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Conference Programme “Reading the Country House”


Country houses were made to be read—as symbols of power, political allegiance, taste and wealth. This places emphasis on the legibility of their architecture and decorative schemes, and the paintings, collections and even the furniture they contained. It also draw our attention to the skills required to decode —to read—these signs and symbols. The messages and processes of reading were carried further by the growing number of images of country houses produced through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: in private sketch books and journals and as engravings published as collections or incorporated into written guidebooks. These allowed the country house to be read in very different ways, as did its appearance in the pages of novels, sometimes as the backdrop or stage for the action, but also symbolic of social structures and relations. This conference seeks to explore all of these perspectives on reading the country house and links them to how the country house is read today, by house managers and visitors and by viewers of period dramas. The conference is to be held 16-17 November at Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Provisional programme


Friday 16th November


9:00–10:45 am Registration
10:45–11:00 am Opening Remarks / Welcome Address
11:00–1:00 pm Panel 1: Narrating and Interpreting Heritage

Isabel Budleigh, The National Trust Guidebook: Interpreting the Country House for the Visiting Public from the 1940s to the Present Day
Kayla Jones, Welsh Identity in Guidebooks: National Trust’s Penrhyn Guidebooks from 1952–2009
Dan O’Carroll, ‘Steal a Mountain, and they make you a Lord’: Critical Heritage Storytelling at Penrhyn Castle
Matthew Constantine, ‘Elegant and Useful?’: Interpreting Thomas Chippendale and Nostell

1:00–2:00 pm Lunch
2:00–3:00 pm Plenary 1: Prof. Kathryn Sutherland (University of Oxford)
3:00–4:30 pm Parallel Panels

Panel 2: Reading the Eighteenth-Century Country House
Freya Gowrley, Publishing Wilkes’s ‘Villakin’: Reading, Reception and Reputation at Sandown Cottage
Peter Collinge, ‘A tasteless, wasteful grandeur, as dreary and ill-kept as possible’: The Response to and of Uninvited Visitors to Eighteenth-Century English Country Houses
Jemima Hubberstey, Reading Between the Lines: The Athenian Letters and the Mithraic Altar at Wrest Park

Panel 3: Modernism and Modernity
Teresa Trout, Paradise Reclaimed: Canonicity and the Country House in Modernist Literature
Angelica Michelis, ‘Some folk can not abide here’: The Country House in Early Twentieth-Century British Crime Fiction
Gary Kelly, Castles in Ireland: Castle Rackrent, Edgeworthstown, and Modernity

4:30–5:00 pm Tea/coffee
5:00–6:30 pm Plenary 1: Prof. Kathryn Sutherland (University of Oxford)
3:00–4:30 pm Parallel Panels 4 and 5

Panel 4: The Politics of Style
Helen Bates, ‘Prodigious quantity of pedigrees heaped all over the House’: Re-reading the Gothic Revival: the 2nd Duke of Montagu’s Obsession with Reviving Feudal-Style Rights and its Physical Legacy in his Country House and Estates
Andrew Hann, Reading and Writing a Classical Aesthetic: Sir Charles Monck’s Transformation of the Belsay Estate in Northumberland
Shaun Evans, Anglicised Enclaves? Welsh Ancestral Patriotism in the Country Houses of Wales: An Analysis of Herbert Sidney’s ‘The Escape of Henry Tudor from Mostyn Hall’ (1886)

Panel 5: Marginalised Perspectives
Amy Lim, The Appraising Eye of Celia Fiennes
Becky Harvey and Sarah Plumb, ‘They Liked to be cut off and lonely’: Questions of Isolation and Loneliness in Historical and Contemporary Readings of Calke Abbey
Charlotte Furness, Portraits on a Wall: Discovering the Forgotten Stories of Women of the Country House

6:30 pm Wine reception

Dinner at delegates’ own expense in a nearby restaurant



Saturday 17th November


9:30-11:00 am Panel 8: Parallel Panels 6 and 7

Panel 6: The Houses of Poetry and Prose
Anthony Walker-Crook, ‘Shock’d at the Place we hasted to return, / And left the horrid Mansion far behind’: Mary Leapor’s Chthonic Country House
Emma Liggins, Elizabeth Gaskell at Capesthorne Hall: Venerating the Old in Victorian Haunted House Narratives

Panel 7: Reading decoration and display
Clare Taylor, The Flock Train: Re-thinking Hierarchies of Decoration in the Country House
Elizabeth Jamieson, How Well Equipped is your Stable?  The Country House Stable and its Contents, 1789–1914
Nicola Walker, Displays of Purpose in the Country House from Home to Museum: Reading Spaces through Consumption and Display in the Long Eighteenth Century at Cannon Hall

11:00–11:30 am Tea/coffee
11:30–12.30 pm Parallel Panels 8 and 9

Panel 8: Reading Curiosities
Hannah Lee, Readings and Re-readings of ‘Moor’ Figurines in Country Houses in England and Italy 1600–1800
Emile de Bruijn, Reading Orientalism: The Pagoda as Topos in the Context of the Country House

Panel 9: The Italianate Impulse
Valerio Tolve, Villa Madama in Rome: Raffaello’s dream about ‘Le belle forme degli edifice antichi’
Amy Parrish, ‘I am so tired with copies of the pictures he has chosen, that I would scarce hand up the originals’: The Reaction to Copies after Guido Reni in Eighteenth-Century Country Houses

12:30–1:30 pm Lunch
1:30–2:30 pm Plenary 2: Prof.Phillip Lindley (Loughborough University)
2:30–4:00 pm Panel 10: Perspectives Past, Present and Future

Simon Spier, When is a Country House Not a Country House? The Mixed Reception of Mrs Bowes’ Mansion and Museum
Emma Slocombe, ‘A House that Smoulders rather than Sparkles’: Interpreting the Visitor Experience at Knole
Barbara Wood, Contemporary Readings and Future Meanings


Registration details to follow shortly – for further information, please contact Prof. Jon Stobart: