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Noble Ambitions

The Fall and Rise of the English Country House After World War II

ebook / ISBN-13: 9781541617995

USD: $15.99  /  CAD: $19.99

ON SALE: September 21st 2021

Genre: Nonfiction / History / Europe / Great Britain / 20th Century


A rollicking tour of the English country home after World War II, when swinging London collided with aristocratic values

As the sun set slowly on the British Empire, its mansions fell and rose. Ancient families were reduced to demolishing the parts of their stately homes they could no longer afford, dukes and duchesses desperately clung to their ancestral seats, and a new class of homeowners bought their way into country life. A delicious romp, Noble Ambitions pulls us into these crumbling halls of power, leading us through the juiciest bits of postwar aristocratic history—from Mick Jagger dancing at deb balls to the scandals of Princess Margaret. Capturing the spirit of the age, historian Adrian Tinniswood proves that the country house is not only an iconic symbol, but a lens through which to understand the shifting fortunes of the British elite in an era of monumental social change.

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Reader Reviews


“Adrian Tinniswood’s highly entertaining narrative of life in the postwar English country house is a refreshing antidote to the usual gloom-ridden accounts of debt and demolition. As this meticulously researched book reveals, not only was the country house alive and kicking, but it was at times quite literally a circus.”
 —Dr. Martin Postle, Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
“By turns uproarious, scandalous, and occasionally melancholic, Noble Ambitions shows that the business of running a country house required vision and bravery, and the single-minded determination not to be ‘the one to let it go’. From roaming lions to machine gun-toting footmen, this is a book that is full of stories much like the mansions that it so affectionately portrays.”—Ben Cowell, Historic Houses
“A compelling and fascinating look at the near-demise of the country house. At times, one would think no country house would survive post WWII England; but Adrian Tinniswood weaves an interesting story about the survival of not only the traditional country house, but the rise of a new class of mid-century houses for the modern era.”—Ian Murray, Executive Director, The Royal Oak Foundation
Noble Ambitions is a delightful exploration of country houses and their occupants through the 1950s and 60s in Britain. Brilliantly charting the varied and surprisingly creative responses of aristocratic families to pressures of rising cost and heavy taxes, Tinniswood shows how they adapted by radically down-sizing or welcoming the paying public, and adding cafes or even lions when required. Though many great houses were sadly lost, many others found film actors or pop stars as their new owners, part of an ebullient and sometimes extravagant new generation. Scrupulous research by Tinniswood, with telling details and poignant stories, makes this a compelling narrative of postwar Britain.”—Sandy Nairne CBE FSA, curator and writer
“Evelyn Waugh’s opinion that Britain’s stately homes are the nation’s chief national artistic achievement is arguably still valid since an estimated 40 million people pay to visit them each year—though whether it is to view the wonderful art collections they house, or curiosity to see “how the other half lives,” is arguable. This book will certainly satisfy the latter, detailing in elegantly written prose the lives, loves, scandals and eccentricities of those who inhabited the wonderful buildings of Longleat, Chatsworth, Burghley, Arundel, Blenheim et al.  It is a highly enjoyable, gossipy read with a gasp on every page; a must for the bedside tables of every guest bedroom, and every stately home gift shop.”—Mary S. Lovell, author of The Mitford Girls
“The crisis of the country house in embattled 20th-century Britain provides a metaphor of national decline and eventual renewal which remains of gripping interest to a 21st-century public.  Nobody is better qualified to tell this tale of loss and transformation, in all its human complexity, than Adrian Tinniswood.  A master of the sources, he brings the past to life through his vivid writing and seemingly bottomless fund of stories.”—Clive Aslet, Author and Editorial Director of Triglyph Books
“Tinniswood's meticulously researched and entertaining study of the dramatic changes in the status and nature of the English country house in the three decades after the Second World War provides a brilliant insight into a much overlooked period. In these decades the world of the country house was shaped by the upheavals of war and taxation, aesthetes, estate agents, pop stars, safari parks, and more — the old and new worlds colliding across the counties of England, reinventing between them the enduring place of the country house in English culture and imagination. Few authors can combine serious social history with the sometimes sad and often hilarious narratives of country house life in the way that Tinniswood can.”—Jeremy Musson, Architectural Historian
“I would have been willing to wager good money that Adrian Tinniswood’s The Long Weekend could not be bettered. It is fortunate no one offered me odds, because Noble Ambitions is – well, ambitious, and nobly achieved. By turns warm, sympathetic, sly, and analytical, Tinniswood examines the complex history of the postwar country house with skill, grace, clarity – and charity. A triumph.”—Judith Flanders, author of A Place for Everything
“Noble Ambitions, the latest volume from one of Britain’s leading architectural historians does not disappoint. Adrian Tinniswood tells the oft-ignored story of the great country houses after the catastrophe of the Second World War, which nearly extinguished these icons of English culture. 
With pithy prose, witty asides, and great breadth and depth, Adrian tells the tale of the downfall and glorious rebirth of the English country house in the last half of the 20th century. This entertaining book is that rarest of creatures: scholarly, fun, and hard to put down.”
 —Curt DiCamillo, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts
"A beautifully written book, full of engaging anecdote, that offers not just a compelling portrait of the postwar English country house and its social milieu, but an unexpected one as well."—John Goodall, Architectural Editor, Country Life
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