No Voice from the Hall

No Voice from the Hall: Early Memories of a Country House Snooper, By John Harris, 1998

This book is not about Inverneill House, but the fate of the many country houses that it describes resonates with the history of this house and its inhabitants.

For my generation, history lessons began at primary school with the Stone Age and ended just before O-level examinations were sat with the outbreak of the First World War. Eye witness accounts of both wars could be gleaned from relatives, some of whom had served in the armed forces. However, the huge changes that took place in the country houses and their kitchen gardens somehow remained out of sight.

The whole book is interesting, but John Harris starts his prologue with great insight: “This is a tale of abandoned country houses . . . In my nomadic travels I discovered a situation that had no parallel elsewhere in Europe: a country of deserted country houses . . . The situation was unique, because no other country had effected total mobilisation during the war . . . .” One sentence in the prologue particularly stands out. “One fact portrays the situation as no other: in 1955, one house was demolished every two and a half days”.

Suddenly I have become aware not just of the fate of this house and its productive lands, but of others in the neighbourhood, many in a state way beyond renovation. But there is more that comes to mind: the glasshouses and polythene tunnels in the Netherlands and Spain, where now so many of the fruit, vegetables and flowers that would have been grown here in the walled gardens and their great glasshouses are now grown. It may be the case that country houses had come to symbolise unacceptable levels of social inequality, but did that focus on symbolism hide from sight the productive function that these places used to, and still could be performing?