Simanaitis Says

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ON ENGLISH COUNTRY HOUSES

IT’S GREAT fun watching the PBS series Downton Abbey. And one of my favorite mystery movies is Gosford Park. What’s more, through friendship with Rob Walker and his wife Betty, rest their souls, I’ve enjoyed the pleasures of an English country house.

Wouldn’t you know, there’s even a book on the subject in my collection.

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The English Country House in Perspective, by Gervase Jackson-Stops, illustrations by Brian Delf, Peter Morter and Mel Wright, Grove Weidenfeld in association with The National Trust, 1990. Both www.abebooks.com and www.amazon.com list the book. An amazon.com link: The English Country House in Perspective

Gervase Jackson-Stops’ The English Country House in Perspective is broad in its chronology, from Bodiam Castle as it appeared in 1400 to Castle Drogo started in 1911, albeit in Norman style.

It happens that Highclere, the actual setting of Downton Abbey, isn’t included in the book. Neither is Wrotham Park, the filming location for Gosford Park. However, several of the book’s other country houses certainly offer an ambience the Crawleys or Sir William McCordle’s weekend guests would have appreciated.

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Hardwick Hall is Elizabethan, built 1590 – 1597, in Derbyshire, about 150 miles northwest of London. Jackson-Stops describes it as a Renaissance hunting lodge on a gigantic scale. Images from The English Country House in Perspective.

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Along with its informative text, the book’s forte is its handsomely illustrated bird’s eye views, often with cutaways showing the character of the twelve country houses discussed. Floor plans, period sketches and modern photos accompany these perspectives.

My favorite of the twelve is Stourhead, a grand mansion in Palladian style located in Wiltshire, about 120 miles west-southwest of London.

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Stourhead, the east front with library and picture gallery flanking the original villa. Below, a floor plan showing expansion since its 1720 construction. Images from The English Country House in Perspective.

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Wife Dottie and I have visited Stourhead several times. It’s only 11 miles south of Nunney Court, Rob and Betty Walker’s home in Somerset.

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Nunney Court, near Frome, Somerset, about 115 miles west of London. The country home of Rob and Betty Walker from 1949 for more than 60 years. Images from http://www.savills.co.uk.

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Rob and Betty’s country house is Georgian, dating from 1760. A recent sales brochure described its early 19th century extensions and alterations, including “doulting ashlar and accentuated quoins…” How could I not research this?

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Quoins are masonry corners, often arranged in alternating fashion. Image from Doulting Stone Quarry, Shepton Mallet. The quarry has 2000 years of history (http://goo.gl/5WDAh3).

Doulting stone comes from only three English locales, including one in Shepton Mallet, just down the road from Nunney. Ashlar is finely finished masonry; the term is also part of Masonic symbolism.

One of Nunney Court’s special attractions was its own castle, complete with moat. Sir Walter de la Mere built Nunney Castle in 1373.

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Above, Nunney Castle as it appears today. Below, its own 14th century perspective. Images from www.english-heritage.org.uk.

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The castle is now in the care of English Heritage.

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A winter scene at Nunney Court, the castle in the background at right. Painting by Betty Walker.

The Walkers were wonderfully gracious hosts and are part of fond memories of Nunney Court. Rob recounting a racing tale, Betty showing us how to use a divining rod to search for Roman coins in Nunney Court’s adjoining fields.

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Above, the Dining Room at Nunney Court. The door at left rear leads to the study. Below, a wall of Rob’s study. Images from http://www.savills.co.uk.

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For additional Walker lore, see http://wp.me/p2ETap-jU and http://wp.me/p2ETap-1u3. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014

One comment on “ON ENGLISH COUNTRY HOUSES

  1. David Miller
    October 8, 2014

    Rob was very kind to me when I was a kid hanging around the pits. A truly gracious host.

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