For my stop on the blog tour I’m delighted to welcome Merryn Allingham with her guest post ~ The English Country House
The English country house was at its most popular in the 19th and early 20thcenturies. It was where wealthy and aristocratic families retired once the London season came to an end. The First World War is often seen as the moment when the English country house began its sharp decline but with the outbreak of the Second World War in September, 1939, the last remaining vestiges of country house living disappeared.
When war broke out, houses all over the country were commandeered by the Government, some for training, others for offices or research centres. The least popular option for owners was to house soldiers – and with good reason. A number of country houses were destroyed by military occupation, their interiors hacked about to make different accommodation and several burned to the ground because of carelessness. There were stories of panelling chopped up for use as kindling and jeeps being raced along wide corridors. In The Secret of Summerhayes, Alice Summer, now an old lady, is confined to a small attic apartment while the mansion she once called home is battered and scarred by military occupation.
Domestic service with its long hours and lack of mobility became deeply unpopular after the First World War, particularly as a far greater choice of employment opened for young working class men and women. For a while, the social round continued in skeletal form. Socially aspiring families, in search of a suitable husband, still sent their daughters to be presented at court and to take part in a ‘season’ of balls and parties. But during the Second World War, shortages in staff became even more acute. Conscription meant that from the outset both men and women were compelled to report for military service or war work, and the numbers employed in country houses sank to a minimum. After 1945, it was impossible for most owners to maintain even this minimum. The traditional rituals of the ‘season’ continued for a while, but the decimation of the country house had torn the heart from the system.
About the book
Summer 1944: Bombed out by the blitz, Bethany Merston takes up a post as companion to elderly Alice Summer, last remaining inhabitant of the dilapidated and crumbling Summerhayes estate. Now a shadow of its former glory; most of the rooms have been shut up, the garden is overgrown and the whole place feels as unwelcoming as the family themselves.
Struggling with the realities of war, Alice is plagued by anonymous letters and haunting visions of her old household. At first, Beth tries to convince her it’s all in her mind but soon starts to unravel the mysteries surrounding the aristocratic family’s past.
An evocative and captivating tale, The Secret of Summerhayes tells of dark secrets, almost-forgotten scandals and a household teetering on the edge of ruin.
About the author
Merryn Allingham was born into an army family and spent her childhood moving around the UK and abroad. Unsurprisingly it gave her itchy feet and in her twenties she escaped from an unloved secretarial career to work as cabin crew and see the world.
The arrival of marriage, children and cats meant a more settled life in the south of England, where she has lived ever since. It also gave her the opportunity to go back to ‘school’ and eventually teach at university.
Merryn loves history and in 2014 published her first historical suspense trilogy, Daisy’s War, set in India and wartime England in the 1930s/1940s. The series follows the fortunes of Daisy Driscoll, a working class girl from London. All three novels are now available – The Girl from Cobb Street, The Nurse’s War and Daisy’s Long Road Home.
Her next project will be a saga set somewhere in Sussex during the summers of 1914 and 1944.