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Swallowfield Park, Berkshire

swallowfield_v2.jpgSwallowfield Park, Berkshire is an archetypal English country house. Yet the evolving biography of this family seat, like the history of so many quintessentially ‘English’ country houses, was also fundamentally shaped by its entanglement with a wider British colonial world.

This particular case study is intended to answer one of the main questions of the project - what processes shaped the formation of the country house over time? Or put simply, how did individuals and families learn to furnish a country house in an imperial context? What were the forces that drove them to purchase landed estates, and how did they deploy these new homes to capitalise upon their new, imperial sources of wealth?

In what follows, we situate Swallowfield within a broad imperial context by tracing the estate’s acquisition and transformation in the late Georgian and early Victorian periods. Purchased by Sir Henry Russell, first baronet (1751-1836) in the 1820s, Swallowfield was recreated in the following decades by its new proprietor’s eldest son, Henry (later the second baronet; 1783-1852). Both father and son derived their great wealth from fortunes made in India. The Russells' purchase and refurbishment of Swallowfield attest to the crucial role of Britain’s empire in shaping country house history.  

How to read this case study...

There are three ways to read this case study, depending on your interests:

1. Read through each stage of the case study in turn, beginning with 'Background' and working through to the 'Swallowfield Bibliography';

2. Read the menu of sections below, chose a specific section that takes your interest and click straight through to that topic;

3. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and download the entire case study, including scholarly references, in a PDF format.

The first and second pathways offer you an opportunity to engage with the project by providing information about the persons, objects and/or houses under study. We have included a series of questions throughout the text that we are particularly keen to answer. If you have relevant material on these or other issues about the Case Study please contact us via the comment boxes on each page or email us at

The third pathway (the PDF) overlaps substantially with the online version (accessible by the first and second pathways, noted above). However it differs from the online version in form and substance. It contains additional information about Swallowfield, the Russells and their global context, drawn from both primary and secondary sources. These sources are referenced with full academic footnotes.



Swallowfield v6Background

Swallowfield Park began life as a Tudor mansion, but in 1689-91 Henry Hyde, second Earl of Clarendon rebuilt and transformed it. Thomas ‘Diamond’ Pitt then purchased the house in the eighteenth century and Swallowfield began its relationship with the East India Company. Over a century later the Russell family bought the estate, renovating and reimagining it yet again.

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Lady Russell v5

The Russells of Swallowfield Park

The Russell family purchased Swallowfield Park, Berkshire in the 1820s. By 1824-6 they had begun to renovate the house. This section gives an overview of who the Russells were.

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roman_brick_v3.jpgA Collaborative Endeavour

Contemporary culture presented nabobs, that is East India Company employees who returned from India with conspicuous fortunes, as self-serving individuals. In contrast the Russell family’s purchase of Swallowfield demonstrates how East India Company men (and women) returning from India worked collaboratively with their families to (re)construct their place in British society.

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Tom Raw v3Learning to Furnish

By the time the Russells came to renovate Swallowfield Park in 1824-6 they were already experienced in how to furnish an extensive residence. Sir Henry Russell’s house at Calcutta, Henry and Charles’s renovation of the Hyderabad Residency and Henry and Clotilde’s residence in a rented English estate, Sutton Park, first taught them about the intricacies of furnishing elite Georgian interiors.

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paint_palettev2.jpgThe Making of an English Country House

With so much experience to guide them, what did the Russells include in their new country house Swallowfield Park? Decisions about mantlepieces, wall paper and counter-panes involved lengthy discussions between different members of the family. They also relied on a strategy they had developed a decade earlier in India - the strategic commissioning, gifting and placement of portraits. Portraits and pictures allowed the Russell family to make claims about their family’s connections, its taste and its history.

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Swallowfield Bibliography

For more information on the works cited and referenced in this case study, click here.





The text and research for this case study was primarily authored by Professor Margot Finn.
Secondary text and images for this case study were authored and sourced by Kate Smith.

Several Project Associates and Advisory Board Members helpfully commented on the early versions of this case study, they include: Colonel John Chown, Viccy Coltman, Pauline Davies, Julie Day, Georgina Green, Caroline Jackson, Beverly Lemire, Margaret Makepeace, Glenys Marriott, George McGilvary, Jon Stobart and Sir John Sykes.



Copyright © 2012 University of Warwick

Material may not be reproduced without the express permission of the author

Research for this project is led by Professor Margot Finn with funding from the Leverhulme Trust