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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

Featured

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.

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

Castle and curtain wall Privately owned
Alnwick Castle is a large and imposing castle with a curtain wall and central keep, and adjacent to it are impressive gardens which have recently been reworked at great expense.
The original castle was founded by the Normans and has been extended and altered several times, the last two phases of alteration giving it Gothic interiors (designed by Robert Adam) succeeded by opulent Italianate interiors which replace Adam’s work in the State Rooms open to the public.
The castle has a complex history of sieges and occupations, and since 1309 has been in the hands of the powerful Percy family, and the Earls and Dukes of Northumberland.
The outer parts of the castle contain several towers with small exhibitions which are all worth a look. The keep contains the State Rooms which should not be missed. The carved and gilded wood ceilings are exceptional and the furnishings are luxurious. Don’t miss the pair of fine pietra dura cabinets, adorned with pictures worked in stone and supported on animal legs. Their value is unknown, but unless you are a Russian oligarch you could not afford them.
If you are into period china, don’t miss the China Gallery, a long narrow gallery at the exit side of the state rooms, lined with hundreds of fine pieces.
The castle conforms to the popular idea of what a castle ought to look like, and has been even more popular since its use as a location for some of the ‘Harry Potter’ movies.

The Gardens are a separate attraction, established fairly recently at the eye-watering cost of £42 million. They do boast an expensive-looking computerised cascade, a pleasant walled garden with flowers, an interesting Poison Garden, as well as nine stainless steel fountains which produce curious effects with water. There are also arbors, round pools with fountains, tea rooms, and a maze. I found the Poison Garden tour of particular interest.

Visiting – there are separate prices for the Gardens and Castle, and combined tickets. Prices are high, but one inside you probably will not be disappointed. HHA members may get into the Castle free while English Heritage members get a discount (Castle only). If viewing both, allow time for at least a half-day visit.
Click on images to enlarge. Photography inside castle was not permitted.

Fountain pools in garden
Fountain pools
in Walled Garden
in Walled Garden
Cascade in action
Cascade in action
plant in Poison Garden
in Poison Garden
Castle keep
Keep

Brodsworth Hall & Gardens, Yorkshire

Hall from driveway English Heritage
Brodsworth Hall was built for Charles Thellusson in the 1860’s, and the gardens were laid out at the same time. An existing house on the estate was demolished. The house has a symmetrical plan with a lower servants’ wing projecting to form a T-shape.
Internally, the house has an impressive Italianate hall and reception rooms. The family and guest bedrooms are comfortably furnished while the servants’ wing is much plainer. The house and its contents have not been radically changed since it was built. Instead, the house suffered a decline in the 20th century as the family became less able to maintain it, and it was given to English Heritage in 1990. By this time the house had suffered from rising and descending damp and general neglect. English Heritage’s policy has been to carry out urgent repairs and conserve the house as found rather than ‘restoring’ it. Almost all the rooms are accessible to visitors.

The gardens, very overgrown in 1990, have been cleared of overgrowth and restored to more or less the Victorian plan. They contain formal areas, rockeries, lawns, trees and other features and are well worth a visit.
When I visited, parts of the interior were covered up while another round of conservation was in progress.

West Hall
West Hall
Drawing Room
Drawing Room
Bedroom 14 (pink)
Bedroom 14
Guest Bedroom & boat bed
Guest Bedroom
Old Kitchen, range
Old Kitchen
Gardens
View from summerhouse
gardens
gardens

Ashridge House

House from gardens Private (business college)
Ashridge House is a grand mansion in Hertfordshire, built in the 19th century. Adjoining the house is a large private set of formal gardens and tree planting.
Please be aware that unlike the adjoining Ashridge Estate, the house and gardens are NOT owned by the National Trust.
The house was built between 1808 and 1822 in a neo-Gothic style, including a crenellated central tower and a prominent chapel with tower and spire. Inside are a series of magnificent rooms. The Entrance hall has a hammerbeam roof. The Main Hall under the tower rises to 29m (70ft) and has impressive fan vaulting and a series of statues. The cantilevered staircase has a cast iron balustrade with brass handrail.
The Hoskins Room, with a blue and white theme, has fine plasterwork. The Ante Room has high ceilings and much woodwork including three pairs of English oak doors. The Lady Marion Alford Room has a fine ceiling with a painting depicting the goddess Aurora, and twin marble fireplaces based on those in the Doge’s Palace, Venice. The Wyatt Room has oak paneling and an ornate plaster ceiling. The (former) Library has ebony bookcases with brass inlays in a Boulle style.
The Chapel, designed by James Wyatt, is a fine example of his work. It contains stained glass windows which are replicas of the original 16th century Bavarian stained glass. The originals were sold in 1928 for £27,000.
Under the Chapel is the Well House, which pre-dates the main house and contains a deep well sunk by the monks in the 13th century.
At least one of the outbuildings pre-dates the house, but the ‘Old Stables’ were built in 1817.
The house was built for the Egerton family, replacing an earlier house built on a monastic site. The house once belonged to Henry VIII and then Princess Elisabeth. The Egertons owned the house until 1849. Later owners the Brownlows sold it off in 1921. In later years it was a hospital, a Conservative Party training centre, a finishing school, and finally a management college and business school.

