In this television series, property expert Phil Spencer reveals his passion for historic houses on a grand tour of Britain’s stately homes. He visits our country’s finest – and most extravagant – country houses, to uncover the dramatic stories of their creation. Revealing the human stories behind the bricks and mortar and the logistical and technical challenges required to construct these houses, Phil unveils the hidden histories of our priceless heritage.
Phil will be given VIP access and a key to the archive rooms to delve into the secrets of the house, including eye watering building costs.
Taking each house back to the drawing board, Phil is given unprecedented access into fascinating stately home archives, to reveal the incredible ambition of the house’s creators, as well as the monumental quantities of materials, labour – and money – involved in turning their flights of fancy into bricks and mortar.
In each episode, Phil lifts the facade of a house unique in its ambition, scale and taste.
From the spectacular Scottish Lowlands to the stunning South Downs, Phil visits the nation’s stately homes, exploring how and why these houses came to be. And how much some of them cost!
A Mayfly Television Ltd Production for Channel 4
Part 1: Burghley House
First stop is Burghley House, a masterpiece of Elizabethan architecture set in 1400 acres of Lincolnshire parkland. One of the largest and grandest houses of the Elizabethan age, Burghley was built and designed by William Cecil, Lord High Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I. Phil visits its Heaven room and Hell staircase, and its extravagant antiques and gardens. Built between 1555 and 1587, the house has changed little over the centuries, save for the loss of a wing and the addition of some magnificent parkland, both thanks to landscape architect ‘Capability’ Brown. Used in recent films – Pride and Prejudice and The Da Vinci Code, the house boasts eighteen magnificent State Rooms and a huge collection of works and art, including one of the most important private collections of 17th century Italian paintings. Phil’s host is Miranda Rock, a descendent of the famous Cecil family, who’ve lived there for over 400 years.
Part 2: Castle Howard
Phil Spencer visits one of the most celebrated stately homes in Britain – Castle Howard in Yorkshire; the setting for the TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited, and a magnificent ‘piece of theatre’ in its own right. Nick Howard’s family has lived there for more than 300 years. He leads Phil up the grand staircase, through the stunning crimson dining room and also opens up the family mausoleum. The great hall has Italian murals and a 21-metre-high dome modelled on St Paul’s. In the original 18th-century ledgers, Phil uncovers the sheer scale of spending and reveals how it took years and an army of masons, craftsmen and artists to fashion this extraordinary building.
Part 3: Woburn Abbey
In this edition, Phil visits Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire, ancestral home of the Dukes of Bedford for nearly 400 years. ‘It’s not your typical Location, Location, Location home!’ admits Andrew, the 15th Duke. And with its magical shell grotto, sumptuous state rooms and 3000-acre deer park, it’s hard to disagree. Woburn started life as a Cistercian Monastery, until it was transformed by the 4th Earl Francis Russell. On his journey through Woburn’s history Phil ‘meets’ some of the other ancestors, including the ‘flying’ Duchess who turned part of the Abbey into a military hospital during the First World War, and the ‘showman’ Duke who saved Woburn from a crippling tax bill in the 1950s by throwing open his doors to the public – even welcoming nudists! Phil joins the skilled team of masons charged with restoring the Abbey to its former glory – and the crack cleaning squad who keep the house spick and span.
Part 4: Holkham Hall
Phil visits the magnificent Holkham Hall – an 18th-century Palladian mansion in North Norfolk – to uncover how and why it was built. With unprecedented access to the archives, Phil reveals the mind-boggling quantities of materials, labour and money it took to create a little piece of Italy in this quiet corner of England – a project involving a 30-year build and three million bricks. He tells the story of Thomas Coke, the founder of the House, a reformed teenage gambler who fell in love with Italy on a grand tour. Coke built Holkham in the image of a Roman palace – and helped change the architectural landscape of Britain in the process. With a VIP tour from the current owner, Lord Leicester shows Phil the magnificent marbles in The Statue Gallery and the Old Masters in The Landscape Room, adding: ‘You see people’s jaws drop when they walk in’.
Part 5: Hopetoun House
Phil travels north of the border to Hopetoun House in the spectacular Scottish Lowlands, where he uncovers the extraordinary history of the lavish house and the vast estate. It is one house back to back with another as the sons of the original man who built it, increased its size. The estate is 12 miles north of Edinburgh. With VIP access to estate documents, Phil digs deep in the archives to uncover the extraordinary history of the house and the mind-boggling quantities of materials, skilled labour and money it took to create one of Scotland’s grandest-ever designs. Having made their fortune from lead mining, the Hopetoun family spent big on their country pile, employing not one, but two celebrated Scottish architects. Accompanied by the current Lord Hopetoun, Phil inspects the lavish rooms, many of which are unchanged since Georgian times. He also meets the staff and tours the 6500-acre estate.
Part 6: Goodwood
Phil visits a stately home with a racy reputation: Glorious Goodwood, on the stunning South Downs. Famous for giving guests a good time, Goodwood sits in a vast estate where every acre is dedicated to entertainment. It’s where the wealthy flock for a flutter on the horses. It’s also famous for cricket, parties and motor racing. Phil’s host is the current owner Lord March, who’s lived at Goodwood since 1994. He opens the doors to the glamorous state rooms, and takes Phil for a spin round the famous race track in one of his most prized vintage cars. With access to the family archive, Phil reveals the origins of the estate, which stretches back to a royal scandal and the love child of Charles II.