Historic Houses Owners: Demystifying the Preconceptions

When thinking about the subject for a new research in History, it can first be a daunting source of anxiety and headache. What era of history? Who, when, why? The BIG questions. There is just too much of our world’s history that is fascinating and an almost infinite range of subjects and approaches. And then, when it comes down to an oral history project, there is the added challenge of thinking about living memory. So when I started thinking about my own project, and, glancing at the general question of «What sort of topic would (I) like to explore?», I immediately thought to myself: It has to be something I am passionate about and that I want to dig into deeper. So I narrowed it down to one of my many interests in History, which is the study of Cultural Heritage, e.g. historic houses and castles.

Prior to doing the MA in Public History at Royal Holloway University of London, I worked at the European Historic Houses Association. And an issue that was raised day-in and day-out was how no one wants to listen or give voice to owners of historic houses. There is this perpetual stigma that these men and women are rich, pretentious people, roaming in the small circle of gentry and nobility and never leaving their gilded cages. This could not be further from the truth. A vast majority of these people strive to keep up their country’s heritage and history, maintaining and protecting these properties, objects and gardens to their best capacity, all the while drowning in debts and backlog repairs. Issues arise with death and inheritance, and with a generation that no longer sees the interest of being the owner of such astounding properties. Richard Compton, President of the Historic Houses Association, underlined at the Historic Houses Association General Assembly in November 2014 that «some new inheritors seem reluctant to move from their small and comfortably manageable houses into the often large, rambling and expensive “big” house.»

It is, as such, my intention, if possible, to produce an oral history interview with an owner of a historic house to delve into the issue of what it truly represents to be responsible for preserving such emblems of history and culture. To let their voices be heard, and to help them reflect on the upsides and challenges, as well as letting them recall their own history with the property. Indeed, in the majority of cases, the current owner was born and raised in the house, from a family that has inherited the house from generations past. Their story is as such intertwined with the history of the property and the surrounding areas. I would like, as such, to give owners the opportunity to tell their own story, that I imagine will be far from what the medias, politicians and popular opinion credit them to be.

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