The gardens cover 77 hectares (190 acres) and include a formal Italian garden, and various other gardens and features as well as avenues of trees and open grassland. They are well worth a visit.

Visiting: The gardens are open on weekend and Bank Holiday afternoons during the summer, for a modest fee.

On a few dates in July and August, guided tours of the house and gardens are available. This is the only way of seeing inside the house. It is best to book by phone so you can ask what counts as a concession and what times the tours start, and whether you can go around the gardens on your own instead of paying for the garden tour (apparently not). Most visitors, it seems, book for both the house tour and the gardens tour that follows after complimentary refreshments.

Main Hall ceiling
Main Hall ceiling
Main Hall stairs
Main Hall stairs
Ent. hall roof
Ent. hall roof
Blue & white room
Hoskins Room
Old Library
Library
Boulle detail, library
Boulle detail
Garden room vaulting
Garden room
Ceiling, Lady Marion Alford Room
Ceiling, Alford Room
Ornate Doorway, Alford Room
Doorway, Alford Room
Wyatt Room, ceiling
Wyatt Room
Chapel ceiling
Chapel ceiling
Chapel exterior
Chapel
Border in gardens
Border
Avenue in gardens
Avenue
Flower close-up, gardens
Flowers
Woods, Ashridge
Woods

Royal Marines Museum, Portsmouth.

Museum hallThe Royal Marines Museum is housed on part of the former Eastney Royal Marines barracks at Southsea. The museum is housed in the former officers’ mess at the eastern end of the complex.
The exhibition is in three parts: the entrance floor has displays about the history of the Royal Marines, the floor below has a series of audio-visual displays about present-day training of RM recruits, and the top floor has more historical material relating to WWII, collections of medals, RM musical bands and also has the ornate function rooms.
The museum is linked to the Historic Dockyards and admission is included in the all-attractions ticket. I found my visit to the RM Museum far more interesting than I expected. Recommended.
Visit time: allow at least 2.5 hours if you want a good look at everything. There is a car park in front of the museum. Sat-nav may deliver you to the back of the former Eastney barracks – the entrance is on the sea front so if you can’t see the sea you are in the wrong place. :-)
Southsea Castle and the D-Day museum are also in Southsea.

Fort Nelson & Royal Armouries, Portsmouth

Fort nelson frontage Fort Nelson is one of a group of five Victorian forts positioned along a ridge overlooking the town and dockyards of Portsmouth. Construction was ordered during a Napoleonic invasion scare. This fort, and the others in its group, was intended to protect Portsmouth from an attack by land, and prevent invaders seizing the ridge, which, as you will see when you get up there, is an ideal place from which to rain artillery shells on the town and dockyards.
The Victorian fort is substantially intact, and visitors can explore the 19-acre site, including gun emplacements and some tunnels. A 64-pounder gun of the type originally installed is placed on one of the gun positions.
The Royal Armouries collection is housed in part of the original barrack building and also in the permanent, tented Artillery Hall, and on the parade ground. There are lots of artillery guns, from medieval cannon through to World War II types and beyond. The biggest exhibit is a 200 ton railway gun dating from 1918. The collection includes parts of the Iraqi Supergun.
Don’t miss the huge mortar and the 14″ naval gun out front which are not visible while walking from main car park to reception.
The fort and armouries are well worth a visit if you are interested in forts and big guns.

Nelson Monument
Nelson Monument
Fort nelson road frontage
Frontage
Officer's mess display
Officer’s Mess
Parade Ground with guns
Parade Ground
18" Railway Gun
18″ Railway Gun
Mortars in vault
Mortars
Guns on parade ground
Guns on parade ground

Tiverton Castle, Devon

Tiverton Castle, mansion Private
A castle was built on the site in 1106, and passed through various owners. In 1645 it was captured by Fairfax during the English Civil War. Subsequently the castle was partly demolished, and a mansion build on the site. Parts of the old castle are incorporated into the current buildings on the site.
Today, the visitor can see some pleasant gardens in the grounds, a ruined tower, views down to the river Exe, and a number of rooms mostly in the ‘Castle Barton’ wing with the round tower etc. Some interesting arms, armour, paintings and 17th century furniture can be seen.
The Castle website rather talks up Tiverton Castle, but don’t plan a half-day visit: I was able to see all of the public parts in one and a quarter hours.

