Port Eliot, Cornwall

Entrance front, Port EliotPrivately owned
A grand house and grounds near the Saltash estuary. Parts of Port Eliot are extremely old – there are fragments dating from the 4th, 9th, 10th and 13th centuries, but most of the house dates from a makeover by Sir John Soane in the 18th Century. It was previously known as Port Priory. The estuary water used to be closer, but was diverted by a dam in the 18th century.
A notable feature of the contents is a series of family portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds. They belong to the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, having been accepted in lieu of death duties, but remain in the house on condition that they are available for viewing on 100 days per year. There are a number of fine rooms with contents including valuable furniture – the Morning Room, Drawing Room (library), Big Dining Room and the Round Room. I don’t recall seeing the Conservatory annex.
The Round Room was designed by Sir John Soane and is considered one of his outstanding achievements. It is painted with a 20th century mural by eccentric artist Robert Lenckiewicz, which is regarded as his masterpiece. It depicts dozens of people known to the Eliot family and is an outstanding work. In the same room is a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, restored and presented like an art exhibit.
A look on Google Satellite makes the house plan, with its two almost separate blocks, clearer.
I found that all the house guides (stewards) were knowledgeable and enthusiastic. The house is still a family home, and visitors may see family possessions lying around – and the family dog. There are extensive grounds, which I did not have time to fully explore.
Visiting – the house is about 200 yards north of St Germans village on the B3249. Approaching from this direction you will come on an entrance with gateway and lodges forking to the right, at a small car park. The pedestrian entrance is here. You could park here and walk down past the church, as the house (behind the church) is much closer than it looks. I’m still not sure what they expect car-borne visitors to do – apparently there is another entrance and car park 1Km further on, to the west, which you’d come on first if approaching from the A38. I visited on a day of low visitor numbers (they do have an annual literature festival), and not finding anyone to ask, I drove through the gate and parked in front of the house. There was plenty space and nobody objected.
Important Notice: The owner of Port Eliot is in negotiations to sell the house to a trust run by Prince Charles. The implications for visitor access are unclear, but the interior will no longer look like a family home. As with privately owned mansions in general, the message is: Visit It While You Still Can.
For interior photos see Port Eliot website.

East Front, Port Eliot

East Front

Church from house grounds


North Front, Port Eliot

North Front

Round Room & North front

Round Room & North front

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Southsea Castle, Portsmouth

Southsea Castle exterior Portsmouth City Council
The original castle was built in 1544 for Henry VIII, amidst fears of an invasion. It had a square keep and external angular bastions. Subsequently the keep was raised in height, and a much larger set of 19th-century fortifications was built around it, with mountings for 68-pounder guns.
A lighthouse was added to the western gun platform in 1838.
The castle saw active service in WWI and WWII and was still in military use until the 1950’s.

Today, visitors can explore the keep, ramparts and a tunnel that runs under the dry moat. There are several cannon, large and small, on display. Worth a visit.
Admission is free.
A car park (cheargeable) is nearby.
There is a cafe inside the castle.

Castle Entrance


68lb. cannon & mounting

68lb. cannon

Keep from ramparts


Cannons on rampart


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D-Day Museum, Portsmouth

DUKW in vehicle hall The D-Day Museum is housed in a modern building near the Southsea Castle on the sea-front.
A circular hall has a modern D-Day Tapestry displayed around its circumference, and an auditorium for showing a short 15-minute film in the centre. On the other side of the museum, a winding series of galleries display materials on the build-up to D-Day and the invasion itself. A final pair of halls show vehicles used in the invasion – a glider, jeep, tank, tank landing craft and a DUKW.
It is an interesting museum and worth a visit if you are in the area or if you have a connection with the invasion.
Admission charges apply.
A car park (chargeable) is next to the museum, or you can park along the sea front (chargeable).
The Southsea Castle is about 100 yards away – in fact the D-Day Museum is within the outer defences of the castle.

