The Culture of the English Country House (Online)


Explore the culture of the English country house from its architectural form, furnishings and social distinctions to its artistic manifestations of taste, as an expression of power and influence in a changing society.  In this course you will examine all of these aspects for an institution which has now become a central part of national heritage.

The architecture of the country house was an opportunity to advertise wealth and values, while its built configuration directed the social engagement within. The country house also acted as a repository for collections of art and artefacts, which exhibited fashion, taste and wealth. The connection of the elite house and its holding of land was established in the Middle Ages. As society changed, each successive generation embraced and adapted the idea of the country house. It became a vehicle for the display of new wealth in the Tudor period before shifting towards commodities of comfort in the later seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century it expressed the wealth, refinement and the taste of oligarchs before shifting once again to a display of new wealth for industrialists in the nineteenth century.

This course will explore the English country house as a developing institution through six centuries, focusing on social and cultural activities and the expression of power and ideologies.

For information on how the courses work, and a link to our course demonstration site, please click here.

Programme details

Unit 1: The house and the land: the medieval elite house

  • The nature of the evidence for country house culture
  • The medieval ‘country house’ – the idealised hub of the community
  • Hospitality and the household
  • The lasting symbolism of the castle
  • The changing dynamics of late medieval society and economy
  • A move towards privacy and comfort in the country house
  • Social identity and the importance of chivalry


Unit 2: The Tudor country house: re-ordering the world

  • The early Tudor country house
  • The importance of being a courtier
  • Classical decorative motifs as an expression of humanist learning
  • The dissolution of the monasteries and the country house
  • Elizabethan courtly chivalry and ‘prodigy’ houses
  • Builders and designers
  • A move toward symmetry
  • Internal spatial arrangements in the Elizabethan country house
  • Modes of decoration in the Elizabethan country house


Unit 3: The Stuart country house: enlightenment, revolution and Restoration

  • Early Stuart transitions
  • Inigo Jones and the application of Vitruvian principles in architecture
  • The country house divided: rising tensions in the reign of Charles I
  • The Interregnum: A period of crisis for the country house
  • The Restoration of monarchy
  • The arrival of the baroque
  • The creation of the apartment

Unit 4: The mid eighteenth century country house: urbane sensibility

  • The French influence
  • Craftsmanship and order: cabinets, bookcases and mirrors
  • Chatsworth and the Glorious Revolution
  • Daniel Marot and French design influences
  • Petworth House and Grinling Gribbons
  • A new world of exotic novelties
  • India and the Far East

Unit 5: The early Georgian country house: the Palladian ‘New Romans’ and the grand tour

  • The early Georgian political and economic context
  • Changing sources of wealth and the country house
  • The Palladians
  • Colen Campbell
  • The patronage of Lord Burlington
  • William Kent and the Palladian country house interior
  • William Kent and garden design
  • The role of the grand tour in the education of taste

Unit 6: The mid eighteenth century country house: urbane sensibility

  • Country house owners and the town house
  • The changing layout of the country house
  • Sensibility and sociability
  • Decorative expressions of sensibility: rococo and chinoiserie
  • Decorative expressions of sensibility: Gothic
  • The country house and the entrepreneur craftsman
  • Thomas Chippendale

Unit 7: The later Georgian country house: enlightenment and imagination

  • The re-engagement with classicism
  • The neoclassical country house and Robert Adam
  • Rival architects
  • Grecian architecture and interiors
  • Romantic neo gothic
  • Creating a historical environment
  • Mughal style
  • Colonial wealth and the country house

Unit 8: The early Victorian country house: making a present in the past

  • Education and changing values
  • The mental world of the early Victorian country house
  • Historicism, architecture and interiors
  • The social culture of the Victorian country house
  • The spatial organisation of new forms of household
  • Technology in the country house

Unit 9: The later Victorian and Edwardian country house: taste and authenticity

  • ‘Old English’ style
  • The aesthetic movement
  • The aesthetic country house
  • Morris, Webb and the Arts and Crafts country house
  • Lutyens, Jekyll,  and gardens
  • Gardens
  • The final flowering: the Edwardian country house

Unit 10: The twentieth century: decline and salvation of the country house

  • The first half of the twentieth century: the country house at war and in peace
  • The interwar country house
  • ‘Country house style’
  • Back to war: the impact of the Second World War on the country house
  • The later twentieth century: the demise and resurrection of the country house as heritage culture
  • Protection of historic buildings
  • The National Trust and the fightback of the country house
  • Losses
  • Gains
  • Later twentieth-century country houses
  • The country house as heritage, and its interpretation

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £10 fee.

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.

All students who successfully complete this course, whether registered for credit or not, are eligible for a Certificate of Completion. Completion consists of submitting the final course assignment. Certificates will be available, online, for those who qualify after the course finishes.


Description Costs
Course Fee £324.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


Dr Megan Aldrich

Megan Aldrich is an independent scholar who lectures and writes about aspects of architectural and design history. Recent publications include Antiquaries and Archaists (Spire Books, 2009); Art and Authenticity (Lund Humphries, 2012); Thomas Rickman and the Victorians (Victorian Society, 2019); and articles in the journals of Garden History (2016), and Furniture History (2018). She is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and edits the journal Furniture History.

Course aims

This course will enable participants to explore the multifaceted nature and development of the English country house, through its architectural configuration, decoration and art objects as expressions of social relationships and values.


This course will enable students to:

  • investigate the diverse elements of the country house culture: material, social and conceptual
  • interpret the country house and its culture
  • examine the development of the country house in its wider political, economic and social context

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be expected to understand:

  • the relationships between the architectural, decorative, artistic, artefactual and conceptual elements of the country through progressive developments
  • the connections between the country house as an artefact/assemblage and social and political relationships
  • the manner in which successive generations both assimilate and modify this assemblage
  • the way in which these elements constitute a biography of the house as ‘read’ in the present

By the end of this course students will be expected to have gained the following skills:

·         the ability to discriminate and critically evaluate the various elements of the country house – architectural, decorative, artistic, artefactual, social and conceptual

·         the ability to evaluate and articulate the relationships between the elements of the country house.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link:


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.