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The Present Past: Virginia Woolf’s Monk’s House

A photograph of Virginia Woolf's living room

Monk’s House, in the village of Rodmell, near Lewes, in East Sussex, was Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s home for a few decades; they bought the house in 1919, a quick purchase after having previously bought a windmill a short distance away – the two preferred the Rodmell home so they moved in. Wikipedia dates the cottage to both the 1500s and the 1700s – the latter seems more likely, but regardless, it was altered during the Woolfs’ time. They bought some of the surrounding land. Virginia had an extension built for a bedroom and later a writing lodge. After the author’s death, Leonard remained at the House, often joined by Trekkie Parsons, a married artist who is believed to have been his chaste lover. Following Leonard’s death, Trekkie sold the house to Sussex University in 1972 and the National Trust bought it in 1980, turning it into the museum you see today.

A photograph of the front door of Monk's House

Arriving at Monk’s House, a white-washed half-hidden cottage down a gorgeous English country road, you find a space in the small car park and walk back to the entrance. The National Trust has set up their ticket office and shop in Leonard Woolf’s garage; the door-to-street environment, so different a choice to every other Trust property I’ve visited, gives you your first glimpse of what you’re about to experience. Once you’ve purchased your ticket, you exit back onto the road and head for the front garden gate. You pass the front door, surrounded by overgrown plants (another hint) and continue to the back garden, past the greenhouse which is effectively also a conservatory.

A photograph of the conservatory/greenhouse at Monk's House

And there you are. The door to the house is in the greenhouse, and in front of you stretches a number of small garden areas which, if you visit during the hotter months (there’s likely also some overgrowth in autumn) cover… everywhere. The Trust have kept the property close to the way it was when Virginia and Leonard owned it, and they have let the laid-back atmosphere remain. At Monk’s House you can sit in the garden, lay on the lawn, play bowls, relax on a bench, have a picnic, and take your time. The House itself, its rooms very small, is limited to a certain number of people at any one time so that you can properly enjoy it, and even when busy remains a casual experience. I’ll start with the House.

A photograph of Monk's House dining room

You walk in through the greenhouse door into what is now the dining room; its function changed from bedroom to dining room when Virginia extended the house. A staircase directly to your right holds books; it’s closed off, likely due to space. Presumably the first floor holds the room that was Leonard’s – certainly there is a balcony on which the Trust have placed deck chairs and a few other windows. The dining table is roped off because the furniture is at least partly original – the decoration on the chairs was created by Virginia’s sister, the artist Vanessa Bell. The painting of Leonard you see to the left was done by Trekkie Parsons. To the right, not pictured, is Vanessa Bell’s famous painting of Virginia. The room also houses Leonard’s bowling balls.

A photograph of the fireplace in Virginia Woolf's living room

To the left of the dining room is the living room, shown in the opening photograph to this post. The fireplace above is the other end of the room. You can probably tell from these just how small the house is. Due to the smallness I didn’t take a photograph of the kitchen, which is at the far right side of the dining room. It’s tiny; it holds a dresser and a cupboard that was painted by Trekkie (the Trust says whilst she was waiting for food to boil), and a few other kitchen items.

A photograph of Virginia Woolf's bedroom

From the kitchen you return outside. Then you take a left turn into the extension built to house Virginia’s bedroom. The author had this room built so that she had a place to write, and it’s indeed inspiring, light shining through the windows, the walls painted a bright colour. On the shelves stand her self-bound volumes of Shakespeare. Virginia soon found that the bedroom wasn’t quite what she was after in terms of her concept of a room of one’s own, and so she and Leonard built a writing lodge.

A photograph of the view from Virginia Woolf's bedroom door

This is the view that awaits you as you turn to leave the room. I couldn’t not include it.

A photograph of the purposefully-overgrown gardens

Here’s the view from further right. It’s hard not to fall in love with this place. If you’ve ever seen the garden that inspired Frances Hodgson Burnett you’ll know that it was quite average apart from its walls. I can’t help but wonder if Virginia and Leonard decided to create their own homage to the book.

