Dear Mrs Danvers, I would like to spend some time living in a grand country house to see what it feels like to be a Jane Austen character. Unfortunately, I do not have many dukes among my acquaintance, so that route is blocked. How else is my ambition to be achieved?
I rather doubt that even dukes live as the grandees did during Jane Austen’s life many now being reduced to a single butler and no footmen at all. The best way to sample being a guest at a grand house is, I am afraid, to pay for it.
The ideal is an 18th-century pile which has been turned into a grand hotel, where there are footmen types aplenty and, probably, a famous chef in the kitchen (as 18th-century grandees would have also had). I would recommend that you try Hartwell House Hotel near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. You sweep in through gardens designed by Capability Brown to an entrance with a fine equestrian statue of Frederick, Prince of Wales. You can stroll in these gardens at your leisure. The house itself is part Jacobean but has, according to Pevsner, ‘a nobel, well-proportioned 18th-century East front with two canted bay windows and a central Tuscan porch with coupled columns’.
Inside, there is a grand Jacobean staircase, and a Rococo fireplace in the 18th-century library, which has its original bookcases. Staying there won’t be cheap, but it is an authentic, grand country house (01296 747444; www.hartwell-house.com). Middlethorpe Hall, outside York, is also lovely: a William and Mary house with fine gardens (01904 641241; www.middlethorpe.com).