Exploring England’s Enchanting West Country

Jul 1, 2024

The lush rolling countryside of England’s southwestern reaches were the subject of the Decorative Arts Trust’s May and June 2024 Study Trips Abroad, with explorations of country houses, museums, and galleries in Somerset, Wiltshire, Devon, Cornwall, and beyond.

Pre-Tour in Bath

For members arriving in England in advance of the program, we organized two pre-tour activities in Bath. Dr. Amy Frost from the Bath Preservation Trust explained the architectural development of the resort community during a guided walking tour of the Assembly Rooms, Circus, and Royal Crescent. Guests also enjoyed a study of the Holburne Museum’s extensive decorative arts collection with Curator Eleanor Hutchinson.

Bath, Wiltshire, and Somerset

From our accommodations at the historic Queensberry Hotel, the trip officially kicked off with an introductory lecture by renowned decorative arts historian and West Country native Lisa White. The opening evening included a tour and champagne toast at No. 1 Royal Crescent, also orchestrated by the aforementioned Amy Frost of the Bath Preservation Trust, followed by an extraordinary six-course dinner at the Michelin-starred Olive Tree.

We then hit the ground running with an unforgettable array of country houses. Agnes Methuen welcomed us to the striking Corsham Court in Wiltshire, which features a remarkable and extensive suite of gilt seating furniture (chairs, sofas, and stools) retaining its original show coverings. At the stunning Dyrham Park in South Gloucestershire, curator Lucy Caesar introduced the impact of colonial ties to the built environment of the West Country, with American walnut and cedar imported from Virginia and North Carolina, respectively. In addition to opening their beautiful garden at Great Chalfield Manor, Patsy and Robert Ffloyd explained the layering of genuine Medieval interiors with later revival efforts that intended to evoke England’s ancient past. At Longleat near Warminster, Dr. James Ford and Megan Aldrich shared one of the great prodigy houses of the Elizabethan era, which contains the Thynne family’s superb collection within spellbinding interiors by Jeffry Wyatt and J.G. Crace. The Duke and Duchess of Somerset hosted lunch and a tour at Bradley House in Wiltshire. The adjacent church houses an impressive memorial carved by the renowned 18th-century Flemish sculptor John Michael Rysbrack. The Earl and Countess of Oxford and Asquith shared the Elizabethan stylings of Mells Manor, which belies an impressive collection of Pre-Raphaelite material associated with the early-20th-century resident Lady Frances Horner. Visitors to Stourhead were treated to one of England’s most important landscape parks, but the house also contains furniture provided by Thomas Chippendale the Younger and the magnificent late-16th-century Pope’s Cabinet.

Southwestward Towards Cornwall

Moving westward, we stopped at Knightshayes outside Tiverton, developed in the third quarter of the 19th century by William Burges and J.G. Grace, working in an effusive revival style. A portion of an impressive suite of bedroom furniture designed by Burges for his home in London is on loan to Knightshayes from the Victoria & Albert Museum. The Hotel Endsleigh was built as Endsleigh Cottage for the Duke and Duchess of Bedford and provides superb accommodations set amongst an extensive garden. From westernmost Devon we crossed into Cornwall. Curator Alison Cooper and house manager Alex Halls brought the impressive collection at Cotehele to life. Tremayne Carew Pole greeted us at Antony House, which resembles the scale of the grandest Georgian houses built in the American colonies in the 18th century.


At the extraordinary Saltram, curators Zoe Sherman and Megan Wheeler highlighted the rooms associated with Robert Adam’s trademark Neoclassical style, which featured furniture attributed to Thomas Chippendale and paintings by Joshua Reynolds. Sebastien and Lucy Fenwick have rebuilt the remnants of Shilstone into a stunning Georgian Revival house surrounded by a wonderful garden. Ralph Rayner greeted us at the Modernist Ashcombe Tower, designed by famed train and ocean liner architect Brian O’Rorke and featuring original soft furnishings, including carpets by Marian Dorn. The expansive grounds at the Elizabethan Revival Bovey Castle provided the sumptuous setting for our third hotel stay. At Grey Gables in Bovey Tracey, we interacted with Marhamchurch Antiques’s amazing stock of early English furniture and decorative arts and benefitted from the multigenerational insight offered by Paul Fitzsimmons and his family. The adjacent Church of St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. Thomas contains an extraordinary late-15th-century painted rood screen. Sited on hilly lands southeast of Dartmoor, Ugbrooke House is a rare example of Adam’s castellated style and still contains the Clifford family’s impressive collection of paintings, ceramics, and furniture. Lucy Clifford joined the group for lunch in the Library. The Earl of Dartmouth welcomed the group to Whiteway House, where his delightful collection of paintings and French furniture is displayed within this Georgian residence made of brick, an unusual building material for the West Country. Among the many gems that the Earl of Devon shared at Powderham Castle were a pair of monumental bookcases by local cabinetmaker John Channon.

Swinging Back towards London 

As our West Country adventure wound down, we headed back east. Axminster Carpets is the modern iteration of the firm whose work in the late 18th and early 19th centuries we observed in many of our visits, including Saltram, Longleat, and Stourhead. Tour 1 concluded at the marvelous Mapperton, the hope of the Earl of Sandwich. Tour 2 wrapped up with a tour of the home of Jenny and John Makepeace. John is a legendary figure in the field of English studio furniture, and Jenny is a respected ceramicist. Our Study Trip ended with a farewell dinner and lodgings at the historic Lainston House Hotel, a perfect end to a fantastic trip with old and new friends!

This Study Trip Abroad was truly exceptional! If you are interested in future programs with the Decorative Arts Trust, refer to our calendar of events, sign up for our email list, and follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Members at the Ambassador level and above receive advance registration benefits.

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Formerly known as the "blog,” the Bulletin features new research and scholarship, travelogues, book reviews, and museum and gallery exhibitions. The Bulletin complements The Magazine of the Decorative Arts Trust, our biannual members publication.


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