From Destruction to Downton: Saving the British Country House with Dr. Oliver Cox - Context Travel

From Destruction to Downton: Saving the British Country House with Dr. Oliver Cox


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The British country house has become a global icon. Millions of tourists visit properties in the UK each year, and billions of viewers tune in worldwide to watch period dramas on film and television. This seminar will show us how the British country house achieved worldwide fame by exploring three museum exhibitions that are credited with “saving” the country house.

When Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited was 

first published in 1944, there seemed no future for the country house. Two world 

wars, a long-lasting agricultural depression, and a changing social and 

political culture saw the destruction and repurposing of country houses 

across Britain. But, by 2019, Britain’s country houses were attracting more than 50 million visits per year and were recognized as an essential part of British architectural and social history.

This seminar will explore the unexpected revival of the country house through three landmark exhibitions: The Destruction of the 

Country House (Victoria and Alberto Museum, 1974), Treasure Houses of Britain (National

 Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 1985) and Costumes of Downton Abbey (touring 

in the USA since 2015). Taken collectively, these exhibitions show how the role of the country house has shifted and evolved over the past fifty years and perhaps provide clues to what will happen next.

We will go behind-the-scenes of each exhibition to learn more about how and why they were designed and presented. We will stand alongside visitors who experienced the shows firsthand and discuss these three museum shows’ cultural impacts. We will also discuss the logistics involved in transporting priceless works of art across the Atlantic and how these exhibitions helped create transatlantic enthusiasm for the country house. We will also look at how this love of the British country house has expanded to a global audience in recent years thanks to series such as Downton Abbey and The Crown.

Led by an expert on country house histories, Dr. Oliver Cox, this interactive seminar will look behind the country house’s glossy image to explain the individuals and the exhibitions that changed the way the world sees this uniquely British architectural icon. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased understanding of how country houses were turned into symbols of British history and the importance of blockbuster exhibitions.

Dr. Oliver Cox is Heritage Engagement Fellow at the University of Oxford. He leads the University’s partnership work with the UK and international heritage community, and is co-lead of the Oxford University Heritage Network. He is a historian with a particular interest in the social and cultural history of the country house and received his undergraduate, master's, and doctoral degrees from the University of Oxford. Oliver has published widely on topics including eighteenth-century landscape design and the position of the country house in modern Britain, lectured extensively across the USA, acts as a research and exhibitions consultant for a range of country houses, and is a trustee of a leading regional art gallery.

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

Customer Reviews

Based on 4 reviews
100%
(4)
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T
T.G.
Fabulous Presentation

Guest did not leave comment

B
B.C.
Enjoyable

Dr. Cox gave a delightful and informative presentation. I especially appreciate that he touched on the topic of how the empire elites financed their country homes and his thoughts on how that history might be taught.

A
A.

Guest did not leave comment

S
S.C.
An Expert Among Experts

While I'm very interested in British country houses and have visited many, I feared this talk would be rather dry since it is organized around several exhibitions. I was pleasantly surprised. The talk used these exhibitions as an organizing point to discuss the historical, political and social conflicts surrounding the country house, its meaning, and evolving interpretation. It also provided fascinating insight into exhibition design, museums, and the role they can play in changing understanding of our world.

Customer Reviews

Based on 4 reviews
100%
(4)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
T
T.G.
Fabulous Presentation

Guest did not leave comment

B
B.C.
Enjoyable

Dr. Cox gave a delightful and informative presentation. I especially appreciate that he touched on the topic of how the empire elites financed their country homes and his thoughts on how that history might be taught.

A
A.

Guest did not leave comment

S
S.C.
An Expert Among Experts

While I'm very interested in British country houses and have visited many, I feared this talk would be rather dry since it is organized around several exhibitions. I was pleasantly surprised. The talk used these exhibitions as an organizing point to discuss the historical, political and social conflicts surrounding the country house, its meaning, and evolving interpretation. It also provided fascinating insight into exhibition design, museums, and the role they can play in changing understanding of our world.