Wednesday, 15 May 2013

A late Elizabethan country house

It is about 20 years since we visited this glorious house, and both of us remember it well - its impact is lasting.
Montacute House was built in 1598 by Sir Edward Phelips, whose family had lived in the Montacute area since at least 1460. They were yeomen farmers before their rise in status.
Built in what came to be considered the English Renaissance style, the east front is distinguished by its Dutch gables decorated with romping stone monkeys and other animals. The windows of the second floor - the Long Gallery are divided by niches containing statues, a feature copied from the Palazzo degli Uffizi in Florence - at Montacute the figures feature the Nine Worthies. The Nine Worthies are legendary figures who personified chivalry in the Middle Ages.
The elaborate walled garden is complimented by twin garden pavilions in the far corners.
A long "cloud" clipped yew hedge
Newly restored Orangery
Coming through the main entrance door to the left you then pass through this double arched stone screen leading into the Great Hall. Made in the renaissance style, the proportion of the screen's ionic columns suggests an uncertainty of classical elements so newly introduced to England during the 16th century.
The Great Hall showing portraits of the Phelips family
At the end of the Great Hall is a rare plaster panel depicting an example of rough justice dating from 1600. On the left a henpecked husband has a drink whilst looking after the baby. His wife catches him and hits him with a shoe. A neighbour reports the incident to the village and the husband is punished by having an uncomfortable ride on a pole, whilst the locals mock him. This is known locally as the "Skimmington Ride". You can read about another Skimmington Ride in the "Mayor of Casterbridge" by Thomas Hardy.
A richly coloured stained glass window in an anti chamber off the hall showing the Phelips coat of arms.
At either end of the house are two wonderful golden stone stairways leading up through the house, both of which culminate at the top of the house in the Long Gallery. It is said that during wet weather the Phelips children would lead their ponies up these stairs to ride in the long gallery.
The Hunter - dated 1788 is one of a series of tapestries based on an earlier set woven for Louis XlV at the Gobelins factory in Paris.
Lord Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston Hall, Derby, rented Montacute in 1915 and had this secret bath installed in a wardrobe in his bedroom.
Italian Majolica dish made c 1600 depicting Bacchus in a landscape with animals and flowers - Dear Gina - took this one is for you.
Lets rest awhile and enjoy afternoon tea.
In 1823 the estate was inherited by William Phelips but eventually he became insane; an addicted gambler, and apparently incarcerated for his own good. Sadly for the family this was after he had gambled away the family fortune. In 1875 his son took control of the estate but this huge house was a drain on limited resources. Selling the family silver and art works delayed the inevitable by several years, but by 1911 the family were forced to let the house and moved out. The Phelips never returned.
Sadly there are no photographs allowed in the Long Gallery which is the longest in England. However, the Long Gallery alone is worth a visit. It is full of wonderful royal portraits from the national collection held by the National Portrait Gallery, London and on show here in partnership with the National Trust. There are more than 50 Tudor and Jacobean portraits including Henry Vlll and Elizabeth l and a fascinating series of paintings of monarchs from the late medieval period showing Richard ll, Richard lll, Henry l, Henry ll, Stephen, Edward l etc. and various courtiers.
via
Queen Elizabeth l - National Portrait Gallery
Turning off the highway, then through the iron entrance gates, in your horse and carriage......
......the house awaits you for your country weekend spent with the Phelips.......
.....enjoy your stay!

64 comments:

  1. What a splendid looking property. Next time I visit my sis in Somerset I may point her in this direction, looks like a good day out! x

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    1. You would really enjoy a visit there - both the house and the village of Montacute are lovely for a day out.

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  2. Marvellous, your photographs are beautiful as always. So many gorgeous vistas to see. I have to visit. I am penning a letter this instance to request a weekend at the Phelips residence Rosemary! Hercules is polishing the carriage and getting it ready for me as we speak.
    Paul :)

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    1. Definitely somewhere that you would enjoy Paul - I envy you your Hercules, could do with one myself.

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  3. Amazing and Wonderful place! This is the kind of buildings I enjoy to visit. I stand quite in a corner and try to record in my mind and in my soul the feeling of the house. I try to imagine how life used to be in that place, thank you Rosemary! Amazing and Wonderful place!
    Marina

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    1. Dear Marina - it is always interesting to imagine how life was then.
      The contrast between the way the landed gentry lived in the 16th century is so sophisticated, elegant, and luxurious. Especially so when compared to the peasants who lived locally who tended their lands for them, cultivated their gardens and worked in their household and kitchens.

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  4. I love this property! The era is a favourite of mine and this is such a beautiful example. I could live in one of those garden gatehouse type cottages. Please? Your photographs are wonderful. Minerva x

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    1. Yes, the garden pavillions are surprising quite large when you step inside, and what magnificent views you would have. Thank you for your comment Minerva.

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  5. Dear Rosemary,
    I enjoyed this post. It's been about six years since I was last at Montacute and I remember thinking that I could quite easily live in such a house, provided I had the money.
    Another nice place to visit is Forde Abbey which is, relatively speaking, just down the road.

