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Module HSH-3138:
British Country House from1750

Module Facts

Run by School of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences

40 Credits or 20 ECTS Credits

Semester 1 & 2

Organiser: Dr Lowri Ann Rees

Overall aims and purpose

This module examines the decline and fall of the British country house from 1750 to the present day. The country house was a symbol of wealth, power and status, but it was also a family home, as well as a site of employment. It was therefore the scene of decadence, but also of deference. By examining a range of primary sources, from official records to personal accounts, documentary evidence to visual representations, the module allows insights into the lives of the people who lived and worked within the country house and on the wider landed estate. Whilst the module takes in a broader, British view of the country house, the national perspectives of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales will also be considered. The module will analyse the role of the landed interest on their estates, as country house builders, landlords and estate improvers, within the local community, as paternalistic figures and moral guardians, and nationally, as political representatives in parliament. By observing a broad chronology, the module views the Indian summer and subsequent decline of the British country house. The module begins with an examination of upward social mobility and the open elite debate, and draws to a close with a study of the country house in the 21st century as a heritage site and tourist attraction, and how it is still seen by some as a sought after and desirable home.

Course content

The following topics will be examined over the course of the module: Social mobility and the open elite debate; the architecture of the country house; landscaping, gardens and parks; elite women; the country house childhood; servants; estate management; public duties; politics; philanthropy and charity; religious and moral values; leisure and recreation; images of the country house, the estate, and the elite; the decline of the country house; the country house in popular culture; heritage, tourism and the country house.

Assessment Criteria


Threshold students (D- and D) will have done only a minimum of reading, and their work will often be based partly on lecture notes and/or basic textbooks. They will demonstrate in their written assessments some knowledge of at least parts of the relevant field, and will make at least partially-successful attempts to frame an argument which engages with historical controversies, but they will fail to discuss some large and vital aspects of a topic; and/or deploy only some relevant material but partly fail to combine it into a coherent whole; and/or deploy some evidence to support individual points but often fail to do so and/or show difficulty weighing evidence (thereby relying on unsuitable or irrelevant evidence when making a point). Alternatively or additionally, the presentation of the work might also be poor, with bad grammar and/or punctuation, careless typos and spelling errors, and a lack of effective and correct referencing.

C- to C+

Students in this band (C- to C+) will demonstrate a satisfactory range of achievement or depth of knowledge of most parts of the module, and will make successful, if occasionally inconsistent, attempts to develop those skills appropriate to the study of History at undergraduate level. In the case of the written assessments, the answers will attempt to focus on the question, although might drift into narrative, and will show some evidence of solid reading and research. The argument might lose direction and might not be adequately clear at the bottom of this category. Written work will be presented reasonably well with only limited errors in grammar, punctuation, and referencing, and not to the extent that they obscure meaning.


Good students (B- to B+) will demonstrate a solid level of achievement and depth of knowledge in all the criteria in the C- to C+ range, and will in addition exhibit constructive engagement with different types of historical writing and historiographical interpretation. Ideas will be communicated effectively and written work will include a good range of sources/reading and demonstrate a clear understanding of the issues and of the existing interpretations expressed in a well-structured, relevant, and focused argument. Students at the top end of this band will engage with and critique the ideas that they come across, and synthesise the various interpretations they find to reach their own considered conclusions. Written work will be correctly presented with references and bibliography where appropriate.


Excellent students (A- and above) will show strong achievement across all the criteria combined with particularly impressive depths of knowledge and/or subtlety of analysis. In written work, they will support their arguments with a wealth of relevant detail/examples. They will also demonstrate an acute awareness of the relevant historiography and give an account of why the conclusions reached are important within a particular historical debate. They may show a particularly subtle approach to possible objections, nuancing their argument in the light of counter-examples, or producing an interesting synthesis of various contrasting positions.

Learning outcomes

  1. Judge between competing interpretations of the British country house and its context, and the current state of the historiography

  2. Present clear, evidence-based, and cogent historical arguments

  3. Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the British country house from 1750 to the present day, which will be enhanced through reading and seminar discussion

  4. Demonstrate a close familiarity with primary sources concerning the British country house from 1750 to the present day, and the ability to analyse these sources and use them in historical arguments

  5. The ability to analyse individual pieces of historical evidence very closely i.e. setting them in context, judging their qualities as evidence, and explaining their significance

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
Individual presentation 10
Essay 40
Exam 50

Teaching and Learning Strategy


Two c. 4 hour field trips to nearby National Trust properties Penrhyn Castle and Plas Newydd

Private study

Students should prepare thoroughly for seminars by reading the recommended texts (available via Blackboard); reading the distributed primary sources, which will be discussed in detail during the seminars (essential preparation for the end of module exam).


