About this project
The research which supports this site 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 40 years of experience in evaluating and testing the evidence they provide, so as to offer in these pages 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 and acknowledged at the end of the article concerned. I also 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.
We live in egalitarian times, when inequality is viewed with suspicion and social injustice and privilege are seen by many as actually immoral. We find it hard to remember that these attitudes have developed only in the last two hundred years or so and that in earlier times gross inequalities were not only tolerated across society but seen as the natural order of things by rich and poor alike, even if nobody was actually content to be grindingly poor. The rich man was in his castle and the poor man at his gate; and the women, of course, were not even mentioned. In telling the stories of the aristocratic and gentry families of the UK and Ireland and describing the country houses where they lived, I therefore try to avoid judging them by modern standards, although I am always more comfortable writing about those who led useful, creative and purposeful lives than those who milked the world for all they were worth and gave very little back. Just occasionally, one comes across an individual who consistently overstepped the boundaries of what was acceptable in their own time and got away with it, and then it is hard to resist the temptation to temper my objectivity!
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 sometimes later declined 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 also received help with particular families and houses from William Acton, John Ainslie, Peter Archdale, Jill Armitage, Anthea Ashfield, James Ashford, Pete & Jackie Bettess, Paul Bradley, David Brown, Nicholas Coleridge, Peter de Loriol, Geoffrey de Wilton, Joanne Eastman, Alison Elliott, David Erskine, David Exworth, Niamh Fitzpatrick, Elisabeth Frankish, Bil Fulton, Susan Griffiths, Clare Hartwell, Freddie Hervey-Bathurst, Jon Hearn, Stan Hicks, Debbie Hodgson, Marc Hoover, Martyn Howes, Michael Kelly, Felicity Learey, Caroline Magnus, David Martin, Jean F. Milne, Nick Molyneux, Phil Norris, Lord Norton, Bernard Nurse, Christine Penney, Anthony Ruscoe, Megan Ryan, Bob and Lucy Scott-Ashe, Colin Varley, John Venning, Chris Webb, and Cressida Williams.
I am also most 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, Robert O'Byrne, Rob Wheeler, Historic England, National Trust Images and the Royal Institute of British Architects: the number and quality of the illustrations I can offer is thereby much enhanced. The images used are wherever possible my own, rights cleared, available under a Creative Commons licence or equivalent, or out of copyright. 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.
|Upton House, Tetbury. Image: Nicholas Kingsley. Some rights reserved.|
Comments from readers suggest it may be helpful to explain a bit more about how posts on this site 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). In such cases, the description of the house will be given in the article of the family most closely associated with it, with cross-references from the other accounts.
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 a portrait or photograph, and 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. Where possible, children are listed chronologically.
- 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.
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 through the Contact Form on the site. You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook. I put a message on Twitter as each new post is published.
What's coming next
- Leigh-Bennett of Thorpe Place (Surrey) [now published]
- Benson of Lutwyche Hall (Shropshire) [now published]
- Benthall of Benthall Hall (Shropshire) [in preparation]
- Cavendish-Bentinck of Welbeck Abbey (Notts) etc., Dukes of Portland
- Bentley of Pannal Hall (Yorks WR)
- Benyon (formerly Benyon-de Beauvoir) of Englefield Hall (Berks)
- Berens of Kevington (Kent)
- Beresford of Bolam Hall (Northbld) etc., Barons Decies
- Beresford of Learmount (Co. Londonderry)
- Beresford of Woodhouse (Co. Waterford)
- De La Poer-Beresford of Curraghmore (Co. Waterford), Marquesses of Waterford
- Massy-Beresford of Macbie Hill (Peebles.) and St Hubert's (Co. Fermanagh)
- Pack-Beresford of Fenagh (Co. Carlow)
List of families considered for inclusion in the site but not meeting the criteria
Barrow of Milestown (Co. Louth)
Barrow of The Red House
Barrow of Ulverstone, baronets
Barry of Dublin, baronets
Barry of Firville
Barry of Kilbolane Castle (Co. Cork)
Barry of Sandville House (Co. Limerick)
Barry of Summer Hill