The science writer Matt Ridley once confided to me that if you find a good subject, repeat it. Adrian Tinniswood has certainly managed that with his eight entertaining books on country houses. Here is his latest offering, which tells the postwar story. Is it possible to say anything new or interesting on this well-worn subject? While there is much familiar material, thanks to an assiduous trawl through the back numbers of Country Life, local press reports and the archives at Bowood, the author has managed to dig up some fresh stories and find new slants on old ones. The postwar period is stretched to the 1974 V&A exhibition ‘The Destruction of the Country House’, which marked a turning point in attitudes.
Tinniswood wisely does not explain his purpose in writing this book, allowing himself the scope to offer an agreeable mixture of architectural and social history. He conveys the full texture of the postwar story: the super-rich, the just hanging on and the commercial pioneers with a vision of a family day out; the doubts, the despair and the adaptations of those determined to keep going.
‘What country houses of any size’, wondered Osbert Sitwell before the war, ‘can hope to survive the next fifty years?’ This was indeed to be the most critical phase in their history. The Duchess of Devonshire opined that ‘only an incurable optimist could guess it would ever return’.