The Country Houses of Dorset
Kingston Maurward House was built between 1717 and 1720 for George Pitt, cousin of Prime Minster Pitt, living here for fourteen years until his death in 1734. Thomas Hardy who lived in the nearby village of Lower Bockhampton was a frequent visitor as a boy during the mid 1800's and he later referred to Kingston Maurward House as "Knapwater House" in his novel Desperate Remedies.
The house was occupied during the war by American service men and the extensive parkland was used as a fuel dump for the D Day landings and the gardens have undergone extensive restoration since 1990. The Gardens and Animal Park are now open to the public all year.^ Back to top
A lot of Athelhampton house has been in place for over five hundred years, the history of which, and its related families dates back over a thousand years. Athelhampton is one of the finest 15th century houses in England, containing many magnificently furnished rooms. The Great Hall was built by Sir William Martyn in 1485. In the Elizabethan West Wing are the Great Chamber, Wine Cellar and newly opened Library. Athelhampton contains an abundance of architectural and cultural history. Educational tours, classroom and children's Tudor trail available. The East wing includes the Dining Room, Green Parlour and State Bedroom.
Numerous owners have carried out works on the building to make it what it is today. The site was inhabited from 1086 and built on in 1485 was the Great hall, Solar and Buttery.In 1920-1 the north wing at the back of the house was built.^ Back to top
Max Gate is a Victorian villa that Thomas Hardy designed & built for himself in 1885. The House gives an insight into another facet of Hardy's genius - as an architect designing the environment in which he wished to live and write. The villa remained his home for over 40 years, until his death in 1928. The hall, dining room, drawing room, and garden is open to the public.
At this villa, Thomas Hardy wrote some of his greatest works including The Woodlanders, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure, The Dynasts, and over nine hundred poems.^ Back to top
Wolfeton House is an early Tudor and Elizabethan manor house set in water-meadows near the confluence of the rivers Frome and Cerne. The building is a substantial remnant of the house built by the Trenchards, once one of the leading families in Dorset. In the late-16th century Sir George Trenchard extended the south range and embellished the building by adding the splendid plaster ceilings, fireplaces and panelling dating from around 1580.
The present owner is a kinsman of the Trenchard family and since 1973 he has carried out further restoration to the house. Wolfeton House is approached through the medieval Gatehouse that was once attached to north and south ranges of the early Tudor house. The detached Gatehouse is flanked by two unmatched round towers.
One of the towers is still used as a dovecote. A small room to the right, now known as the Chapel, contains a series of fascinating wooden panels showing the Signs of the Zodiac and Occupations of the Months. The present house is formed from the south-west corner of the original building, consisting of the Hall with its intricately carved mullioned windows and battlemented stair turret and the three-bay Elizabethan addition to the west.
The house contains fine pictures and furniture. The Hall is situated to the east is entered through an elaborately carved doorway. The room was much altered in the 19th century and contains some early 16th century panels and 17th century portraits. The Elizabethan wing to the west contains the Parlour and the Dining Room. These rooms have superb carved wooden doorways and chimneypieces dating from the late-16th or early-17th century. The plaster ceilings also date from the same period. Wolfeton House opening times are between Jun-Sept: Mon, Wed & Thur, 14:00-17:00.^ Back to top
Minterne House was built 350 years ago and now is the seat of the 12th Lord Digby. It was rebuilt in 1905 by Leonard Stokes after the previous house was destroyed by dry rot. Minterne has in 1,300 acres of beautiful Dorset Countryside and is described by Simon Jenkins in his book ‘England’s 1,000 Best houses,’ as a “Corner of Paradise.”
The first Sir Winston Churchill rented Minterne from Winchester College in 1660, and left it to his younger son General Charles Churchill, much to the fury of his eldest son, the Great Duke of Marlborough, who ‘just had to make do with Blenheim Palace.’ When General Charles’s widow died, Minterne was sold to Robert Digby, a younger son from Sherborne Castle, complete with all the contents, which is why it still contains all the Churchill Tapestries, a ceiling picture by Sir James Thornhill and other Churchill pictures and furniture.
The house contains many interesting paintings mementos of its past residents, including the Churchill Tapestries which are in the dining room. The House is open for organised parties only.^ Back to top
Mapperton House has belonged to only four families linked by descent in the female line - the Bretts, Morgans, Brodrepps and Comptons - until it was bought in 1919 by Mrs Ethel Labouchere. Since her death in 1955 it has been the home of the Montagu family who formerly had a house at Hooke.
The gabled north wing with its twisted chimneys and finials is all that remains of Robert Morgan's Tudor manor, built from golden Ham Hill stone in the 1540s. Mapperton has remained almost unchanged since the plague of 1665-6 which claimed many of its inhabitants. The buildings consist of the manor, church, stables, dovecote and outbuildings, forming a harmonious group. It was described by Country Life in May 2006 as "The Nation’s Finest Manor House".
Mapperton House is open to individuals weekdays 22nd June – 31st July, plus Bank Holidays 25th May and 31st August, 2 - 4.30pm (last admissions 4pm).^ Back to top
Kingston Lacy takes its name from its ancient lords the Lacys, Earls of Lincoln, who held it together with Shapwick and Blandford. Acquired by the Bankes family who lived here for over 300 years. At its core the house is Restoration style, begun by Sir Ralph Bankes in the 1660s. It is a grade I listed building. Sir Roger Pratt was responsible for the original design of Sir Ralph's "Kingston Hall", but the family did not stay long in the unpretentious classical brick house built by Pratt. By the time of Sir Ralph's death the family debts had risen so alarmingly that they had to move out and lease the house to tenants. Eventually the family finances recovered, and the Bankes family returned. In the 1780s R. F. Brettingham added some decorative touches, but that was nothing compared to the contributions of Sir Charles Barry 50 years later.
Over the course of 20 years Bankes lavished attention on the house, which he renamed Kingston Lacy. He focussed most of his attention on the interior decorative elements. Here he assembled a wonderful collection of European paintings, including works by Velazquez, as well as family portraits by Reynolds and Van Dyck. The spectacular marble staircase designed by Barry was Bankes's favourite design element, but arguably more impressive is the small Spanish Room beside the Saloon, with painted leather and a gilded ceiling bought from a Venetian palace.
The house was extensively remodelled by Sir Charles Barry, between 1835 and 1838. He faced the brick with stone, added a tall chimney to each corner, and lowered the ground level on one side, exposing the basement level and forming a new principal entrance. This work was carried out under the guide of William John Bankes, son of Henry Bankes. William Bankes provided most of the antiquities that currently form part of the house's collections. He travelled extensively to the Middle East and the Orient, collecting the largest individual collection of Egyptian antiques in the world. Most notable is the large obelisk which he brought back and which now stands prominently in the grounds of the house. The last owner of the Lacy house, Henry John Ralph Bankes, was the seven times great-grandson of the original creator Sir Ralph Bankes. Upon his death he bequeathed the Kingston Lacy estate and Corfe Castle to the National Trust, one of its largest donations to date.^ Back to top
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