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'X' marks the spot: narratives of a lost country house

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)

  • Jon Stobart (Editor)
  • Karen Elizabeth Fielder
In August 1953 the editor of the magazine The Connoisseur, L G G Ramsey, published a piece lamenting the loss of what he referred to as ‘the most important and significant single house in England’. The house to which he referred was Coleshill, a 17th-century country house in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire) near the town of Highworth. In September 1952 the house was severely damaged by fire. Although substantial remains survived, these were demolished amid much controversy in January 1953. The article was illustrated with ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos, one showing the standing house alongside another of the empty terrace that remained following its demolition. Ramsey wrote: ‘Now only X marks the spot where Coleshill once stood’.
The site of the lost house is not formally presented or interpreted by the Trust, and now lies within the garden of a tenanted property on the estate. The tenants have marked out the footprint of the house with box hedging and other garden features. This paper considers how the house continues to be experienced at the site today. It examines the debates that took place around the time of the demolition of the house, and those that ensued in relation to the vacant site. It proposes that more than 60 years after the demolition there is still a palpable sense of the absent building, even without formal interpretation. This derives not only from physical signals but also from more intangible prompts to the imagination. Perversely, it is the presence of the absent building that invites a particular kind of engagement with the house and its narratives.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe country house
Subtitle of host publicationmaterial culture and consumption
EditorsJon Stobart, Andrew Hann
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherUniversity of Chicago Press
Number of pages256
ISBN (Print)9781848022331
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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