Amphibious tank

Amphibious tank

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Westminster – a restoration too far?

I usually write here about visits to heritage sites, but my eye was caught by the quoted costs for refurbishing the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament). The buildings are subsiding and apart from that need general refurbishing of the fabric and an updating of the plant and services. The costs were first quoted as being in excess of £1 billion. Now the estimates span from £2 billion to an eye-watering £7 billion – the latter estimate including delays caused by not moving the MPs out, and likely cost inflation.
Being a member of the National Trust and also English heritage I am normally in favour of preserving old buildings, but spending this much on one project seems a restoration too far.
£7 Bn will be telephone numbers to most people so what could you buy for that?
500 big ticket restoration projects like Windsor £28m, Ightham Mote £11m, Catle Drogo £11m, Uppark £18m
Or £18 million for each one of the 380 properties in this blog.
or: Two large aircraft carriers.
or: A quarter of the HS2 project
or: resolve immediate Greek debt crisis
or: pay off NHS trust debts and re-fund
or: cancel most of proposed £12 billion welfare cuts
Mad, isn’t it?

So what’s there that is really worth preserving?
The medieval Westminster Hall is an amazing and ancient structure that should be preserved. And would be a shame to lose the iconic Gothic exterior of the Houses of Pariament. But the rest of it? Do we really want to spend billions preserving the Victorian interiors? I think not. The House of Commons, demolished by German bombing, dates from the 1940s/50s.

One can’t help reflecting that English Heritage was recently given a private charitable status so that maintenance of ancient monuments, formerly the responsibility of the Government via the Ministry of Works and irs successors, is no longer charged to the public purse. Maybe the same rules should apply to the Palace of Westminster?
At the very least, efforts by MPs to stay in place during the refit, thus increasing the duration of the project and greatly increasing costs, should be resisted.

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Stonor, Oxfordshire

House Front Privately Owned.
Stonor is a long red-brick house facing a fine grassy park. It has been in the hands of the Stonor family for the last 850 years. The house was developed in stages from c.1280 to 1760. The long entrance (South) front was faced with brick in the 17th century, though the roofline and windows were altered later. The New Hall was subdivided in the 19th century.
The uniform-looking brick exterior conceals an irregular internal construction, with the older parts being timber-framed. The land rises behind the house to such a degree that the first-floor rear windows are at garden level. Attached at the East end is a 13th century Catholic chapel.
Internally, the house seems a maze of interconnecting spaces. It was emptied of contents during a financial crisis in the 1970s, but the family have recovered some of the original contents and filled the house with fine objects. The more noteworthy rooms are the Drawing Room, the Dining Room, and upstairs Francis Stonor’s room with its unique shell-shaped bed, the Library and the Long Gallery.
The Stone Corridor on the north side is below garden level and has one window looking out onto a small court and the windows of the 1350 New Hall.
After touring the house I found it quite hard, in the absence of a modern floor plan, to remember which room was where. A partial plan is here: 1994 Survey
The Gothic Revival Hall is formed out of part of the 1350 New Hall, along with the Drawing Room and a bedroom above. The tea-room (Aisled Hall) is in part of what was the Old Hall.

Outside, do not neglect to visit the Chapel, and the extensive sloping walled flower gardens behind the house.

Overall, Stonor surpasses in interest the nearby National Trust houses of Grays Court and Nuffield Place.

