Prize Stallions and Beasts of Burden:
The Horse and the English Country House
Horses are an integral part of English social, political, economic and cultural history. From the Middle Ages through to the aftermath of the WWI, they were used for agricultural development, the military, transportation, industry, and, of course, sport. Horses were crucial to sustaining and enabling life in the English country house. Horsepower brought stone to build the house, pulled the wagons filled with paintings and decorative art expressing the owner’s taste and sophistication, pulled the ploughs that farmed the estate, and most importantly carried house guests who marveled at these symbols of power, wealth and influence. Until the early years of the 20th century, without horses the country house would have ceased to function. As a result, stables were often as elegant as the main dwelling—such as the Robert Adam designed stable at Kedleston, or John Carr’s enormous equine complex at Wentworth Woodhouse. Decorative and fine art displayed in country house interiors also revealed a fascination with horses, and especially for horse racing. Horse racing has always been one of Britain’s most popular spectator sports. Portraits of these turf stars by artists such as George Stubbs held prominent positions on the walls of country houses and winnings were displayed as glittering trophies on sideboards. Indeed, horse racing attracted the full spectrum of British class and society who went to the races to gamble and socialise, to plot and scheme, and to flirt and fight.
In his richly-illustrated lecture, Oxford historian Dr. Oliver Cox, will talk about the long history of horses and the English country house, as well as describe horse racing in England from the first years of royal patronage under King James I at Newmarket, through to our present Queen’s love of the turf. He will lead the audience on a tour of some of Britain’s grandest country houses, with stops at the iconic sporting spectacles of The Derby, Royal Ascot and the Cheltenham Festival. Looking beyond the top hats and fascinators, this lecture will explore the roots of the British love for horses and horse racing while showing great houses, from Mount Stewart in Northern Ireland to Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire.
Thank you to our co-sponsors: Filoli; American Friends of Attingham; Cambridge Alumni Northern California Association; Oxford University Society in Northern California