Family-Friendly Homes of the Gentry and Merchants
THERE IS A BIG DIFFERENCE between stately homes and country manors. Superstar mansions like Blenheim Palace, Woburn Abbey and Chatsworth reflect the wealth and power of the old higher nobility, but they certainly don’t have much of a lived-in feel to them. In villages and small towns, the Lord of the Manor enjoyed a more accessible life. Our selection represents an eclectic mix of circumstances, but each of these great visits shares in common the feeling of a family home.
1. ATHELHAMPTON, DORSET
This spectacular 15th-century manor house near Dorchester is still a family home today. There’s a wonderful Great Hall, rich Tudor architecture and furnishings and striking gardens with topiary yews. Thomas Hardy used to hang out here, boy and man.
2. HUGHENDEN MANOR. BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
The country seat of Victorian PM Benjamin Disraeli near High Wycombe proved a great escape for the statesman from 1848 to 1881. The National Trust property offers its usual thoughtful presentation of the man and his country life at Hughenden. Formal gardens and woodland walks through the parkland as well.
3. LLANCAIACH FAWR, CAERPHILLY
Little has changed at Llanchaich Fawr since its 1640s heyday as the home of Civil War colonel Thomas Prichard. This unique living history museum in the Valleys impressively unpacks the 17th-century way of life such a manor entailed. Superb roll-playing reenactors bring the experience sharply into focus.
4. WOOLSTHORPE MANOR, LINCOLNSHIRE
The birthplace and family home of Sir Isaac Newton near Grantham, Woolsthorpe is furnished as it would have been in the 17th century. The apple tree in the garden that inspired his reflections on gravity is reputed to be original. This is a great period manor visit, conveniently located just off the A1.
5. BROADLANDS, HAMPSHIRE
In the market town of Romsey, Broadlands was once the country home of PM Viscount Palmerston. It became home to Lord Mountbatten. The historic mansion maintains its feeling as a real home—where the Queen and Prince Philip, as well as Prince Charles and the late Princess, spent part of their honeymoon.
6. ABBOTSFORD, BORDERS
Though it was built in the early 1800s, novelist Sir Walter Scott did his best to give his manor near Melrose as archly medieval a feeling as he could. With its recent refurb, Abbotsford draws increasing visitors to the world of the romantic Scottish novelist.
7. WESTWOOD MANOR, WILTSHIRE
In a village near Bradford-on-Avon, the manor at Westwood was built over three centuries, and refects several architectural styles. Its period furnishings include 17th and 18th century tapestries that help give the home a warm, domestic feel. The modern topiary garden is one of the highlights as well.
8. GAINSBOROUGH OLD HALL, LINCOLNSHIRE
We profiled fascinating Gainsborough on the “Mayflower Trail” last issue. The gruff riverport town largely grew up around the splendid medieval manor at its heart. Gainsborough remains one of the most complete and well-presented examples of the large working Elizabethan homesteads.
9. AVEBURY MANOR, WILTSHIRE
Plunk in the middle of world-famous Avebury stone circle, the manor house in the heart of the village recently reopened after a transformation for the BBC called “The Manor Reborn.” Rooms are furnished to represent key events in the history of the house and its occupants over the centuries.
10. PLAS MAWR, CONWY
Here is the in-town equivalent of the country manor. In the north Wales walled town of Conwy, Plas Mawr (“Great Hall”) is the finest surviving Elizabethan townhouse in Britain. Built for a wealthy Welsh merchant, the home is noted for its ornamental plasterwork and rich furnishings and décor.
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