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What is a Stately Home?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A stately home is a large, private residence in the British Isles built between the 1600s and the early 1900s. Around 500 homes around Britain, Ireland, and Scotland are recognized as such homes today, and these homes are held by a mixture of private individuals, trusts, historical organizations, and businesses. Many people outside of this region are familiar with the stately home, thanks to the fact that these homes often appear in films about British country life.

Stately homes are also referred to as “country houses,” especially by their owners. Some people find the term “stately home” a bit too stiff and pretentious, although “country house” is a bit misleading, when one considers the size of the average stately home. Terms like “manor house” are also sometimes used in reference to these structures. The name itself comes from a famous poem praising the beauty of these architectural treasures and their surrounding landscapes.

The architectural style of a stately home can vary, depending on when it was built, and which architect supervised the construction. Many also have add-ons which were built in later years, changing the character of the home considerably. Most are surrounded by an estate which includes manicured gardens, stables, outbuildings, and other facilities, although the estate may be smaller than it was originally.

Unlike castles, stately homes were built as private residences, not potential fortifications. They were constructed by the English elite as status symbols. Many people filled their homes with priceless collections of art and furniture, hoping to lure the monarch for a visit, and these homes were also regularly used for parties and gatherings to which the highest-ranking members of society were invited.

These homes were built in an era when many people in the upper classes maintained huge teams of servants, and they are not designed with practicality or ease of maintenance in mind. In fact, keeping up a stately home is extremely costly, and many people rent out their homes to film crews and tourists to subsidize the cost, or have attractions on the grounds to raise money. Few private individuals can maintain such a home on their own, making many of these houses open to the public by default. Others are maintained by trusts which maintain them as museums, lodgings, and sites for filming.

HomeQuestionsAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By summing — On Nov 18, 2011

There are stately homes by the sea all up and down the East Coast. You figure, this is the oldest part of the country and also one of the richest so there has been a long time for people to build over the top houses in beautiful natural areas.

When I was a kid I lived in Massachusetts and my dad would sometimes take me driving to go and look at some of the big sea side mansions. It wasn't uncommon to see someone playing a game of badminton on the lawn.

I guess it was kind of like window shopping, looking t things you know you can't have just so you can help yourself imagine what it would be like if you could have it.

By chivebasil — On Nov 17, 2011

My grandmother lives in what is probably the definition of a stately home. It is out in the middle of a huge and immaculately manicured piece of land in rural Maine.

The house is huge. Not a mega mansion but definitely an oversized house that has been made to look grand and beautiful. There are all kinds of columns and ornate windows and overhanging roofs.

The inside is just as nice. There are antiques and heirlooms and expensive pieces of art everywhere. The house belonged to her father and now she is the only heir left. She has several people that live with her and look after the place. In the past people called them servants but that doesn't seem right in this case.

It is a beautiful place but an awful lot of house for one old lady. Sometimes it seems like she is clinging to a tradition that has passed.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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