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England's Lost Houses: From the Archives of Country Life

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By Giles Worsley. Aurum Press, 2002. £35

Since its launch in 1897, Country Life has recorded some 2,500 country houses, of which 117 have been demolished or severely damaged, writes Deborah Singmaster; a gazetteer at the back of England's Lost Houses lists 1,200 casualties (such as Eaton Hall, left).Giles Worsley, once editor of Country Life, sketches the 'complex cocktail of events' that was responsible: 'landowners' indebtedness, death duties, the impact of wartime requisitioning and the consequences of social change such as divorce.'

But the chief culprit was fire.Often, burnt-out houses such as Uffington House, Lincolnshire, and Hagley Hall, Worcestershire, were reconstructed with the help of Country Life's photographic records.

Entertaining obituaries accompany Worsley's selection of photographs.The 11th Duke of Leeds abandoned Hornby Castle, Yorkshire, for the Italian Riviera 'where he got through three wives and died age 62'.Many salvaged interiors migrated to museums, mostly in America, while the Bowood dining room is now in Richard Rogers'Lloyd's Building.Particularly poignant are accounts of short-lived houses - Norman Shaw's Dawpool, Cheshire, completed in 1884, demolished in 1927 and Detmar Blow's Arts and Crafts masterpiece, Little Ridge, Wiltshire, demolished in 1972.

Worsley's message is upbeat.Since the landmark 'Destruction of the Country House'exhibition, held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1974, the rot has stopped, thanks largely to changes in the law and raised public awareness. 'One of Country Life's most self-consciously painterly images of a country house, 'censures the caption to an atmospheric, misty image of Tabley Old Hall, Cheshire; but the flat, unchanging style of the Country Life photographs raises a question.Might a more engaged and varied approach have achieved the same stardom for country houses that glamorous black and white photography gave to Modern Movement buildings?

The book accompanies an exhibition at Sir John Soane's Museum, Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2, until 21 September

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