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.
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.
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.
The pretty village of Lacock is managed by the National Trust. On it edge is Lacock Abbey and gardens. The Abbey was the home of pioneering photographer William Henry Fox Talbot, who is jointly credited with the invention of photography. The Abbey was built as a nunnery, housing a community of nuns led by Ela, countess of Shreswbury. After the dissolution, it came into the hands of William Sharington, who demolished the abbey church but retained the cloisters, converting the upper part into a dwelling by adding partitions. Despite later alterations, various medieval vaulted rooms and walkways still survive, notably in the lower parts of the building.
The Hall, built in a Gothick style, dates from the 18th century and contains terracotta statues set in niches on the walls.
The kitchen dates from the medieval period, with later alterations and fittings. Also downstairs can be found original encaustic tiles, and the only manuscript book to have survived from a pre-dissolution English abbey.
The service court houses an interesting Tudor brewhouse.
Beside the reception building is a museum of photography.
Well worth a half-day visit.
Nostell Priory was built in the 18th century on the site of an earlier house. Nothing of the medieval priory now remains. The house has a symmetrical plan with a colonaded extension to one side. The kitchen block is set back and connected by a link corridor. Entry is into the lower hall, dimly lit and filled with dark furniture. The formal rooms are all on the floor above.
Outside, a large stable block houses the usual visitor facilities. Passing through the stable block you can access the rose garden and the former walled garden, and the lakeside walks. The lakes are beautiful. Note that the paths do not allow a complete circuit of either of the lakes. In front of the house is extensive parkland.
Visiting – there is a £3 parking charge for non members of the National Trust. There are entrance charges for the house and rear gardens. There is no charge for entry to the parkland or stable block.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).