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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
Church
North Front, Port Eliot
North Front
Round Room & North front
Round Room & North front

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Bradley, Newton Abbott, Devon

View of house exterior and lawn
Bradley Manor
National Trust.
A white manor house sits in green meadows surrounded by woodland. The L-shaped house, with many gables and tall chimneys, retains most of its medieval features. The dining room (former kitchen) has a fireplace opening formed of four tons of Dartmoor granite. The hall is the only spacious room. On the walls of an upstairs room is preserved a late medieval pattern of stencilled black fleur-de-lys. Also upstairs in a panelled room is some fine seventeenth-century plasterwork in high relief, looking well preserved. There is a collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and Arts & Crafts furniture. Much of the furniture is 18th century and listed on room cards. The chapel, which has an array of carved wooden bosses on the ceiling, should not be missed.

The interior was interesting. Outside, one can walk round with the guidebook and look at when each part was altered. Extensive woodlands surround the house. I finished my visit by exploring these, and found a back exit which eventually leads into a housing estate.

The house is half a mile from Newton Abbott town centre, on the Totnes road. The opening dates and times are somewhat restricted. The signs on the main road are inconspicuous. Note that there are no toilet facilities or tea room on site.
Good news: you can park at the site from 1.30 for the opening at 2:00 pm. It’s possible to get there by train, but I found that, unless you figure out the bus routes, it’s rather a tedious walk from the station and you need to know what foot route to take. Leave the house grounds on foot the same way you came in, if you don’t want to get lost in a housing estate.

Island Hall, Cambridgeshire

Privately Owned
Island Hall was built in the 1740’s as a riverside mansion. After some changes of ownership is was requisitioned during the Second World War and used by the WAAF and then the RAF’s Pathfinder Squadron. After the war, the local authority took over the house and grounds under the Emergency Housing Act, converting it into 15 bedsits and also using the Nissen huts in the garden. By 1977, a major fire in the south wing left the house in a very sorry state. In 1978 it was bought by Simon Herrtage, who carried out a programme of restoration.
The present owner, Christopher Vane Percy, bought the house in 1983. He is descended from the Baumgartens, one of the original owners. Percy and his wife Lady Linda have continued the restoration and created the mature gardens.

The gardens extend over three acres, including an island in the Ouse reached by a Chinese bridge (second replacement of the 18th century original). The gardens are mostly laid out as lawns, and are shaded by a number of mature trees including a fine cypress visible from various angles, and various stands of shrubbery. All the garden planting dates from after 1983.
The main house has the same frontage front and back. The rear entrance, leading into a double height staircase hall, was the main entrance at a time when most guests arrived by river. The room continues through to the front door. This hall is attractively decorated and has a plasterwork frieze (restored). It has a stone-flagged floor, a screen of Doric columns and a handsome carved oak staircase. In the north wing are two rooms with wood paneling. On the first floor to the front is a fine reception room, and the tour includes two bedrooms in the north wing. The interior and its contents have a most pleasing appearance throughout.
Though the mews house with cupola looks original it has in fact been substantially restored and the cupola is a replica.

I visited the house through the ‘Invitation to View’ scheme. The house is not identified on the street other than by its appearance (see photos). Entrance is via the yard to the left. There is a free car park about 100 yards away on the same side of the road.

The Workhouse, Southwell, Notts

Workhouse frontage
National Trust
By the 19th century, difficulties in administrating relief for the poor caused parishes who were responsible for poor relief to start adopting a new system. Instead of being helped in their homes, the poor requiring relief would be required to enter a workhouse where conditions were spartan and they might be required to work – or do without. The overt object of this was to discourage the poor from claiming.
Southwell was one of the pioneering parishes to adopt this scheme. It was championed by the Rev. John Thomas Becher, who wrote a pamphlet called The Antipauper System. The Southwell workhouse was founded in 1824.
This system was found to be much cheaper and was incorporated in the New Poor Act of 1834.
The Southwell workhouse was acquired by the National Trust in 1997, and is the most complete in existence. Various parts of the buildings have been restored to their original appearance.
The tour starts with a short video, then one can visit outbuildings at the back, before touring various rooms in the main block. Some rooms have been restored for displays, and a few are left unrestored. The centre of the block was the Master’s accommodation. Rooms contain displays of the conditions in the workhouse for the various categories of inmate – the able-bodied poor, the aged and disabled, and the itinerants.
This makes a most interesting visit. The problem of what to do about the deserving and ‘undeserving’ poor remains vexed to this day.

Laundry
Laundry
Kitchen
Kitchen
Room
Room

Roche Abbey, South Yorkshire

Transept English Heritage
Roche Abbey was founded in 1147 and housed Cistertian monks till it was dissolved on the orders of Henry VIII. The buildings were despoiled in 1538, but the walls of the north and south transepts remain impressive, and low walls remain elsewhere.
The remains of a gatehouse stand beside open ground in front of the main site.