A photograph of flowers in the garden at Monk's House - red flowers are in focus against a background of greenery and purple flowers

Leonard was the gardener of the pair and he designed the space to be atmospheric and inspiring. The garden to the right of the greenhouse, the first garden you see as you step onto the property, contains a sunken pond (photo below this post). The path shown just above, purposefully overgrown, that’s parallel to the one from the bedroom door, takes you to a few side-by-side flower gardens which continue on to a couple of lawns, one which holds the burial places of the couple’s ashes.

A photograph of Leonard's burial site

Virginia’s spot has a similar plaque and bust to Leonard’s; there was a group picnicking beside it so I didn’t take a photograph, but you can just about see the plaque at the right edge of the photograph. The burial spots were chosen for their elm trees, which have unfortunately both since died; Leonard’s was blown over in the wind, Virginia’s had problems with mold.

A photograph of the writing lodge

As you move on further, part of the garden opens into a wild area where the Trust have a shed and green house they use for upkeep. The village church is this garden’s neighbour. Beyond that is Virginia’s writing lodge. The lodge has been split into two sections via a windowed wall, allowing you to see the room as it might have been set up whilst not having to worry about knocking things over. The section in which you stand has a collage of copies of A Room Of One’s Own on the wall, different covers and pages from many different languages. According to my research, the fairly tidy desk is fantasy; Virginia kept her space less organised. It was here she wrote almost all her novels. (You can find a photograph of the outside of the lodge at the bottom of this post.)

A photograph of the lawn at Monk's House

Out of the door and to the other side is the lawn on which the Woolfs invited their friends to play bowls; the view is stunning; it’s easy to see why it was so favoured. On this lawn is also a pond, currently the host to water-boatmen, dragonflies, water fleas, and lotus flowers. On one side of the lawn, near the lodge, is the allotment. The other side takes you back to the House, your longer-than-it-first-seemed walk around now complete.

A photograph of the wild(er) garden at Monk's House

Whilst I may have visited on a glorious day, I would say that you could visit whatever the weather or season (besides winter when the property is closed for all-round maintenance) and enjoy yourself. The experience of the place is such that it’s going to inspire you no matter what.

The rest of my photos

A photograph of the writing lodge - exterior

A photograph of peach and purple coloured flowers in the gardens

A photograph of the orchard

A photograph of a red and yellow flower in the far garden

A photograph of an in-progress flower border. There's a wooden wheelbarrow and seedlings in pots as well as a piece of slate which reads, in chalk, 'We are reinstating this long border which Virginia Woolf described as burning and blazing. Pop back to see progress

A photograph of the first garden you come to once through the gate - the sunken pond with statues around it. Neighbouring houses can be seen over the fence

A photograph of Leonard's garage

A photograph of the inner staircase

The Present Past: Hardy’s Cottage, And Max Gate

A photograph of Hardy's Cottage

Hardy lived all his life near Dorchester, Dorset (the east end of the west side of England, 30 minutes to the coast by car). He was born in a tiny leasehold cottage where he lived with his many siblings – in a few rooms before the place was later extended in order to house his grandmother. He stayed in the cottage until he married, writing his first novels there before designing and having his father and brother build Max Gate, 10 minutes (by car) from the cottage, where he lived with his wife, Emma.

Today, due to the short travelling distance between the homes, you can visit both within a few hours, or, if you’re like me and have made an appointment elsewhere for mid afternoon, you can see both houses within the space of 45 minutes. I don’t really recommend rushing it as I did – you’ll miss the cemetery wherein lies Hardy’s family – but if you don’t have much time, the houses are small enough that you can rush it and tick another two items off your list.

