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Althorp: The Story of an English House

Althorp: The Story of an English House

ISBN: 9780312208332
Publisher: St Martins Pr
Edition: Ill
Publication Date: 1999-05
Number of pages: 167

At 168 illustrated pages, Charles, the Ninth Earl Spencer's account of Althorp, his family seat, can only scratch the surface of its 500-year history. Nevertheless, whether he is describing the sleepless nights of his childhood, the ticking of clocks "always... too subtle a sound, getting absorbed in the oak of the floorboards and the fabric of the tapestries", or appraising the forbidding character of his grandfather, the "Curator Earl", Spencer casts a candid, evocative light on his subject.

Indeed, Spencer's own efforts on the estate have been considerable. First came the business of repairing the predations of his "short-termist stepmother" Raine, Countess of Dartmouth--she who carpeted a 115-ft long Tudor picture gallery with a wall-to-wall oatmeal carpet. Now comes the death and burial on the estate of his sister Diana, Princess of Wales. That Charles must now curate the family home as a site of global mourning is a trial quite the equal of anything the estate has ever faced.

Subtitled The Story of an English House, the book's structure, covering buildings, grounds, family history and collections, is entirely conventional. What does surprise is the way Spencer packs in so much about the social and political vicissitudes that shaped his family's wealth and taste. In doing so, he eschews his grandfather's regrettable elitism, while losing none of the old man's dedication to the family's heritage. Like all good introductions, this book suggests a world and time far exceeding its little compass. --Simon Ings

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