A fee is payable to walk on the site but the standing walls can be seen from a path running alongside. Access to the site is by a steep, narrow and bumpy lane, navigable by car.

Gatehouse rermains
Gatehouse

Kedleston Hall

Hall frontage National Trust
Kedleston Hall has a long frontage with a centre block and two semi-detached wings. The family still lives in the left hand one, which was always intended as a family home, the centre block being for display rooms.

The lower hall is a forest of columns supporting the heavy floor and columns above. The State floor of the central block has an series of rooms on two rows (front and back). The centre front houses the double-height Marble Hall with Roman theme decor. At centre back is a round hall, Pantheon like with an oculus, and black iron stoves to warm the room a bit. There are lots of paintings in various rooms by minor artists.

The lower floor has a museum of Indian relics (one past Curzon owner was Viceroy of India). The exhibits include a howdah. The grounds are mostly open grass land, with some bits of garden border and garden buildings at back.
The interesting church contains some fine family monuments.
Click to enlarge

Saloon ceiling
Saloon
Marble Hall
Marble Hall
Marble Hall - detail
Marble Hall – detail
Church
Church
Church monument
Church monument
Church monument
Church monument

Chatsworth, Derbyshire

House frontage Privately Owned
A house was built at Chatsworth by Bess of Hardwick, and the house was rebuilt and extended by her descendants, the earls and dukes of Devonshire. In its present form it is not so much a house as a ducal palace. The house is built around a central square courtyard, on three principal floors. On the first floor is a series of opulent staterooms.  The grounds are large and contain a variety of features from a cascade to a long pond with fountain, a maze, greenhouses, lakes, woods etc.

When I visited most of the main rooms were occupied by a costume exhibition, and the objects restricted the view of the interiors in places.  The North Wing with sculptures was very dimly lit by electric candles. Seemingly this mimics a past Duke’s preferred way of showing it after dinner. Elsewhere was an exhibit about an 1897 fancy dress ball in London, with aristocrats dressed up as nobles from pre-1815. It must have been amazing.

Many of the rooms are extremely ornate, with  tromp d’ oeil paintings applied to walls and ceilings and lots of decorative carving.

The greenhouses in the gardens have limited access. The prominent hunting tower is a holiday let.

It took me two hours to walk around the house, and some more time just to walk to one extremity of the gardens and back. If you want to see everything Chatsworth has to offer and have a lunch break, I would suggest an all-day visit.

Stable block
Stable block
Hunting Lodge
Hunting Lodge
Opulent interior
Opulent interior
Opulent interior
Opulent interior
Bedroom
Bedroom

Wentworth Woodhouse, S. Yorkshire

South of east frontage
So big I had to photograph it twice

Privately Owned
The Baroque western range of Wentworth Woodhouse was begun in 1725 for Thomas Watson Wentworth. However before this was finished, a new East Front, in fact an new house facing the other way, was commissioned. The house is said to be the largest private house in England and to have the longest frontage in Europe.
For many years, 1949-1979, the east front was leased to West Riding County Council and housed the Lady Mabel College of Physical Education.
After several changes of ownership and attempts at preservation, the house was acquired in 2017 by the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust for £7 million. The Treasury has promised £7.6 million for subsidence repairs, but millions more are claimed to be needed.

I went to Wentworth Woodhouse on a tour organised by JustGo Holidays. We had guided tours of the state rooms of the central East block on two floors. IIRC we saw the Pillared Hall, rooms through to the Low Dining Room, then up to Chapel, and other east front rooms including the Marble saloon and grand staircase. The rooms are in quite good condition and some are fully redecorated. The whole house consists of several blocks -the long east front, the west front and a service block behind the north end of the east front. More of a housing estate than a house, it has around 350 rooms and 150 times the floor area of the average British house. There are no gardens on the east side. The west side, where the owners lived, and the gardens are accessible on some of the tours, according to the WW website.
We were not permitted to photograph the interior, but some pictures and floor plans can be found online.
The land to the west and south was dug up by open-cast coal mining to within yards of the house in the 1940’s. An example of class warfare conducted my energy minister Manny Shinwell.
Several monuments and a grand stable block exist in the lands around the house.

East Front, north end
East Front, north end
Centre block
Centre block

Renishaw Hall

North front Privately Owned
Renishaw Hall was built by the Sitwell family. The core of the house was built in the 1620’s, and it was extended in stages from 1793 to 1806, adding a grand dining room, kitchen area, drawing room and ballroom wing. Minor changes were made in the 1890’s and 1908-9. The house now has a long, symmetrical north front in a somewhat Gothic style, with crenellations.
On the ground floor are various well-decorated and furnished rooms, the more notable being the dining room with semicircular apse, the Library, the long Drawing Room and the Ballroom. The Ballroom is currently furnished as a grand sitting room. The Old Kitchen is preserved with some early contents, but was not used as the main kitchen after the 1940’s. The contents of the house include some good furniture, and paintings by artists patronized by the Sitwells, as well as family portraits.
The old stable block has an exhibition room devoted to the three famous literary Sitwells, Dame Edith Sitwell, Osbert Sitwell and Sacheverell Sitwell.
The substantial gardens to the south of the house have formal gardens near the house and informal areas further away. A number of pieces of statuary stand in the gardens.
Access to the house is by conducted tour.

