Archive for the ‘Great English Country Houses’ Category


Haddon Hall is considered to be the finest example of a fortified medieval manor house in England. It dates back to the 12th century and was begun by Peveril, the illegitimate son of William the Conqueror. The manor was forfeited to the Crown in 1153, later passing to one of Peveril’s tenants, William Avenal. It was then acquired by Richard Vernon in 1170, who married Avenal’s daughter. The Vernon family were responsible for most of the building at Haddon Hall, with the exception of Peveril Tower and part of the chapel, which already existed in 1170, and the Long Gallery which was added around 1600. It’s interesting to note that the manor was never bought or sold.

In 1563 Dorothy Vernon, heir to the manor, married (or according to local legend – eloped with) John Manners and the manor has been in the Manners’ family ever since. On becoming the Earls, and later the Dukes of Rutland, they moved to their main seat at Belvoir Castle and Haddon was little used  during the 18th and 19th centuries. As a consequence, it remained virtually unaltered from the 16th century until the 9th Duke of Rutland moved there in 1912 and began restoration work on the manor.

The house is beautifully situated on a wooded crag overlooking the River Wye and the entrance is through a weathered grey stone gatehouse guarded by an imposing tower.

The Gatehouse and tower

The courtyard retains its medieval look with gargoyles and crenelated walls.

Gargoyle in the courtyard

To the right of the courtyard is the chapel which has remained virtually unchanged since medieval times. The beautiful carved alabaster reredos and pre-Reformation frescos were for centuries hidden beneath whitewashed walls.


The wonderfully carved and painted reredos behind the altar



The Great Hall/Banqueting Hall, dating from 1370, has richly panelled walls and a timber framed roof (a 20th century replacement of the original, constructed with timbers from the Haddon and Belvoir estates). The original table and bench stand on a raised dais, and a 15th century French tapestry hangs on a wall – a gift from King Henry VIII. The minstrels’ gallery was added in the 16th century.

The dining room was created in about 1500 by Henry Vernon, and panelled in 1545, resulting in a perfect Tudor room. The ceiling is plaster, painted with the Tudor Rose and Talbot Dogs, the emblem of Anne Talbot, the wife of Henry Vernon. The panelling shows the Boar’s Head Crest and armourial shields of many generations of the Vernon family. The table is a 20th century copy of the ancient table in the Great Hall.


The finest room is the oak and walnut panelled Long Gallery (110 feet long) built around 1600. It served several purposes – entertaining guests, taking exercise in the form of walking when the weather was inclement, and  displaying art collections.

A painting of the Long Gallery by artist Joseph Nash (1808-1878)

At the end of the gallery are steps leading out into the garden and down to the River Wye. It’s from these very steps that Dorothy Vernon is said to have eloped with her lover John Manners in 1558.



Haddon Hall is set within acres of manicured Elizabethan terraced gardens and is
believed to be one of the most romantic gardens in Britain.

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R&R - Berrington Hall

The History

Thomas Harley, a banker and government contractor in London, made a fortune from the lucrative contracts enabling him to retire in his mid-forties. He was keen to retire to the country and, as his family had always had links with Herefordshire, he bought the Berrington Estate in 1775. Harley commissioned the renowned ‘Capability’ Brown to lay out the park and gardens with sweeping views west towards Wales and the Black Mountains. Later in 1778, Harley commissioned Henry Holland, ‘Capability’ Brown’s son-in-law, to design a new house for him in the popular neo-classical style using the finest London craftsmen. The house was completed in 1783. In 1781, Harley’s daughter, Anne, married the son of the great naval commander, Admiral Lord Rodney. When Harley died in 1804, with no male heir, the Berrington Estate passed to the Rodney family.The family lived there for the next 95 years until George, the 7th Lord Rodney, gambled away the assets and was forced to sell the estate in 1901.

The estate was purchased by Frederick Cawley, a wealthy Lancashire businessman, who redecorated the house sympathetically, leaving Holland’s original design intact. However, it was handed over to The National Trust in 1957 in part payment for death duties for the second Lord Cawley. The last member of the Cawley family to live at Berrington Hall was Lady Cawley, who died in 1978 at the grand age of 100.

The House

The red sandstone exterior presents a plain exterior with little adornment but the interior is richly decorated with wonderful painted ceilings and ornate plasterwork. Over the years, much of the original contents had been sold off. However, the National Trust was able to furnish the house with the Elmar Digby collection of 18th century French furniture, clocks and works of art, which had been bequeathed to the Trust in 1981.

The Drawing Room

The Dining Room

The Library

The Staircase Hall

The Marble Hall

Lady Cawley’s Room at Berrington Hall was used by her as a
sitting room until her death in 1978

The ‘below stairs’ areas and servants’ quarters include a Victorian laundry, Butler’s Pantry and Georgian Dairy.

The Parkland and Gardens

There are some 456 acres of parkland and gardens and this was the last major garden designed by ‘Capability’ Brown. There are three way-marked paths through the parkland with views over the beautiful surrounding Herefordshire countryside.

There is a walled garden, originally the kitchen garden, which contains rare species of old fruit trees including apple, plum and cherry, and a woodland garden including a large collection of azaleas and rhododendrons.

The Walled Garden

Berrington Pool, a lake created entirely by hand,  covers 14 acres in area, and lies at the foot of a sloping hill that extends to the very steps of the house.

Berrington Pool


For more information about visiting Berrington Hall click on the link below:



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Charlecote Park is a magnificent Tudor mansion, surrounded by its own deer park, on the banks of the River Avon near Wellesbourne, Warwickshire, England. The Grade I listed building has been administered by the National Trust since 1946 and is open to the public.

The Lucy family came to England as supporters of William the Conqueror and the family has owned the land at Charlecote since 1247. Sir Thomas Lucy (1532-1600) the builder of the current house was a magistrate under Elizabeth I. In the course of his duties he was responsible for prosecuting local families with Catholic sympathies, including the Arden family, William Shakespeare’s maternal grandparents.

Tradition says that William Shakespeare was once caught poaching deer on the Charlecote Estate. This tale may well be true, as the estate lies close to Shakespeare’s family home at Stratford-upon-Avon. The story goes that Shakespeare was forced to flee the area to avoid prosecution by Sir Thomas. The young playwright escaped to London, and the rest, as they say, is history. Shakespeare satirised Lucy by casting him as Justice Shallow in The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry VI, part 2.

Although the general outline of the Elizabethan house remains, today it is in fact mostly Victorian. Successive generations of the Lucy family modified Charlecote Park over the centuries, but in 1823, George Hammond Lucy (High Sheriff of Warwickshire in 1831) inherited the house and set about recreating the house in its original style.

In the middle of the 19th century the Fairfax Baronets inherited the property when the male line of the Lucy family ended with the death of Henry Spencer Lucy. The baronets changed their family name to Lucy to reflect the traditions of Charlecote.

The house is approached through a long path that leads under the original two-storey Elizabethan gatehouse which remains unaltered.

The Elizabethan Gatehouse

Behind the house is a small formal garden terrace, beyond which is a large deer park designed by Capability Brown around 1760, where a herd of deer still roam.

Formal Garden Terrace

Queen Elizabeth I is known to have visited the house, and stayed in the chamber that now serves as the drawing room.

Drawing Room

The Great Hall has a barrel-vaulted ceiling made of plaster painted to look like timber and is a fine setting for the splendid collection of family portraits. Other rooms have richly coloured wallpaper, decorated plaster ceilings and wood panelling. There are magnificent pieces of furniture and fine works of art, including a contemporary painting of Queen Elizabeth I.

The Great Hall

The Library – the Greek vases high above the books date from the 6th century BC and were acquired by the Lucy family in the 1830s.

The house also has a display of carriages, a period laundry and brewroom and in April 2012 Charlecote Park featured as the venue for BBC1’s Antiques Roadshow.

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R&R - Burghley House

Burghley House is one of the foremost Elizabethan houses in England. It was built between 1558 and 1587 for Sir William Cecil (1520-1598), later 1st Baron Burghley, who was chief advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. He was the most powerful man in the kingdom and Burghley House was an expression of that power and wealth that went with his position.

William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley

It was subsequently the residence of his descendants who became the Earls and Marquesses of Exeter. The House remained in the hands of the Cecil family until 1961 when it passed to a charitable trust, although the family continue to live there.

The gardens and 2,000 acre parkland were largely designed by ‘Capability’ Brown in the 18th century.

The Interior

R&R - Burghley House - the Bow Room
The Bow Room

R&R - Burghley House - Queen Elizabeth's Bedroom
Queen Elizabeth’s Bedroom which houses a 17th century state bed


R&R - Burghley House - Blue Silk Bedroom
Blue Silk Bedroom which contains an ornate set of marquetry furniture made for Louis XIV of France

R&R - Burghley House - Black and Yellow Bedroom
The Black and Yellow Bedroom

R&R - Burghley House - the  Great Hall
The Great Hall

R&R - Burghley House - The Third George Room
The Third George Room

R&R - Burghley House - The Heaven Room
The Heaven Room is a stunning room, with floor to ceiling frescos of a mythical heavenly scene full of gods, goddesses, angels and cherubs. This and other rooms were painted by Antonio Verio (1639-1707) who included several likenesses of himself in the paintings!

