What is so remarkable about a stately home, whenever you go round one, is not so much the rich furnishings and gilt-framed Old Masters, but the sheer scale of the thing. It’s not just the physical size, but the enormous amount of work needed to keep it all going. A sizeable house and gardens required a small army of servants to maintain, so that it was more like a firm than a family home. Small wonder that domestic service was Britain’s biggest employer in the Victorian age. But by 1900 this rigid and highly stratified way of life was already disappearing due to a wealth of new jobs provided by industry, and to the impact of 2 world wars and modern labour-saving devices.
Nowadays, with many houses open to the public, we can all walk garden paths and oak-panelled corridors where only servants and aristocrats once set foot. Opulent, grandiose, dripping with elegance, a stately home is a stately homily to a bygone age, and a very good way to spend a leisurely day out.
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