I first visited Dunster Castle some years ago but this account is from April 2019. Dunster Castle is a former motte and bailey castle, now a country house, in the village of Dunster, Somerset, England. The castle lies on the top of a steep hill called the Tor, and has been fortified since the late Anglo-Saxon period. After the Norman conquest of England in the 11th century, William de Mohun constructed a timber castle on the site as part of the pacification of Somerset. A stone shell keep was built on the motte by the start of the 12th century, and the castle survived a siege during the early years of the Anarchy. At the end of the 14th century the de Mohuns sold the castle to the Luttrell family, who continued to occupy the property until the late 20th century.
The castle was expanded several times by the Luttrell family during the 17th and 18th centuries; they built a large manor house within the Lower Ward of the castle in 1617, and this was extensively modernised, first during the 1680s and then during the 1760s. The medieval castle walls were mostly destroyed following the siege of Dunster Castle at the end of the English Civil War, when Parliament ordered the defences to be slighted to prevent their further use. In the 1860s and 1870s, the architect Anthony Salvin was employed to remodel the castle to fit Victorian tastes; this work extensively changed the appearance of Dunster to make it appear more Gothic and Picturesque.
Following the death of Alexander Luttrell in 1944, the family was unable to afford the death duties on his estate. The castle and surrounding lands were sold off to a property firm, the family continuing to live in the castle as tenants. The Luttrells bought back the castle in 1954, but in 1976 Colonel Walter Luttrell gave Dunster Castle and most of its contents to the National Trust, which operates it as a tourist attraction. It is a Grade I listed building and scheduled monument. (source: Wikipedia).
The interior of the house is interesting and various rooms on the ground and first floors can be seen. The gatehouse and other castle parts remain, but if you are expecting a medieval castle, look elsewhere!
The site has a number of pleasant walks curving around the hill. The top of the hill (above the house) is flat and laid as an open lawn. Below the hill is an old watermill to the south and the village of Dunster to the west. A folly tower tops a nearby hill to the north-east.
There are foot entrances from the village, but if arriving by car, the car park entrance is on the A39 north of the village.
Unusually, the name of this property is just ‘Hall’. I visited Hall under the ‘Invitation to View’ scheme. The present house was built in the Victorian period on the site of two earlier houses. Only ground floor rooms are open to visitors and these have some interesting contents, including some carved wood panels from one of the earlier houses. At the back of the house is the service or North wing, unused since the 1940’s and mostly in a derelict condition. The tour concludes in the impressive Great Hall, of medieval appearance but built as the last phase of the house construction.
Most of the numerous outbuildings predate the house. There are walled gardens, one of which once contained heated greenhouses. A medieval barn remains in a perilous condition and there is in interesting granary raised on pillars to deter vermin.
The house is of medieval origin, remodelled in Tudor times by the Wake family and further modernised in the 18th and 19th centuries by the Elton family. The floor plan is somewhat irregular. The principal downstairs room is the double-height Great Hall. A fine staircase leads up to the Thackeray Room which commemorates the house’s literary connections. Also on this floor is the large State Room, now set up as a bedroom. Adjoining it is the restored Chapel, with a fine rectangular stained-glass window with reticulated tracery.
Downstairs on the east side of the screens passage is the Justice Room, originally a medieval buttery for beer butts, and now a museum room for a collection of colourful Nailsea glassware. From the screens passage, another passage leads to a triangular courtyard. beyond is the Old Kitchen, a much altered double height room now used as an exhibition space. The Old Kitchen predates the other parts of the house.
Outside, a steeply terraced garden with summerhouses rises behind the house to the wooded land beyond.
I visited Holdenby some years ago but have no record of the details. The recent visit was in April 2019. The core of the house is the remains of the kitchen wing of a vast Elizabethan palace, restored and extended in the Victorian era. Two unusual arches, once part of an entrance court, stand in the grounds. The house is open to the public on only a few days of the year. The tour includes the entrance hall, the boudoir (sic) the piano collection room which contains a number of antique pianos and other instruments, the Pytchley Room (with sporting pictures), the Ballroom, the Inner Hall, the Library and the Dining Room.
The grounds include smaller areas of formal garden, a kitchen garden, a primitive-looking replica wattle & daub cottage and a falconry.
Below the house is an interesting church, now in the care of a preservation trust.
Architect Peter Aldington designed and built three houses, The Turn, Middle Turn and Turn End in the 1960s in the village of Haddenham. Then, as now, English villages suffered from insensitive development, but Adlington set out to create a modern development that was sensitive to the village site. The three houses all have gardens, Adlington’s house Turn End having the largest garden. A number of fine trees have been preserved on the site.
