by Ben Johnson
As you drive through the beautiful village of Montacute with its pretty ham stone cottages and picturesque inns, your eyes are drawn to a pair of impressive gates and the stunning building that sits at the end of the formal drive.
This is Montacute House, built to impress by Sir Edward Phelips, a wealthy lawyer and member of Elizabeth I’s Parliament. An influential man, as Speaker of the House of Commons Phelips was involved in the trial of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plotters.
The house was built in about 1598 and inhabited by the Phelips family until 1911 when it was rented out. Put up for sale in 1929, it was acquired by the National Trust in 1931.
Built in English Renaissance style, this Grade I listed building is one of the few houses to have remained virtually unchanged since Elizabethan times. The stunning east front with its large mullioned windows gives the impression that the whole façade is made of glass. The Tudor west front was removed from nearby Clifton Maybank House and re-erected at Montacute in 1786.
Montacute House is built in an ‘E’ shape, as was the norm at the time. The ground floor houses the Great Hall and kitchens, with the Great Chamber for entertaining on first floor, along with some bedrooms and other rooms used by the family and their guests.
One of the bedrooms on the first floor, the Garden Chamber, houses a unique facility: a plumbed bath, ingeniously hidden in a wardrobe! It was installed in his bedroom by Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, who lived in the house from 1915 to 1925.
On the second floor, the 172 foot Long Gallery is the longest of its type in England, and now hosts an impressive exhibition by the National Portrait Gallery.
The gardens and grounds at Montacute are a delight. There are two beautiful garden pavilions, an orangery, ice house, walled gardens and of course, an excellent National Trust tearoom and café! The landscaped park is perfect for walking and picnicking.
Montacute House has featured in several films and TV programs including the 1995 version of Jane Austen’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’, the 2004 film ‘The Libertine’ and the BBC adaptation of ‘Wolf Hall’.
Maintained by the National Trust, the house, gardens, shop and café are open to the public all year round.
Address: Montacute House, Montacute, Somerset TA15 6XP