R&R - Burghley House -The Hell Staircase
The Hell Staircase which represents a stark contrast to The Heaven Room, with a gigantic painted cat on the ceiling opening its jaws to Hell

The Gardens

R&R - Burghley House - Gardens 1

R&R - Burghley House - Gardens 2

Burghley House was the location chosen to represent Rosings, Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s home in the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. The Heaven Room was the setting for the drawing-room at Rosings and it is where Keira Knightley was seen playing the piano in the film.

R&R - Burghley House - Keira Knightley

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Longleat House today

Longleat House is set in 9,000 acres of rolling countryside, just a few miles from the Wiltshire market town of Warminster.

The estate consists of 4,000 acres of farmland, 4,000 acres of woodland, which includes a Center Parcs holiday park, and a further 1,000 acres of ‘Capability Brown’ landscaped gardens. It is regarded as one of the finest examples of Elizabethan architecture in Britain.

Currently the seat of the Marquesses of Bath, it has been in the Thynn family since the 16th century. The present incumbent is Alexander Thynn, 7th Marquess of Bath but, early in 2010, he passed the management of the estate to his son, Viscount Weymouth.

Longleat stands on the site of an Augustine priory which was dissolved during Henry VIII’s reign. In 1540, Sir John Thynn(e), the 1st Marquess of Bath and a former employee of Henry VIII, purchased the priory ruins for £53 and had a house built on the site. When, in 1567, this house was destroyed by fire, Sir John bought a quarry of Bath stone and rebuilt it. The new house took 12 years to build and was completed shortly before his death.

A View of Longleat by Jan Siberechts, 1675

Though the exterior retains its exquisite Tudor façade, the interior has been greatly altered to reflect the changing dictates of comfort and fashion.

The great hall still has its hammer beam roof and carved fireplace but the rest of the furnishings are Victorian. Much of the interior decoration is in the opulent Italian style, modelled after estates in Venice and Genoa.

There are superb Flemish tapestries, beautiful period furniture and fine art, dating back as far as the 16th century, hangs on the lavishly decorated walls.

The original long gallery (90 feet long) has been converted into a saloon. Family portraits in the great hall trace the Thynn family back to Tudor times, and more modern murals by the 7th Marquis are on display in the West Wing.

In 1949, Longleat became the first stately home to open to the public and Longleat Safari Park opened in 1966, as the first drive through safari park outside Africa. It is currently home to over five hundred animals, including giraffes, monkeys, rhinos, lions, tigers, cheetahs and wolves.

The Interior 

The Great Hall is the last fully Elizabethan room and, at one time, it was the heart of the house.

The Lower Dining Room is hung with family portraits

The Saloon, originally the Long Gallery

The Grand Staircase – A Gothic Revival Addition

The Gardens 

Longleat House presents an impressive facade, surrounded by formal gardens and parkland.

A general view

The Maze

The Safari Park 

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Renishaw Hall

The Sitwell family, who accumulated their fortune as colliery owners and ironmasters between the 17th and 20th centuries, have lived at Renishaw Hall for over 360 years.

The house was originally built in 1625 and, between 1800 and 1808, was greatly extended and improved by Sir Sitwell Sitwell (1769-1811) (that really was his name) who had inherited the property in 1793. He was Member of Parliament for West Looe from 1796 to 1802 and, in 1808, he was created 1st Baronet, of Renishaw in the County of Derby.

Renishaw Hall before the extensions and improvements

Further alterations were made in 1908 by the renowned architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens.

When Alexandra Sitwell, the current owner, inherited the house in 2009, the house and estate were separated from the Renishaw Baronetcy for the first time in the family’s history. The Baronetcy passed to Sir George Sitwell who lives at Weston Hall, Towcester.

Alexandra Sitwell

The Sitwells have always been avid collectors and patrons of the arts and the history of the family is filled with writers, innovators and eccentrics, notably the famous literary trio, Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell (Alexandra’s father) Sitwell. They were patrons of the arts and played a significant part in the artistic and literary world at the beginning of the 20th century. The hall contains spectacular collections of art and furniture collected by generations of the Sitwells.

Inside the Hall

Drawing Room

Dining Room

Ballroom containing Italian pieces 

Ornate Furniture

The eight-acre classical Italianate gardens, designed by Sir George Sitwell (1860–1943), were laid out over 100 years ago. They are among the most beautiful in the country with ornamental ponds, a spectacular fountain, several secret garden rooms and classical statutes. In early spring, there is a wonderful display of bluebells in the ancient woods and rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias follow in the year in the woodland garden.