The houses are the antithesis of the estate developer’s ‘box’ in their design, materials and finish, and the large Turn End garden is now widely admired. The houses are small, low and open onto internal courtyards and their gardens. The ‘plant wall’ – a kind of top-lit covered apace – is a new take on houseplants. A section of ‘witchert’ wall (non load bearing) is preserved in the house.
The houses are built mostly of blockwork, whitewashed internally (in Turn End) and the roof beams are exposed. The Town End garden is laid out in a number of sections with a variety of exotic plants.
Turn End and its garden are occasionally opened to the public and well worth a visit. When I visited in August 2018, a queue had gathered by opening time.
Compton Verney is now a rural art gallery contained in a country house. In 1711, George Verney inherited the estate and set about building the basis of the present house. It was remodeled by architect Robert Adam from 1762-1768, extensive alterations being made. Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was employed to remodel the grounds from 1789 onwards. The last Verney to live in the house sold it in 1921. Since then it has passed through various hands. During WWII it was requisitioned by the Army. After 1945 the house was never lived in again and became increasingly derelict. Eventually it was acquired for conversion into an art gallery, with a multi-million pound restoration and a new block built alongside the U-shaped mansion.
The Adam Hall is left empty and available for functions. Some ground floor rooms, used as galleries, retain original plasterwork and features (restored). The upper floors and attics have been made over as exhibition spaces. The new extension contains a café and facilities downstairs and exhibition space upstairs.
When I visited there were two special exhibitions: ‘Marvelous Mechanical Museum’ with old automata (not moving) and new automata (moving), and ‘Rodney Peppe’s World of Invention’ also with toy automata made by artist Rodney Peppe.
Mottisfont was originally an Augustinian priory. After the Dissolution the monastic buildings were largely dismantled or incorporated into a large Tudor mansion with two courtyards. Little now remains of the Tudor mansion. In the 18th century most of the Tudor buildings were demolished and a three-storey south front constructed, giving the building much of its present-day appearance. The Stables were rebuilt in 1836.
Successive owners made changes to the interior. in 1934 the house was bought by the Russells who repaired and modernised the house, changing the function and fittings of many of the rooms.
The principal rooms on the ground floor are open to visitors, and some upstairs rooms are open as exhibition spaces, and maids’ rooms can be seen on the attic level. The ground floor contains a collection of paintings, notably the Derek Hill collection. The Russells converted the original entrance hall into a grand saloon with spectacular trompe l’oeil murals by Rex Whistler.
At basement level, vaulted cellars and other features from the old priory can be seen. One cellar contains a poignant sculpture of estate workers disappearing into the wall, a reference to WWI.
Outside the house is a 20th century parterre. Further afield are a walled garden, a winter garden, the river and other features. The Trust manages an estate of over 1600 acres.
Mottisfont is well worth a visit, which could extend to over half a day.
Markers Cottage is a medieval cob house that retains many original features. Originally it had a hall open to the roof and a cross passage. Smoke blackened thatch can still be seen in the attic. A medieval wood partition has paintings on it, and upstairs a section of decorative plasterwork is preserved.
Later the cottage was given a first floor and sub-divided. The garden contains a charming cob summerhouse (a Millenium project).
The cottage is well worth a visit if you are in the area. I suggest you combine your visit with a visit to Clyston Mill in the same village of Broadclyst.
The discreet National Trust signs in the village will take you to the village car park. Look for the sign indicating how to walk to the cottage. There is no onward signage: essentially you walk to the far end of the car park, exit in the RH corner, turn left and proceed along the edge of the playing field till you reach a street with a yellow painted thatched cottage in it. You can drive to the cottage and park outside: exit the car park turning left, then right & right into Town End street. You should be able to park outside (except during the school run!).
Invitation to View
I visited Shilstone under the ‘Invitation to View’ scheme. Unusually for ITV, the visit was hosted by the Devon Rural Archive who are based in the adjoining outbuildings, and not by the house owners, the Fenwicks. Shilstone also trades as a wedding venue, so if you want exterior pictures, go to the Shilstone House website.
The Fenwicks bought a Grade II listed farmhouse on the site and rebuilt it, preserving the most intact wing and reconstructing the remainder, which was ruinous or non-existent. The result looks from the outside like a complete period building, but inside looks like a modern replica (which is what it is).
Some wings are two storey, and others (with lower ceilings) three storey, and the interiors are styled after different periods from Tudor to Georgian. There is an interior courtyard. One of the rooms contains panelling from a Jacobean house that originally stood on the site.
The Shilstone restoration may not be to everyone’s taste, but it is an impressive building.
In the Archive building is a small exhibition which includes pictures of ‘before’.
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