Historic Houses

The Box

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There are some wonderful historic houses in the Plymouth area where time often seems to have stood still. They’re all very different but all provide a glimpse into the history of the South West and its landowning families. Here’s more information about the three National Trust properties located near to Plymouth. Although currently closed due to the Coronavirus outbreak, they have wonderful histories and will definitely be worth a visit once they’re able to open again.

Saltram House

Situated on the outskirts of Plymouth in a wooded landscaped park high above the River Plym, Saltram is a jewel in the National Trust’s crown. It was accepted into the Trust in 1957 in lieu of tax. The house, garden and parkland are visited by thousands of people each year. In more recent times its festive displays and illuminated gardens have proven to be a huge draw at Christmas.

According to the Devon Museums website, ‘the House with its magnificent decoration and original contents was largely created between the 1740s and 1820s by three generations of the Parker family.

‘Highlights include Robert Adam’s neo-classical Saloon, exquisite plasterwork ceilings, original Chinese wallpapers and an exceptional collection of paintings including many by Angelica Kauffman and Sir Joshua Reynolds’.

Therese Parker (1744-1775) arrived at Saltram as the second wife of John Parker (1735-1788) in 1769. Together they transformed it from a manor house into a mansion.

Robert Adam was one of the most influential architects of the time and they worked with him, sparing no expense. His knowledge and expertise combined with Therese’s taste and sense of style brought works by fine artists, furniture by Chippendale and ceramics by Wedgwood to Saltram.

The Saloon that visitors to Saltram see today is one of the best examples of their partnership. It’s a beautiful room of blue and gold filled with great detailing, an ornate ceiling and a huge Axminster carpet. The room was completed in 1772.

A number of developments happened outside the house too. Thousands of trees were planted. Seating, garden buildings and new carriage drives were also put in.

Saltram remained in the Parker family for four more generations after John and Therese. She died young in 1775 – only a few years after arriving at Saltram. Each generation made changes that reflected their own tastes and the fashions of the time, but which always respected the early history of the house.

The Parkers’ friendship with Sir Joshua Reynolds is another interesting and important aspect of Saltram’s history. He visited them there and records show that he also met John Parker regularly in London. They commissioned him to paint a number of portraits and he also acted as their advisor and art dealer.

Find out more about Saltram here.

Buckland Abbey

Buckland Abbey is a Grade I listed building and a Scheduled Ancient Monument. It was founded as a Cistercian monastery in 1278 and built from locally quarried shillet and granite. The Abbey would have had cloisters, a bake house, a brew house and workshops. The Great Barn, which was built around 1300, still stands today.

The requisition of Buckland Abbey during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the monasteries was relatively peaceful. The land was eventually leased to Richard Grenville in 1541. His son, Roger Grenville, famously captained the Mary Rose and died on board when it sank in 1545.

His son, also called Richard, made big changes to Buckland, converting the Abbey into a fashionable home for the times and pulling down the cloisters and other outbuildings.

In September 1580, Drake and his crew arrived back in England after circumnavigating the globe. The voyage was testament to his skill as a seafarer and navigator. It also made him wealthy. The money plundered from the Spanish during the voyage was enough for Elizabeth I to pay off the National debt.

She rewarded Drake with a knighthood. Now a rich man, he needed to buy a country estate that was fitting of his new status. Buckland wasn’t far from his birthplace of Tavistock and he continued to live there until his death at sea in 1596.

Drake had no direct descendants so the Abbey passed to his brother and then nephew. It remained in the Drake family until the 1900s.

After a disastrous fire in the 1940s, a huge fundraising effort was undertaken to acquire and restore Buckland Abbey. It was given to the National Trust but secured with the support of and fundraising by local personalities including the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe and Nancy Astor, and Plymouth City Council who ran it as a branch of the museum.

Parts of the Abbey were restored and museum exhibits were installed at Buckland in time for a grand opening in 1951 that coincided with the Festival of Britain.

Visitors today can walk in the footsteps of monks, sailors and servants as they learn more about a property that’s witnessed eight centuries of history.

Find out more about Buckland here.

Cotehele House

Located in Calstock in Cornwall on the banks of the River Tamar, Cotehele was one of the Edgcumbe family’s homes for six centuries.

The Grade I listed house originally dates from medieval times. It was mainly re-built during the Tudor period and is now one of the least altered properties from that time in the UK.

The inside of the house is really interesting with a Great Hall filled with arms and armour that hosts a beautiful garland each Christmas, rooms filled with tapestries and a chapel that dates from the 1400s.

According to the Trust, the Edgcumbe family developed the interiors between about 1750 and 1860 to evoke a sense of nostalgia and recreate the atmosphere of the ‘good old days’.

Cotehele also has a big 1,300-acre estate with gardens, woodland, orchards, working farm buildings, a well-preserved stone dovecote, a medieval fish pond, a tower and a Victorian summerhouse. There are beautiful views of Calstock from the terraced gardens at the rear of the house and the grounds stretch all the way down to a quay.

Find out more about Cotehele here.

Other Historic Properties

Antony House near Torpoint, Lanhydrock House near Bodmin, Coleton Fishacre near Brixham and Killerton House near Cullompton are a few of the other National Trust properties within driving distance of Plymouth.

Visit the Historic Houses website to find out more about a number of amazing independently owned properties in the Plymouth area.

…..and don’t forget Mount Edgcumbe, just across the river from Plymouth. You can find out more about the house, park and its history on its website.

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