Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Somerset’s Secret Manor House

Aside

It’s surprising that many people in Somerset don’t know of the existence of Orchard Wyndham when you consider that another of the Wyndham family homes is the famous Petworth in Sussex. It was MTL who spotted, in the local paper that it was possible to be shown round the house on two particular dates in May. He recognised the Wyndham name from the piece I wrote about Florence Wyndham who ‘rose from the dead ‘in the crypt of St Decumen’s Church. See ‘Girl’s Day Out’ April 2nd 2008.

The house is nestled in a vale within sight of the sea and even with an OS map it was difficult to find, but eventually we came across a drive and drove up it. I got out of the car and took a photo. Then we drove to what looked like the side of the house and prepared to wait, as we were early. I thought I’d take a few more shots when a lady appeared and said, quite pleasantly, that we had come in the wrong way, up a one- way in fact, and that we could come inside and wait if we wished. Then I learned that photos were not allowed, either inside or out, so I showed her the one I had taken and she referred to the present owner and he – very kindly - thought that would be fine.

We were a small select party – just the two of us, two lady tourists and an elderly historian. Our guide was Sylvana, a charming woman and sister of the present incumbent. There were two sisters and two brothers and sadly the other sister died from cancer some years ago. The house goes back some 700 years and ‘what appears to be a hamlet is linked as one house.’ We understood the reason for strict security when we were told the house was burgled in the eighties, Sylvana’s sister was tied up and the masked men made off with valuables including an enormous diamond which had been encased in a clock; a present from Charles the second after Francis Wyndham helped Charles to escape to France after the Battle of Worcester.

Near the entrance is a dark corridor with stairs leading to the cellar – a site of particular scientific interest as a rare breed of spiders lives there. They came over from Portugal, can sometimes be seen climbing the steps and one of the sisters was bitten by one. We moved swiftly on. In the Staircase Hall I imagined the two little girls running up and down the stairs but Sylvana said she was only allowed there with Nanny.

In each room there is so much to admire, portraits, furniture, panelling but the historian got rather excited when we saw a giant turtle shell brought back by Sir Francis Drake from his circumnavigation of the world. In the Great hall there is a long table which runs the length of the Hall. It is cut from one tree but individual leaves are removed when the house is open to visitors. Sylvana told us that after her mother died the table was put together and all the family sat round it.

There is a telescope used by the fourth Earl when he was a midshipman at Trafalgar,
a magnificent ornate mirror from Versailles – brought as booty after the defeat of Napoleon, and an Armada chest with an intricate locking mechanism and much, much more. Two hours passed in a trice and we were so lucky to be given such a personal and absorbing history lesson.

The weather precluded our looking round the garden but we saw the giant camellia in the conservatory. I was delighted that MTL had not only stayed the course but had enjoyed it as much as I had.

12 comments:

wontletlifedefineme said...

Sounds like a fantastic tour! I love places that are so firmly rooted in history.

PI said...

wont; the whole experience was a delightful surprise.

sablonneuse said...

It must be lovely to have such a 'personal' guided tour. The spiders would have worried me a bit though. . . . .

PI said...

Sandy; It would worry me if I lived there but as as brief visitor it gave me a delightful frisson.

Eryl Shields said...

How cool to have a rare breed of spiders living in one's home. Lot's of people seem to have rare goats or what-not but I've never heard of anyone having rare spiders just ambling about a corridor, I take it the they are not deadly?

Glad you got a photo to show us, I googled the place but came up with no pics at all. Looks lovely.

PI said...

Eryl: not deadly but, according to Sylvans's late sister very painful - she was bitten.

rashbre said...

Great fun to look around these places, especially sometimes in the nooks and crannies, notwithstanding the spiders.

I like to look out for little signs and carvings that try to send messages from the long past.

There's usually something from a craftsman or a cook that adds some counterpoint to the fancy pictures.

PI said...

Rashbre: good point. I'll have to be more observant.

Anne said...

Hi Pat, Michele sent me today. Your tour sounds wonderful, you were lucky to see that in the paper.

Next time take more illicit photos! I took one of the inside a palace in Vienna once, I just hung the camera around my neck and pushed the button as it hung, instead of putting it up to my eye. The guide didn't notice.

PI said...

Anne: glad you enjoyed it. You are braver than I am:)

problemchildbride said...

Glad MTL enjoyed it too.

In a curious house like that we all get to feel like children again. It's lovely that it's open to the public. Is it National Trust? Can families still live in NT properties?

PI said...

Sam: it isn't NT but English Heritage which means they get grants and have to be open a number of times a year - to the public. Some NT places let the family have an apartment I believe usually an older member of the family.