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The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the British Stately Home

The term stately home is one that you hear used quite a lot in conversation, most often as a descriptive term. The origin of the term spans back to 1827, when Felicia Hemans published a poem in Blackwood’s Magazine citing “the stately homes of England”. However, in the whole of the British Isles, there is actually a very specific set of values that constitute a stately home. A British stately home, often interchangeably called a country house, is typically substantial, if not downright palatial in size, and generally dates between the mid-sixteenth to early twentieth century. While it is certainly true that many of the stately homes in Great Britain were built on or around an old fortification of ancestral significance, these homes generally are not fortified as they once were, and therefore are referred to as homes as opposed to castles (which are fortified), although in truth, many of these structures certainly appear at least as imposing as castles at first glance. Most often named for the families that occupied them, these stately homes stood as imposing physical status symbols for the upper-class families of Great Britain, and were also the meeting places for the ruling class when matters of state were at hand. During the heyday of the British stately homes, families amassed great collections of arts and antiquities, each hoping to be able to entertain members of both the royal Family and other well to do families in suitably grand style.

The large stately homes of Great Britain were also important hubs of employment for the small villages in which they existed. Cooks, servants, gardeners, and many other types of indoor and outdoor employees were all members of these small communities, and were heavily reliant on these grand houses for not only their income, but also their agricultural spoils. Referred to as the “big house” in these communities, the family behind the stately home were at the epicentre of the community, and often would act as patron to a local cottage hospital.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the stately homes of Great Britain began to feel the pressure of increased taxation, an agricultural depression, and the advances of modern industry. The final nail in the coffin however, was likely the two World Wars and the ensuing social change that followed in their wake. In addition to many of the great families losing their heirs to the war (and therefore the line of succession to inherit the property), many of the domestic service and agricultural personnel that had historically been employed by these British stately homes had been killed in action, or had simply never returned. The owners of these stately homes were forced to adapt and downsize their domestic complements or risk losing their homes altogether. With the arrival of World War Two, many of the stately homes were donated to the government for the war effort, and were handed back to the owners in a state of dreadful disrepair. Finding themselves needing to make massive repairs on homes, making an agricultural loss, and having to cut back on domestic staff, many of the owners of these stately homes resorted to holding contents auctions in which they sold-off furniture, stone, artwork, or anything else that they thought would generate enough income to keep their homes afloat.

Sadly, many of Britain’s stately homes were demolished in the wake of the changing financial and social climate. Since 1900, 1,200 stately homes have been destroyed in England and 378 in Scotland; 200 of which have happened since 1945. However, with the dawning of the 21st century, a renewed interest in preserving what many now think of as national monuments from a bygone era has emerged, and many of the remaining stately homes that dot the British countryside have been placed in the National Trust, opened to the public, or repurposed into hotels, garden centres, film sets, event venues, or holiday rentals.

What was perhaps lost in the years of indiscriminately demolishing the stately homes of Great Britain in the wake of social change has perhaps now been at least partially regained, in that a large portion of these homes are now accessible to the public, and the contents within them can be enjoyed by the masses. In addition to visiting these homes for their beautiful architecture, colourful and imaginative gardens, and occasional tea house or restaurant, potential holidaymakers can also have the opportunity to rent these stately homes for all manners of different occasions. The following examples are just three of the many available options that are out there for those who might be interested in anything from a shooting weekend to a month-long hiatus.

Aldourie Castle, Scotland

As the only habitable castle (the property is indeed a Grade A listed castle) on the shores of Loch Ness, Aldourie Castle sleeps 28, has 15 bedrooms and 11 bathrooms, and boasts opulently-finished, fully-furnished rooms. The castle can be fully staffed and catered for your group, and if needed, an additional 22 guests can be housed in the small cottages that are located around the 500 acre estate. Despite this seemingly remote setting, Aldourie Castle is just five miles from Inverness.

The Old Rectory, Devonshire

This old Vicarage was originally constructed in 1826, and boasts 8 bedrooms, 7 bathrooms, and sleeps 22 Adults and 3 children. The fully modernised Victorian mansion is totally private with high walls and an electric gate surrounding the property, which opens into five acres of North Devon countryside, including beautifully landscaped gardens and a Grate II listed Victorian grotto.

Temple Guiting Manor, Gloucestershire

One of the oldest buildings in the Cotswoldian village of Temple Guiting, Temple Guiting Manor is built from the unmistakable Cotswold stone, lending it a storybook appearance that lives up to its 14th century heritage. The 5 bedroom, 5 bath sleeps 10, and is loaded with modern amenities, along with access to a 14 acre estate with a tennis court and a private lake. A terrace looks out onto the grounds, which boasts exquisite views with a formal topiary garden, all designed by the venerable Jinny Blom. The mediaeval architectural aspects of the manor, combined with its modern amenities make this one of the most desirable luxury rental properties in the Cotswolds.

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