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How Pursuit of Love author and sisters really were to the manor born

There are eccentric, larger-than life aristocrats galore; beautiful girls in flapper dresses, doves dyed in pastel shades, and T. Rex, The Who, Strauss and Haydn on the soundtrack.

Although the new BBC One adaptation of The Pursuit Of Love has divided viewers, Nancy Mitford’s much-loved novel satirising her bizarre upbringing is a glorious feast for the eyes and ears.

The fictional Radlett family are caricatures of the famous Mitford clan: Nancy, Pam, Diana, Unity, Jessica (Decca), Deborah (Debo), their brother Tom (who was killed in Burma in World War II), and their parents, ‘Farve and Muv’ (Lord and Lady Redesdale).

The whip-brandishing Uncle Matthew (Dominic West) is the fictional version of the tyrannical, ‘Farve’, who dismissed anyone he disliked, including foreigners and most of Nancy’s friends as ‘sewers’.

Perhaps the real stars of the show are the sumptuous stately homes where the action takes place. Which is as it should be, because the real homes where the Mitfords lived, loved — and all too often scandalised society — over the years were among the grandest in the land, as ANNABEL VENNING reveals. 

Top of their class (from left): Unity, Tom, Deborah, Diana, Jessica, Nancy and Pam at a hunt at Swinbrook House in 1935

Pictured: The South Façade and Emperor Fountain at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire which was inherited by the Mitfords

Pictured: The South Façade and Emperor Fountain at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire which was inherited by the Mitfords

Pictured: Batsford House in Gloucestershire - a 19th century neo-Tudor mansion

Pictured: Batsford House in Gloucestershire – a 19th century neo-Tudor mansion

Batsford House, Gloucestershire 

What: Mock-Tudor mansion in Batsford Park with five staircases, elaborate gardens and an arboretum.

When: The Mitfords moved there in 1916.

Mitford history: The huge house was perfect for never-ending games of hide-and-seek, but Lord and Lady Redesdale couldn’t afford to run it so they sold it in 1919.

Pictured: Asthall Manor in Oxfordshire - a rambling Jacobean gabled manor house where the Mitford family moved in 1919

Pictured: Asthall Manor in Oxfordshire – a rambling Jacobean gabled manor house where the Mitford family moved in 1919

Asthall Manor, Oxfordshire 

What: Rambling Jacobean gabled manor house amid rolling hills.

When: The Mitford family moved there in 1919. ‘Farve’ had inherited it on his father’s death. The youngest Mitford, Deborah (Debo), who later became the Duchess of Devonshire, was born there.

Mitford history: Asthall is the fictional Alconleigh, the Radlett family home where Uncle Matthew rules the roost in The Pursuit Of Love. It was haunted by ghosts. It also had a library where the children could read undisturbed (Farve disapproved of reading). All the Mitford children adored Asthall.

Pictured: Swinbrook House in Oxfordshire which was also previously owned by the Mitford family who moved here in 1926

Pictured: Swinbrook House in Oxfordshire which was also previously owned by the Mitford family who moved here in 1926

Swinbrook House, Oxfordshire

What: Designed by ‘Farve’ himself, it is a three-storey sprawling, grey, gloomy and very draughty building.

When: They moved there reluctantly in 1926.

Mitford history: They disliked the house, calling it ‘Swinebrook’. As depicted in The Pursuit Of Love, the children escaped the cold by sitting in the airing cupboard, HQ of the Hons Society.

Pictured: 26 Rutland Gate near Harrods in Knightsbridge, London, was the Mitford's London base for the social season

Pictured: 26 Rutland Gate near Harrods in Knightsbridge, London, was the Mitford’s London base for the social season

Rutland Gate, Knightsbridge

What: An elegant stuccoed house near Harrods, the Mitfords’ London base for the social season.

When: They bought it in 1926 but had to rent it out during the 1930s.

Mitford history: In World War II , Nancy opened the house to Jewish refugees. Her anti-Semitic mother, Lady Redesdale, was said to be furious.

Pictured: Chatsworth House's Painted Hall in Derbyshire which Debo the youngest Mitford inherited in 1950

Pictured: Chatsworth House’s Painted Hall in Derbyshire which Debo the youngest Mitford inherited in 1950

Chatsworth house, Derbyshire

What: One of the greatest stately homes in England, with 297 rooms, filled with priceless art.

When: Debo, the youngest Mitford, and her husband Andrew Cavendish inherited it in 1950 when he became the Duke of Devonshire after his older brother was killed in World War II. It has belonged to the Cavendish family since 1549. Debo lived there for more than 50 years.

Mitford history: When Debo first saw it after the war it was ‘sad, dark, cold and dirty’, but she and Andrew set about returning it to its former glory and opening it to the public.

Pictured: Temple de la Gloire located in Paris which Diana and her Second husband, Oswald Mosley, bought in 1950

Pictured: Temple de la Gloire located in Paris which Diana and her Second husband, Oswald Mosley, bought in 1950

Temple de la Gloire, Paris  

What: A Palladian-style folly, ‘the Temple of Glory’ was part of the Château d’Orsay, 15 miles from Paris, built for a 19thcentury military hero.

When: Diana and her second husband, Oswald Mosley, the Fascist leader, bought it in 1950.

Mitford History: An empty shell when they moved in, Diana restored it. The Mosleys became friends with their neighbours, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who had a shared admiration of Hitler.

Pictured: Tullamaine Castle in Tipperary - a 19th century, eight-bedroom propery where Pam lived in the 1940s and 1950s

Pictured: Tullamaine Castle in Tipperary – a 19th century, eight-bedroom propery where Pam lived in the 1940s and 1950s

Tullamaine Castle, Tipperary

What: A 19th-century, eight- bedroom castle.

When: Pam lived there in the 1940s and 1950s with her husband, Derek Jackson.

Mitford history: Pam married Jackson — a physicist and amateur jockey, and heir to millions — in 1936. They moved to Ireland after the war. After the marriage broke down — Derek was a bisexual womaniser who married six times in all — Pamela stayed on as a tenant for eight years.

Pictured: Biddesden House in Wiltshire which was once built for one of the 1st Duke of Marlborough's generals

Pictured: Biddesden House in Wiltshire which was once built for one of the 1st Duke of Marlborough’s generals

Biddesden House, Wiltshire/Hampshire

What: A Queen Anne baroque house built for one of the 1st Duke of Marlborough’s generals — who is said to haunt it.

When: Diana lived there with first husband Bryan Guinness, later the 2nd Baron Moyne and heir to the Guinness brewing fortune, whom she married in 1929.

Mitford history: Diana and Bryan held a ball there in 1932 at which she danced all night with her lover, British Fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley. She left Bryan for him months later. Biddesden still belongs to the Guinness family.

 


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