Magazine article The Spectator

England's Thousand Best Houses

Magazine article The Spectator

England's Thousand Best Houses

Article excerpt

The stateliest and the starriest ENGLAND'S THOUSAND BEST HOUSES by Simon Jenikins Allen Lane, L30, pp, 950, ISBN 073995963

This elegant synthesis (you can tell immediately that Simon Jenkins is an Oxford man and not a product of the other place) is intended to complement the author's successful Thouusand Best Churches. It could be argued that England's houses are much better known than its churches and that this sister volume is hardly essential. 'Not another book on country houses!'

Such an attitude would be graceless. For those who do not know their houses, this is an excellent general guide: it is impressively comprehensive in its coverage, and the entries, are clearly written. For those who are already house buffs, Jenkins's Best Houses should be regarded as an intelli- gent conversation with a friend. His judg- ment is sound - so sound that there is hardly an opinion with which one disagrees.

An aspect of the hook which the publishers consider 'controversial' is the awarding of stars, from one to five. Only 20 houses receive five stars, and they are the international greats from Chatsworth and Holkham to Windsor Castle. It is further down the scale that the star system could go awry, and here Jenkins is faultless. His awards are an infallible litmus test, taking into account character, life and originality. Thus Dennis Sever's mad house in Spitalfields merits four stars while the official cream and gold of Buckingham Palace gets only three. I would recommend every reader to go straight to p. 452 (not B.P.): 'These rooms smell of damp and desolation ... an occupant sleeps in one of the pauper's beds in the rear room in conditions of candlelit squalor. Where he bathes is a mystery ...'

This is not a British Tourist Board, exercise in bland 'Come to England' myth. Each section is prefaced by a brief and often devastating topographical introduction, Poor old Arthur Mee. This is England now, ravaged by incompetent planners, Thatcherite economics and cynical New Labour philistinism. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.