and the ever absorbing( to me at least!) floor plans.
She also gives interesting details about the opening of these house to the public in our era. Osterly Park the home of the famously rich
banking family, the Childs, was visited by Sophie von La Roche, a German visitor who recorded her visit in her diary as thus:
A friend had sent her “ a ticket admitting five people.” She saw the gardens and all the state rooms but also went upstairs where she was shown Mrs Child’s aprtments. She nosed around the room and found “my “Sternheim” in English translation among Mrs Child’s books and on the fly-leaf I wrote down something of the joy and pleasure I had experienced at Osterly Park- in English too as well as I was able.” What did Mrs Child make of this, I wonder?
I’m certain Mrs Reynolds would not have tolerated such behaviour!
I really do recommend this fabulous book to you. My only gripe is that I would have preferred more illustrations to have been reproduced in colour, but this is a minor quibble.
I do hope it is either reprinted or issued in paperback soon, or that you an find it in your local library,and I apologise for my tardiness in recommending it to you.