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TEN OF THE BEST GEORGIAN STATELY HOMES

Rebecca Winward

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The 18th century was a time of extreme luxury for the haves (though sadly often at the expense of the have-nots), and consequently the period's architectural legacy is quite astounding. Thanks to influence of the sights seen while on their Grand Tour, the aristocracy of the age developed a taste for a myriad of European styles, and many commissioned the building of new family seats in the Baroque, Palladian, Rococo, Neo-Classical, Greek revival or Italianate manner. Breathtaking interiors, elegant facades and stunning formal gardens can be seen at Georgian country houses all around Great Britain, but here's my pick of the best ones to visit...
Ickworth

You know you're in for a treat when the blurb states that a property was built by an eccentric aristocrat, and Ickworth doesn't disappoint. An architectural wonder, boasting an imposing central rotunda and curved corridors, this striking edifice was the original party pad for the 4th Earl of Bristol, who was a complete Italophile. Highlights include a magnificent Georgian silver collection, an upstairs/downstairs exhibition, and a walled garden, complete with its own vineyard.

Claydon

Boasting what are said to be the most ambitious and lavish interiors ever created in the 18th century, you won't be surprised to hear that Claydon House was something of a vanity project for Sir Ralph Verney, who set about this ambitious build back in the 1750s. Thirty years later he was facing financial ruin, but the resulting property is as impressive as he had intended. Don't miss the striking Chinoiserie room, and the parquet staircase that is so precious no-one is allowed to use it.

Paxton House, Gallery and Country Park

Billed as one of the finest 18th century Palladian houses in Britain, Paxton House was built to a design by eminent Georgian architect John Adam. With 12 rooms decorated in his characteristic style, you'll find within them a superb collection of Chippendale and Trotter furniture, while other highlights include a world-class collection of 18th century men's costume, and the largest private picture gallery of any private house in Scotland.

Saltram

An elegant stately home featuring fine Robert Adam interiors, Saltram House is one of Britain's best-preserved examples of an early Georgian mansion - so no wonder it was chosen as one of the locations used to shoot the 1995 film Sense & Sensibility. The property actually dates back to Tudor times, but thanks to judicious remodelling in the 18th century a Palladian facade is in evidence. The interiors were similarly redesigned, and boast delicate Rococo plasterwork, original 18th century Chinese wallpaper, and a superb collection of period furnishings.

Kedleston Hall

Once occupied by the great lady who provided the inspiration for Downton Abbey's Lady Grantham, and one of the locations used for filming the Keira Knightley film The Duchess, Kedleston Hall is a stunning Neo-Classical mansion surrounded by historic parkland. Must-sees include the state rooms - one of the most complete sequences of Robert Adam interiors in England - the Colonial treasures of the Eastern Museum, and the superb original collection of paintings and sculpture.

West Wycombe Park, Village & Hill

With its striking Italianate looks, West Wycombe Park is one of the most theatrical Georgian houses in England, and its unique facade has graced the small screen on TV period dramas including Little Dorrit, Cranford, and Downton Abbey. The home of the notorious Hell-Fire Club - an exclusive club for high society gentlemen - this stately abode is the ancestral home of the Dashwood Family, whose ancestor Sir Francis Dashwood commissioned both the house and the landscaped Rococo gardens.

Beningbrough Hall, Gallery & Gardens

To see a stunning example of the Baroque style, visit Beningbrough Hall. Built in 1716 for John Bourchier, the fashionable red-brick edifice echoes many of the features of a Baroque Roman palace - unsurprisingly, it was created shortly after its owner's return from his Grand Tour. Highlights include the National Portrait Gallery's 18th-century collection including the interactive 'Making Faces' galleries (great for children!), picturesque Italianate gardens, and a fully-equipped Victorian laundry.

Osterley Park & House

Originally a Tudor mansion, Osterley Park was transformed into a Neo-Classical villa by Robert Adam in the mid 18th century - though more recently it was (temporarily) transformed into Wayne Manor, during the filming of the latest Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises. Once described as the 'palace of palaces', like many such properties it was designed to impress and entertain friends and clients. Don't miss the 130-foot Long Gallery, the 'below stairs' area for a glimpse of 18th century domestic life, and the beautiful Pleasure Gardens.

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