When I was asked if I wanted to review this new book 'Country Houses of the Marches' I thought it sounded intriguing.
Intrigue number one for me was that I was not totally confident of where the Marches actually are. I had a vague idea but would have had to check before answering with any confidence. The book quickly defines the area for us as the series of counties that neighbour each other along and aside the Welsh/English border. A quick scan of the contents page told me that I knew a few of these houses, but not the majority.
This book is the final in a series of three books that comprise of Castles of the Marches and Churches of the Marches and this one. John explains that some houses that you might think are missing are in the Castles book, and similarly some that you might think are a castle are in this book, (e.g. Raglan Castle) John gives you the reasoning behind this.
The book is organised by County which makes it easy if you want to consider visiting any of the houses that are open to the public. Quite a few of the houses are National Trust, or Historic Houses or CADW or still in private hands. Some of the entries give lots of detail and photographs inside and out, where as others are briefer yet still give enough information to pique interest. I was soon googling 'Sunnycroft' which is described as a 'most unusual National Trust house' and so it is now on that 'list' of places to go when I am in the area.
There are photographs and drawings and paintings of the houses from their history, plus up to date photographs to show you how they look now. John tells us things to look out for such as carved fish at Tintern Abbey and beehive stable posts at Llanvihangel Court.
This smallish book is packed full of information. It made me think how many incredible country houses there must be on this small island. This book is more than just a 'here is a big house' book, it gives concise but fact-filled glimpses into what makes these properties special. Rippled through the descriptions are insights into the history of England and Wales played out through these properties and the sometimes powerful families that own/ed them.