Halls, Houses and Domestic Dwellings
You couldn't find a wider range of English historic houses. The homes of fishermen and noblemen, medieval knights or Jacobean or Victorian grandees, we have them all.
Houses develop. Most families make alterations to their homes, and many of the historic houses we care for have seen numerous changes over centuries of use. Great Yarmouth Row Houses, for example, started as luxurious Jacobean merchants' town houses and ended as multi-occupancy tenements. And the earliest of all our houses, Burton Agnes Manor House, conceals its perfect vaulted Norman undercroft within the brick shell of a Georgian laundry.
Other medieval dwellings in our collection include country manor houses such as Fiddleford Manor, Old Soar Manor and Temple Manor, and much bigger Minster Lovell Hall and Dovecote, and Gainsborough Old Hall, among the best-preserved late-medieval manor houses in England. Medieval town houses are rarer survivals: the true identity of our now-restored Medieval Merchants House in Southampton was only revealed after bomb damage in 1940.
The Elizabethan period witnessed the burgeoning of the great English country house, built like Hill Hall in the new Renaissance style. Kirby Hall is among the biggest and finest, extended by the queen's courtier Sir Christopher Hatton in the vain hope of hosting one of her 'progresses'. The royal favourite Robert Dudley did better at Kenilworth Castle and Elizabethan Garden, entertaining Elizabeth four times at the medieval fortress he transformed into a fabulous 'wonder house'. In total contrast, little Black Middens Bastle House near England's still-turbulent northern frontier was a starkly practical defence against thieving border reivers.
English aristocrats' passion for building extravagant mansions is exemplified by the intriguing shell of Hardwick Old Hall, scarcely completed before it was superseded by the 'new hall' beside it. Grand Jacobean Audley End House and Gardens, once called 'Audley End palace', was originally three times bigger than it is now. Our presentation there vividly traces the lives of noble families and servants over more than three centuries, making Audley the very best place in England to experience how a great house actually operated.
Bolsover Castle is another of our unmissable attractions. A 'castle' in name only, this unique, largely unaltered but now lavishly re-interpreted Stuart extravanza was built purely to impress and entertain visitors. Far more modest Boscobel House had a less obvious role: a covert refuge for persecuted Roman Catholics, it famously gave refuge to the fugitive Charles II.
For great Georgian mansions, it would be hard to match our collection around London. Roman-style Chiswick House; recently-restored Kenwood crowning Hampstead Heath; pretty Thames-side Marble Hill House and Ranger's House (also housing the fabulous Wernher Collection) all testify to the desire of the rich and fashionable for what were then 'country retreats' near the capital. At London's very heart stands the Duke of Wellington's dazzling Regency Apsley House, contrasting with the comparative simplicity of his own country retreat, Walmer Castle and Gardens.
Further afield, Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens in Northumberland (like The Grange at Northington in Hampshire) is built in the severely elegant Greek Revival style of the Regency. But Belsay is also famous for its gardens, as is Wrest Park, a backdrop to outstanding gardens spanning 300 years.
Our Victorian collection includes three very different houses. Osborne, Queen Victoria's palatial 'seaside retreat', displays a wide and still-expanding range of features recalling every aspect of royal family life. The Home of Charles Darwin, Down House, a delightfully unaltered country villa in itself, allows visitors to explore the life and discoveries of the great scientist via ground-breakingly unobtrusive interpretation. Even more remarkable, Brodsworth Hall really is, unlike most of our houses, 'frozen in time', 'conserved as found' when its last owner died in 1988. Nowhere better illustrates how so many English country houses made do and mended during the 20th century, as funds and servants dwindled.