As I am about to leave the magazine in early September and must begin to metaphorically pack my Country Life staffer bags, this will be the last of my weekly blogs. I take great pride in having contributed the first official blog for the Country Life website and it has been a privilege and a pleasure working and experimenting with the young and lively team who put this site together, Arabella and Holly both having a brilliant sense of humour, without which life here would have been much duller.
We have made sure that core architectural interests of Country Life have been well represented on the web, with biographies of great country house architects, listings of houses to visit, pieces on contemporary architects designing and building country houses in the great tradition and much more. The website team’s news hound senses are particularly acute and the site continues to develop imaginatively with highly sophisticated property searches and new features such as Jane Watkins’ brilliant film critic blog.
I have particularly enjoyed the opportunity to set down in this blog, some of the experiences I have had visiting country houses for the magazine, the anecdotes, train encounters and ghost stories that would otherwise only have been stored away for the memoirs (can you imagine James Lees-Milne’s diaries as a blog? I don’t suppose he would have had so many weekend invitations if he had put them on line on a regular basis, my predecessor the late John Cornforth was mentioned in one of the published diaries as “fatter than ever”).
My travels planning the great country house features of the magazine have been a profound privilege, as, whatever some people may think, I believe that much of the best of British culture can still be found in the well-maintained privately-owned historic country house – which one often finds more admired abroad than in this country. I intend to keep regular visits to country houses a feature of life, still some pages to fill of the planned memoirs – wish me luck (We all do! ed). I think it would be a good place to thank the Country Life readers for being such a brilliant and discerning audience; I reckon I have met a actual readers every week of my career at Country Life: diverse yes, but brilliant too.
Rather fittingly this is also the week when I make my last state visit to a country house as a Country Life staff editor; how fitting it should be one of such breath-taking beauty as Stanway in Gloucestershire; privately owned and very much lived in by Lord Niedpath and his family, a Jacobean manor house in golden-grey stone, it genuinely is a “dream house”. The sun shone, we picnicked on ham, bread and fruit in the great kitchen, while one of our number entertained us with stories of the fine houses his family had owned and lost; everything came together to make it a most memorable day.
We were arranging a shoot to explain principally in visual terms (ie through some brilliantly staged photography) the sense of modernity in Chippendale’s designs (as modern as Zaha Hadid is regarded today) and the relationship of furniture design to fashion (think of Hogarth’s paintings for Marriage a la Mode). It really will be a bobby-dazzler of an article, so I wont give away too much here, but look out for it around Christmas hopefully, and think of it as a parting kiss.