River Wissey Lovell Fuller

A Day out in Somerset

August 2004

Graham delights uswith a description of his visit to Montacute House in Somerset

About eighteen miles inland from the Dorset coast, just four miles from Yeovil, is the pretty village of Montacute. There you will find one of the finest examples of a grand late 17th century residence, Montacute House.

Like a lot of the village, the house is built of the local oolitic limestone, a warm ochre colour which seems to brighten in the sunshine. It was constructed in the very late 1500's to the wishes of Sir Edward Phelps, a successful lawyer who was later to become Speaker in Parliament. It stayed in the family until 1911 after which it was leased to various people. In 1931, in a very run-down state and containing virtually no furniture, it was bought by the National Trust. After the Second World War, during which it was used to house the valuables from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Trust set about refurnishing the house, thanks to many loans and gifts. In 1975, it became the first outstation of the National Portrait Gallery and in the amazing 172 foot long gallery at the top of the house, there is a fine and important display of portraits from the 16th and 17th centuries.

The house is large and will take at least an hour to go over properly. There are fine examples of contemporary plasterwork, heraldic stained glass and 17th and 18th century furniture. There are many fine tapestries as well as an exhibition of historic samplers.

Outside, there are twenty-five acres of beautiful gardens. There are many herbaceous borders, shrub roses, hydrangeas, cedars of Lebanon, many other varieties of trees and an Orangery built in 1841. There is the inevitable National Trust shop and particularly good restaurant.

If you have not had your fill of gardens and you have another hour or so to spare, I do urge you to go on from Montacute House to Tintinhull Gardens, about two miles away. This is a "formal garden informally planted" over two acres. There are so many types of garden there including the impressive Pool Garden; there you can sit in a magnificent summer house looking down the pool and take in the lawn and the flowers around. If the restaurant at Montacute did not fill you up enough, there is an excellent tea-room selling the scrummiest home-made cakes.

Montacute and Tintinhull are set in the beautiful lush Somerset countryside. If you find yourself in that part of the country, please make the effort to do at least one of these visits; I can guarantee that you will not be disappointed.

Graham Forster

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