Heritage Open Days: The Highlights

It has been a busy week. The annual festival, whereby heritage locations open their doors to the public for free, is an autumnal treat. Having said that, it’s not all about ancient buildings. Last year, with traditions as the theme, I popped into a family-run coffee roaster and this year I enjoyed talking to an artisan cheesemaker (while indulging a little cheese tasting, of course). There were also talks and online events and the festival grows every year. Best of all is the chance to explore places not normally open to the public. New discoveries this year included a backstage tour of The Grange opera house; and the family home of the Viscount of Lymington at Farleigh Wallop; as well as a return visit to the magnificent Winchester College, a firm favourite. The festival closes today but here’s my top five Heritage Open Days spots. If you missed them this past week, add them to your must-visit-soon list.

The festival offers so many wonderful opportunities to get the most from the programme it’s best to plan your individual itinerary for a region, booking early in advance where necessary.

1. Backstage at the opera

The Grange. L to R: trompe l’oeil window and shadows; the main entrance.

L to R: Front Row seats; an opera sign; the stage from the auditorium, and wigs in the wardrobe department. [Click on an image to enlarge].

2. Dean’s Court, Wimborne

Deans Court, Wimborne. L to R: the rear view of the red-brick house from the garden; Elizabethan armorial glass windows in the Saxon Hall.

Deans Court is an elegant historic house set in ancient gardens in Wimborne in Dorset. It has been in the Hanham family for nearly 500 years and today is run by William and Ali Hanham, with a little help from Buster the family dog.

The earliest part of the house formed part of the Saxon monastery of Wimborne, founded in 705 AD, and sacked by the Danes in 1015. In 1868, the hall was remodelled and colourful stained glass windows were added incorporating reclaimed panels of Elizabethan armorial glass.

The River Allen runs through the 13 acres of pretty gardens featuring a Saxon fishpond which originally fed the inhabitants of Wimborne’s monastery between 8th and 11th centuries. Mature trees include an American Swamp Cypress and a Tulip tree, both over 100ft tall, planted by explorer Thomas Hanham on his return from a voyage to the New World in 1607.

Most interestingly the kitchen garden was the first organic garden in the UK to be accredited by the Soil Association, under the supervision of William’s mother, Lady Jane Hanham.

Deans Court also features a café, which uses chemical-free produce from the garden (but sadly was closed when we visited), a shop and accommodation. www.deanscourt.org.

3. Farleigh House, Farleigh Wallop

Farleigh Wallop House. clockwise from top left: the front of the house; a drawing room; the main gates to the estate embellished with the Earl of Portsmouth family emblem of a mermaid holding a comb and a mirror; a view of the gardens out through the French windows; the family portrait gallery of paintings, including the current Earl of Portsmouth, middle right hand column. [Click on an image to enlarge].

Farleigh Wallop house has been in the same family since the 15th century, and the building and land are mentioned in the Domesday Book. Robert Wallop was a Member of Parliament during the reigns of King James I and King Charles I, although on the side of the Parliamentarians during the Reformation to his cost. The house was home to the 9th Earl before the outbreak of WWII who lived there for 13 years before seeking adventure travelling in Kenya. Like many heritage estates at that time Farleigh Wallop remained empty until it became a boys’ prep school in 1954. Grandson, Quentin Wallop, the 10th Earl of Portsmouth, lived at the house while modernising and landscaping from 1989 to 2014. The current stewardship is held by his son Oliver Wallop, Viscount Lymington who kindly led the tour. For more on the history of the house and opportunities to visit go to www.farleighwallop.com

4. Winchester College gardens

Winchester College Gardens. L to R: a wooden bridge over the chalk river leading to an arched wooden door in the flint and stone wall; medieval house; pears ripening on a tree in a walled garden; wisteria surrounding a heritage window frame; the river Itchen set against a backdrop of the heritage flint wall in the Warden’s Garden. [Click on an image to enlarge}.

Winchester College, founded in 1382, is a very special place maintaining more than a remarkable 90 listed buildings (eighteen Grade I, six Grade II* and over seventy Grade II listed). The gardens were open to the public this year as part of the Heritage Open Days, as well as the National Gardening Scheme. There is much to see and enjoy including the atmospheric War Cloister garden, The Treasury displaying some of the college’s collection of historic objects, and the lush gardens. Featuring mature trees, walled gardens and the tumbling chalk river Itchen, all set against a backdrop of magnificent buildings. The gardening team are currently increasing habitats for wildlife with numbered bird boxes, wood piles for hedgehogs (apparently there are quite a number now resident) and ‘bug houses’ in amongst the trees. The gardens are an oasis of peace and beauty within the centre of Winchester city. I urge you to visit if you haven’t already had the opportunity. www.winchestercollege.org

5. Kingston Lacy

Kingston Lacy at Wimborne. L to R: formal garden; front elevation with lions bronzes.

L to R: a decorated ceiling in the Spanish Room; two rather sulky cherubs decorating a bronze urn in the formal garden; and two matching antique chairs with plaster wall light. [Click on an image to enlarge].

One of Britain’s most extravagant collectors in the nineteenth-century, William John Bankes (1786-1855), amassed art and antiquities at his country estate at Kingston Lacy. An intrepid and experienced traveller, and a pioneer in the study of ancient Egypt, Bankes was a Cambridge University graduate, and friends with prominent figures including Lord Byron and the Duke of Wellington.

In the gardens a second century BC Egyptian obelisk and the monumental 13th century BC sarcophagus of an Egyptian notable named Amenemope sit rather incongruously in the quintessential English landscape.

Inside though, the treasures and interior decorations are quite simply stunning. Lavish ceilings, larger than life portraits as well as galleries of miniatures, mingle with intricate embroidered sofas and cushions, pieces of exquisite marquetry furniture, carved wooden doors and decorative panels and, in the dining room, a 19th century organ.

Kingston Lacy is one of the Ntional Trust’s most impressive houses and estates with expansive woodland to explore, a Japanese Tea Garden, a kitchen garden, and a Fernery. Sadly, today the upstairs was closed due to a shortage of volunteers but you could easily spend most of a day at the property. Kingston Lacy near Wimborne in Dorset www.nationaltrust.org.uk/kingston-lacy.

All photos Irene Caswell, hashtagtravelling.uk. More photos will be posgted on Instagram @hashtagtravelin.

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