Last week I was away on a much anticipated holiday, and how else would this National Trust employee spend her annual leave than visiting other Trust properties! The holiday started with a re-enactment event way down south, which was why me and mum decided to take a few day coming back, to break up the drive.
So over three days we visited six properties, starting with the lovely Montecute House in Somerset. Montecute is the same age as Hardwick and is made of a gorgeous warm coloured local stone, as are the adorable houses of the village on the drive in.
Montacute boasts the longest Long Gallery in the country, (Hardwick’s is bigger, thanks to the alcoves, but not quite as long. Not that anyone’s competitive of course) and it follows that whole house is rather large. Even the little houses on the corners of the garden wall are bigger than my house, with a better view too!
There are two distinctly different feels during a visit to Montecute. The first part of the visitor route takes in the family floor and the second the spaces designed for show. I really enjoyed exploring the family floor. There was no visitor route, which I like. However there was also no complete floor plan of the property, unless you buy the guide book. I find looking at floor plans really interesting and they come in very useful when there is no route (not to mention also the useful for recreating the house on the Sims when you get home later).
Montecute has some quirky elements, reflecting the eclectic personalities that have called the house home over the years. I was very taken with the bath in the cupboard in one of the bedrooms. A really odd place for a bath, but I liked the idea of adapting the house for modern life (indoor plumbing) whilst not changing the feel of the rooms.
The library is a beautiful room, ornate ceiling, lovely stained glass windows and a highly decorated door way. It was once the Great Chamber, which explains why is so exquisitely decorated. This room was for show and it certainly makes an impression.
Etched on the glass of the library windows are poems in Latin and English. I love the thought of someone sitting in the window of this room, looking out at the picturesque gardens and being inspired to add poetry to the view. A very idyllic notion. The etching was done by Edward Phelips in 1770, great, great, great grandson of the Edward Phelips who built the house. All the poems seem to be around the theme of living virtuously and being happy, something I feel could have been easily achieved living in a home like Montacute.
I loved this highly carved bed with the royal coat of arms displayed proudly in the middle.The furniture is not hereditary to the house, the Trust brought most of it in when they gained ownership. The Phelips, who built the house, left in 1911 and leased it out, which may explain why the families furniture is no longer there.
In one of the bedrooms there were two replica Elizabethan costumes, alongside a book about how volunteers had made them. It was interesting to see the costumes up close but I would have rather seen them on people walking around the property. I could however just be biased because that’s what the volunteer group I manage at Hardwick do but I think people in costume bring a property to life in a way nothing else can.
Further along the visit there was an area in one of the corridors that had been damaged by water. Rather than patch the ceiling up here it had been left as a little peephole into the structure of the actual building. A really interesting idea to come out of something bad.
The Long Gallery is a space devoted to people walking up and down viewing pictures. I think it must have been repainted rather recently. The pale walls and clean lines made it feel like a modern art gallery almost, and lets visitors focus on the portraits rather than their surroundings.
The pictures however are not hereditary to the property but part of a temporary exhibition on loan from the National Portrait Gallery. To my delight this exhibition focused on Tudor and Elizabethan paintings, and there were some very familiar faces in the mix.
As soon as I walked into the first room off the long gallery I came face to face with our Bess! And next to her was Sir Christopher Hatton, the man who first owned the Gideon tapestries that now hang in Hardwick’s Long Gallery. He wears a lovely cameo of the Queen and there was a also beautiful portrait of her hanging in the same room.
Going down the back stairs there was huge, bright window lighting them. I really like the way it looks so symmetrical at first but when you look closer the panes are all wonky. Its quirky and I like it.
In one of the final rooms I spotted this lovely chair. It looks quite a lot like some of the ones we have, but shinier! I love a bit of shimmer and sparkle.
Montecute is a really interesting combination of family rooms followed by an exhibition of beautiful portraiture. Although the collection displayed is not native to the property it is full of interesting and beautiful objects and portraits. I really enjoyed the opportunity to study more amazing Elizabethan portraits, and also exploring the property with my um and good friends. Good company make an enjoyable day out even more so!