Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Civility of Country Life Personified

An early image of Althorp in Northamptonshire.

I recently took in an episode of Antiques Roadshow, the television series on BBC America (the English version is the only one going as far as I’m concerned) and for this installment, the show was being filmed at the Althorp Estate (pronounced “Al-trup”) in Northamptonshire, England.

Antiques Roadshow host Fiona Bruce with Charles, The Ninth Earl of Spencer with items from the family estate.

The Antiques Roadshow faithful at Althorp on the back lawn.

Althrop is probably best known as the childhood home, and final resting place of Diana, Princess of Wales. Diana is buried in a classical structure in the middle of an oval lake on the estate, and the stables have been converted into an exhibition of the memory of her life. Althrop is presently owned by Diana’s brother Charles, The Ninth Earl of Spencer, and the home has been in the Spencer family now for over five hundred years.

The resting place of Diana, Princess of Wales, which has been built on an island in the middle of the lake on the Estate.

I was happy to learn of this impressive 14,000 acre estate which seems to have been a result of the family’s hard work from mere sheep farmers to “Landed Gentry”. The Spencer family were sheep farmers since before the time of the Tudors, and through the sale of livestock and commodities, was eventually able to buy Althorp outright and the land has belonged to the family ever since.

An early view of Althorp showing the red brick that would later be overhauled in the 18th century to be more "fashionable".

Over the years the Estate has been host to a number of “characters”, many who seemed to have had a penchant for collecting portraiture and books (this is where my interest was piqued). One comment made about the collection of books was that they were equal to their own “internet”. I have always said that if I were to collect something on a large scale, books would be my first choice.

A view showing the front of the home at Althorp.

In the mid 18th century the Honorable John Spencer, who had inherited the estate at age 12 commissioned Joshua Reynolds to paint family portraits that are now highly prized. He was also responsible for building Spencer House in London, which overlooks Green Park, near Buckingham Palace.

A Neoclassic dream. Spencer House in London circa 1800.

I’ve put Althorp on my list for my next trip to England. My trips to England in the past have focused on London, and I’m anxious to experience the civility of “Country Life” first hand. The estate has a wonderfully informative web site which can be visited here.

David Hansen


Things That Inspire said...

Oh, there are so many wonderful things to see outside of London. My favorite trip ever was a month spent in the English countryside with my husband and his grandparents - his grandparents were life long Anglophiles, and loved the English country homes and estates that are open to the public at certain times of the year. Chatsworth and Blenheim Palace are two of my favorites. I have always wanted to visit Althorp too...maybe some day. I think it is only open one month of the year. Great post!

columnist said...

I love the Antiques Roadshow, and living here in Thailand, missed the episode from Althorp. I'm sure you know that a number of the "treasures", (furniture and pictures), were sold by the current earl's former stepmother, Raine, (Countess of Dartmouth, Countess Spencer, Comtesse de Chambrun), which led him and his sisters to nickname her "Acid Raine".