A photograph of Max Gate

Both houses are owned by the National Trust; Hardy’s youngest sister, Kate, enabled the Trust to take over one, and actively handed the other over to them so that they could be looked after. Neither home sports any of its original furniture, whether Hardy’s or otherwise; the cottage was handed back to the council in the interim of the Hardy’s time there, and Max Gate was bought by someone else. This means that there is an unfortunate lack of authenticity about the buildings, but due to this the National Trust have kitted them out with furniture that you can sit on, and at Max Gate the kitchen is a self-serve cafe – you can take your food through the house and into the garden (seeing someone carrying a tea tray through the hallway took some getting used to!)

So you may not find Hardy here, exactly, but if you want to sit in the place in which he sat and look at the gardens he would have seen when he looked up from his work, you can.

A photograph of the parlour at Hardy's Cottage

Hardy’s Cottage is an idyllic place – a traditional thatched cottage with a traditional English country garden. The original building consisted of just two rooms downstairs – the window in the parlour (behind me as I took the photograph) was where the door used to be, and the tiny room to the side, now laid out as a study. The porch and room now laid out as a kitchen, to the right as you come in, as well as another room beyond that looked to be in use as an office by Trust staff, was the extension added on later. Given how small the cottage is, that it was originally even smaller was a shock.

A photograph the kitchen at Hardy's Cottage

Only a small number of people are allowed upstairs at once, and the reason is obvious as soon as you start to ascend the stairs – the steps a narrow, many are slanted, and the linear layout of the three bedrooms leave little room to move. (There is another staircase at the end of the run of rooms but for whatever reason they are roped off.)

A photograph of a bedroom at Hardy's Cottage

It’s not known for definite which room was Hardy’s but the Trust has made a good guess and planted a writing desk in the last. What we do know is that whichever room he chose to write in, he would have looked out onto the garden. Here he wrote Under The Greenwood Tree and Far From The Madding Crowd, and also The Poor Man And The Lady – his very first novel, which he destroyed towards the end of his life.

A photograph the children's bedroom at Hardy's Cottage

Hardy met Emma Gifford whilst on an architectural mission to restore the parish church of St Juliot in Cornwall (Gibson 1975), fell in love, and married her. According to a few volunteers at both the Cottage and Max Gate, Emma viewed herself as higher class than Hardy (factually correct – he had grown up poor and her family had had money) so whilst the relationship began well, the couple’s time together soon became emotionally distant. Although Hardy was by then a very popular writer and able to design and have built a house of their own, Emma’s distaste grew and she spent more and more of her time away from him, finally retreating into the two attic rooms except for dinnertime. She is now considered to have suffered from a mental illness. When she died, Hardy was distraught – suddenly he missed her, having got used to the distance – and whilst he married the lady he had been seeing (Florence Dugdale) he didn’t stop writing about Emma nor, as a volunteer told me, did he stop visiting Emma’s family. This naturally resulted in his second marriage becoming strained.

A photograph of the upper hallway at Max Gate

Max Gate is a stunning place. The outside is pretty grand in terms of size but once inside it’s rather like a homecoming – if you’ve ever been into a modest English house built in the Victorian period, or even just a fairly large house from the early to mid 20th century, you’ll likely find Max Gate to be a bit like ‘coming home’. It is very much a bog standard home – walking around it feels so normal it’s almost as if you’re looking at it from the perspective of moving in.

A photograph of the dining room at Max Gate

The house doesn’t have all that many windows, and the long-ish corridors mean it can be difficult to see, certainly it’s hard to take good photographs! The decor in the hallways is dark and gloomy, and who knows what Hardy’s original design choices were, but the current one is very Victorian.

The dining room is set up on to the left of the entrance hall (I didn’t get a photo of it because that’s where people mill around and where the till is, but it’s gorgeous in a historical way, all dark greens and wood). Yeats, Rudyard Kipling, J M Barrie, all came to dine here on various occasions. The dining room was extended after it’s original build – the addition is to the far end, shown by the frame that goes round it.

