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Top 10 Stately Homes in England.

When visiting a new destination, you can sometimes be overwhelmed with choice when it comes to deciding where to visit and this is certainly the case with the large number of historic houses and stately homes that are open to the public in England. Hardly surprising, given England's long and colourful history, that an extraordinary legacy of architectural masterpieces has been passed down to the present generation. While many remain in private ownership a number are either owned or managed by the National Trust, a charity set up in 1895 in order to save for the nation important historic sites from falling into disrepair or ruin, often stepping in when impoverished landowners were struggling to maintain vast houses whose running costs were astronomic. 

To help you make your decision, here is our list of top ten historic houses to visit.

1. Blenheim Palace

The site of Blenheim Palace just outside Oxford was a gift from the nation to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough for his victory over a Franco-Bavarian army in 1704 in the War of the Spanish Succession. The house was designed by the well-known architect Sir John Vanbrugh who also designed Castle Howard. The house is surrounded by formal gardens and parkland designed by the landscape architect Capability Brown. The house also has close associations with Sir Winston Churchill who was born at Blenheim Palace and who is buried the graveyard of St Martin's Church in the nearby village of Bladon.

2. Chatsworth

Chatsworth is a stately home in Derbyshire in the heart of the beautiful Peak District. It is the seat of the Dukes of Devonshire and has been in the Cavendish family for over 500 years. Succeeding generations of the family have added to and enhanced the building but most of what you currently see was built towards the end of the 17th century in the neoclassical style. The gardens owe a lot to the work of Joseph Paxton who was the head gardener here for over 30 years, appointed in 1826. His contributions include the famous Emperor Fountain which required the excavation of a feeder lake on the hill above the gardens to create enough pressure to power the 300 ft jet of water.

3. Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle, built in a neo-Jacobean style in the `19th century, has perhaps come to be one of England's best- known stately homes off the back of its association with Downton Abbey, the hugely popular TV drama series and film. However it has an interesting historical connection too, dating back to when Lord Carnarvon, a keen amateur Egyptologist financially supported the archaeologist Howard Carter who went on to discover the ancient tomb of Tutankhamun with its amazing hoard of treasures. An exhibition in the cellars of the house was set up in 2007 to tell the story of the discovery of the tomb.

4. Castle Howard

As mentioned earlier Castle Howard is another work by architect Sir John Vanbrugh and similarities can be noted with Blenheim. Located in North Yorkshire about 15 miles north of York itself, it lies in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and has been the home of the Howard family for over 300 years. Those with a long enough memory will recall it being used as the set for the TV dramatization of Brideshead Revisited, although it has regularly featured as the backdrop for numerous TV period dramas and films over the years. With its ornate interior and over 1000 acres of parkland and gardens you need to allow plenty of time to explore all that is on offer.

5. Longleat House

Longleat House, family seat of the Thynn(e) family, the Marquesses of Bath for over 450 years is perhaps one of the best examples of Elizabethan architecture in the country. 900 acres of parkland designed by Capability Brown is also home to a safari park which was opened in 1966 by the 6th Marquess as one of the first drive through parks to open outside Africa. The impressive collection of exotic wildlife, most notably the lions, is still a popular attraction today. The rather eccentric 7th Marquess (who died recently during the COVID-19 pandemic) is perhaps better known for his unconventional views on marriage and his passion art which found expression in his series of mural paintings (often erotic in nature) with which he decorated the house.

6. Hatfield House

Hatfield House in Hertfordshire lies around 20 miles north of London and is home to the 7th Marquess of Salisbury and has been in the Cecil family for over 400 years. Built during the Jacobean period when Robert Cecil, the 1st Earl, was chief advisor to King James I of England, the house displays many fine examples of craftsmanship from the period such as the Grand Staircase and the stained glass in the private chapel. Much of the layout of the ground dates back to the earlier Tudor period when the estate and deer park was owned by Henry VIII.

7. Osborne House

Located on the Isle of Wight just off the south coast of England, Osborne House was the palatial summer home and much loved retreat of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. When they took over the property in 1845 they demolished the existing building and replaced it with the building you see today, designed by Albert with the help of the architect Thomas Cubitt in the style of an Italian Renaissance palazzo. After Prince Albert died in 1861, Victoria continued to visit Osborne on a frequent basis as it was said to be one of her favorite homes. In fact she died there on 22 Janurary 1901, surrounded by two generations of her family.

8. Alnwick Castle

Owned for over 700 years by the Percy family, the Dukes of Northumberland, Alnwick is the second largest inhabited castle in the UK after Windsor. The property is an amazing blend of medieval and classical architecture some of which dates as far back as the 11th century. The grounds surrounding the castle are once more the work of the prolific landscape gardener Lancelot "Capability" Brown who has already featured in a number of the properties listed here. While rich in history, the castle has come to the attention of a modern audience by its role as a filmset in some of the early the Harry Potter films.

9. Burghley House

Burghley House in Lincolnshire is another property linked to the highly influential Cecil family (see Hatfield House above). William Cecil, who was Lord High Treasurer to Elizabeth I, designed and built Burghley on a grand scale between 1555-1587 at the height of the Elizabethan period. There are no fewer than 35 major state rooms on the ground and first floors and 80 lesser rooms along with numerous corridors, bathrooms and service areas. On the grounds an annual world class Equestrian event is held each year, the Burghley Horse Trials.

10. Waddesdon Manor 

Waddesdon Manor was built in the style of a French Chateau for the Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild. A member of the fabulously wealthy banking family Baron Ferdinand was looking for a place to escape London during the summer months to host his extravagant house parties and entertain guests. On coming into his inheritance in 1874 he purchased what was agricultural land just outside Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire and the first stone was laid in 1876 with construction completed in 1883. The Rothschilds were also avid collectors of fine art and many examples are on display in the house. The gardens too are of exceptional quality, a fine example of Victorian horticulture. Waddesdon was gifted to the National Trust in 1957.

Date: 06/07/2020 | Author: Justin Taylor

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