This blog has visited lost houses of England before, mostly the result of scouting for locations that may one day be resurrected as fictional houses in this author’s historical romances. For example: Coleshill House, Cassiobury Park and Sutton Scarsdale.
The stories of Regency-era house demolition are, on the whole, a sad affair. These large mansions with separate worlds of upstairs and downstairs, gardens and parks, coverts and woodlands, employing distinct crafts outside and domestic servants inside, fascinate viewers of Downton Abbey and Gosford Park. They fail to survive modern life, however, much as anything else that is labor-intensive to sustain.
When post-war Britain underwent huge economic and social upheaval, what was formerly sacred was broken up, dispersed, or burned on the lawn.
“In 1955, one house was demolished every two and a half days.”
— No Voice from the Hall, by John Harris (1998)
I’m particularly glad Mr. Harris went to great effort to record his own experiences of these vanishing houses. Uffington and Burwell Houses in Lincolnshire, the former already a ruin, the latter to be demolished, gave up vivid remnants of the Regency period.
Uffington was destroyed by fire in 1901. The conservatory remained standing, storing what had been hastily saved from the conflagration but never reclaimed, forgotten for over fifty years.
“..a half-burnt Regency side table, broken gilt picture frames, bits of marble, plaster fragments, a shattered gilt Georgian torchère.”
At abandoned Burwell, the author found the house being used as a barn. Sheep exited the manor beneath the Doric entrance as freely as you please. Grain flowed like a vast desert beneath ornate plasterwork ceilings. A massive overmantle frame still containing its two-hundred year-old landscape painting reigned over sightless sacks of potatoes. These were stacked up so high they reached the bottom of family portraits still hanging on the drawing room walls, festooned in spiderwebs.
Later, the author returned to Burwell, only to find the “philistine” Lindsey County Council had given consent for its demolition. He arrived in time to see workers hacking away at the rococo plasterwork, a pile of broken marble on the lawn, and a fire burning up the mahogany-carved stair.
“I was black with rage. As a single act of destruction, the burning of a masterpiece from the National Gallery would have been no worse.”