August 5, 2008

The Englishwoman's House

The Book Thing is such a lottery. This week, there was certainly quantity, but neither Kitchenography or I thought there was much of quality there. However, I did manage to find a book, sans dustjacket, called The Englishwoman's House (1984).
The book is a collection of essays from prominent Englishwomen who write about their houses. It was edited by the very interesting Alvilde Lees-Milne and photographed by Derry Moore, also known as the 12th Earl of Drogheda. The foreword has been written by HRH Princess Michael of Kent.
Amongst the houses and essays featured are Mrs. Laura Ashley, Rhydoldog in Powys, Wales; Miss Barbara Cartland, Camfield Place, Hertfordshire; The Lady Diana Cooper Little Venice, London; Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, Chatsworth, Derbyshire; Miss Jean Muir of Kensington, London, Daphne Fielding, The Laundry, Avon and others.

Let's hear what these women have to say about their houses...

Laura Ashley:My own attitude towards decorating an old house is to find out all one possibly can about the house and even, if possible, the colours used.

Barbara Cartland:
More than anything else, what one needs in one's house is the right atmosphere...

Diana Cooper:
I found a house in Bloomsbury, a quarter not the legend it became, for £90 a year, with Adams mantlelpieces and the right window-panes and a charming garden with forest trees.

Deborah Devonshire:
You can sit in the drawing-room on the first floor and be unaware that a thousand people are in the house at the same time. So well built is it that the faintest murmur, like a distant sea, is all you hear.

Daphne Fielding:
Like Mrs. Tiggywinkle of Beatrix Potter fame, I live in a laundry - the old laundry of Badminton House, owned by the Duke of Beaufort. It was built in 1662 - a sundial marks this date.

Jean Muir:
Once you have eliminated all the things you don't like, you get down to the bare essentials and the formula that is perfect for yourself. The effect of white space is to amplify any other colours in the room.


  1. How interesting! I never seem to have that kind of luck shopping in used bookstores. You certainly found a treasure.

  2. This is fantastic!! I must get this book. I just love Debo's drawing room. I could live there in a heartbeat. (Still hoping you will find one of BB's books at Book Thing!)

  3. What a find Meg. I want a copy too! Thanks for telling us about it.

  4. I am going to order this on Amazon right now!!!! I HAVE to HAVE thiS!!!!!! Derry Moore! jeez - what a find.Did you happen to see my houses in Galveston with the blue ceiling porches - I think there were two or three.

  5. I just got it on Amazon = they have just a few copies available used. So if you want it = you better hurry!!!! I'm SO excited!!!


  6. Joni... I really didn't know much about Derry Moore, but he might have to have a post of his own. Sounds like a very interesting man.

  7. It's sweet you have your book thing to look forward to on the weekends.

  8. Anon... book thing's only one of the great things I look forward to at the weekend!

  9. What serendipity for you to find this book! It's a wonderful book that I've enjoyed turning to for over 20 years whenever I've been in need of a virtual visit to a grand English house or a comfortable London flat---this book has literally provided hours of reverie in all manner of British manor. Its special richness lies in the first-person narratives. Feels very much like a chat with each of the women in their real houses, grand and prettily modest. A notable point is the fact that the author is the wife of preservationist and historian James Lees-Milne, who was a lifelong friend of all the Mitfords. Mrs. Blandings and others have been writing a bit about the Mitfords - here's another connection. If I could bring just one page to life, I would love to jump into Lady Henderson's South Kensington dining room on p. 73...or maybe Jane Westmoreland's Gloucestershire drawing room on p. 138...Great post and I can see from the enthusiastic responses so far that you've done others a great service in introducing this book/experience.

  10. Thanks, Nell! I have a truly wonderful resource for books that always yields treasures!

  11. What a great find! And just having been to Chatsworth and apropos! Love the Jean Muir! Are there more images from her place?!?!?

  12. This is one of the best books, ever! It's funny how, since the homeowners write their own entries, you come to like some of them, while others simply get on your nerves. I name no names, but ONE of them, as far as decorating tips goes, describes how she dyed heirloom damask tablecloths stored in her massive house to use as curtains during the lean war years, then discovered a "lamp room" full of old Tiffany lamps on another floor, and opened an old cabinet drawer to find scores of pristine 18th Century engravings to use as art. (Golly, I MUST try those approaches!) But most of the other contributors are more down-to-earth, and their homes are lovely. You pictured one of my favorites (Mrs. Fielding's converted laundrey), but my favorite is a little "dollhouse" cottage owned by Anne Scott-James, and a largesr -- but not intimidating -- house owned by Susanna Johnston. Thanks for featuring this book. I've given it as gifts, but never heard anyone officially discuss it : )


Thank you for reading and commenting on Pigtown*Design. I read each and every comment and try to reply if I have your e-mail address.