West front & Old Kitchen Garden

West front & Old Kitchen Garden

North Front & Pleasure Garden

North Front & Pleasure Garden


Peonies in Pleasure garden

Lily Pond, Pleasure Garden

Lily pond

Pleasure garden

Pleasure garden

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Powderham Castle, Devon

Castle Entrance Privately owned estate
The powerful Courtenay family started building the castle in 1391. It had a hall and six towers, only one of which remains today. Another branch of the Courtenay family laid siege to the castle for seven weeks in 1455, without success.
During the English Civil War, Powderham Castle was initially held for the Royalists, attacked in 1645, and finally taken by the parliamentarians in 1646. The badly damaged castle was not lived in by the family again till 1702.
Sir William Courtenay inherited in 1702 and set about repairing and modernising the castle. He divided the long Great Hall horizontally and vertically. His heirs added the fine plasterwork of the staircase, moved the chapel, built the Belvedere Tower, and added the Music Room, containing the biggest Axminster carpet ever made at the time.
In 1835, William Courtenay inherited and engaged the architect Charles Fowler, who added the State Dining Room, and at the same time changed the main entrance from the eastern side to the western, creating the viaduct and courtyard with the medieval style gatehouse. An older chapel was demolished and the medieval Grange converted into a chapel.
Minor internal alterations and a new entrance on the North side have been made in the 20th century.
Access to the lavish interior is by hourly guided tours. Various rooms on the ground and first floors are shown, the highlights being the staircase and the Music Room. There are a number of amusing hidden doorways.
Immediately outside are the Chapel and the raised Rose Garden. In the estate are various family-themed attractions. Garden fans will find the Woodland Garden and folly well worth seeing, but be warned that this is about a mile (20 mins walk each way) from the castle. I didn’t make it as far as the Belvedere (40 mins each way).
To see the main attractions takes about 3 hours. Families could make a day of it. Powderham is one of the more energetically marketed private estates, and as you drive out you will find that it even has its own shopping centre with food hall and gardening store.

Woodland Garden

Woodland Garden

Woodland garden folly

Garden Folly

Rose Garden & North front

Rose Garden & North front

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Downes House, Devon

Moses Gould built the original house in 1692 in red brick. In 1794 James Buller faced the house with pale beer stone and the windows were lowered. In 1840 James Wentworth Buller demolished the back part of the house, which included a brewhouse and built the present red brick back section to contain staff quarters and extra bedrooms for his family of 10 surviving children. (This block can be seen from the car-park next to the house). The wings were also modified in the 19th Century.
In 1910 Tremayne Butler modernised the house. He extended the area which now forms the main entrance, and removed the wall between the old entrance hall and library to form what is now called the Long Hall.
In 1980 service rooms at the back of the house were demolished. They were of no architectural interest and in a dilapidated condition.
The present layout of the house is best seen on the Google Satellite view.
Interior: The tour starts at the Front Hall (present entrance hall) which contains portraits etc. Beside it is the Museum, with mementos of Sir Redvers Buller. Further on is the Panelled Room, with shields. The paneling above the fireplace is older than the house.
The Main Staircase is one of the major features of the house, with a 19th century window containing medieval church stained glass, and a fine ceiling of plaster over copper supports. At the top of the staircase a Bedroom is on show with a four poster bed, which came originally from a Portugese palace on the west coast of India.
The Long Hall now contains many portraits of the Buller Family. Beyond it, the Dining Room occupies the East wing. It contains spears and shields from the Zulu and Ashanti wars.
Most famous occupant: General Sir Redvers Buller, VC, GCB, GCMB, 1839-1908. A local hotel (now a Weatherspoons) is named after him.
Downes House is worth a visit to see the main staircase, dining room and other contents.
The house is still used as a home by the London-based owners at weekends.
Note that the only admission is at 2.15 PM, by guided tour. We were not encouraged to walk around the grounds, but the aerial view indicates that there is not a lot to see.
Pictures at Downes Estate

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Charlestown, Cornwall

Charlestown harbour with ship The harbour at Charlestown, on the outskirts of St Austell, was built in the 1790’s for the export of copper ore, but was later used for the export of china clay. Remains of the chutes and tunnel used for loading china clay can still be seen. The harbour, now Grade II listed, is a popular location for films and TV, and is also a port for visiting tall ships.
You can walk around the harbour and look at the old buildings free of charge.
Street parking is limited, and you will probably have to use one of the pay car parks. Fortunately the charges are not excessive.

