Letter: Stately homes belong firmly to the past

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Sir: John Gummer has a remarkably idiosyncratic idea of "very fine and very original" houses, if his examples are anything to go by: a medieval ruin and three 19th-century stylistic revivals.

Mark Girouard wrote in 1979 in Historic Houses of Britain: "No one could pretend that Sandringham is architecturally distinguished." But then, sadly, there have been very few distinguished country houses built since the time of Mackintosh and Lutyens at the turn of the century.

Mr Gummer could have quoted Hill House and Castle Drogo, not to mention Hardwick Hall, Blenheim Palace or the Royal Pavilion at Brighton as "truly outstanding" homes of great originality which enhanced their rural surroundings.

The trouble is that it will be up to local planning committees to decide what will enhance rural surroundings, and few will be prepared to be so daring as to support any design of true originality.

Paradoxically, some of the most far-sighted patrons of residential development have been Oxbridge Colleges - for example both St John's Colleges, where there are sensitively designed undergraduates' sets by Sir Philip Dowson and by Powell and Moya respectively.

I don't think Nicholas Schoon need shed too many tears for the less wealthy. There have been and continue to be many derelict cottages rebuilt and enlarged and barns converted to satisfy the demands of you and me for a pad in the country. What is really needed is affordable housing in urban areas for the poor ... but that is another story.

GEOFFREY BURNABY

Winchester, Hampshire

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