A photograph of the drawing room at Max Gate

To the right of the entrance hall is the drawing room, packed with furniture and leading invitingly to the conservatory which is the sort of size conservatory we’d nowadays more likely turn into a utility room. Copies of literary magazines are spread over the table and a lovely little upright piano stands behind the door ready for visitors to play.

The hallway past the stairs leads to another that the Trust use as the public toilet – it’s a single room with a shower, which completes that feeling of mooching around someone’s house – and the kitchen from which you can serve yourself coffee and scones.

A photograph of the dressing room/study at Max Gate

Back to the entrance and up the stairs, left takes you to Hardy’s dressing room/first study – a wonderfully light room – and his bedroom (not pictured – a couple of visitors had taken the ‘sit down wherever you want’ directive to heart and were reading by the window… I may still be envious of their time).

A photograph of the second study at Max Gate

Back across the hallway and you reach the second bedroom/study, a room with one window facing trees that I couldn’t wait to leave. The space you see in the photo is over half the room. It’s evident that Hardy wanted more light – there’s an alcove with windows on either side – but it wasn’t happening.

A photograph of the third study at Max Gate

Walking out of the study and into Hardy’s writing room is like day and night. The room is sumptuous, with a large desk in the place he surely set up his own. It looks out onto the back garden (there are two – there’s also one to the side of the house, beyond the conservatory) and the amount of light the windows let in must have aided Hardy a great deal. It was another part of the extension, effectively his third study.

A photograph of Emma's attic sitting room at Max Gate

Emma’s attic rooms are accessed by a narrow staircase between the two studies that goes up to a big window ledge before the last step. It’s dark and dingy, more so than the rest of the house and I think that even if it weren’t for the story about Emma’s seclusion here, it would still feel… horrible. Being there reminded me of how I’d felt walking round the Bronte Parsonage when I was far too young to know what it was all about, and noting only how dark and spooky it was. I couldn’t help but feel a true connection existed – Emma was, in historical terms, quite literally the ‘mad woman in the attic’. You would think she had been sent to live up here by her family rather than made the decision herself.

A photograph of Emma's attic bedroom at Max Gate

In the second room a typewriter has been set up, along with a copy of her poetry. Her picture is everywhere; whether true to Hardy’s choices or not it is an apt representation of the way Emma must have haunted the house, her shadow hanging over Hardy and Florence.

I was unable to properly visit the garden and so missed the grave of Hardy’s dog, Wessex, spending a while in conversation with a volunteer whose knowledge I have used in this blog – a lot of what I’ve written about Emma Gifford is thanks to him, and the information about Hardy’s life before marriage is thanks to the volunteer at the Cottage.

A photograph of a hallway at Max Gate

As said, there is a feeling of something missing in these homes; that’s because if the National Trust made it all original you’d be walking round empty rooms; but if you visit both on the same day and add on a trip to the churchyard, it’s time well spent. If you go on the ‘right’ day, you could also fit in a visit to Virginia Woolf’s house.

What you do get from Hardy’s houses is a journey through a life, from relative poverty to fame and relative wealth, and you get a working knowledge of Hardy’s architectural knowledge that you would miss out on otherwise. And it just stands out from other historical houses, its relative modernity being pretty special.

For what it is, it’s expensive, but at the same time it’d be hard to say it isn’t worth it.

The rest of my photos – Hardy’s Cottage

A photograph the 'study' at Hardy's Cottage

A photograph the garden shed at Hardy's Cottage

The rest of my photos – Max Gate

A photograph of a hallway at Max Gate

A photograph of the bathroom at Max Gate

Book References

Gibson, James (ed.) (1975) Chosen Poems of Thomas Hardy, Macmillan Education, London, p.9

The Present Past: Lydiard Park

Lydiard Manor

Lydiard Park is a large estate in Swindon. Now owned by the local council, only some of the building is accessible to the public as the first floor and some parts of the ground floor are used as meeting rooms and for other council purposes, but the medieval church and the grounds are free to roam, and there is a cafe and walled garden, so all in all it constitutes a good casual day out – a fair length of time if you want to see it all, and a couple of hours if it’s your local park and you want to take the dog for a walk.

