Laurel of Austenprose has kindly asked me to contribute some posts for her Pride and Prejudice Without Zombies Group Read. Today I am writing about Country House Tourism in the early 19th century,and next week will be writing about William Gilpin’s influence on Jane Austen’s writings…So let’s apply to the housekeeper, shall we? I’m sure she has some interesting tales to tell…


Tourism in the United Kingdom, visiting grand country houses and the untamed countryside, developed apace in the 18th century. The diaries of the period reflect this trend containing as they do many, many accounts of visiting differing parts of the country, and of course, the trip that the Gardiners and Elizabeth Bennet make to Derbyshire  in Pride and Prejudice is an example of the typical tour that those who could afford to would want to make. Their original destination,The Lakes of  Cumberland, Westmoreland and Lancashire, were terribly popular.

The Gardiner’s second choice, Derbyshire, was almost as celebrated.

Why this growth in domestic tourism? First, because of the developments in travel: if you couldn’t “get” to a country house/pleasant vale easily you simply couldn’t visit it. Improved roads-both routes and road surfaces- and the system of posting horse and carriages for hire, made travel easier for those who could afford it.  Secondly ,The Grand Tour of Europe , as undertaken by Edward Knight, Jane Austen’s brother, was tourism on a grand lavishly expensive and foreign scale, but it became impossible to complete. The wars with Napoleon curtailed safe travel to Europe to a large extent,  and so people turned to touring England and Wales for  leisure and educational purposes.

The interest in viewing country houses and their grounds  increased as the concept of ‘taste” was taken up in England . Originating in 17th century France, taste, –le gout– and by that I mean the idea of expressing one’s superior education and good breeding by one’s possessions, house and gardens,  was taken up rather rapidly by the English, of nearly all classes.

If you were unsure as to what actually constituted good taste help was at hand. Edmund Burke, in his book, “Philosophical enquiry into the Origins of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful “(1757) and Jane Austen’s favourite, William Gilpin, with his series of books on The Picturesque-the correct way to view landscape and country houses,as compositions for pictures,- led the way in explaining what was de rigueur.( More on Gilpin from me next week, by the way)

As Adrian Tinniswood comments in his  wonderful book on the history of country house tourism, The Polite Tourist, when talking about visiting  Lord Scarsdale’s magnificent house, Kedleston House, also in Derbyshire:

It is no coincidence that Kedleston Hall should have been the most consistently praised of all new houses in the later 18th century. It conformed absolutely to the educated classes’ conception of what modern architecture ought to be : costly, but not showy; elegant but not effete; convenient and in line with the accepted canons of classical taste, but at the same time spectacular enough to stand out from the mass of country houses. Together with its collection to became a symbol of the ideal: and by noticing and approving of the paintings, the proportions and the grandeur of the whole, tourists could share in the owner’s statement of his culture and taste. They were able to demonstrate that they belonged to that collective elite which constituted polite society at the end of the 18th century.

Provided people were correctly attired, polite and genteel and could travel, then, by the early 19th century the cultural world of the English country house was open to them. The English began to explore their own country and its contents, equipped with these sophisticated guides for the evaluation of art, architecture and the natural scenery around them.  It gave people an opportunity to develop and exhibit their own sense of  “taste”, something Elizabeth Bennet quite naturally does while walking around Pemberely House and its grounds.

The housekeeper came; a respectable-looking elderly woman, much less fine, and more civil, than she had any notion of finding her. They followed her into the dining-parlour. It was a large, well-proportioned room, handsomely fitted up. Elizabeth, after slightly surveying it, went to a window to enjoy its prospect. The hill, crowned with wood, from which they had descended, receiving increased abruptness from the distance, was a beautiful object. Every disposition of the ground was good; and she looked on the whole scene — the river, the trees scattered on its banks, and the winding of the valley, as far as she could trace it — with delight. As they passed into other rooms these objects were taking different positions; but from every window there were beauties to be seen. The rooms were lofty and handsome, and their furniture suitable to the fortune of their proprietor; but Elizabeth saw, with admiration of his taste, that it was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less of splendor, and more real elegance, than the furniture of Rosings.

