"The stately homes of England! How beautiful they stand!" Thus sings Noel Coward in his ode to the mighty manor houses of England. Stately homes are not a specifically British phenomenon--they are all over Europe--but they definitely have a strong association with England in particular. From Highclere castle, the star of "Downton Abbey," to West Wycombe Park featuring in "Daniel Deronda" and "The Importance Of Being Earnest," to Kenwood House being in, well, pretty much all the movies, these buildings are national treasures.
Thanks to upkeep costs and the moving of capital from the land into the cities, most stately homes are now a drain on the family finances. This means that they are either given to the nation, or they are run as a business. That is, the house and outbuildings may charge for visitors. Facilities often include a golf course, safari park, hotel, wedding venue, livery stable, corporate retreats, hunting and fishing, and of course, the chance to see the house itself and enjoy its history and art. Some of the more successful stately homes employ up to 500 local people in quality jobs, providing employment in regions that have often seen their share of other jobs disappearing. Thus, even the ones in private hands continue to be vital to their community and used by many more people than just the owner.
This means it is now quite rare for a stately home to be just a plaything for a single rich family, and most are open to the public at least some of the time--and that means you can visit them and get to know them. But are you truly familiar with them? Let's find out!