Clive Aslet

The shock of discovering your ancestors were slave traders

If I had a slave owner in my family background I’d probably keep quiet about it. Richard Atkinson, in his remarkable first book, has gone to the other extreme. Not only did he seek out as much information as he could about the activities of his Georgian forebear, also called Richard Atkinson, but he’s made

Anglesey: la dolce vita in north Wales

We teased our friends by saying that our holiday would be on a far-away island. The Maldives, perhaps? No, Anglesey, off the northwestern tip of Wales. Mentally far-away, that is: but by train, it is only three and a half hours to Bangor, where we hired a car. Two mighty 19th-century bridges span the Menai

Sicily – notes from a large island

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Sicily is anything like the Isle of Wight: it’s 70 times the size, and mountainous. Despite some beautifully engineered roads, it always takes longer to get around than one expects. Even my Sicilian friend has to stop to ask the way. Autostrade are closed, bridges under repair. It

Old palaces for new plutocrats

Having lived in London for 35 years, I thought I knew its architectural highlights pretty well, but this book is a revelation. It shows an aspect of the city that I hardly realised existed. I had always believed that, in what must now be called the Downton years, Britain’s grandest families preferred to sacrifice their

Et in arcadia ego

The economy is in tatters, Europe in turmoil — but don’t worry: there is an antidote to the prevailing angst, and it’s provided by this book. It could be read simply as a close look at an undemonstrative corner of the English countryside, informed by the special understanding of a landowner, Jason Gathorne-Hardy, and an

Welcome to the doll’s house

What do Historic Royal Palaces think they are doing? They’re the people who look after the five royal palaces not occupied by the Queen, and their activities have been constrained by the fact that most of the contents are owned by her. But the recent reopening of Kensington Palace has gone to their heads. It’s

The house that coal built

I opened this book expecting to  find the sort of volume a considerate host would place in your country- house bedroom. It is a bit more than that. Taking the decline of the Earls of Fitzwilliam and their enormous house Wentworth Woodhouse, outside Rother- ham, as her theme, Caroline Bailey evokes the social revolution that

Ups and downs of Bankside

Walk over Lord Foster’s wobbly bridge from St Paul’s and you will see, squashed between Tate Modern and the reconstructed Globe Theatre, a three-storey house that, according to an inscription, is where Sir Christopher Wren stayed while building the cathedral. Alas, the legend, acceptable in the 1940s when the words were put up, no longer