Pride and Prejudice Chapter 23

In order to be able to criticize Darcy’s taste Elizabeth needed to be able to  understand what was acceptable and correct,and more importantly, what was not. Something she did with ease, though she found criticising oil paintings in the Pemberley gallery  rather more difficult. An example of Mrs Bennet, yet again, failing her daughter in her education: even if masters were to be had, they had patently failed to provide Elizabeth with an education in the appreciation of art.

I’ve dealt with some aspects of opening these country houses to the pubic in the 18th and early 19th centuries -the problem for visitors and owner alike and the role of the housekeeper in an old post here on Austen Only, which  I do invite you to read, for  in this post I want to concentrate on a different aspect of country house visiting: the practicalities of such tourism, and to answer such questions as how did the visitors find out about these houses and estates? And what was on show once they were there?

To the first question. Obviously the houses in one’s locality would be known to the prospective country house visitors, but when travelling how did the traveller know where these places were to be found, especially if you were not in the company of a knowledgeable former resident like Mrs Gardiner?

The answer again is to be found in books. Detailed publications like John Britton and Edward Baylake Bayley’s  The Beauties of England and Wales; or, Delineations, Topographical, Historical and Descriptive of each County ,

Or, John Cary’s Traveller’s Itinerary,

proliferated in the early 19th century to guide the determined traveler, and are one of my favourite types of antiquarian books collect. The one probably of more use to us today was written by a woman, Georgiana Kearsley whose Traveller’s Entertaining Guide Through Great Britain is a favourite of mine.

Cary’s book is a masterpiece detailing all the roads and cross roads in England and Wales ( with some of the main routes in Scotland)

and he does give some descriptions of houses –the seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen – to be seen along the route you are taking while riding in your comfortable carriage or hired post-chaise. Both books, note, contain a chapter amounting to 60 pages each, giving  details , set out alphabetically, of most of the known country houses in the kingdom

(Do note that you can enlarge all the photographs of the pages of the books in order to be able to read the detail:

I do recommend it as I find them fascinating.)

But Georgiana Kearsley’s book is far more detailed. For example, on this page we have her version of part of the route from London to Manchester, passing through the towns of Matlock, Darley, Rowsley and Bakewell in Derbyshire.

The entry for Bakewell, is very useful for the traveler, and tells him all he really needs to know:

Bakewell is the best town on the north side of the Peak, on the Wye. It is supposed to have been a Roman town, because of altars dug up near it at Haddon-house. Three miles on the r. is Chatsworth a magnificent seat of the duke of Devonshire. It is reckoned among the wonders of the Peak. It is a most magnificent house, built of stone dug on the spot and is a most beautiful structure. This was one of the prisons of Mary queen of Scots. On the road, three miles on the r. is Hassop, F. Eyre esq.

Inns: George, New George.

Let’s deconstruct this entry.

She tells us a little of the ancient history of the place, important for the early 19th century traveller as  interest in antiquities was then a very gentlemanly pursuit. Then she informs us of the direction to Chatsworth, with details of what might attract us there and a little of its history.

And finally Georgiana points out another house where we might want to apply to the housekeeper to see its gardens and contents. Then once we have decided to linger in Bakewell to see these  attractions we are told of the two inns where we can stay overnight, or refresh ourselves and our horses on the way. All very useful information, I’m sure you will agree.

Once the travellers arrived at a country house, what would they see? Well, of course, the route and content of such a tour depended on the owners of the house or  the housekeeper’s patience or desire for a gratuity. We know that Elizabeth Bennet’s tour of Pemberley House included viewing  the hall, dining parlour,other rooms,including Georgina Darcy’s sitting room, the picture gallery and some bedrooms.

Was this typical?

