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
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