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Saturday, 9 November 2013

What the well-equipped milord of Jane Austen's time needs

A big estate like Pemberley had a large number of dependents and estate workers who needed housing, and who managed the various duties that kept the estate prosperous.  As well as the home farm with its various workers there may have been tenant farmers holding land to farm and whose rents took the place of produce grown; there would have been coverts for birds to shoot for sport and for the table, managed woodland perhaps, and gardens both for the enjoyment of the owner and his family, and for the kitchen garden.

The construction of attractive and decorative and cleanly cottages for the estate workers, called cottages orné, according to the principles of William Atkinson, have been thoroughly blogged by Kathryn Kane   here  and here and here.  Worth a read, so do go take a look if you have not already done so.  The idea of nice cottages was so popular that Ackermann's repository published several ideas of such cottages.  And I have to say some of them were rather larger than what I would call a cottage; though as Kat points out, the conceit of having a large 'cottage in the country' was sometimes one that attracted wealthy men too, whose sensibility to aesthetic pleasure probably exceeded their common sense.  I do not apologise for showing a fairly wide selection before moving on to specialist buildings.

This one at least was a moderately sensible idea, having four cottages together to keep each other warm in winter.  I remark upon this in passing in an as yet to be published romance called 'None so Blind'. 

... and this one is a rich man's beach hut.  As the blurb about it says, Splendour and magnificence are made subordinate to the calmer enjoyments of domestic felicity... 
I doubt the tween maid felt much domestic felicity about looking after the master in his rustic conceit.

However, enough about cottages ornés;and on to the specialist buildings Ackermann's considered essential to illustrate.
First, on entering the estate, the estate gatehouse or lodge  is required both to show status and to indicate where the entrance is [having driven around the wilder countryside frantically looking for places, believe me this IS necessary; you do not want to get stuck in the muddy ruts of any old farm track and spoil your muslins with muddy splashes when you have an invitation to a house party with Mr and Mrs Fitzwilliam Darcy!]. The gatehouse needs a gatekeeper and possibly his wife to turn away the unwanted callers and direct those who are going in the right direction.

The house itself will have various necessary adjuncts like a chapel: 

And as cleanliness is next to Godliness, one must have the ornamental bath in the garden, since once the difficulties engendered by difficult to remove dress and powder in the hair were no longer in force this impediment being removed, it is probable that baths will be employed by us as common and frequent sources of innocent pleasure as well as for medicinal relief. And a relief to the noses of all around them too... The writer pontificates about Roman baths for a while and suggests warm as well as cold baths.  I bet the servants loved trekking across to the bath house to stoke the means of heating the warm bath.

What else does the man of leisure need?  ah yes, the fishing lodge.  No home should be without one.  Note: first make sure you have at least a good sized stream for your fish. 

It looks like another cottage orné to me...

For the comfort of the family and all those ice creams and sorbets, the ice house of course on which I have already written here

Oh but to make those ice creams, the cream is needed - so of course a dairy, served no doubt by a buxom dairy maid and no cows in sight, or perhaps in a field to look attractive and far enough away not to smell at the house guests, or look menacingly large at the ladies.
And of course for the vegetables, a gardener must have a gardener's cottage:
compact and bijou, the way posh vegetables should also be.

And of course all those tenants and estate workers in their cottages ornés will need a bailiff to make sure they pay their rent, don't damage the nice new cottages, nor moon at the master's company.
So, gentle reader, what plot bunnies have you in mind?  will your heroine, like my heroine Penelope, hasten to shout at the bold bad land owner who is pulling down the tenants' cottages only for her to find out that he is replacing them with ideal cottages instead, but showing him her spirit?  Will a house party with an ornamental bath turn up one member too few, because he or she turns out to have been drowned - and was it an accident or was it foul play?  Is the ornamental chapel the scene for impious young bloods emulating the Hell Fire Club, and is the heroine abducted for their debaucheries?  Will your fishing party at the fishing lodge catch something unexpected that has drifted downstream?   Will the gatekeeper alert Mr Veryrich to tell him that a man has driven neatly in through the narrow gates as though he was a top sawyer but being missing his head is hardly likely to be driving them nags, sir?


  1. As I am an ardent admirer of the English country house and its surrounding, this is the perfect post for me. Thanks, Sarah, for the beautiful sketches and the brilliant plot bunnies hoping all over the estate.
    When I once visited Kedleston Hall, I learned that their fishing lodge was used by the ladies to sit inside the house when fishing (the fishing-rod poling out of the window), so that the sun could not ruin their white complexion. I thought that to be funny then, but it breeds a plot bunny now: B, our dashing hero is visiting a certain Country House. He tries to get the attention of C, a young lady also staying as a guest. He has quite a reputation, so she has been trying to avoid his attentions. When C. goes fishing, sitting inside the fishing lodge, B. secretly and silently wades into the surrounding water and fixes a small letter to the fishing line, thus opening the flirt....

  2. What an excellent plot bunny!
    I love Ackermann's Repository as a source of these beautiful pictures and the blurb about them, it has so many random bits of local colour, I plan to blog about the Patent Smoke Conductor, Black Marble Quarries, Salt mines and so on, as well as more on gardens, conservatories and so on. Such fun! and The Gentleman's Magazine is also a rich source of STUFF. I've been collecting pictures and information about dogs in the Regency and I have so much I'm going to have to break it into pet dogs, working dogs, dogs who saved lives and kennel construction.... it's a daunting amount!

    I should not take country houses for granted, just because I'm lucky to live in rural East Anglia within spitting distance of quite a lot of them [as a Girl Guide we used to camp in the grounds of little Glemham Hall] and I should actually visit a few properly...

  3. I love this post, it was so interesting, I love to look at different styles of houses and floor plans and such... someday I'll get to visit England..someday....Carmalee

  4. Thanks Carmalee! Glad you enjoyed. If you ever get here, so long as we don't have the son and his wife staying I'll even have a spare bed!
    That gives me an idea for a series of blogs though, with pics and floor plans of the sorts of country houses I tend to make up and use without thinking, some actual examples and a few posts on vernacular architecture [yes, I have a book or two on the subject...] and a good excuse to go round looking at places. Meantime you might find this link interesting where you can find heaps of random pictures and stuff...