Noble Ambitions: The Fall and Rise of the English Country House After World War II

Basic: Perseus. Sept. 2021. 432p. ISBN 9781541617988. $32. HIST
In this latest work (after The Long Weekend: Life in the English Country House, 1918–1939), Tinniswood (history, Univ. of Buckingham) chronicles the history of the British country house post-1945. During World War II, he writes, many country houses were requisitioned by the government and damaged; additionally, high estate taxes caused many families to struggle with upkeep of their sprawling estates. Tinniswood records the problems that estate owners faced and explores solutions, including donating the estate to a historic preservation trust, undertaking extensive renovations, and demolishing all or part of the home. Furthermore, the author explores the lavish lifestyles of some estate owners who hosted parties and sometimes became embroiled in scandal. Over the years, estates change ownership (from British aristocracy, to wealthy Americans, to businessmen, to celebrities), which Tinniswood sees as a blurring of traditional class boundaries. Other chapters are devoted to schemes for raising funds, such as charging admission, renting the estate as a film location, and establishing attractions like zoos. This book includes occasional photographs of people and places that bring the socialites and their wider circles into closer focus. Unfortunately, the lives of domestic staff are only very briefly explored here.
VERDICT A gossipy look at British estate owners. Recommended for readers interested in stately homes and aristocrats.
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