The Landmark Trust has refurbished this historic ‘pleasure dairy’ in the Kent countryside as an ideal wifi-free getaway – some might say it’s maid in heaven
Let’s face it, at some point we’ve all had a hankering to get in touch with our inner Marie Antoinette. Not so much the thoughtless “Let them eat brioche” side of the spendthrift French queen (assuming she ever said it) but her playing at being a rustic farmworker but dropping it all and heading back to the palace as soon as it becomes a chore vibe. It’s a dream few of us get to realise, though one woman who did was Elizabeth Brownlow, 4th Countess of Darnley. She lived at a time (late 18th/early 19th century) when a return to the simple life was en vogue among the landed gentry – as a response to the mechanisation unleashed by the Industrial Revolution.
Around two centuries later, I found myself staying in the restored “pleasure dairy” she had built on the southern edge of the grounds of Cobham Hall, an Elizabethan country house (now a school) near Rochester, Kent. The work of prolific architect James Wyatt, it was intended to resemble an Italianate chapel. The dairy served as an elegant retreat where Elizabeth could oversee the production of butter, cream and cheese from the estate’s cows, or hold decorous tea parties for her high-born female friends, away from the strictures of a world dominated by men.