Lydiard Manor

Presumably due to the house being mostly council space, the accessible ground floor sports all kinds of rooms. You start in the side corridor rather than at the front of the house, as you do in many others, pay for entry, and walk into a large hallway/receiving hall space. The house was sold by the original owners to the council unfurnished – it had been the in the same family since the medieval period – so the furniture has been collected. It’s been done very well; the rooms are well decorated and there are plenty of paintings on the walls.

Lydiard Manor

The dining room is small, but the living rooms are large and there is a lot to see if you like to look at old items close up. The ‘state bedroom’ is pretty special, so too the blue room at the end that was likely a chapel, and of course it’s always good to see a library. The house, believed to have been built in the medieval period, was restructured in the Georgian decades so behind the walls there are even older elements. It’s that catch 22 that befalls a lot of old buildings that were restructured in the days when people didn’t think of history – the restructure has value as a historic building as much as the Tudor, so decisions have to be made in terms of keeping it as it is or cutting back further in time.

Lydiard Manor

To go back to the original family, briefly, they were called St John (or, rather, are called – one present-day relative writes about the house). There is a connection with the House of Tudor – Margaret Beauchamp, later grandmother of Henry VII, was related to the St Johns via her first marriage. They kept the house right up until the 1940s. It had been requisitioned for use as a war hospitals and training grounds whilst and at the same time this was happening the family were deciding to move on.

Lydiard Manor

Back to the estate itself, whilst the house is a short trip in itself, the church and surrounding parkland make up for it. It’s best to visit the church before you go around the park.

Something that I think can be considered special is the way access to the church is allowed; whilst you understandably can’t visit it when a service is happening (unless you want to join in, I suppose), the key to the church is available to borrow from the staff at the house. This means you get the church to yourself, or mostly for yourself – as keyholder you’re responsible for ushering out anyone who happens to enter before you leave (not to turn them away but so the church can be locked again).

Lydiard Manor

It’s really worth the visit. The church is very old and though you can’t see it from my photos – it was a little too dark near the altar – a lot of what could be assumed the original artwork remains. (At least I like to think it’s original – Catholic churches of old were very beautiful, colourful, and so it does follow that the starry ceiling of St Mary’s could date back to the pre-Reformation years.)

Lydiard Manor

So to the grounds – they are vast, more vast than they first seem (you have to start exploring to see just how much there is to find). The Chinese bridge takes you over the lake to a patch of woodland which then winds round back across the lake where you can choose to tramp round the fields or go further out. The track back to the gates takes you past the ice house, or a slightly different route takes you to the walled garden and stables, where you’ll find the cafe.

Lydiard Manor

Like most house grounds, the items of particular interest outside are near the building, so if you’re coming from afar the opening hours offer more than enough time. A keen walker may want to return to see what lies in the distance. And as the grounds do serve as a local park, it’s a lovely casual experience.

The rest of my photos

Lydiard Manor

Lydiard Manor

Lydiard Manor

Lydiard Manor

Lydiard Manor

Lydiard Manor

Lydiard Manor

Lydiard Manor

The Present Past: Old Wardour Castle

Old Wardour Castle, near Salisbury, was the home of a few different families and was a casualty of the English Civil War, the owners at the time supporting the King and the land threatened as a result. A new castle was built when the family recovered power and the old ruins were left as they were.

The setting of Old Wardour, herein to be known as Wardour because the ‘new’ castle is not on the same site, is the most beautiful I’ve come across so far. It’s like a fairyland, a romantic setting of the sort that might have been used in old romance novels. High on a hill a few miles from Salisbury, the landscape is brimming with trees – forest – a stunning lake, and views for miles.

