Champagne & Shambles


Champagne and Shambles: The Arkwrights and the Country House in Crisis
(The History Press, Stroud) 2009; 300 pages; 30 bl/wh plates.  ISBN 978-0-7524-5435-1
Price: £14.99 + £3.10 p&p (signed copies on request).
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Champagne & Shambles by Catherine BealeChampagne and Shambles is the true story of Johnny Arkwright and his Hampton Court estate – the largest in Herefordshire (10,559 acres) - between 1854 and 1914.  At 24, Johnny seemed to inherit the earth, but he and his peers were about to see their world disintegrate and disappear as landownership entered its biggest shake-up since the Reformation.  Not even the irrepressible Johnny, ‘the epitome of the English squire’, who lived, loved and led at break-neck speed, could resist the forces threatening the countryside then as now – urban expansion, state legislation, political decline, anti-landlordism, imported foods and even the British climate.


Painstakingly reconstructed from surviving correspondence and estate records, Champagne and Shambles shows why so many of the country houses that we visit today have lost their occupants, and how it felt to let such a rich inheritance go.  It also reconnects the country house to the countryside by which it is surrounded. Ronald Blythe, author of Akenfield and one of Britain’s most eminent writers about the countryside, has described Champagne and Shambles as

‘An enthralling biographical economy in which a single landowning family is made to tell the full story of agriculture and the social life around it from the early nineteenth century almost up to the present… The many thousands for whom [country houses] are now a reminder of a civilisation should read it – alongside the guidebook.  It will alter all their views.’


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