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.

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
Officer's mess display
Officer’s Mess
Parade Ground with guns
Parade Ground
18" Railway Gun
18″ Railway Gun
Mortars in vault
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
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
Deer and keeper

Montacute House

West & South fronts National Trust
This great Elizabethan mansion was built about 1590-1600 by Sir Edward Phelps, a Member of Parliament and courtier. In the 1780’s Edward Phelps V extended the west front between the projecting wings to provide upper and lower corridors. The new work was done in the same style as the old, using decorative stonework rescued from Clifton Maybank House, near Yeovil.
The house, like the nearbu village, is built of yellow Ham limestone. It forms a massive block when viewed from the grounds, and the east front, the original approach front, is ornamented with statues at third floor level.
The house was acquired empty in 1931 and the rooms have been refurbished and furnished by the National Trust. The third floor houses a collection of paintings from the National Portrait Gallery.
The grounds around the house are mostly laid to lawn, with tall hedges.
A visit is highly recommended. There is enough to see to justify a half-day visit.

Drawing Room, Montacute
Drawing Room
Library, Montacute
East Front, Montacute
East Front

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

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