Tri­umphant re­turn to life

An ac­claimed restora­tion has brought an out­stand­ing house back to life. In the sec­ond of two ar­ti­cles, John Martin Robin­son ex­plains this achieve­ment

Country Life Every Week - - In The Garden - Pho­to­graphs by Paul High­nam

St Giles House, Dorset, part II The Seat of the Earl of Shaftes­bury

When Coun­try Life last cov­ered St Giles house, in 1943, it was the home of the 9th earl of Shaftes­bury and seemed a sur­vival from a van­ished world. The earl, Lord Cham­ber­lain to Queen Mary, had in­her­ited the es­tate in 1886, mar­ried a Grosvenor and car­ried out works of en­hance­ment to the house be­fore the First World War, in­clud­ing the creation of a small pri­vate chapel by Ninian Com­per and con­struc­tion of a new for­mal gar­den. he had also re­dec­o­rated the in­te­rior and dis­played its con­tents to fine ef­fect.

The pho­to­graphs show the rooms with all their splen­did Ge­or­gian fur­ni­ture in­tact and seem­ingly with an air of ed­war­dian well-be­ing still per­vad­ing. In fact, the house was oc­cu­pied for the war by a girls’ school, Miss Faunt’s Academy, from Lon­don. Lord Shaftes­bury was serv­ing in the home Guard and the fam­ily only lived in a small por­tion. The prospect seemed bleak. he wrote in his notebook: ‘What is to be­come of the old fam­ily house where suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions have lived so long is im­pos­si­ble to fore­tell.’

After the war, like many of his generation, he found it dif­fi­cult to man­age the place with lit­tle or no staff: ‘Do­mes­tic ser­vants are prac­ti­cally un­ob­tain­able. Girls nowa­days will not have any­thing to say to do­mes­tic ser­vice and foot­men no longer ex­ist—with the re­sult that these large houses are no longer prac­ti­cal propo­si­tions to live in.’ Nev­er­the­less, he sol­diered on alone

Fig 1: The re­stored Great Din­ing Room turns the scars of the dry rot to grand ef­fect

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