It is a truth universally acknowledged that a country house not in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a heritage tourist. The English country house (see Figure 4.1) as ‘heritage site’ became, during the 1980s, a specific target for the heritage industry critique. In this critique, the ruling elites were identified as cynically encouraging the growth of the latter twentiethcentury phenomena of the country house visit, turning it into a lucrative profit-making enterprise to maintain their crumbling properties and estates. Within this process, the elites were also identified as selling a selfjustificatory view of their historical and contemporary importance to English national identity, which in turn helped to encourage the historical and
cultural validity of country house visiting and tourism as a contemporary and culturally-valid activity. Within the authorized heritage discourse it is also a truth universally acknowledged that heritage is intimately concerned with the expression, construction and representation of ‘identity’. However, it is rarely actively considered how links between heritage and identity are made, maintained and articulated. This chapter explores two things. Firstly, it examines how the authorized heritage discourse is taken up, expressed within and frames the heritage narratives of visitors to one type of authorized heritage site. Secondly, it explores the meanings and nature of those visits to visitors, and examines the types and nature of the ‘identity work’ undertaken at these sites. In effect, the chapter asks: are the ideas of heritage actually as universal or uniform as the policy discourses adopted both nationally and internationally tend to assume? Does the process of identity work simply involve reading the cultural symbolism, or is there a more physically active sense of performance and place involved in this process? Are visitors to heritage places simply passive receptors of an intended message, or is something more active and mindful going on?