Impressive frontages, interesting contents, attractive gardens.

North Front, centre
North Front, centre
Gardens
Gardens
Gardens
Gardens
Pond with fountain
“Swimming Pool”
Box hedge on island in pond
“Fish Pond”

Calke Abbey

Calke Abbey house National Trust
Calke was built and lived in by the Harpur and Harpur Crewe families, some of them eccentric recluses. The National Trust has preserved the house largely as acquired, rather than sprucing it up.
One arrives at Calke passing an imposing stable block and arriving at a complex of large redbrick outbuildings now housing the reception, shop etc. The next stop is the dilapidated stable block, a massive affair surrounding two courtyards. There are two exhibition rooms and one can peer into many other spaces, mostly full of discarded objects. Leaving here one can wander round the back of the outbuildings and look into the biomass boiler room, or pass on into the gardens.
A short walk down through shrubbery brings one to open ground at the side of the house. Here one can go around to the house entrance, or if early take a hike up to the church and walled gardens.
The church was largely rebuilt in Victorian times and is small but interesting.
The walled gardens are huge and take some time to explore. The first walled garden, now let to grass, is four acres in size. Halfway along one side is the restored Orangery, not identified on the map. At the other side of the wall are several sections of cultivated garden and various horticultural buildings, greenhouses, boiler rooms, and even a tunnel or two to be explored. In summer, the flower gardens look very fine.
Back at the Abbey itself one enters under the pillared front. On all three floors, around half of the rooms are accessible to visitors. The ground floor has some fine rooms at the front and, owing to the slope of the ground outside, cellarage at the back. The first floor houses most of the finer rooms. The double-height Saloon is the most impressive room and the dining room and library are also fine. Many of these rooms contain the Calke collections of shells, rock specimens, stuffed birds and miscellaneous objects. The house appears to contain more objects than some museums, and until a sale in the 1020’s it really did contain more bird specimens than anywhere else. The third floor contains bedrooms, notably Sir Vauncey Harpur Crewe’s bedroom with its odd collection of contents. Many of the rooms were shut up in later years and used to store an accumulation of objects. Some rooms have been derelict since the 19th century.
The house tour ends at the courtyard. Have a good look around here. Features of the earlier Elizabethan house are said to be visible (not obvious). Explore the kitchen area. You can exit to the side, or explore the cellars at the back, which will lead you to a long arched tunnel which emerges at the brewhouse at the far side of the stable block.
One’s overall impression of Calke is of size: vast outbuildings, huge walled garden complex, extensive grounds, a large house full of thousands of objects and miles of outer grounds. On arrival at the outer gate I was handed a Calke CD and had time to listen to it before I arrived at the car park 1.5 miles further on.
Allow at least 4 1/2 hours for a full visit, excluding the outer grounds and tea-break.

Outbuildings
Outbuildings
Stable yard
Stable yard

Harlington Manor, Beds

Privately Owned
Harlington Manor was built as a hall house, perhaps in the late 14th century, but was altered or extended in the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th centuries and in 1937. Originally timber framed, it is now clad in brick. Internally it contains Tudor work, a late Restoration dining room, old fireplaces and some fine paneling. John Bunyan was interrogated and imprisoned here, and Charles II visited. There are some interesting contents. The house has pleasant gardens adjacent, and in the entrance yard stands a barn with some very old timbers.
The house is definitely worth a visit. I visited under the Invitation to View scheme, which includes tea and cakes, but you can also get Bed and Breakfast there.
The house is easy to find, as its boundary wall faces the war memorial at a crossroads in the middle of the village.

Rippington Manor, Beds

Privately Owned
The H-shaped Tudor manor house is built on monastery remains recorded in the Domesday book, and remarkably complete. The building is timber-framed but was encased in brick in 1645. It was at one time the home of Sir Charles Caesar and his son Julius, Master of the Rolls. By grand house standards the house is small and compact, and all the rooms are of a domestic scale. The ground floor has flagstone floors, beamed ceilings, a very early fireplace, an excellent collection of paintings and objets d’art, collection of tea caddies. The upper floor has finely decorated bedrooms and study, with many silhouettes. A barn in the grounds houses a small art gallery with paintings for sale. Pleasant gardens slope down to a long pond.
I visited Rippington Manor under the ‘Invitation to View’ scheme. Tea and coffee with sandwiches and cakes were included. I had trouble finding the correct Church Street with sat-nav and would suggest taking along a note of directions from the main road running through the village. The Manor is next to the church.