The castle, in its ruined state, rooms unrecognisable, echoes Rochester Castle’s set-up. If you recall my post on that easterly ruin you’ll remember I didn’t say as much as the size of the building required and that that was because in its present state you simply went round and round viewing the same scene. For similar reasons, I’ll be doing the same here.

You don’t go round Wardour as you do Rochester, but the way the towers spiral higher and higher makes everything rather repetitive in a way it obviously wouldn’t have been in years gone by when it was furnished. The towers open to bedrooms, that much is clear, but whose bedrooms would be anyone’s guess. I’ll be your tour guide to a point after which you’ll have to do some creative work.

When you drive up to Wardour you will have already had a bit of an experience. The literal upwards motion showing off the landscape. The trees are so abundant there’s no use looking out for the castle until you’re practically on top of it and the use is no more. You must drive – you could probably walk it but the roads are narrow and it would take a very long time. If you’re planning to walk you’re not planning a walk – you’re planning a hike.

There’s a lovely spot of green space for parking. On the day we went there seemed to be a rally of sorts going on, unaffiliated with the castle. It’s a popular place for families (though not too popular – children use the ruins to hide in but we’re not talking more than a few dozen people in total) so you can take a picnic but still bask in the atmosphere. Do check the day you plan to go – a couple of rooms are forever cordoned off as they serve as a wedding site which suggests weddings happen here often. Indeed there was a wedding on when we visited and we had to wait to view the banqueting house (like a summer house in appearance).

Wardour sports a little grotto made out of fallen stones from the castle and a couple of other places to find as well as that small banqueting house. The castle stands in the middle of a circular green that’s a bit of a hill itself and leads down to the lake and some very lucky person’s house. (Admittedly it can’t be nice living amongst constant noise.) The site is bordered by a wall where it counts – going to the lake is a deliberate action.

The great thing about ruins is that you can generally, safety pending, enter the building from whichever entrance you like. You can walk up those grand steps and walk through the main doorway to the envy of those gone before you who were relegated to the servant’s hall and experience the largesse as it was made to be experienced. All this to say, I entered through the main archway and it was grand. Because Wardour is grand, approximately seven storeys of past luxury.

A room on the right housed a guard. It would make a good hiding place for children (and I expect it may be used as such) – there’s a narrow gap, perhaps an old toilet, that the very short can go through, over a small wall, and stand in.

In the entrance area itself is a beer cellar. It looks a bit like a lobby, really, a fireplace and set of stairs at the back wall, but in a time when water was not pure I suppose you’d want a lot of storage space for alcohol. Perhaps in times gone by people wouldn’t have seen a space or an alcove and thought ‘walk-in wardrobe! Library!’, instead wondering if they could send a messenger to Dave to ask about the dimensions of his wine racks. If it’s raining when you visit, the entrance is where you want to be. Whilst the bedrooms have ceilings they also have windows and the cellar is, aptly, light and thus wind free.

Beyond the cellar is the courtyard. Even now it’s grand. There are quite a few paths to choose from here and it’s worth remembering exactly where you’ve detoured so that you can come back to the courtyard and press on with the other routes afterwards. The sweeping staircase is one of two ways up, the other rooms at ground level only requiring a few minutes. There’s the cordoned off rooms I mentioned to the right, and a few doors that lead to the other side of the green. One room is accessible only by walking outside first.

Taking the ground level rooms first we have a couple of dingy places partly held together by recent re-building. Whilst I did change my lighting setting when taking photographs to offset the lack of sunlight the greenish tinge reflects the reality. Lichen has made its home on the walls. The information boards say that this, or these, rather, are the ground floor kitchens. It can’t have been nice working here. It’s stuffy enough and that’s with a damaged ceiling and lots of air.

