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


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.

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
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.

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.

Corsham Court, Wiltshire

House front Privately Owned
Corsham Court dates from 1582, and was bought by Sir Paul Methuen in the mid 18th century to display his celebrated collection of 16th and 17th century Old Master paintings. A second collection was added through inheritance in the mid 19th century. The house was extended to accommodate the paintings using as architect Capability Brown, who also designed the gardens and park. The interiors retain many original features including plasterwork, wall hangings and furniture by Chippendale, Thomas Johnson, etc. The paintings include works by Van Dyck, Carlo Dolci, Fillipo Lippi, Salvator Rosa, Reynolds and Romney.
Surrounding the park today are the impressive gardens designed by Capability Brown and including a Gothic bath-house, a 13 acre lake and a ha-ha.
Bath Spa University uses parts of the house and grounds.
Free parking is available outside the house next to the church. The house and gardens are opened frequently throughout the year, in the afternoon. A curator and room guides are available to answer questions.

Surviving Nash outbuilding
Surviving Nash work
Peacock in garden
Bath house folly
Bath house

Thorn house & gardens, Devon

Thorn house front
Unassuming frontage

Historic Houses Association, privately owned, limited access
Access to Thorn is mainly by the ‘Invitation to View’ scheme.
Thorn is near the village of Wembury, on a spectacular site on the banks of the river Yealm. The estate has had a variety of owners. The Corys added a ballroom and billiard room (now vanished) for their royal and noble guests. In 1920 the estate was bought by William Arkwright, former owner of Sutton Scarsdale Hall in Derbyshire, who renamed it from South Wembury House to ‘Thorn’.
The present building at Thorn dates from the 19th century and the Corys but a much older building once stood on the site as evidenced by the Tudor cellars.
Arkwright started development of the gardens, and this work was continued by the next owner, Mrs Sebag-Montefiore. The present owners have lived here since 1981.
The house has three grand rooms downstairs, with interesting furniture and art. The gardens are terraced and extend along a steep hillside. They contain many trees including rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas and eucalyptus. The gardens are well worth seeing.
My visit was hosted by the enthusiastic owner, Eva Gibson, and was very enjoyable, lasting for around four hours. Details of how to access the property were provided on booking via ‘Invitation to View’.
Surprisingly, the house is listed on Air B+B.
More pictures are on the Thorn website.
View from front yard
Amazing view

Caerhays Castle, Cornwall.

Castle front Privately Owned
Caerhays Castle is situated near a beach not far from the village of St Michael Caerhays, south of St. Austell. The castle was designed by John Nash and built in the Georgian period. Its owner went bankrupt and to pay creditors the contents of the house were dispersed in a great auction, and even the lead from the roofs was sold, leaving the building derelict. Some decades later the wreck was bought by the Williams family who restored it, giving it Victorian interiors and starting to create the gardens. The gardens contain plants imported from various parts of the world, including rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas, which make a fine show in the spring.
From a distance, the castle looks as if it contains a vast number of rooms, but Nash’s castellated design conceals various service courtyards so the number of habitable rooms is in fact more modest.
Parking is in the beach car park and there is a stiff walk up to the house (except for disabled, who can park at the house). Caerhays is accessed through a maze of minor roads.
The house contains some fine interiors, including a circular (tower-shaped) drawing room. Admission to the house is by conducted tour and as numbers on the tours are limited, booking well in advance by telephone is advised. The gardens are a major attraction and well worth a visit. Note that the house opening dates and garden opening dates are not the same.

Flowering shrubs
Flowering shrubs
Flowering shrub
Flowering shrub close-up

Launceston Castle, Cornwall

Castle from below
English Heritage
Originally a Norman castle, the castle was rebuilt in stone in the 12th century, and substantially rebuilt by Richard of Cornwall from 1227, including a high central tower inside the circular wall on top of the mound.
Richard’s son moved the administration elsewhere and the castle became partially disused and ruinous. Parts continued to be used for assizes and a prison. It was occupied during the civil war and afterwards stripped for building materials. Parts were used as a prison till 1842, and the site was used as a base during WWII.
The outlines of buildings in the lower bailey can be seen in the grass. Parts of the keep and walls still stand, and the inner tower can be climbed.
The castle is well worth a visit if you are in Launceston.
The castle is on an elevated site in the middle of the town. Parkng is available in pay car parks.

Lawrence House Museum, Cornwall

Lawrence House front The museum is housed in an 18th century house owned by the National Trust and leased to the Launceston council for a local museum. It contains a variety of exhibits on three floors. Exhibits range from paintings through a model of the former railway station, the Victorian kitchen, a room about the astronomer John Couch Adams, period dresses, a toy room, to a polyphon, a forerunner of the jukebox.
Well worth a visit. Free admission, donations welcomed.