Perhaps the most enlightening area of country-house research today is in the provinces. Garry Miller’s account of the historic houses of the Douglas Valley of Lancashire, in the triangle between Chorley, Wigan and Ormskirk, is an impressive example of this work, particularly valuable because of its tight geographical focus and broad social spread.
The Douglas Valley is only eight miles by eleven miles. It is all too easy to overlook, but in the Middle Ages and the early modern period it was one of the most prosperous parts of Lancashire. Some of the most intriguing medieval survivals are hidden behind unremarkable later façades.
Mr Miller looks at not only the seats of the landowners but also the homes of the prosperous yeomanry, presenting a compelling case of socialand stylistic interaction.
This is exemplified by the handsome example of Douglas Bank Farm, Upholland. A miniature version of a gentry house built in 1656, it symbolises the aspirations of yeoman rebuilding. Entertainingly, as the yeoman rebuilding dies off, the gentry pick up again, perhaps now feeling that not enough distinguished them architecturally from their social inferiors.
This is local scholarship at its best, produced not by a full-time scholar but by the editor of the local Lytham St Anne’s Express. It is admirable that his work should have been taken up by the Heritage Trust for the North West and supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and the Marc Fitch Fund.