The Daily Mail has posted an excerpt from a new book about English country houses. This is by Clive Aslet, former editor of Country Life and is entitled Old Homes, New Life. It is based on visits he has made to 12 country houses where he has interviewed their current owners and considers their tenures in the context of the the history of each house. The Mail’s excerpt is from the section of the book relating to Madresfield Court which has a close association with Evelyn Waugh:
Lucy Chenevix-Trench’s family have been at Madresfield Court, in Worcestershire, for 900 years. When I visited it for Old Homes, New Life […] I found it a deeply romantic house: readers of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited will see it through misty eyes, because its pre-War occupants, the 7th Earl Beauchamp and his family, inspired the story.
Unlike some film representations of Brideshead, though, Madresfield is not ostentatiously grand, having evolved in what Lucy’s husband Jonathan calls a ‘somewhat random and organic manner,’ as and when money permitted over the centuries. Today the overarching priority at Madresfield is family life. ‘We still have three out of four children at home,’ explains Lucy. ‘That will change, but for now we feel very strongly about its being a family home.’
Lucy is the daughter of the previous owner Lady Morison who inherited it from an uncle. Lucy was 23 when she moved in with her mother and so did not experience it as a child which is what her own young children are now doing. They also open the house to the public 40 days per year:
Initially Lucy was not sure what she would make of it. ‘We thought, ‘O my goodness, people wandering around in the middle of our house! We didn’t have that in our cottage in Hungerford.’ We now feel there’s a positive pleasure in sharing the house and its history. It all works very well, and we in turn learn a huge amount from our visitors.’
Lucy’s husband also explains that they are trying to put the land itself to use by raising grass-fed cattle since it isn’t suitable for crops.
The book has also been reviewed in a recent issue of The Tatler:
From Jane Austen to Julian Fellowes, Ian McEwan to Evelyn Waugh, the British country house has beguiled and entranced for centuries. Benjamin Disraeli spoke of ‘that soul-subduing sentiment, harshly called flirtation, which is the spell of a country house,’ articulating a feeling that all who have visited British country houses know too well. But Old Homes, New Life reminds us that country houses are far more than objects of beauty and history to be admired by an adoring – if sometimes envious – public. They are family homes and working estates, supporting thousands of livelihoods and closely guarding an ancient way of life.
The book will be published early next month in the USA and is already for sale in the UK. The articles in the Daily Mail and Tatler are illustrated with some of the photographs from the book which come across very well on their internet editions.