Whatever your idea of the perfect historic house – imposing architecture, beautiful interiors or glorious gardens – you’ll find it here. We peek through the (gilded) keyhole at 20 of the county’s finest manors, palaces and estates
With the new Downton Abbey movie finally due to hit our screens in September, there’s never been a better time for a visit to ‘the Real Downton’, Highclere Castle. Not that we need an excuse: this beautiful ancestral home is one of Britain’s nest. It has been the family seat of the Earls of Carnarvon since 1679, though its history stretches back centuries further.
In 749 an Anglo-Saxon King granted the estate to the Bishops of Winchester, who built a stately medieval palace on the parkland here. Various rebuildings and developments later (including the landscaping of the grounds by Capability Brown), in 1842 it was transformed by Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament, into the Italianate gem you can admire today.
You might recognise Lyme – or rather, its lake – from the starring role it played in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, when Colin Firth as Darcy emerged from the lake and sent a million hearts uttering. Lyme’s glorious Italianate facade and lavish Regency interiors tend to have the same effect.
Visitors can dress up in period costume, take a peek at Truelove the butler’s rooms, and browse in the library, where the Lyme Missal prayer book is conserved. Printed by William Caxton in 1487, it is the National Trust’s most precious printed book. Outside, a medieval herd of red deer roam the estate, nestled on the edge of the Peak District.
Some of our favourite stately homes are those still occupied by the same family that have been in place for centuries. Beautiful Hat eld House is a prime example: home to the 7th Marquess and Marchioness of Salisbury, it was built in 1611 by Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury and trusted advisor to Elizabeth I. Cecil used materials from the Old Palace, built in 1485 by the Bishop of Ely – some of which can still be seen today – to build the magnificent Jacobean house you see today.
Much of Hatfield’s fascination comes from the fact that Henry VIII purchased it for his children, Mary, Edward and Elizabeth, to use as a nursery. In 1558 a young Princess Elizabeth was resting under an oak tree in the grounds when she learned of her accession to the throne of England. Inside, seek out the Rainbow Portrait, an atypically vibrant Tudor portrait of steely-eyed Queen Elizabeth marvellously clad in a coppery cloak, and holding a rainbow. An inscription reads, “Non sine sola iris” (No rainbow without the sun) – portraying Elizabeth as a bringer of peace after stormy political times.
Neoclassical Mount Stewart has been home to one of Northern Ireland’s most powerful families, the Marquesses of Londonderry, for 250 years. Edith, Lady Londonderry – an author, designer and legendary hostess – made Mount Stewart home in 1921, filling it with art and antiques and planting its exceptional gardens. Now in the care of the National Trust, the house has been beautifully restored and is still dotted with family memorabilia and treasures. Mount Stewart was only one of the family’s houses but was a firm favourite with Edith. As she wrote to her husband Charles, “This is the most divine house, why do we live anywhere else!”
Another Pemberley stand-in that featured in the TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Chatsworth’s creamy stone facade made an appropriately grand setting as Darcy’s ancestral home. Surrounded by extensive parkland and backed by the craggy wooded hills of the Peak District, it holds many priceless treasures.
Chatsworth has been home to the Cavendish family since 1549, but many of its grand rooms are open to the public. Be dazzled by the Painted Hall, the grandest room built by the 1st Duke; the Great Dining Room, dripping with gilt and swagged curtains; and the State Apartments, lavishly decorated in preparation for a visit from King William III and Queen Mary II that never actually took place.
For the full article, see the 2019 BRITAIN Guide on sale here