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And today’s field trip was…

Great Dixter. It’s a house.

A hundred years ago, a rich man bought a falling-down 15th Century house in Northiam. Then he bought a falling-down 16th Century house in nearby Kent, had it dismantled brick-by-beam and moved back to the first house. Then he got the great Victorian architect Edwin Lutyens to stitch the two together into a faux Tudor manor house, with big dollops of 1910 sauce.

If that sounds a bit snarky, it’s because I haven’t made up my mind about this sort of thing. Two decaying Tudor buildings were saved, so there’s that. And the resulting house really is lovely, so there’s that. The modern bits don’t stick out at all.

But there’s something a bit too Disney’s Magic Kingdom about the whole business. And something too much like vandalism.

Lutyens bought ancient carved blanket chests and had the backs and bottoms removed to put over the 20th Century radiators. Just, ew. There’s still no shortage of ancient chests in England, but…ew.

Years ago, we visited Hever Castle, which was Anne Boleyn’s childhood home. One of the Astors got hold of it in 1903, gutted it and rebuilt it to the 1903 notion of what Anne Boleyn’s childhood home should look like.


I don’t know. I think these stately old homes cease to be homes and die. And then elderly people come and buy overpriced cups of tea and artisanal chutneys and tea towels with the birds of England in the gift shop.

Sometimes I feel like I’m something unpleasant swarming over the mummified corpse of something that was once great.

p.s. There was a garden.


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 2, 2011, 9:50 pm

I didn’t mean that to sound quite so dark, but there’s something monstrously unfair about all of this. In the 20th C, the death duties were raised so high that families couldn’t afford to keep their ancestral homes. It’s expensive enough caring for a place like this; doing it after a ruinous tax bill is impossible.

That’s how the National Trust came to be — as a place where people could ditch the ancient homes they couldn’t afford to inherit.

That ain’t right.

Comment from Mitchell
Time: August 2, 2011, 10:20 pm

Neat ghost you got there Stoaty!

“Sometimes I feel like I’m something unpleasant swarming over the mummified corpse of something that was once great.”

When the dollar collapses we’ll all get to feel that way over here too.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: August 2, 2011, 10:32 pm

I always said my ideal home would be a Lutyens House and a Gertrude Jekyll garden (they were a duo – note, not a couple).

This house got the first part right but the man who made garden was, um, exuberant. People come from all over the world to see it.

I’m not sure why. Maybe because they keep being told they should?

As to fakes… Badger House is a fake, too. Part 1500s, part 1970s (guess which bit is falling down!?).

I don’t really mind as long as it’s tasteful. There are very few ancient houses that haven’t been knocked about a bit and added on to, here and there. After a hundred years, nobody cares.

But the garden? It was a little too gay for me, In both senses of the word.

Comment from Col. Percy Fawcett
Time: August 2, 2011, 10:34 pm

The entire island became a semi-mummified artifact of bygone greatness.

Our new fecund and subsidised overlords will erect minarets without a care in the world who lived where. U-lu-lu-lu-lu!!! One of the most beautiful sounds known to man at sunset.

Wa, salami? I like ’em.

Comment from Mark Matis
Time: August 2, 2011, 11:46 pm

And then elderly people come and buy overpriced cups of tea and artisanal chutneys and tea towels with the birds of England in the gift shop.

Hey, if it keeps the Auld Country going for a few more weeks, what’s not to like?

Comment from Rich Rostrom
Time: August 3, 2011, 1:21 am

the death duties were raised so high that families couldn’t afford to keep their ancestral homes…

Two comments, one funny, one not funny.

First: “The Fiery Wooing of Mordred Mulliner”, by P. G. Wodehouse. Mordred meets the girl in a dentist’s waiting room, and is surprised to get an invitation to her family’s manor in the mail. All the girl really knows about him is his careless habit of throwing still-burning cigarette stubs into wastebaskets. But then, he doesn’t know that the family manor is huge, run-down, ruinously expensive, highly flammable, and heavily insured.

Second: I have read of young Britons, the heirs of ancient families with centuries-old manor houses, who used up their lives trying to maintain the place and keep it in the family. Suppose you were the heir (the lineal heir, a collateral relation probably wouldn’t feel the same obligation) to an estate that had been in the family for say, four hundred years. But suppose there is no money to maintain the place. You’re not poor – say, a sharp IT worker making 50K pounds. You could have a very nice life – if you let the estate go. But you don’t want to be the one who let it go. Not after 400 years, not after growing up there, and not after all the money and work your family has put into it. So you spend every penny you get and every bit of your spare time on the house…

The crushing death duties contributed hugely to this syndrome. I find it particularly distressing that during World War I, some estates were gutted by several rounds of death duties in a few years – because the family had three, four, five or even more successive heirs KIA.

Comment from Sven in Colorado
Time: August 3, 2011, 2:24 am

Here on the high plains, we have little architectural history. South and west are the Anasazi relics at Mesa Verde from 1200 year ago or so. The Pueblo cultures, Hopi and Zuni, perhaps the Navajo are their probable decedents. The Spaniards made their mark in the late 15th century, Santa Fe, New Mexico being the closest outpost of their conquest. So the history books say.

There are are families in the the San Luis Valley who have been in Colorado for the same period of time. I know one in particular whose family settled here about the same time my ancestors helped Bradford set up they Plymouth Colony.

The Roman Church moved back into what is now New Mexico in the early 1800’s, about the same time as Lewis and Clark made their trek. The Bent and St.Vrain Company built a fort in the 1840’s on the Arkansas River. At the same time French trappers and American scouts and entrepreneurs, like Kit Carson were trapping and taking reports of huge herds of bison, elk and deer back to St Louis.

Point being, dear Stoaty: To move structures and conserve…blend those structures is one way to provide historic documentation. It is what I attempt to do with furniture and architectural antiques. It takes someone who is willing to research, document and archive the history.

Conservationist, Cabinetmaker and Teacher…Its what I do.

Comment from Tom
Time: August 3, 2011, 9:16 am

Death duties, or inheritance tax, however you want to phrase it, have always bothered me. It’s the perfect metaphor for government, “We’ve screwed you all your life, and after your death too!”

On the bright side, the politician who fought to re-introduce death duties in 1894, William Vernon Harcourt, was himself screwed by them after unexpectedly inheriting the family estate on the untimely death of his nephew.

Cue Nelson Muntz – HA HA!

Comment from Sporadic Small Arms Fire
Time: August 3, 2011, 6:53 pm

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 2, 2011, 9:50 pm


p.s. There was a garden.

Why of course there was one. Were there any fairies at the bottom of it? Maybe they roll out the fairies when the weather is fine and gullible Americans/Japanese festooned with cameras are in vicinity.

Comment from jwpaine
Time: August 4, 2011, 3:35 am

There are shows on the Home Network, et alia, that teach people how to muck up a home with faux decor. Last one I saw featured some self-important twat doing “Western” decor in a sitting room, with a calf-roping lariat leaning against a pair of English riding boots.

Sorry, but in the words of the great philosopher Amy Winehouse: What kind of fuckery is this?

Comment from Mark Matis
Time: August 4, 2011, 3:59 pm

For jwpaine:
You need to understand that those shows tend to be scripted by and for New Yorkers. The individual responsible for same was undoubtedly an Interior Decorator from the Big Crapple. The closest he and his viewers have been to a horse is when one of the mounted units crapped on them at an LGBT parade. So what ELSE would you expect them to do?

Comment from jwpaine
Time: August 5, 2011, 1:14 pm

Mark: Spot on, no doubt. Hadn’t thought of that. If the opposite of Culture is New Mexico, the opposite of Common Sense must be New York City.

Comment from paleo diät
Time: February 23, 2013, 3:59 pm

Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about this, like you
wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with a few pics to drive the message home a bit, but instead of
that, this is excellent blog. A great read.

I’ll certainly be back.

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