To the courtyard again, this time ascending that magnificent staircase (photo at the bottom of this post). I believe this large room was the hall and once again you’ve different doors to choose. The small rooms to the right. The roofless rooms beyond. The spiral staircases. The small rooms are nondescript but it is worth looking around for the bars that signal a drop beyond – you can get good views of the rooms below from them. You can walk up narrow, worn, stairs to other look outs and small rooms and there’s a second spiral, other than that to the bedrooms, that will take you back down and out a gap in the side of the building.

The rooms beyond the hall are the great chamber and kitchens; this place could hold quite a party.

Up the spiral staircase to a room that shouts ‘bedroom’ just for the smallish size and fireplace. Up again to another, and then again – there are about four of the exact same room. If we suppose the inaccessible parallel tower sported the same number we’re looking at an 8 bedroom detached mansion with large garden, complete with children’s hideaway grotto and summer house. The last part of the building to see is the roof, or at least what’s now the roof.

Choose your way back down and you’ve the banquet house, grotto, standing stones and bridge to see. The banquet house is composed of two rooms, nicely decorated, 1700s in style.

The grotto is small and looks more tumbledown than you might expect, the stones pitted all over and suggesting a fairyland in the making. You can walk through it and there are a couple of places to sit. The standing stones are more restful.

I didn’t find the bridge. I looked, because the guidebook said it has a wonderful view of the castle, but where it’s situated I don’t know.

Wardour makes a lovely day out. There’s more to see than photographs of the exterior suggest, so don’t plan too much else, but there’s also not all that much to do once you’ve been round it. You do have to be careful – we went up the spiral and there were a couple with dogs coming down (really not sure that’s allowed) but for the most part there are hand rails – the stable, metal kind – and you just have to tread carefully because us humans aren’t as small as we were when this castle was built. Even the kids’ feet were verging on too big for the steps.

And, actually, I’d recommend it just for the view, even just for the drive up there. Even if you’re not big on castles it’s somewhere you’ll appreciate having visited. Do remember what I said about weddings – seeing people dressed up is nice but paying out for limited access isn’t – take a picnic, keep the entrance in sight if it clouds over and enjoy the romance of this ruined ‘assall, as my nephew used to call them.

The rest of my photos (and afterwards a question for you).

Which historical place/museum/park do you most want to visit this year?

The Present Past: Kingston Lacy

Please note this post is full of images. Kingston Lacy was built by Ralph Banks, beginning in 1663, and remained in the family until 1981 when it was given to The National Trust. It started out as a red brick hall and was remodelled in the 1800s. It houses many Egyptian artefacts, the result of the travels of the re-modeller.

Kingston Lacy is one of, if not the best, historic house I have ever visited. In relative terms it is small – it’s a massive mansion but mini when compared to the likes of Highclere Castle. And as I hope my photographs will show, it is simply spectacular. It’s luxury in the extreme, there are acres upon acres of land – split into parts so that it feels bigger than most – and there is enough for an entire day out and then some. But perhaps the best thing about Kingston Lacy is the fact you’re able to see so much of it. Unlike many, most, historic buildings wherein there are many floors and rooms but you are only allowed in a few of them (Knighthayes, I’m looking at you with your four floors and your ‘oh sorry, you can only see half of two of them’) you get to explore the vast majority of the house. You get to go on all floors. You get to use the grand staircases where other houses relegate you to the back entrances. And, significantly, you are allowed to take photographs.

When you drive up to Kingston Lacy the car park is a little to the side. This means you get to walk up to the house, take photographs from the front, and enter through the main doors. The entrance hall walls are packed, similarly to the rest of the house as you’ll see, and it’s a good indication of the marvel waiting for you further in. Stag heads abound, which may not be particularly nice but are at least relics of an older time rather than the present, and there’s the rather splendid clock that I liked so much I concentrated on it instead of waiting around to see if I’d be able to get a shot of the hall itself (pretty impossible unless you’re happy to have a crowd in your pictures). The hall has a chequered floor and is on two levels.

First up is the Audit room, the name of which took me ages to discover because it seems not many people like it enough to photograph it… and I’m writing this a year late. There’s a reason for the lack of photography; it’s a nice room but nowhere near the scale of the rest.

