Keeper of the architectural flame
Country Life UK|October 06, 2021
The eminent country-house historian celebrates his 90th birthday
John Goodall

GIROUARD, you must learn to play the part!’ Such was the advice of the Editor of COUNTRY LIFE, Frank Whitaker, when he offered Mark Girouard a job at the magazine in 1958. ‘I had just finished my doctorate and had failed to get a job either at the Ministry of Works or the National Trust. I think I was simply rather scruffy,’ Dr Girouard recalls thoughtfully. ‘Then one of the architectural writers at COUNTRY LIFE, Gordon Nares, died unexpectedly and I put in for the post. I was interviewed at the magazine’s offices in Covent Garden by the Editor and the Architectural Editor Christopher Hussey.’

We are sitting around a small breakfast table in a room filled with books and papers at his London home. Dr Girouard outwardly cuts an ascetic figure, but he talks with sensitivity and humor about his career. ‘My father loved visiting buildings and, as a boy, I remember visiting Hampton Court and Westminster Abbey. The Batsford books that appeared after the Second World War also fired my enthusiasm; that by Sacheverell Sitwell, British Architects, and Craftsmen, made me mad with excitement because it was written in such purple prose.’

He also visited relatives at country houses and remembers going to a tournament at Welbeck Abbey, Nottinghamshire, with his great-aunt the Duchess of Devonshire and staying with her at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire. ‘The nursery at Hardwick was on the very top floor and the maids had to carry the breakfast all the way up. We ate lunch in the Low Great Chamber with the grown-ups, although sometimes at a separate table, and dinner in the servants’ hall. I remember the footmen saying that they hated having to powder their hair and I have a clear recollection of going to my mother as she ate breakfast in a great four-poster bed there.’

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