All Savingsed Out (Part 1)

As the title suggests, I think I may have overdone it recently on the Savings front. I’ve now reached the point where I’m categorising the National Trust room volunteers on sight. There are the “Guardians of the Crown Jewels” (the silent types who glare at you as if just daring you to touch something), the “Let Me Recite something I learned verbatim from the Guide Book” types (who can be the worst as you feel you have to humour them as they mean well, even if you’ve just read all that information in the previous room), the truly knowledgeable types (who just love it if you ask them a non-standard question, especially if it’s something they don’t know the full answer to and can find out more – like the lady at Wimpole I asked about the white encaustic tiles), the gossipy types (who can’t wait to dish the dirt on whatever family once lived there), and the Supercilious types (like the old b*g yesterday at the former summer home of the D’Oyly Carte family, who on mentioning Gilbert did it with a raised eyebrow and haughty look that clearly said “you HAVE heard of Gilbert and Sullivan?”). I think it may be time to take a break….

Anyway, here’s a quick summary…

Setting off on my journey West from Kent, first stop was Polesden Lacey, the home of Margaret Greville, a 1920s society hostess.


Mrs Greville was the illegitimate daughter (though he did get round to marrying her mother 20-odd years later) of William McEwan, the brewer. He had started the brewery in the 1850s; this was by no means old money. So she did well to end up hob-nobbing with the Royals (lots of gossipy room guides here!). The Queen Mother spent her honeymoon at Polesden Lacey.

Stourhead in Wiltshire was absolutely beautiful (luckily it was a sunny day). I had a good laugh as I went into the garden and came across a group obviously doing a photography course. None of them had moved more than a few inches by the time I’d done a complete lap and was coming out again (mind you, with all their tripods,cameras, bags and other paraphernalia, I could see the incentive for staying put). The teacher was shouting things like “don’t worry about the lack of light on the bridge”. I snapped the same shot they were all lining up and moved on. The lack of light on the bridge didn’t trouble me one bit…



The “theme” around which the house was presented was the tragic death of only son Harry in WW1, leaving the estate without an heir (which is how the National Trust ended up with it). To be honest, after reading all of the information, I did have somewhat less sympathy for posh Harry than for the millions of others killed in the conflict. Harry was medically unfit for active service but kept managing to get himself signed off to return to the front (and admitted keeping quiet about his medical history and playing down current problems when examined by any doctors who didn’t already know him). You did have to wonder whether his contribution to the War effort outweighed the cost and hassle of repeatedly treating him and bringing him back to Stourhead to convalesce (he eventually died in Palestine).

Continuing West, I next visited Montacute House near Yeovil. This one is an Elizabethan Mansion built for Edward Phelips, its most recent claim to fame being that it was used in the filming of Wolf Hall. It apparently has the longest surviving long gallery in England (though I think the one at Little Moreton Hall is much nicer, and I do wonder whether they measured round the corners in the U-shaped long gallery at Barrington Court……).


From the information presented, the only thing we need to know about the Phelips family is that Edward Phelips was appointed Speaker of the House of Commons in 1604 and presented the case for the prosecution in the trial of the Gunpowder Plotters in January 1606. The main attraction of Montacute is that the top floor (the long gallery and rooms off it) are used to house a collection of portraits from the National Portrait Gallery. These are typically bu unknown artist, hence the reason they haven’t found wall space in London. In a welcome contrast to Knowle, it was nice to see how bright and colourful most of the Tudor portraits were, and how most of the portraits chosen were of people you’d actually heard of. They also had a nice Holbein room explaining how for 200 years, copies of Holbein portraits, portraits based on sketches done by Holbein, and portraits in the style of Holbein were very much in fashion. Again, these were generally by unknown artist, but it was nice to see the paintings with an explanation and a copy of the Holbein portrait or sketch that had been copied. My favourite was “portrait of unknown person by unknown artist”. Right. That’ll be “A Picture” then?

The local village was very pretty, with interesting roof design to most of the buildings… Must look that up sometime…


Barrington Court is another Tudor house , in a terrible state when the National Trust bought it in 1907. They were somewhat saved when they managed to lease it to Colonel Lyle (of Tate & Lyle fame) for 99 years in the 1920s (the lease was surrendered early in 1991). Colonel Lyle was into architectural salvage and had huge quantities of wooden panelling etc rescued from various properties. He wanted a country house and the deal was that he would pay for all the repairs needed but would be allowed to do what he liked to the interior of the property / install all his “stuff”.


The property right next to the main house (shown in the picture below) was also refurbished as a house by the Lyles; it’s now a restaurant. This was initially built as a stable block in the 1600s, possibly as brick buildings were trendy at the time, or possibly because if you made the place into a “farm” you somehow paid less tax.


Barrington Court is the house with the U-shaped long gallery mentioned above. The wood panelling was all brought in by Colonel Lyle from his collection of goodies….



(To Be Continued in Part 2…..)






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