The Country House/Chapter 1
S I am about to build a new house, I have determined to avail myself of your assistance, should it be convenient to you to give it. I do not by so doing intend that it should be supposed I think that the many very intelligent architects in this country are incapable of giving me good advice; but independently of my friendship for you, and great respect for your talents, I wish to consult one who is not likely to be so much wedded to the routine of modern Italian villas, Elizabethan houses, and thatched cottages, as is the case with most of our English professors: not that I mean to say anything in disparagement of a Palladian villa, always beautiful, though not always best suited to our climate. I am also fully sensible of many of the beauties of the old Elizabethan houses, and also of some of the imitations of them; and a small thatched cottage is very pretty.
I shall begin by stating the sort of house we want, and give a short description of the ground on which it is proposed to build it, in order that you may in the first place, give your notions as to the site, and the style which you would recommend. On the style, perhaps you would give us your views in detail, pointing out, as far as your leisure and inclination will permit, the merits of each, and which on the whole you prefer.
As regards the ground, we have no park, but sufficient extent of land to make a large paddock very park-like: it would not suit our views to have a park: the situation is not romantic; but as the ground is poor and wild, we shall command more ornament than profit. To the north or north-west there is a rising terrace, well sheltered with high trees; this slopes down for about a quarter of a mile into the valley of the Cray; the aspect is therefore south-east, and this comes best according to the slope of the ground. If you prefer that the house should stand high, you may have in front a good terrace of at least two hundred yards long and eight feet high; if lower down the hill (half way), the terrace will not be so good, but there will be better shelter from the north wind, and at the back there will be rising ground, through which the walks of the pleasure ground may be conducted, and still the house will be well above the valley. In front, looking over this valley, and across some fine orchards (for which Kent is celebrated) and some waving fields of corn, there is a mass of wood on a rising hill, about equal to the hill on which we are situated; on the right there is a fine view of Knocholt beeches; in the valley there is the town of Footscray, seen through the orchard at about half a mile distant, and by a little dexterous cutting and levelling we shall be able to get a glimpse of the small winding river.
On the right of the hill on which we are to build, there is a small spring at present rising in some swampy ground covered with alders; this we propose to clear, and shall be enabled, if you think it worth while, to enlarge into a small sheet of water. With this general view, you will see that we are well off as to aspect, have woods in the distance, and a valley (of no great beauty indeed, but still a valley) with a quiet stream, and this is always pleasing. I think it may be considered as a fair average specimen of English scenery, such as is met with in the southern counties.
Now as regards the house. There must be a good dining-room, a good general morning room, which will serve as drawing-room, and a large library; one or two small rooms, in which to receive persons on business, &c. As regards bed-rooms, offices, &c. this will be matter of future consideration, when we have settled the important matter of site and style. I should, however, mention, that, as circumstances may make it desirable to add to the size, it will be advisable that there should be that irregularity in the plan as will admit of this, so that it may be in the end, a house costing from £10,000 to £12,000.
With respect to the offices, I think we make a great mistake in England, as we manage to hide them, and lose all the benefit of increasing the size and importance of the house by these additions. I know, however, this is a very difficult point to manage, and merely throw it out for your consideration.
The general building material in this part of the country is brick, though we are enabled, at no very great cost, to get some stone for window or door frames, &c.
I have been reading a little about the sites of ancient villas, but shall not trouble you with my views until I receive your answer: recollect we have a bad and variable climate, though we go out as much in the winter as summer; so that there must be at once shelter from the sun for our short summer, and warmth and shelter during the long winters and cold springs.