Country House society by Pamela Horn
Most of my teaching career was spent in a school that occupied the former country residence of the Duke and Duchess of Manchester, a relatively minor stately home in its day, but one which dominated the local community in a variety of ways. After the last war, the Manchesters had to give in to the forces of economic reality, sell up and move out. And they had to accept their considerable losses cheerfully, because the house and estate were sold off to the local education authority for a trifling £12,500. Even in 1949 that was quite a modest sum.
The decline of the British country house, however, began long before the Manchesters threw in the towel. It was the First World War that sowed the seeds of decline, when dozens of these properties were commissioned for use as hospitals, convalescent homes and army barracks. The landed aristocracy were forced into playing an active supportive role during the war, sending their sons off to the battle front and using their estate staff to work as orderlies, attendants and carers of wounded soldiers.
The crunch came with the end of the war, when thousands of battle-weary men returned from the trenches looking for gainful employment, women had enjoyed a taste of independence working in essential war services, and the government had to impose swingeing taxes on property owners to pay for the huge financial losses incurred by the war effort. This all led to the selling of land and houses, auctioning works of art and parting with jewellery and family heirlooms, and with the approaching stock market crash of 1929, many were reduced to penury.
In the space of little more than 20 years, the British landscape was to change beyond all recognition.