Two 2-hour long seminars each week during semester 1 and 2 (c.80 hours)


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • problem solving to develop solutions to understand the past
  • understanding the complexity of change over time; in specific contexts and chronologies
  • being sensitive to the differences, or the "otherness" of the past, and the difficulty to using it as a guide to present or future action
  • being sensitive to the role of perceptions of the past in contemporary cultures
  • producing logical and structured arguments supported by relevant evidence
  • planning, designing, executing and documenting a programme of research, working independently
  • marshalling and critically appraising other people's arguments, including listening and questioning
  • presenting effective oral presentations for different kinds of audiences, including academic and/or audiences with little knowledge of history
  • making effective and appropriate forms of visual presentation
  • making critical and effective use of information retrieval skills using paper-based and electronic resources
  • collaborating effectively in a team via experience of working in a group
  • critical evaluation of one's own and others' opinions
  • engaging with relevant aspects of current agendas such as global perspectives, public engagement, employability, enterprise, and creativity


Resource implications for students

Many of the resources on the reading lists will be available via Bangor University library and e-Resources

Reading list

General works on landownership and the landed elite: L. Baker-Jones, Princelings, Privilege and Power: the Tivyside Gentry in their Community (1999) J. V. Beckett, The Aristocracy in England, 1660-1914 (1988) D. Cannadine, The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy (1990) C. Clay, ‘Marriage, inheritance, and the rise of large estates in England, 1660-1815’, Economic History Review (1968) O. Cook, The English Country House: An Art and a Way of Life (1974) D. N. Durant, Life in the Country House: a Historical Dictionary (1996) D. Eastwood, Governing Rural England: Tradition and Transformation in Local Government, 1780-1840 (1994) A. Elton, B. Harrison and K. Wark, Researching the Country House: A Guide for Local Historians (1992) M. Girouard, Life in the English Country House: A Social and Architectural History (1978) —, The Victorian Country House (1979) —, A Country House Companion (1987) G. A. Gresham, Eifionydd: a Study in Landownership (1973) J. Habakkuk, Marriage, Debt and the Estates System: English Landownership 1650-1950 (1994) N. B. Harte and R. Quinault (eds.), Land and Society in Britain, 1700-1914 (1996) B. A. Holderness and M. Turner (eds.), Land, Labour and Agriculture, 1700-1920 (1990) P. Horn, The Rural World 1780-1850 (1984) B. E. Howells, Pembrokeshire Life 1572-1843: a Selection of Letters (1972) D. W. Howell, Patriarchs and Parasites: the Gentry of South-West Wales in the Eighteenth Century (1986) —, Land and People in Nineteenth Century Wales (1978) A. Howkins, Reshaping Rural England (1991) —, The Death of Rural England: a Social History of the Countryside Since 1900 (2003) G. Jackson-Stops and J. Pipkin, The English Country House: A Grand Tour (1984) F. C. Jaher (ed.), The Rich, the Well Born and the Powerful: Elites and Upper Classes in History (1973) T. I. Jeffreys Jones, Acts of Parliament Concerning Wales, 1714-1901 (1966)

D. Jenkins, The Agricultural Community in South-West Wales at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (1971) R, Kain and H. C. Prince, The Tithe Surveys of England and Wales (1985) P. Lane, The Upper Class (1972) D. R. Mills, Lord and Peasant in Nineteenth Century Britain (1980) G. E. Mingay, The Gentry: the Rise and Fall of a Ruling Class (1976) —, Rural Life in Victorian England (1976) —, The Victorian Countryside, 2 vols. (1981) — (ed.), The Agrarian History of England and Wales, vol. vi 1750-1850 (1989) C. S. Orwin and E. Whetham, History of British Agriculture (1971) T. Owen, The Customs and Traditions of Wales (1991) P. J. Perry, British Agriculture 1875-1914 (1973) R. O. Roberts (ed.), Farming in Caernarfonshire Around 1800 (1973) W. D. Rubinstein, Elites and the Wealthy in Modern British History: Essays in Social and Economic History (1987) A. W. B. Simpson, A History of the Land Law (1986 edn.) D. Smith, A People and a Proletariat (1980) D. Spring, The English Landed Estate in the Nineteenth Century (1963) F. M. L. Thompson, English Landed Society in the Nineteenth Century (1963) J. Vince, The Country House: How It Worked (1991) E. Whittle, The Historic Gardens of Wales (1992) J. Williams, Digest of Welsh Historical Statistics (1985) R. Wilson and A. Mackley, Creating Paradise: The Building of the English Country House, 1660-1880 (2000) J. R. Wordie, Agriculture and Politics in England, 1815-1939 (2000) M. Yass, The English Aristocracy (1974)

Courses including this module

Compulsory in courses: