When It Happens Panel Get involved: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting 'OXFORD NEWS' to 80360 or email
Felling the Ancient Oaks by John Martin Robinson
FELLING THE ANCIENT OAKS John Martin Robinson (Aurum Press, £30)
In his introduction, the author claims that since 1880 the number of English country estates has shrunk to about two-thirds, with most of the remainder decreased in size on average by half. His book concentrates on 20 of the lost estates, poignantly describing each one in turn, placing them in a historical context, and showing how they initially prospered and then declined to relative obscurity.
There are no examples from Oxfordshire, so I’ll take the fate of Haggerston Castle in Northumberland. About five miles south of Berwick-on-Tweed, it was first recorded in 1311 as a pele tower. The Haggerstons (baronets) lived there until 1860, holding the ground against the Scots, rebuilding the tower when it burned down in 1611, losing it and buying it back after the Civil War, and rebuilding it in plain Georgian style in 1777 with the obligatory landscaped park and lake. When their line died out, the castle was sold to the Leyland family of Liverpool, who added among other features a rotunda. The chapter, like all the others, is illustrated with magnificent black-and-white photos, which in this example principally show the Victorian improvements.
The estate declined thereafter, the glory days lasting barely 20 years. Eventually the estate lands and farms were sold by auction in 1938; the house was used in both world wars by the military, and then as a source of materials. Not much now remains: only the base of the rotunda; the chapel, which is a private house; the ice house and a few other bits. The ornamental lake is surrounded by holiday chalets and caravans are parked in the grounds. This sad end to a magnificent estate typifies the stories in this book.
Each chapter goes through a similar tale of birth and death, although the details are sufficiently varied as to make the book compelling reading throughout. Sadly, the National Trust arrived too late for these estates.