Renishaw Hall Gardens

The spectacular fountain

Classical statue

Bluebells in the ancient woods

Secret garden rooms (areas of the garden divided into ‘rooms’ by tall yew hedges…definitely ideal for illicit assignations).

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Sandringham House

When Edward, Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) reached the age of 21 in the spring of 1862, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert decided that he should move from the family home to a house of his own. Although Marlborough House in London was his principal residence, his parents felt he needed a private house well away from town so that he could escape when duty permitted and enjoy the benefits of a healthy country life.

Among the properties inspected was Sandringham House with its estate of 2,800 hectares. The house, a plain Georgian structure with a white stucco exterior, had been built in the second half of the 18th century and was owned by Charles Spencer Cowper, stepson of Viscount Palmerston, the then Prime Minister. The Prince of Wales paid a visit to Sandringham which was considered to be most suitable and the purchase was concluded within a few days.

The old Sandringham House

The Prince made the old house habitable and moved in with his new wife, Princess Alexandra of Denmark, three weeks after their marriage in 1863. However, it was soon apparent that the old house was too cramped for the Prince’s growing family and it was demolished to make way for a new house, the current Sandringham House. The main house was completed in 1870; a ballroom was added in 1881 and a new guest accommodation wing in the 1890s.

The House has been passed down as a private home through four generations of British monarchs and is now the country retreat of Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh. In comparison to other Royal residences, it is not at all grandiose, just the opposite in fact. The rooms are quite charming and inviting. This is probably why Sandringham was once described as “The most comfortable house in England”.

The drawing room

The Queen’s Dining Room

The Library

The ground floors, which are regularly used by the Royal family when at Sandringham, are open to the public. These rooms contain art objects, notably ceramics, collected by the Royal family over the years, and many portraits of past and current royals line the walls.

Her Majesty the Queen opened the House to the public in her Silver Jubilee year, 1977.

Sandringham Gardens

Sandringham House is set in 24 hectares of glorious gardens, perhaps the finest of all the Royal gardens. There is a wide variety of trees, shrubs and flowering plants, which combined with a lake and a gently flowing stream, set off the house beautifully. The gardens were first opened to the public by King Edward VII in 1908.

Sandringham Country Park

In 1968 an area of 142 hectares of The Queen’s private Estate at Sandringham was designated a Country Park. It is planted with a mixture of evergreen and deciduous trees, mainly Corsican and Scots pine mixed with oak, sweet chestnut and birch, which support an abundance of animals, birds and plants.

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I know exactly what you are thinking. That is not my idea of a Great English Country House! But this unprepossessing house played a major role in the course British history.

Charles Stuart (the future Charles II)

In 1651, two years after the execution of his father Charles 1, the 21 year old Charles Stuart sailed from France and landed in Scotland. After raising an army there, he marched south to defeat Cromwell’s Commonwealth Army and restore the monarchy.

The armies met at the Royalist town of Worcester but Charles suffered a terrible defeat leaving hundreds of his forces either dead or wounded. Charles and a number of his closest supporters managed to escape and made the perilous journey north to seek shelter and assistance at the royalist safe houses of Whiteladies Priory and Boscobel House , situated deep in Brewood Forest on the borders of Shropshire and Staffordshire.

A ‘Wanted’ proclamation issued by Parliament for the capture of Charles Stuart

A reward of £1,000 (a huge sum in the 17th century) was offered for the capture of the fugitive Charles and it would have meant the death sentence for anyone found to be assisting him. At 6’ 2″ (the average male height was 5’ 6” then), with a swarthy complexion and long black curly hair, he would hardly have blended into the background!

Avoiding the Parliamentary patrols, he finally arrived at Boscobel House. An attempt to cross the River Severn into Wales was thwarted as the crossing was heavily guarded by the Parliamentarians. So he was forced to return to Boscobel House where he narrowly avoided capture by hiding with a companion in the thick, leafy branches of an oak tree while soldiers searched the woods below him. The tree became famous as The Royal Oak.

The current Royal Oak grew from one of the original’s acorns

Once the soldiers had gone, Charles returned to the house and spent the night in a priest’s hole in the attic.

It must have been a tight squeeze for the 6′ 2″ Charles!

Disguised and travelling from one safe house to another, Charles eventually made his way to the coast and finally escaped to France. He remained in exile until 1660 when he was restored to the throne.

I think Boscobel House deserves a place among my Great English Country Houses. But for the events that occurred there, British history could have been very different. No Diamond Jubilee! No Royal Wedding! No Royal Baby !

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