Lets compare it to a tour of Osterley House just outside London, the home of the wealthy banking family, the Childs, which was made by Sophie von La Roche, the German authoress in 1786. The house was originally a Tudor building which was  aggrandized in the 18th century by Robert Adam. Her account is full of delicious detail and prefect for our purposes today and here are some extracts from it, illustrated with pictures of the rooms she is describing:

Today we made a pleasant trip to Osterley Park, Madame Child’s country seat, widow of the late banker of this name, whose property amounted to 500,00 guilder. We would never have imaged such a place had we not seen it It lies eight miles from London, in the county  of Middlesex almost opposite the Duke of Northumberland’s fine property Sion House, and indeed they are the joint owners of equal shares of the Sion Monastery estate….

As friendly Mr Burth, whom I met at Count Reventlow’s had sent us a ticket admitting five people, we were led into the breakfast room until the caretaker arrived. Where we looked at some nice pictures, had a view on to the park and the very portion of the wood where the fallow deer were and had the pond on one side and some field and Richmond hills in the distance on the other.

Fr0m here the friendly woman conducted us into the magnificent library….the dining room is very large with delicious decorations and looks out onto flower beds…

From here we came through a fine tapestried apartment into a gallery 130 feet long with large windows onto the garden…

This gallery led into the drawing room, where are some superb hangings and chairs of Gobelin Tapestry

We entered a green bedroom next,

Then one where all the draperies and curtains  are richly yet prettily embroidered. Another lovely room follows and yet another called the Etrurian cabinet since its wall paintings are copied from one similar found in Pompeii…

Upstairs we saw Mrs Child’s apartments; she is away in Switzerland at the moment. These are dainty boudoirs contining all the  most delicate porcelain, gold and silver ornaments and miniatures. More especially a collection of enamels being the portraits of the Child family and a number of them by the famous Petitot.

I was pleased to find my “Sternheim” in English translation amongst Mrs Child’s book 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…

We went down to the very lowest floor where are all the sevants quarters-kitchen,

bake-house, laundry housekeeper’s lodge- all as spruce and clean as I myself could have desired my whole life long

The dairy and milk room however surpassed all my expectations. There was an entrance in which  milk and milking pails and butter tubs stood in splendid array al white with brass rings gleaming like gold; then down a step into the dairy where the milk was standing in large flat china pans, especially made with broad spouts for pouring off the milk, around the four walls on grey marble tables….we were brought each a glass of cream with bread and  butter in it…

And the housekeeper led us on though the poultry run and across a fine spot reserved for the washing, bleaching and drying back to her own part where we had to partake of some cherry brandy and very good cakes so that the milk should not chill in our stomachs..

We visited the garden especially the Chinese summer-house where all the furnishings come from China…

Into a vegetable garden there again were whole hosts of  a thousand different flowers besides the vegetables; hot houses containing hundreds of pineapples of unusual size; one for growing rapes…Beehives made with particular care so that their work should always be visible.

Sophie’s tour was long and more detailed than Elizabeth’s. Viewing the domestic offices is an unusual thing to do for the time, as was being offered refreshment. But I can’t imagine Mrs Reynolds allowing visitors -even celebrated authors- to deface her mistresses’ book….In the last few years many people has asked me if bedrooms would really have been on show at Pemberley, as they felt that this would have been too intrusive. I think you can see that it was clearly not  an outrageous thing to have done when compared to the extensive tour of Osterley house,which included both state and private bedrooms,and so the answer is, “yes’.

So there you have it-the practicalities of touring a grand country house in the early 19th century. Sophie von La Roche’s tour compared rather well with Jane Austen’s imaginary tour of Pemberely as experienced by Elizabeth Bennet, but of course it had one vital difference:  she didn’t manage to marry the  intriguing owner of the estate…. I do hope you have enjoyed this post and it will add a little something when you tour Pemberley in the company of the Gardiners and Elizabeth Bennet in Chapter 42.


If you are intrigued by this subject and want to know more I can do no better than recommend my Twitter Buddy and fabulous historian, Adrian Tinniswood’s great and entertaining book( to which I referred above ), The Polite Tourist.

Sadly, it is currently out of print and quite hard to find secondhand, but Adrian tells me he has six copies of the book and he is willing to sell his remaining copies to the first comers.You can contact him here: he is a wonderful author and a smashing chap so do try and get his book (s) if you can. You wont regret it :-)