Into the library and here comes the luxury. I’m under no impression all the paintings in this house were here originally – they may have been but it’s not unlike Trusts to chop and change furnishings – but it’s no matter because the effect is jaw-dropping. The library is your typical wall-to-wall bookshelf affair, which is a much appreciated typical and one I’m sure you appreciate, too. The room, despite being rather large, is very homely and warm.

Next is the drawing room, just as beautiful. There is a lot more light here as you might imagine and it looks straight out of an Austen adaptation. The fact that that could well be the case considering the number of films and TV shows that require historical houses just adds to its appeal. And if we needed any more evidence that pink used to be more of a neutral colour, take a look at the walls. Obviously I couldn’t sit down on the sofa but how I wished to and how certain I am that most everyone else felt the same way.

The Spanish Room is where things take a step up, as if they needed to. More paintings, more sparkle, it’s a combination of Georgian beauty and the ‘exotic’. I haven’t a clue if this room was used to eat in, but the table and chairs look nice regardless. The dining room has an organ. Yes, an organ in the dining room; it’s pretty epic here, isn’t it? (I haven’t a photo of it – there were too many people – but you can easily find one online.)

Up the stairs. The white marble stairs that are lovely themselves but are housed in an elegant hallway. You can view the ceiling here but I recommend waiting until you’re higher up and have less chance of twisting your neck out of joint.

The saloon opts for brighter, lighter colours. The ceiling is high; I believe it reaches the top of the house. There is much to savour here; the paintings as always, the perfect bureaus that you’ve always wanted but would cost the earth.

The state bedroom is fairly small in comparison, as you can see, but no chances were being taken in the bed department. Clearly no crowd of visitors was involved in the thought process behind the decision.

There are other bedrooms and bathrooms. One bedroom in particular is quite a sight – you’ll find all the vanilla ice cream you’ve ever wanted in it.

Up another flight of stairs and you find yourself in the attic. This fact in itself is awesome as few attics are open to the public, but even better is the tent effect that’s going on. Building dens seems to have been as popular back in the day as it is now but how many people can say they were able to keep their dens in place indefinitely? Not me, that’s for sure! I suppose it’s possible such decoration was considered easier than constantly grabbing blankets from the laundry.

Downstairs, the domain of the servants, are some models of houses and a general exhibition on Kingston Lacy.

The laundry is located in a long barn outside. The rooms have been set up as they would have been and at three long rooms you can imagine how much there was to do. But look at those stairs – there’s very little room for anyone!

The gardens are vast; too vast to explore completely in one day, but as long as you’ve not spent too long in the house you’ll see a fair amount. There’s the lawn that takes you down to one of the Cleopatra’s Needles taken from Egypt. There’s a path that takes you all the way from the far end of the lawn to the kitchen gardens (and a few pigs). The traveller who reaches them will find ice cream and snacks awaiting their arrival – the time it takes to get there makes ‘traveller’ a most suitable descriptor. On this path you’ll also find a Japanese garden and a small place that’s been left to grow wild.

The restaurant’s housed in the stables. It’s not particularly good – cramped, few items on the menu – but it’s the only downside. And now for a slightly slanted photo:

It’s really no wonder, when you take in everything I’ve said above, that Kingston Lacy is a favourite amongst history lovers. It’s no wonder my parents kept on about it throughout my childhood. I’m not sure how popular it is in international recommendations, it’s hardly Highclere/Dowton Abbey or Buckingham Palace and no queens ever lived there. But I would recommend it in a heartbeat. If you go, check which days allow free roaming – some days you can only see the house via guided tour and for a place like this that wouldn’t be fun.

The rest of my photos (and afterwards a question for you). I’m aware this is messy!

Forgetting that I said I visited last year, where did you go this summer? (Or, for those in the southern hemisphere, where are you hoping to go?)


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