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The British Stable by Giles Worsley. Yale University Press, 2004. £45


Until now, at its demise, equestrian architecture has been ignored by historians, writes Deborah Singmaster. The British Stable majestically addresses this oversight. Giles Worsley has researched every aspect of it, from manger design to multi-storey stabling (an example survives behind Paddington Station).

When Queen Elizabeth acquired a coach, private coaches quickly became so fashionable they were seen as a threat to the art of riding and river transport. At first, coach horses had to be imported. They were expensive and valuable and their owners liked to show them off in suitably grand stables.

These might express new architectural fashions, or 'realise in miniature? thwarted architectural ambitions'; some outshone the houses they stood beside. At Peover Hall, Cheshire, the stable ceiling of 1654 is decorated with delicate domestic plaster work; carved heel posts at Dunham Massey Hall mimic Classical columns; at Chatsworth, James Paine's stables rival those by Giulio Romano at the Palazzo del Te.

In the 1600s, stables and coach house often flanked the forecourt. A century later they were set apart in large quadrangles, leaving the house isolated in the landscape as at Houghton Hall, where Robert Walpole's guests expected to hunt six days a week in between banquets and politicking. In 1794, Richard Payne Knight advocated a reunion of house and stable to achieve a Picturesque massing.

In London and Edinburgh, mews solved the horse and coach problem, and dictated the classic Georgian layout exemplified by Grosvenor Square and the streets of Mayfair.

Apart from the replacement of stalls with loose boxes and improved hygiene, stables changed little after early the 19th century. The Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace are as functional today as they were when Nash designed them.

Superb photographs by William Curtis Rolf are accompanied by plans, maps and drawings.

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