English Country House Eccentrics by David Long

By David Long

A lighthearted, witty, yet actual biographical account of the eccentric life of the developers and citizens of 100 nation houses

Extraordinary structures require impressive humans, and over the centuries old homes have produced greater than their justifiable share of oddballs. Insulated from the skin global by means of colossal wealth, rolling acres, and the social prestige identify implies, aristocrats have constantly been in a position to amuse themselves—and now the reader—by pursuing idiosyncratic pursuits and manias to the purpose of eccentricity. The twelfth Duke of Bedford, for instance, hottest parrots to humans, forcing his kids to scouse borrow the birds' foodstuff to make up their meager rations, whereas the fifth Duke of Portland paid his employees an advantage at the figuring out they might by no means converse to him. The Hon. Henry Cavendish inherited £200 million at modern-day values, yet by no means spent greater than 5 shillings on dinner, whereas extra lately the 2d Lord Rothschild spent weeks education a staff of zebra to drag his carriage up the Mall and into Buckingham Palace. This strange history lifts the lid on all that is strange, fantastic, unthinkable, and downright wacky approximately wonderful historical past houses and their strange occupants.

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Privately Sir Francis was at least a bit of a prankster: he and a chum once released a monkey in church which the congregation took to be Satan, and at West Wycombe he kept a replica Spanish galleon on the lake (complete with captain) for the amusement of his guests. But today he is chiefly remembered as the instigator of a series of fascinating follies which he built around the park and estate at West Wycombe. Of these the strangest is perhaps the golden ball which sits on top of the fourteenth-century church, a feature added in the early 1760s and accessible only by ladder.

Even ahead of this the third of the unfortunate girls had been thrown out of the house after being seen to smoke a cigarette, and perhaps understandably she elected never to return until her father was dead. His vehement objection to smoking had more to do with the risk to his house than to his daughter’s health, a persistent worry for many owners of isolated country houses and one which may well have contributed to his decision not to equip the abbey with electricity. In fact the house had to wait until the 1960s to get this, along with the telephone.

In the way of these things his carriage was painted a similar colour, and shortly afterwards his servants were ordered into an approximately mud-coloured livery. In public – but rarely before dusk – he made a fetish of drinking tea (which was brown) and to take snuff at every opportunity (ditto), which he carried on his person one of his 365 snuff boxes. ’ Nearly fifty when his father died (making him the 4th Earl of Harrington – hence the hat) Stanhope inherited Elvaston, a Gothic Revival house by James Wyatt.

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