“Enormous, complicated and highly articulated machines” (Girouard, 1979): the introduction of domestic technology into country houses with Marilyn Palmer
In the second half of the 19th century, technology played an increasingly important role in enabling owners of country houses to achieve their ambition of a comfortable house which functioned efficiently and, as far as the owners and their guests were concerned, largely invisibly. Many country house owners played an important role in the improvement and acceptance of many of the home comforts which we, in the developed world at least, take for granted, such as central heating, sanitation, running water and electric lighting. This often meant creating their own sources of supply if they were far from urban centres and so unable to obtain such services from them.
Mechanical and then electrical bells were used by the household to summon servants from their distant quarters, whilst lifts and sometimes even railways conveyed fuel, food or luggage unseen to where they were needed. The dwindling financial resources which many country estates experienced from the late 19th century has meant that the physical evidence of these earliest examples of domestic innovations has often survived rather than being swept away by later modernisation, as was often the case in town houses and middle class dwellings. The owners of many houses, recognising the changing composition of their visiting public, have begun to open up the below-stairs areas as well as the state rooms and to conserve the remains of earlier technologies.
The lecture will be given by Marilyn Palmer MBE, FSA, Britain’s only Professor of Industrial Archaeology and formerly of the University of Leicester. She served on the National Trust’s Archaeology Panel for over 20 years and developed an interest in the remains of past technologies in country houses, the result being the book she co-wrote with Dr Ian West, Technology in the Country House, published in 2016 by Historic England jointly with the National Trust.
The lecture will take place at Wentworth Woodhouse.
Thursday 2 May 2019, 6.30pm-8pm
£20 per person
A glass of wine (or a soft drink) and canapés are included in the ticket price. There will be a bar to buy drinks on the night. Doors open at 6pm.