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    1. Dear Kirk - if you like visiting historical houses and lovely gardens that area of Somerset is a fine location to stay for a few days, and especially so if you are a member of the National Trust. You could easily cover the annual membership fee with a few days spent in the area.
      I agree that although the house is large it is very liveable. I particularly love the stairways which must look exactly as they did when first built - no stair carpet or decorating required - just the lovely mellow stonework.

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    2. Yes we have stayed in that area before and you are right, the cost of the NT membership is easily covered after a few visits. We might be sauntering that way in the summer.

      I agree with you that that stairway is lovely: Timeless.

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  6. What a beautiful estate. I have never seen a red bath tub before this! So eccentric. It must be fun to view all those Elizabethan paintings in the Long Gallery then stroll out in the garden. Wonderful photos!

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    1. The Long Gallery is a joy to visit, and the paintings are stunning. It is so interesting to be able to get so close to the large portraits of the monarchs from long ago.

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  7. Dear Roseary, My heart took a little leap when I came to the picture of the Italian Maiolica plate. What a lovely present to wake up to this morning. Thank you for thinking of me. It is always a treat to be invited to come along with you on your sojourns. Again, your photographs are quite wonderful and taken by someone who knows how to tell the story of the place. ox, Gina

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    1. Dear Gina - as soon as I saw the plate I thought of you. Bacchus seems to resemble some of the figures you paint on your own exquisite ware.

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  8. What a treasure! As I read your post title I had to smile. Yesterday I started reading the Biography of Beth of Hardwick, whose portrait hangs in Montacute house, on permanent loan from the National Gallery. I'd never heard of the house, but the name stuck in my head and I flipped back to re-check. The portrait is one of two copies in existence and it shows Beth in her 60's. How I'd love to visit such a place!

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    1. What a coincidence - I remember the portrait she has auburn coloured hair parted in the middle and a wonderful white ruff around her neck.
      Did you visit Hardwick Hall when you were in Derbyshire?
      Montacute is really interesting and the Long Gallery with all the royal portraits is the cherry on the cake.

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    2. No, I didn't visit Montacute House - next time!......and poor Bess - I re-named her Beth!

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  9. Hello Rosemary, That orangery is quite handsome, and it looks like they are doing a superb job with the restoration, as with the rest of the house.

    I don't think I ever saw a cloud clipped hedge before; it reminds me of a close up of a stomach lining, or something seen under a microscope--very bizarre.
    --Road to Parnassus

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    1. Dear Jim - cloud cut hedging is not very common here - I have also seen it in France. This particular style of cutting hedges in clouds originates in Japan where they like shapes that resemble nature.

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    2. Hi again, Cloud shapes are also common in Chinese art, although I'm not sure about for hedges. They are usually a bit more stylized--I have a cloud-shaped pewter box somewhere; I'll have to try to dig it up.

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    3. Look forward to seeing your pewter box - it sounds attractive.

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  10. It's been a while since we visited Montacute, your beautiful photos made me want to go again.

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    1. We visited about a month ago, but there should be much more foliage and flowers around now.

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  11. Wonderful photos of a very impressive and beautiful house. I enjoyed reading about the history. I love the depiction of a Skimmington Ride, too; I remember it very clearly from the 'Mayor of Casterbridge". It shows how old this tradition was and of course Hardy's Dorset isn't far away. A lovely post.

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    1. The house is a real gem - the stonemason were so skilled in the 16th century and put so much effort into creating really interesting shapes and effects.

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  12. Tahnks for your comments on mine and explaining Bloglovin'. We visited Montacute recently but we weren't allowed in certain areas - due to renovation works. Your photos are great. When we visited there was a Bug Fest in the grounds and so there were swarms of children around the house making it difficult to take photos!
    June

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    1. Hope the information was helpful to you. We visited Montacute about a month ago, it should be looking more colourful now as the flowers were only just opening.

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  13. I would call this more a castle than a country house, it's so huge! Beautiful though and beautiful surroundings. And it has an orangerie! How I would love to have something similar. Love those garden houses at the corners of the garden as part of the wall around it you're talking about. Wasn't the waved hedge something very modern back then? Even nowadays it's still a striking sight.
    Marian

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    1. I know that the hedge was laid in the 17th century but how long it has been cut in a cloud fashion I do not know. The family had the hedge grown to shield them from the servants when they were using the garden.
      I have heard that it was given cloud clipping when it suffered severe damage one winter, but when that was or whether it is true I am not sure. It takes two gardeners 750 hours to trim it each year and the clippings fill 600 wheelbarrows which are crushed. The residue from the yew goes towards a cancer treatment.

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  14. What a treat, such a grand home! It's funny that you mentioned bringing ponies up the stairs, I was just thinking how wide and sweeping the stairway was :) These photos make me sigh at the sight of such beauty.

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    1. I love the stairway - it must look the same as it did when the stonemasons made it. It needs no adornments but has stone niches and large beautiful windows as you ascend.

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  15. Thank you once again - wonderful photos.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed seeing them Susan.

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  16. I admire the way Englishmen are taking care and preserve (and use) their inheritance.
    What a great place to spent a weekend!

