country living: size and surprise

The noble houses of eighteenth century England…

…To most visitors it is a strange unreal world that opens before their eyes, and questions crowd in. Are the 365 rooms at Knole in Kent really necessary even for a duke?  Two hundred yards, or 606 feet, to be precise, seems excessive for the front of any house; the Marquess of Rockingham thought his dignity required it; and an entrance hall sixty feet square and forty feet high put his visitors in a suitably humble frame of mind. But did Mylord of Exeter require four huge billiard rooms in which to disport himself?

The Chinese Dairy at Woburn Abbey was built during the vogue for Oriental design that flourished in the late eighteenth century. image:

Parks were in proportion to houses. A series of landscape gardeners- Bridgeman, Kent, “Capability” Brown- taught the English nobility to remodel the surrounding countryside. Rivers were diverted, lakes dug, so that the house might be reflected in a peaceful stretch of water, sometimes decorated with gilded barges from which a private orchestra could entertain the guests with the latest airs of Handel or Mozart. No one balked at planting vast woods that could not possibly mature for two centuries. Fifty miles was not an unusual circumference for a park, and Sir Robert Walpole, King George I’s prime minister, used fifty men, women, and boys merely to weed his plantations. Doric temples, “Gothick” follies, Chinese pagodas, often exquisitely decorated and furnished with the same lux as the house, garnished a vista or, carefully concealed, caused delight by surprise.

Jan Siberechts (1627‑c.1700)
View of a House and its Estate in Belsize, Middlesex
Date 1696
MediumOil paint on canvas —Read More:

The Duchess of Bedford had been in Paris when Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV’s mistress, started a rage for dairies- built exquisitely, of course, and often es porcelain. In these the great ladies of the Court could ape the dairymaid. Not to be outdone, the Duchess built her own dairy at Woburn- larger, finer, more exquisite still- red and black, very a la mode in its chinoiserie, and mirrored in its own lake. The same reckless expense, the same lavish use of the finest materials, the same sense eternity pervade even the stables. Those at Woburn the size of a small village, beautifully designed and planned, built regardless of cost. The stalls for horses at Houghton are made of the finest oak, exquisitely carved with a crispness of detail that argues the highest standard of craftsmanship. ( to be continued)…

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