Champagne and shambles is the story of the Arkwrights of Hampton Court in Herefordshire. With a fortune made in the cotton industry after the invention of the spinning jenny, the Arkwrights, like so many industrialists, set up as landed gentry. For over a century from 1810, their large estate with its historic mansion became a model of the latest farming methods. As enlightened agriculturalists they adopted every new improvement for their 10,000 acres and they established a prize herd of Hereford cattle.
With the repeal of the Corn Laws and subsequently the introduction of refrigerated transport ships, foreign wheat and meat flooded into Britain and prices for farm produce collapsed. Rents had to be reduced, mortgages were called in and agricultural land found few buyers. Like thousands of the landed gentry, the Arkwrights had to abandon their estates, their privileged life style and their status in their county and country. Catherine Beale's absorbing and meticulously evidenced account records the fall from power of the landowning class in Britain.