About this blogIn this blog I am making my research on the architectural and family history of British and Irish landed families and their country houses available in the hope that others will find them interesting and useful: the usage of the site by more than 30,000 readers a month from all round the world is most encouraging and suggests that others share my interests. I want in particular to show how the history of the houses reflects the history of the families who owned them, and to enable those interested in particular houses to trace the kinship networks of their owners, which so often shaped the patronage choices which owners made. The approach has been developed on the basis of my previous research on Gloucestershire country houses, where I was able to visit almost every surviving house and personally inspect all the surviving archival evidence. However that one county study took me 20 years, and in scaling up to a national canvas I am inevitably largely dependent on the original research of others.
The research which supports this blog is therefore primarily derived from secondary sources, online catalogues of archives, and digitised original sources, although I am also drawing on a lifetime of country house and church visiting, which means that over the years I have been to quite a lot of the places described, including many that are not open to the public. The secondary sources - and especially the Internet sources - for genealogy, and indeed for the architectural history of country houses, are notoriously full of inaccuracies and wish-fulfillment, and I hope that as an archivist I bring to bear on this material over 35 years of experience in evaluating and testing the evidence they provide, so as to offer in the blog as factual an account as I can. However, while the information provided is as accurate as I can make it while maintaining a reasonable output, I am far from infallible in both my discovery of sources and my assessment of them, and I will be genuinely grateful for additional information and corrections supplied by readers, and especially by the current owners of the houses and by descendants of the families discussed, who may have personal archives containing information not otherwise available. I make updates and corrections to past posts on a regular basis, so trustworthy information supplied will be incorporated within a few days. I include at the end of each account a note of when it was first published and subsequently amended, so that readers who refer to the site at intervals can see at a glance whether an account has been updated since their last visit.
I have been asked how I select families and houses for inclusion. My rule of thumb is that a family should have owned and occupied at least one country house continuously for over half a century and more than one generation, and should have used it as a country house (not as a farm or a furniture store!). Most of the families included will be found in the pages of one or more editions of Burke's Landed Gentry or Peerage & Baronetage, though not all. Impressively comprehensive though those works are, some families do seem to have slipped through their net, and of course some families died out before John Burke began publishing in the 1820s and 1830s, such as the Ackloms of Wiseton Hall or the Agards of Foston Hall. I have also been asked about which families I have considered for inclusion, but rejected as not meeting these criteria; a list of these is given below. It will be seen that many of the families which are included in one or more editions of Burke's publications do not meet my criteria. (If you think any of these families did meet the criteria, please let me know!)
Saying that a family is selected for inclusion on the basis of owning a country house of course begs the question of what is a country house, which is interesting and tricky to define. My best effort is that it is a residential building which at the time it was built was in a rural setting and exhibited the characteristics that suggested gentry or aristocratic status to contemporaries. Those characteristics changed over time, with the varying social and economic significance of land ownership and changing architectural and landscaping fashions. Houses that were built as country houses could - and did - decline in status; others that had been simple farms over centuries could be refashioned and redecorated and lived in in a different way, and become country houses almost overnight. Those are the principles of selection, but I reserve the right to bend the rules to write about any family or house that interests me, and indeed to exclude the terminally dull!
I have already received very generous help of various kinds with the project from Sir William Arbuthnot, bt., Catherine Beale, Matthew Beckett, Peter Bell, Chris Bennett, Martin Deacon, Charles Hind, Gareth Hughes, Thomas Lloyd, the National Trust, Chris Pickford, Liz Rees, Rob Wheeler, Chris Whittick and Sue Wood.
I have also received help with particular families and houses from William Acton, John Ainslie, Peter Archdale, Jill Armitage, Anthea Ashfield, James Ashford, Pete & Jackie Bettess, David Bowd-Exworth, David Brown, Nicholas Coleridge, Peter de Loriol, Geoffrey de Wilton, Joanne Eastman, Alison Elliott, David Erskine, Niamh Fitzpatrick, Elisabeth Frankish, Bil Fulton, Clare Hartwell, Stan Hicks, Debbie Hodgson, Marc Hoover, Martyn Howes, Michael Kelly, Felicity Learey, Caroline Magnus, David Martin, Jean F. Milne, Nick Molyneux, Jeremy Musson, Jonathan Myles-Lea, Phil Norris, Lord Norton, Bernard Nurse, Christine Penney, Anthony Ruscoe, Megan Ryan, Bob Scott-Ashe, Colin Varley, John Venning, Chris Webb and Cressida Williams.
