MONTACUTE & LYTES CARY: THE GIFTS OF TWO BENEFACTORS
September saw us make the short trip into Somerset to visit two National Trust properties near Yeovil. Montacute House was built around 1600 as the country residence of Edmund Phelips, Speaker of the House of Commons and Master of the Rolls. An excellent outside tour gave us an idea of how the house would have been run in its Elizabethan heyday and of the impact it would have made on visitors arriving for the first time. The golden Ham stone frontage beset with many highly expensive windows would have left no doubt that the owner was a rich and powerful person.
Montacute remained in the ownership of the Phelips family until the early twentieth century and much remains unchanged from the original building. Its glory is the second floor long gallery, the longest surviving in England. There are stories of the Phelips children using the Gallery to exercise their ponies. This area is now used to display works on loan from the National Portrait Gallery, currently featuring Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James VI and I.
The house was sold in 1931 to philanthropist Ernest Cook from whom it passed to the National Trust, unfortunately without any furniture which had all been sold off. The Trust has since refurnished the house appropriately and it has been open to the public since 1932.
In contrast to the solidly Elizabethan Montacute, Lytes Cary Manor is an architectural hodge-podge. The oldest part of the property is the chapel, which dates from the fourteenth century. The Lyte family added a Great Hall and other parts of the house over the next few centuries before selling the house in 1755. Thereafter, the house fell into disrepair and was used as an agricultural store until being bought by Sir Walter Jenner in 1907. Sir Walter repaired and refurnished the house with period furniture before leaving it to the National Trust on his death in 1948.
Lytes Cary’s original gardens have disappeared. The current gardens have been designed and laid out since the Trust took over and include several beautiful flower gardens as well as an orchard and some interesting topiary. Relaxing amongst the trees and flowers rounded off a beautiful day at these two contrasting houses.