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Historic Gems

By 10th December 2018 No Comments

Parham House, West Sussex

Parham House © Trevor Sims

The foundation stone of one of England’s finest Elizabethan houses was laid by the 2½-year-old heir in 1577. Money from newspaper publishing funded the restoration of the dilapidated house during the 1920s and 30s, and today it has one of the finest collections of Elizabethan and 17th-century pictures in a private house. Original furniture and effects have been bought whenever the opportunity has arisen, and the house boasts perhaps the most important collection of 17th century embroidery in the country. The house is set in 875 acres of the South Downs with a 16th century deer-park and a four-acre walled garden.

Stay at one of Pride of Britain Hotels’ Sussex properties.

Castle Drogo, Devon

Castle Drogo, Britain’s last castle, has just undergone a £13 million programme of work to make Sir Edwin Lutyens’ design watertight for the first time. Situated in a dramatic position overlooking the Teign Gorge and the edge of Dartmoor, the castle was built in 1911–30 for the founder of Home & Colonial Stores, Julius Drewe, who was able to retire aged 33. Approached through a large formal garden, the granite castle looks forbidding but the interiors soften into wood-panelled rooms and the latest in bathroom technology, with five chrome taps for the combined bath and shower unit.

Stay at Bovey Castle or Lewtrenchard Manor.

Rockingham Castle, Leicestershire

Rockingham Castle © Adam Balcomb, ABDigital UK

Built on the orders of William the Conqueror, Rockingham remained a royal castle until 1544, when the Watson family took a lease before buying it. It has remained the family’s home ever since, becoming steadily more like a country house than a fortification. Besides the great hall and the family rooms, ‘the Street’ gives an exceptionally complete idea of the domestic activities that underpinned the life of a landed family. The house has collections that can only come from centuries of continuous occupation: of armour, silver, books, furniture and portraits by leading artists. Time has not stood still at a particular moment; the family has continued to support contemporary artists, so there are pictures by Stanley Spencer, Augustus John and Maggi Hambling among others. Outside is the extraordinary ‘Elephant’ yew hedge, a wild garden and circular rose garden.

Stay at Hambleton Hall or Stapleford Park.

Snowdonia’s slate legacy

Ffestiniog and West Highland Railway

The slate mined and quarried among the mountains of Snowdonia have left a remarkable legacy, today providing alternative attractions for those who come to walk the hills. To gain an idea of the work involved in roofing Britain and many other countries, start at the National Slate Museum in the Victorian buildings of Dinorwig Quarry, Llanberis. You would think the workers had just downed their tools. After a demonstration of slate cutting, take the adjacent narrow-gauge train along the shores of Llyn Padarn on the Llanberis Lake Railway. Further afield is the slate-carrying Ffestiniog Railway which now takes passengers through spectacular landscapes between Blaenau Ffestiniog and Porthmadog. To see what the profits of slate would buy, visit Penrhyn Castle, a vast neo-Norman pile on the outskirts of Bangor, built by the owners of the Penrhyn slate quarries.

Stay at Bodysgallen Hall.

Snowshill Manor, Gloucestershire

Imagine owning a manor house so crammed with stuff that you have to live in a small cottage in the grounds with a single fireplace and a couple of bread ovens for heat. That was the case for the eccentric collector Charles Wade, who acquired things not for their value but for the way they illustrated traditional handicrafts or everyday objects from all over the world. Some of the rooms at Snowshill Manor are devoted to themes, such as collections of maritime artefacts or musical instruments. Others have such eclectic collections as bone carvings made by French prisoners-of-war and tools used in lace-making, weaving and spinning. But the most memorable room contains a theatrical display of Samurai armour with ferocious masks.

Stay at Barnsley House, Calcot and Spa or Ellenborough Park.

Richmond Castle, North Yorkshire

Richmond Castle © English Heritage

The attractive Georgian town of Richmond is dominated by the best-preserved early Norman castle in England. Begun around 1070 in a picturesque position above the River Swale, the castle changed hands frequently through dynastic disputes, with various periods as a royal castle. After a period of dilapidation, repairs were carried out and the castle became an army headquarters in 1908, housing during the First World War conscientious objectors whose graffiti can still be seen. Much remains to be explored, principally the colossal keep, making it especially appealing for children.

Stay at Judges Country House Hotel or Rockliffe Hall.

Article written by Anthony Lambert

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