Some Country Houses and Their Owners, Paperback

Some Country Houses and Their Owners Paperback

Part of the Penguin English Journeys series

4 out of 5 (4 ratings)


The delightful, gossipy diaries of James Lees-Milne describe his encounters with the owners of country houses - from eccentric lords and oil millionaires to raffish socialists - as he travelled over England saving properties for the National Trust.

Here are sharply observed accounts of dinner with Vita Sackville - West at Sissinghurst; Winston Churchill's bedroom at Chartwell; T.E.

Lawrence's dilapidated Dorset cottage; and, war damage to a great house in Derby.

All are infused with his love of beauty and his sympathy for those giving up their ancestral homes forever.

Generations of inhabitants have helped shape the English countryside - but it has profoundly shaped us too.

It has provoked a huge variety of responses from artists, writers, musicians and people who live and work on the land - as well as those who are travelling through it. "English Journeys" celebrates this long tradition with a series of twenty books on all aspects of the countryside, from stargazey pie and country churches, to man's relationship with nature and songs celebrating the patterns of the countryside (as well as ghosts and love-struck soldiers).


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: The countryside, country life
  • ISBN: 9780141190907



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Showing 1 - 4 of 4 reviews.

Review by

I can't see the point to this book and ended up skipping through it to find places I'd been or knew about. Mind you, the book does exactly what it says on the cover - it lists a house and then tells you a bit about the owners. I'm pleased this came as part of a collection for me as it just seemed a bit pointless.

Review by

I had a wonderful time reading this book. At only 133 pages, one could easily read it in an hour or so. But I took much longer because I had to look up each property on the internet and then mark it in my giant UK road atlas, just in case I'm in the neighbourhood sometime (don't want to miss anything!). Looking up the properties was highly rewarding, because I saw that most (although not all) of these "houses" were not what you and I call houses. Unless of course your house is situated on thousands of acres and has hundreds of rooms.There are three sections to the book: the introduction by Michael Bloch, and then Part One: Houses Now Owned by the National Trust, and Part Two: Houses Which Escaped the National Trust. In the intro, he explains how the National Trust is a private charity and has never been part of the government. Silly me--I had it confused with English Heritage, which is part of the government and owns properties such as Stonehenge. Anyway, when the National Trust "was founded in the 1890s, its main object was to acquire land in order to preserve and give public access to gems of the English landscape which were under threat from the expansion of suburbia. However, by the 1930s it recognized that equally in need of preservation were the many beautiful country houses . . . Thanks to a long agricultural depression, the deaths of heirs in the First World War, and the vastly increased taxation of incomes and estates, most of their traditional owners, if they had not already abandoned them, looked as if they would be unable to continue living in them for much longer." James Lees-Milne's job was to visit these properties and arrange for their transfer to the National Trust. Entries are listed in alphabetical order by property name (which is handy for easy reference) and are made up of Lees-Milne's diary entries from his visits.These diary entries are interesting, enlightening and often quite wry (especially if you find eccentric British aristocrats funny, as I do). Sometimes the entries are sad. Whatever the mood, he has a sharp eye for observing character and a gift for assessing the properties and their contents. It's also a bit of an elegy for a lost way of life and class of people (some people would say this loss is the world's gain, but we won't go there now).Rating: 5 stars, when combined with looking up pictures on the internet. A picture book comprising this text and pictures of the houses and their owners would be fabulous. If I ever become a book publisher . . .Recommended for: This is a must read for all Anglophiles, and a fun quick read for anyone planning on visiting an English country estate or two. Also great for anyone interested in English history.

Review by

Taken from the diaries of James Lees-Milne,these extracts give a good idea of those houses that he visited on behalf of the National Trust. He worked for the Trust for many years and was sent to inspect and evaluate a great many properties with an eye to acquire them for the National trust.In the first part of this slim volume are those Houses which are now owned by the Trust and in the second those which 'Escaped'.In addition to describing the houses and gardens visited , Lees-Milne's describes the often eccentric owners,and it is in this that he excels. A good introduction to the work and writings of this wonderful,if snobbish man who writes so well and has done much to save so many of England's great Country Houses.

Review by

Throughout the 1940s Milne traveled all over Great Britain on behalf of the newly-formed National Trust. His job was to visit stately homes, castles or homes of historical significance, look them over and determine if the trust should ask for them to be donated for public use. The owners were often eager to donate their ancestral homes to get out from under the crushing death taxes levied, along with the enormous expense of keeping up a home that was often two or three hundred years old.Milne kept a journal of the many homes he visited, and this book is divided between the homes the trust acquired and the ones Milne worked to acquire but didn't, for many reasons. He has the quick eye and keen observation needed for his job and describes the homes in great detail as to what he likes and often what he hates. He can tell when the furniture is fake and when a building has been modernized badly. His descriptions of the various occupants is so clearly written that the reader can see them as Milne does. He often likes these aristocrats who have fallen on hard times, at one point, in 1947, he writes in fear of what will happen to a particular house once the average people are allowed near it:<i>A whole social system has broken down. What will replace it beyond government by the masses, uncultivated, rancorous, savage, philistine, the enemies of all things beautiful? How I detest democracy.</i>To be fair, he was seeing many grand houses that were being vandalized by the military personnel living in them at the time, as much of the journal was during WWII. And Milne is funny, with a snarky sense of humor. His descriptions are wonderful.<i>Lord Beauchamp is fat, with a great paunch, looking like God knows what, wearing an old blue shirt, open at the frayed neck, and a tight pair of brown Army shorts, baby socks and sandshoes.</i>or an arrogant Lord who clearly didn't trust Milne or the idea of the trust:<i>At 5.45 Lord Leconfield, tired out, led me to the street door where he dismissed me. Pointing to a tea house with an enormous CLOSED hanging in the window, he said, "You will get a very good tea in there. Put it down to me. Goodbye."</i>This is a quick read but the extended version of Lees-Milne's journals is available too.

Also by James Lees-Milne   |  View all

Also in the Penguin English Journeys series   |  View all