Charlestown Shipwreck and Heritage Centre. I’m adding this here as it’s at the top of the harbour. Contains displays about various local wrecks, with photographs, and artifacts salvaged from wrecks. There are one or two videos, and displays about the Mary Rose, Titanic and Lusitania, which will be of interest if you haven’t seen similar elsewhere. It takes a couple of hours to go round and look at everything.

Outer harbour and lock

Outer harbour

Above inner harbour, C'town

Above inner harbour

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Wheal Martyn, Cornwall

Settling tank and slurry pump

Settling tank

The museum was established in 1975 by the producers of china clay in Cornwall to preserve and record the history of the mid Cornwall area. It is situated alongside the St Austell river in a valley which contained several china clay works. The museum includes the remains of the historic Wheal Martyn clay works, which became a Scheduled Ancient Monument in 1978. As well as the historic buildings the museums owns and looks after a large collection of items associated with the china clay industry. This includes machinery and vintage vehicles, social history objects, tools, and minerals. Visitors to the site are guided by marked trails, either following the ‘historic’ trail, which explores the historic buildings at the core of the site, or the ‘nature’ trail, which cover the rest of the 26 acre site. A path leads to a view into the modern working working pit.
The reception centre has a shop, cafe and a museum exhibition which has interesting displays and videos about the clay mining industry.
The historic trail leads you in an around the old buildings of the Victorian works. Here, processing and drying of the clay was carried out. Parts of the works continued in use till 1969. Equipment for various parts of the process can be seen, including two water wheels.
The viewing point at the top of the site gives a view down into the huge working pit. Binoculars would be an advantage here, as the trucks (actually huge) look very small down below. Another viewing point on the nature trail gives a view in the opposite direction, across the valley.
Before leaving the site, have a look at the relics around the coach park.
I found the museum interesting, though the display labeling in the historic area is looking a bit tired in places. There is enough to see to fill a half-day visit.
Nearby: China clay valley walks, Charlestown.
35 ft water wheel

35 ft wheel

Oil Engine & electric generator

Oil Engine & generator

Pan Kiln (or Dry) with wagon

Pan Kiln (or Dry)

Working pit (zoom view)

Working pit

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Cadhay, Devon

East Front, Cadhay

East Front

Cadhay was mostly built in the 1540s as a Tudor house with hall, screens passage and domestic wings, by John Haydon, a lawyer who grew rich dissolving monasteries. His nephew added a fourth range with a Long Gallery, enclosing the courtyard.
The courtyard is the pride of the house and contains statues of Henry VIII and his three monarch offspring, Edward, Mary and Elisabeth. The stonework is laid checkerboard, of limestone alternated with local ‘chert’ flint.
A later owner, William Peere Williams, altered many rooms and put an upper floor in the Great Hall, forming a dining room below and the Roof Chamber above. The front was also refaced in smooth stone.
A Cambridge academic, Dampier Whetstone, bought the house in 1910, rescuing it from agricultural use and re-instating its Tudor character. The Williams-Powletts bought the house in 1935 after leasing it, and the current owner, furniture maker Rupert Thistlethwayte, a direct descendant of the Pouletts whose coat of arms appear above various fireplaces, has restored the house.
The rooms and contents are of some interest. Most rooms are double aspect with interconnecting doors (no corridor). The Long Gallery, a curiously narrow room with a barrel vaulted ceiling, acts as a kind of family museum. The Roof Chamber has a notable but much altered beamed ceiling.
Outside are some fine gardens, to the side and rear, also some ponds. A walled garden is divided into allotments.
The house is opened to the public on Friday afternoons. Tickets for the house tour and gardens are sold at the tea-room. For the rest of the week, the house is let out as a self-catering unit for wedding parties, etc.
Fish Pond, Cadhay

Fish Pond

Courtyard, Cadhay


Roof Chamber roof, Cadhay

Great Chamber roof

South front, Cadhay

South front

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