Country House Visiting
Posted by Laura Wallace on November 15, 1997 at 14:29:55:
In response to Visiting Pemberley, written by Carrie on October 11, 1997 at 03:51:01
] While watching P&P2 (what else) I was wondering at their (Elizabeth and the Gardiners) walking the grounds of Perberley and asking the housekeeper to see the house and then having the housekeeper give them a tour!
] Can you imagine taking time out of your day to conduct tours (of course in my house, this wouldn't take very long). What was the purpose of this? Why would the family and servants accommodate perfect strangers' curiosities? How considerate this practice seems. Now, something like that would be based strictly on profit.
There is a whole book on this subject, called A History of Country House Visiting by Adrian Tinniswood (London: Basil Blackwood Ltd., 1989, ISBN 0-631-14801-9). Touring a house in the 17th century was somewhat limited to only between equals, i.e., an aristocrat building a new house might wish to look at other building projects or houses, and would be welcomed as a guest. But in the 18th century, a lot of travel journals and books about the great houses were published, which started a tourist craze.
A lady who visited Wilton, the country house of the Earls of Pembroke, in 1776, wrote that her party was asked to sign a guest book at the lodge house, giving their names and the number in their party, and "we saw by the book that there had been to see it the last year 2324 persons."
At Horace Walpole's famous Strawberry Hill, about 300 people a year came to tour the house between 1784 and 1797, and he only allowed tours from May to September! It greatly disrupted his enjoyment of his own house, as on some occasions he was required to retire to his bedchamber while his housekeeper showed parties around. Starting in the 1770s he would only allow his housekeeper to admit visitors if they had a signed ticket, obtained in advance from himself. After 1774 he stopped writing notes and gave out preprinted cards. By 1784 he issued printed rules instead of cards, which he signed and dated at the bottom. He did not charge for the tickets; he was merely trying to regulate the number of persons tramping through his house. It was more like an appointment than a ticket.
Other house owners also issued tickets, such as the Duke of Devonshire for Chiswick.
Earlier custom was that any genteel person would be treated more or less as a guest, and received by the master or mistress of the house if at home (but usually given the tour by the housekeeper). Obviously by the 1770s, in some houses this was no longer possible due to the numbers of tourists knocking on the door. Nonetheless some visitors were offended by the rules, tickets, and lack of personal greeting accorded them. One visitor to Chiswick complained not only about the necessity of the ticket, but that he was "prohibited from making any drawings." And they didn't have flashes!
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