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Lost and Found

LONDON — England has its glorious ruins — from Tintern Abbey to Tintagel to Hadrian’s Wall — but it also has its architectural ghosts. Many of these once-lavish mansions and country estates vanished during the 20th...

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Some houses boast literary connections, including Bayons Manor in Lincolnshire, owned by Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s grandfather, George Clayton Tennyson, a successful local solicitor who made his fortune in real estate. Then, of course, there is Castle Howard, the model for Brideshead in Evelyn Waugh’s "Brideshead Revisited." Fortunately, much of Castle Howard is still standing; it was partially restored after a fire in 1940, opened to the public to help defray its running costs and is still partially occupied by the Howard family.

Architectural styles — Tudor, Restoration, Rococo, Classical, Gothic, Georgian and Elizabethan — spring to life on Worsley’s pages, and the interiors drip with riches. The book describes marble and carved timber staircases, 18th-century Chinese wallpaper, murals by Pellegrini, Chippendale mirrors and canopy bedsteads, Sèvres china and Shakespeare folios.

Worsley compares the demise of the country house culture in the 20th century to the end of the castle during the late Middle Ages and that of the monastic building during the Reformation, as each lost its principal role in society. But that didn’t make the writing any easier.

"Looking at the photographs, I felt I had this overwhelming richness in front of me, but also an overwhelming sadness. So many of these houses are gone, and for no good reason. That’s quite upsetting," said Worsley. The good news is that while some 1,700 houses were lost between 1900 and 1970, many more survived. Today, preservation laws make it almost impossible to demolish a country house.

Worsley says it was the right time for the book to be released. "It wouldn’t have fit with the whole New Labor and Cool Britannia mood five years ago," he explains. "But the mood is right, and the timing is good now. It’s the Queen’s Jubilee year, there’s a growing interest in history and, I think, a sense of loss for this vanished Arcadian world."
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