I am also particularly grateful to all those who have generously allowed me to reproduce individual photographs from other online and archival sources in return for nothing more than an acknowledgement, and in particular to Matthew Beckett, Charles Hind, Rob Wheeler, Historic England and National Trust Images: the number and quality of the illustrations I can offer is thereby much enhanced. The images used are wherever possible my own, rights cleared, or available under a Creative Commons licence or equivalent. For images taken from the Web it has in some cases not been possible to establish or to contact a rights owner; if anyone can show their copyright has been infringed please contact me and I will either add an appropriate credit or take down the image.
Anatomy of the blog
Comments from readers suggest it may be helpful to explain a bit more about how posts on this blog are structured. Each post is in three parts:
Firstly, a general narrative account of the family from its first rise to gentry status down to its extinction, lapse from gentry status, or the present day, paying particular attention to its fluctuating status and wealth and the acquisition and dispersal of landed estates.
Secondly, accounts of each of the family's country houses, usually in the order they acquired them, and telling - as far as I can discover the information - the whole story of the house, including its development before the family under consideration acquired it, and after they sold it. For each house, there is a narrative history and a list of the owners as far as I have been able to trace it. Some houses which have been owned at different times by several qualifying families may eventually appear in more than one post (e.g. Linden Hall, which features in the posts of the Adamson and Ames families; or Frickley Hall, which features in the posts on the Anne and Warde-Aldam families).
The final section gives summary biographical and genealogical information about the members of the family who actually owned the estate or parts of it, in the sequence of their ownership. The names indexed on the 'Index to Biographical Entries' page are the names which appear in bold in this section, and who were generally the owners of one of the estates of the family, although where estates have passed from a man to his grandson or great-nephew I have included the intervening generations for comprehensibility. For each individual treated, I aim to provide the following information, where known:
- Parentage, date and place of birth and/or baptism
- Education, including travels on the Grand Tour
- Career - employment, official appointments, offices held, honours
- Personality, where illuminated by memoirs or other evidence, and significant friendships
- Marriage(s) - date, place, name and parentage of spouse(s)
- Children - for each, their dates and places of birth and baptism, marriage, death and burial; the names, covering dates and parentage of their spouse(s), the number and sex of their children; information about their occupation and career, rank and honours
- Key property transactions during the lifetime of the owner and responsibility for work on the house or houses of the family
- Date and place of death and burial; date of probate of will, and value of estate; and similar details for their spouse.
For families with a very complex story, this material may be split over two or even three postings, labelled 'part 1', 'part 2', etc., as, for example, with the Actons of Aldenham, Barons Acton. Each family has been assigned a number, included in the title of the post, which is used for indexing the content of the blog on the index pages.
To avoid any confusion, I should make it plain that the counties referred to in describing the location of properties are those in which the property stood immediately prior to the major shake-up of local government in the mid-20th century (in 1965 around London; in 1974 in the rest of England; and in 1975 in Scotland). Earlier minor boundary changes are ignored; thus Alscot Park is in Warwickshire not Gloucestershire, even though it lay in the latter county until 1931.
I would really welcome any suggestions for improvements in the content or presentation. I am also very keen to receive additional information and images as updates to previous posts, and will incorporate these to ensure that each post remains the most accurate account I can offer of the family and houses concerned. If you are able to help in this way, please post a comment on the relevant post or contact me throught the Contact Form on the blog. You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook. I put a message on Twitter and Facebook as each new post is published.
What's coming next
- Balfour of Balbirnie (Fife) [now published]
- Balfour of Balfour and Trenabie (Orkney & Shetland) [now published]
- Balfour of Dawyck (Peebles) [now published]
- Balfour of Fernie Castle and Kindrogan (Fife) [now published]
- Balfour of Sidmouth Manor (Devon) [now published]
- Balfour (later Townley Balfour) of Balfour Castle (Fermanagh) and Townley Hall (Louth) [now published]
- Balfour of Whittinghame (East Lothian), Earls of Balfour and Balfour of Balgonie (Fife) and Newton Don (Berwicks) [now published]
- Balguy of Aston Hall, Derwent Hall and Duffield Park (Derbys) [now published]
- Ball of Moorside (Meath) and Reynoldstown (Dublin)
- Balme, Jones-Balme and Wheatley-Balme of High Close, Langdale (Westmld) and Cote Wall (Yorks WR)
- Bampfylde of Poltimore Park and Court Hall, Norton Molton, Barons Poltimore
List of families considered for inclusion in the blog but not meeting the criteria
This page was last revised 13 November 2018.