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    1. Sadly that is not totally true - we have lots castles and great houses that have fallen into ruins, but on the whole there are still many thousands that are still in good order and a joy to visit.

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  17. What a magnificent Manor, the testimony of a past grandeur. Gorgeous photos of the interior that you can only admire ....and sigh :-)

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    1. Thank you Jane - the stonework at this particular house is magnificent both inside and out - the stonemason's skill at it s best.

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  18. Dear Rosemary,wonderful photos and very beautiful house!!And what a lovely place to visit!I realy enjoyed this post!Have a lovely day!
    Dimi..

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    1. Dear Dimi - it is such a long time since we last visited the house, and it was lovely to see it and enjoy it again. Thank you for your comment.

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  19. What an amazing place. How lucky you are to be able to visit such properties....and share them with those of us who may never get to see them!

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    1. Dear sanda - I am pleased that you enjoyed seeing the house and grounds.

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  20. One of our favourite houses! We visited just a couple of weeks ago, although didn't venture into the house this time. We occasionally walk from home and just sit awhile in the gardens. M x

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    1. Dear Marina - I expect that you found the gardens much more floriferous than when we visited. You have a good selection of NT properties in your area.

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  21. Dear Rosemary,

    I've always enjoyed the rather quirky English Renaissance style, which I've perceived as playful and inventive. There are so many things to comment on about this great tour, but I'll just say thank you for introducing me to the cloud style of hedge clipping. I'm guessing that it works best with a very big and long hedge.

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    1. The only other cloud style hedge I have seen over here is one in Wales at a place called Powys Castle and that one even has a tunnel going through it which is great fun. If you are interested to see it try here:-

      http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:'Cloud-Clipped'_Yew_Hedge_at_Powys_Castle_-_geograph.org.uk_-_923582.jpg

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  22. A beautiful place to visit. Thanks for sharing.
    Have a wonderful evening.

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    1. It is a long time since we visited here but because it has so much interesting stonework and beautifully laid out grounds it is a memorable place.

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  23. What an impressive place this is Rosemary. I have never been there, but due to it's history and impressive gardens it is high on my wish list. I enjoyed your photo's and story very much!

    Have a lovely evening!

    Madelief x

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    1. Dear Madelief - I do hope that you will have the opportunity to visit for yourself one day. The area is good for visiting as there are a lot of properties belonging to the National Trust, and it is not too far to go on and see the wonderful gardens in Devon and may be even Cornwall.

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  24. Such a stunning house! I love that moss wall. The house is like taken from English television series. Happy weekend, Rosemary!

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    1. Dear Satu - there are many period houses in the UK and you are right they often do feature in TV series. Although it does look like moss on a wall - it is actually a yew hedge that has been clipped in that fashion. It is quite unusual. Hope all is well in your lovely garden.

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  25. A lovely stately old home. The secret bath made me laugh :)

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    1. I wondered if the bath might be one of the first ensuites?

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  26. Thank you for the tour of Montacute House. It would be worth going to visit just to see the Long Gallery and the royal portraits from the National Portrait Gallery collection. The impressive old yew tree hedge, the period stonework architectural features etc. would also interest me as well as the story of the residents through the centuries.

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    1. You are correct Linda the Long Gallery is well worth the trip to the house anyway. Everyone visiting seemed to be enthralled with the paintings, even young children who were given quiz sheets to find and recognise different items in the paintings.



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  27. Rosemary, your words and images present this visit so very well that I feel as though I was at Montacute with you. What a magnificent house - architecture, furnishings and surroundings. It must have been heartbreaking for the family to have had to leave it in such an ignominious way.

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    1. Dear Perpetua - it is such a beautiful house and nestles perfectly in the Somerset countryside. Glad that you enjoyed the post - thank you very much for your kind comment.

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  28. Thank you for this thoroughly tour of Montacute House, rosemary. I know how the impact you got on your first visit lasted long. Each place is so impressive and one of my favorites is the golden stone staircase. I always wonder what is at the end of the steps. I’ll have lasting impression of this site, too.

    Yoko

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    1. Dear Yoko - I am so happy that you enjoyed the post - thank you very much.
      The simplicity of the stairway, their width and beautiful stonework are what pleased me. They end at the top of the house with the Long Gallery where due to the huge collection of royal portraits, photography was not allowed. However, the National Trust are very generous these days in the way they do allow you to photograph rooms and treasures which they didn't used to.
      It would be lovely if one day you had the opportunity to visit yourself.

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  29. This is one of our favourite locations to visit too. We try to attend the farmers market here at least once a year. I enjoyed revisiting the house with you.
    Sarah x

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    1. Dear Sarah - if we lived nearer we would visit more often too - it is such a charming house, I love all the carved stonework. I bet that the Farmers Market is good and has lots of interesting produce for sale.

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  30. So many wonderful memories of our visit last year. Thank you!

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    1. Dear Nilly - great that this reminded you of your own visit to the house. I really feel that we should try and visit again during a different season. When we visited a month ago the flowers were really only just beginning to show.

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