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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.