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The Strange Case of the Huge Country Pile

Why are we so obsessed by the setting of the big country house? Matthew Sweet and guests are upstairs and downstairs in the stately home. With Alison Light and Will Harris.

Nosing around Osterley House, currently owned and run by the National Trust, Matthew Sweet and guests discuss our enduring fascination with the grand country estate.

Countless stories, films and plays are set in the rarefied and actually very rare setting of the country estate, a world of valets and scullery maids, viscounts and self-mades, Kind Hearts and Coronets. This year has seen the TV series Downtown Abbey become a film. Every weekend hundreds of thousands of us visit the former homes of the 1% to gawp at the gardens and taste the tea. Have they become a place of reflection, of societal introspection where history was conceived and carved into the plaster? Or is it more about the lovely chutney and special scones? And what might visitors a hundred years from now expect to see about the current period of these houses' history?

Alison Light is a historian and author who has written about the realities of life in service. Her latest book, A Radical Romance, is out now by Penguin Random House.
Will Harris is a poet who has worked on several projects exploring heritage and empire. https://willjharris.com/about/
John Chu has curated an exhibition, Treasures of Osterley: Rise of a Banking Family which runs at Osterley House in West London until 23rd Feb 2020.
https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/treasures-of-osterley-exhibition-at-osterley-park
Annie Reilly is Head of Producing at the National Trust, Ffion George is the incumbent housekeeper at Osterley House.

Producer: Alex Mansfield

Main image: ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

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