Ruin in castle grounds
Ruin in grounds
Castle Gardens
Gardens
Older (Barton) wing)
Old wing

Prideaux Place, Cornwall

South front Private (HHA)
The house lies on the outskirts of Padstow. The Prideaux family has owned the house and estate for hundreds of years. The house is Elizabethan with 18th century and 19th century additions. In the 19th century a Drawing room, Hall and Library were added, decorated in a Strawberry Hill Gothic style. The tour of the house includes the dining room, panelled in dark oak, the Morning Room, the part-circular Drawing Room, the green Grenville Room, the Library with stained glass window, the hall and cantilever staircase and the Great Chamber with its newly discovered and restored plaster ceiling depicting Susanna and the Elders.
Prideaux Place is still a family home and has interesting furniture and contents. Some items are new and made on the estate.
Outside are various outbuildings to the rear. The stableyard has an exhibition. The attractive gardens have been restored in recent years and contain formal and informal areas. Across the road is the deer park. If you are around at feeding time, you can see the fallow deer run up to get fed. They are very used to the keeper and you may see them lie down and even start dozing off next to the fence.

Formal garden
Formal garden
Woodland
Woodland
Deer and keeper
Deer

Pencarrow, Cornwall

House, E&S fronts Private (HHA).
Pencarrow House and Gardens lie in countryside near Bodmin. The house lies at the end of a valley and was built in the 18th century. Internal alterations were made in the 19th and 20th Century. The Inner Hall contains a cantilevered staircase and a large stove with hidden flue. The tour includes the Music Room (so-called), Entrance hall, Drawing Room, Inner Hall, Pink Bedroom, Nursery, Corner Bedroom, Bathroom, Boudoir, back staircase, Dining Room and Anteroom.
The house remains a family home and contains many furnishings and contents of interest.
The extensive grounds contain a number of features of interest. A walk from the house to the lake via the gardens and returning along the entrance drive with its interesting tree planting takes about an hour. Note the rockery of Bodmin granite and the Mole’s Garden along the stream.

Insect wood sculpture
Insect wood sculpture
Creepy trees along drive
Creepy trees

Lydiard Park, Swindon

House front Swindon Borough Council
Lydiard Park is a grand house standing in extensive grounds to the west of Swindon. The estate was the home of the St John family for several centuries. The house was remodelleded to its present form in the early 18th century. The house was sold and in 1943 was bought by Swindon Borough Council. By theis time the house was in poor condition. Town Clerk David Murray John lobbied to preserve the house and park. Over the years most parts of the house have been restored and important contents and furnishings bought back.
Visitors today can see a series of ground floor state rooms, freshly decorated and with contents that are either original or typical of the period. There is a Hall, Dining Room, Library, Drawing Room, State Bedroom and Dressing Room.
Outside, the extensive grounds, which have grassland, tree plantings and a large lake, have also been restored. Note the interesting castellated dam wall at one end of the lake. A church lies immediately behind the house and contains interesting monuments and fragments of medieval wall painting. Note the life size gilded cavalier statue, the St John Polyptich and the stained glass.
Also visit the Walled Garden which contains borders filled with attractive perennials. (Access via the café). The Conference Centre is also said to serve coffee and light refreshments.
Lydiard Park is well worth a visit. Nearest junction off the M4 is J16. You may see signs for Lydiard Park or Lydiard Park and House – the latter takes you close to the house (and conference centre).

Hall fireplace
Hall
Dining Room
Dining Room
Drawing Room
Drawing Room
Garden
Garden
Dam wall
Dam wall

Benington Lordship, Hertfordshire.

Garden with house and folly Private.
Benington Lordship has seven acres of gardens which are opened to the public. There are several sections of formal garden at different levels, plus a large pond, and expanses of lawn.
The substantial house – Queen Anne with early twentieth century extension – is not open to the public. It features a striking attached folly in the form of a ‘Norman’ gateway and arched window. In the garden are the tumbled remains of a castle which once stood on the site.
The gardens are worth a visit if you are in the area. When there, do not neglect to visit the centre of the village containing a number of old cottages, and the church.
Teas are usually available in the village hall nearby.

Folly Norman archway
Folly
House and garden
House and garden
Red Garden flower
Garden flower
Village houses
Village houses
Church interior
Church