One of England's great Tudor Manor Houses, dating from the 15th Century and set in exquisite gardens
The magnificent oak front door opens into a hall which is formed by the Screens Passage, adjacent to The Great Hall. The staircase is ahead and the more informal family rooms found to the right-hand side and beyond.
The Great Hall is one of the finest examples of 15th Century domestic architecture in England with a timbered roof which remains substantially as it was built before 1500. Much of the heraldic glass also dates from this time and there is delicate linenfold panelling and a screen with unusually long panels. The oriel window in the south wall contains some fine tracery and 16th Century heraldic glass. It depicts the marriage alliances of the Martyn family namely the - de Loundres, de Pydele, de Clevedon, Faringdon, Cheverell, Daubeny, Kelway and Wadham.
The crest in each case is the chained ape. The family motto was he who looks at Martyn's ape, Martyn's ape shall look at him'. At the very top of the first window is a celestial monkey with angel's wings. He gazes bird-like into a gilded mirror that shows his reflection in its glass. The ape, which now wears a Saxon crown and carries a mace is the heraldic badge of the Cooke family.
From the Great Hall a 15th Century doorway leads to the King's Ante Room which is oak panelled with a timbered ceiling and a window with the arms of Martyn, Tregonwel and Kelway. The Wine Cellar is below the original solar and two 16th Century arches open out of the King's Ante Room into The Great Chamber or Drawing Room.
The profusion of windows in The Great Chamber contains more heraldic glass commemorating the owners of Athelhampton and their alliances. The plaster ceiling is in the Reindeer Inn pattern from Banbury and dates from about 1905 having been added during Cart de Lafontaine's renovation. The finely figured oak panelling is of the 17th Century with Elizabethan carved panels over the fireplace in the Italian manner. Concealed in the thickness of the west wall is a staircase leading up to the floor above and down to a small cellar.
A stone staircase leads up from the King's Ante Room, passing a bathroom on the left and then leading to the King's Room which is entered through an archway decorated with the Gothic lily wallpaper familiar in the Palace of Westminster. The room is on the site of the solar or withdrawing-room of the 15th Century house and is called the King's Room because it was traditionally the place where the Manorial Court was held in the name of the King. The timbered ceiling, linenfold panelling and Ham stone fireplace combine with an oriel window to form a worthy replacement of an earlier solar structure. A 7 second staircase, leading to the hall was added in the 1930s to replace an earlier dilapidated structure.
The Dining Room, also known 9 as The Green Parlour, is found on the far side of The Great Hall. Its decoration primarily dates from the late 19th Century (restored in the late 20th Century) but with fine carved 16th Century beams. From the dining room, double doors open through to the Private Drawing Room which is a delightful room with painted panelling and a door opening out onto the East Terrace overlooking the Private Garden.
The Coach House
The Coach House forms the heart of the commercial operation at Athelhampton House. The partly thatched building sits around a former courtyard and would have once contained stables, kennels, a saw mill and workshops. The buildings were refurbished in 1997 with glazing used to create a reception space within the courtyard. There is a commercial kitchen, gift shop and cloakroom facilities.
River Cottage is a pretty thatched cottage, located in the south west corner of the grounds and accessed over a bridge across the River Piddle. It has a sitting room, kitchen, 3 bedrooms and 3 en suite bathrooms.
Athelhampton sits in just under 30 acres of gardens and grounds encircled by the River Piddle. The grounds are full of variety with a balance of formal and architectural elements, lawns, woodland, pasture and riverside. The southern boundary is marked by a crenelated quadrant wall, constructed by Sir Robert Cooke in the mid-20th Century. A pair of gate piers open onto a driveway which passes through an avenue of sycamore and horse chestnut trees in what is currently a parking area for visitors. An inner gate is found within a Tudor-gothic archway set in stone wall which encloses the forecourt of the house. A gravel driveway, flanked by formal lawns continues through the forecourt to reach the front door.
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Athelhampton is undoubtedly one of the most magical houses in Dorset - steeped in history but with 21st Century living in mindCamilla Elwell