(HIST011) The English Country House: History, Architecture and Landscape

Longleat House


Course start date: Monday 13th January 2025
Course end date: Friday 4th April 2025

Early Bird Price: £135 BOOK NOW

Tutor:  Lynne Thompson
Course Code: HIST011
Level: Non-accredited, non-credit bearing
Assessments/Exams: None. Throughout the course you will be given ideas and questions to respond to in the online discussion area. Participation in online discussion is encouraged, but not compulsory.
Duration: 12 weeks
Estimated Student Study Time: 4 – 7 hours per week are recommended, but time spent is flexible and at your discretion.
Fee: £150.00
Pre-Requisites: No academic qualifications or experience of studying architecture nor history are required – only a strong enthusiasm for this subject.
Delivery: Online Distance Learning
Late Entrants: If this course is not full by the start date then late entrants will be accepted for up to two weeks after the start of the course. As a late entrant you can choose to catch up on the material you have missed or you can skip the missed weeks and concentrate on the material at the point where you join the course, but unfortunately we cannot offer fee reductions or course extensions for late entrants.
Recommended Reading**:

  • Girouard, M (1993) Life in the English Country House: A Social and Architectural History, Yale University Press. Paperback.
  • Wilson, R and Mackley, A (2006) The Building of the English Country House, 1660-1880, Hambledon Continuum.

Required Reading**: There are no required texts for this course.

**Please note: All courses are subject to sufficient numbers of students registering before they are confirmed as running. Therefore, after booking your place you are advised not to purchase any texts until you have received confirmation that the course is running.

This course was previously offered by the University of Exeter*. If you studied it with the University of Exeter* you might not wish to study it again with Learn for Pleasure as although we have revised and updated our courses where necessary, it will likely be substantively the same.


This course combines architectural and cultural history to investigate both the design of country houses, and the lives of those who lived within them, providing you with a broad overview of the history of the English country house, from its origins in the late medieval period to its condition today.

Together we will study:

  • the role of the landed estate
  • the lives of those ‘upstairs’…
  • …and ‘downstairs’
  • representations of the country house in art, literature and film
  • the development of country house landscapes and gardens

We will also explore the key phases in the evolution of the country house:

  • the modification of medieval castles
  • the erection of Tudor and Jacobean palaces
  • the impact of the Grand Tour
  • the work of the Victorian nouveaux riches
  • the role of the National Trust
  • and the mixed fortunes of the country house in the twentieth century

The course draws much illustrative material from the history of the country house in Devon, but references will also be made to country houses in the south-west region as a whole, and to other important buildings elsewhere in Britain.

Syllabus Plan

Week 1: Introduction: The Meaning of the Country House; Country Houses in the South-West of England

Week 2: Late Medieval Origins: The Modification of Castle, Monastery and Manor House

Week 3: The Renaissance and the Elizabethan ‘Golden’ Age: The Creation of the Prodigy House

Week 4: Towards the Georgian Ideal: The Pursuit of the Neo-Classical

Week 5: The Victorians: The Revival of the Gothic and the Battle of the Styles

Week 6: The Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries: Decline and the Emergence of the National Trust

Week 7: The Late Twentieth Century: Crisis to Opportunity; Reduction, Replacement and Renewal

Week 8: Life Upstairs: The Power House

Week 9: Life Downstairs: Structured Lives

Week 10: Country House Gardens and Landscapes: Formality and Informality; Nature and Artifice

Week 11: The Landed Estate: Revenue and Status

Week 12: Representations in Novels, Films and ‘Docusoaps’: Chronicles and Critiques

Learning Outcomes

This course will help you to acquire:

  • An understanding of the key stages in the development of the country house, and the relevant social and economic context in which that development took place.
  • An awareness of the changes in the perceptions and representations of country houses.
  • An awareness of the concepts and debates relating to this subject area.
  • Experience of analysing primary source material.