Home of the Spencer Family
Althorp is best known today as the home and gravesite of Diane, Princess of Wales. It has been the family home of the Spencers for 19 generations. The Spencers first arrived as landed sheep farmers in 1486, building a home here in 1508. The house sits in 550 acres of parkland, part of the wider 13,000-acre estate. Many species inhabit the land including skylarks, wild grey partridges, and barn owls.
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The Estate includes cottages, farms, woodlands and villages, with more than 100 listed buildings and structures, 20 thatched buildings, 3 scheduled ancient monuments, and 15 miles of stone walls. Althorp Park is noted for veteran trees, mainly oak, some of which are more than 400 years old. An historic church is located in nearby Althorp village. Allow time to visit it.
In 1677 the house was surrounded by a moat and walled gardens. In the late 1990s garden designer Dan Pearson, redeveloped the gardens so the visitor could take in the wider landscape with its collection of trees.
Henry Holland remodeled the setting of the house in the 1780s. The formal gardens on the hill above the house were designed by WM Teulon in the 1860s and provided the family’s fruit, flowers, and vegetables.
The Stables, of warm honey-coloured ironstone, are Italian in inspiration with Tuscan porticos. They were built in 1732-33 by Roger Morris under the instructions of the 5th Earl of Sunderland. They housed 100 horses and up to 40 grooms until the early 20th century. On the north front exterior is a group of cannons used in the battle of Navarino against the Turks in 1827.
When we visited there was an exhibition about Diana, Princess of Wales which covered five rooms in the Stables and told of her life and work. Included were her 1981 Royal Wedding dress, childhood letters, school reports, and details of her charitable works. The exhibition has been replaced by the Spencer exhibition for 2015.
The lake, known as the Round Oval, was constructed in 1868. The Temple beside it was added in 1901 by John Poyntz, Fifth Earl Spencer; then moved to the south of the Round Oval in 1926. It is dedicated to the memory of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Nineteen rooms at Althorp are open for visitors who will see paintings, furniture, a ceramic collection and much more collected by the Spencers over the past 500 years.
A tour of some of the 19 rooms on display
Saloon and Spencer Gallery: A central hallway, once an open courtyard that served as a place to arrive via horse; roofed in 1662; oak staircase built 1666; moulded ceiling.
Billiard Room: Spencer family’s billiard table; large canvases include portrait of Elisabeth, Empress of Austria.
Chapel: Private chapel used on daily basis until 1900; still used; organ bought 1990s.
Garden Lobby: Part of porcelain collection from Europe and Orient.
Great Room: Formal space dates from middle of 17th century; part of suite of reception rooms; used for political meetings by second Earl who was First Lord of the Admiralty and Home Secretary; contains highlights of Spencer art collection.
Library: Collection dates from 1892; original collection sold off to bring in money in late 19th century.
Marlborough Room: Created in 1916 by joining a billiard room and part of old library space; used as drawing room until 1990s; now a formal dining room; Victorian rosewood table can seat up to 42 people; ‘squiggle-back’ chairs made in 1800 by George Seddon; room named in memory of Sarah (nee Jennings), First Duchess of Marlborough, who left fortune to Spencer family in 1744.
Picture Gallery: Oak paneling and oak floor stretching 115 feet; similar to its Tudor origins; 60 portraits including Sir Peter Lely’s portraits of ten of Charles II’s mistresses, known as ‘The Windsor Beauties’.
South Drawing Room: Once a dining room, but too far from kitchens; many windows that overlook gardens and stables; 15 portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds include three generations of Spencer family; miniatures in alcoves include portrait of Admiral Lord Nelson, one of whose main patrons was George John, Second Earl Spencer.
Sunderland Room: Paintings in room chosen by current Earl in homage to John Charles, Third Earl Spencer; once the earl of the day’s bedroom; original moulding.
Wootton Hall: Georgian room; named after John Wootton, artist responsible for paintings of local hunt that line the high walls; once the archway entrance to inner courtyard of Althorp; remodeled as part of work carried out between 1729-1733; Italian marble checkerboard floor laid during WWI.
Oak Bedroom: Famous as the room in which John, the First Earl Spencer married 18-year-old Georgiana.
Princess of Wales Room: Named for future King Edward VII and his wife, Alexandra, the Princess of Wales, who visited in 1863 and slept in this room; most of furniture surrounding is Georgian; four poster bed.
Queen Mary Room: Named after Queen Mary who stayed in the room when visiting with her husband, King George V in 1913; portraits; chairs covered with needlework designed and worked by the Seventh Earl who was chairman of the Royal School of Needlework; tall bed, draped in green taffeta, is copy of an 18th century design.
On the A428 between Rugby and Northampton
Northamptonshire, East Midlands
Tel. for booking and info: 0 1604 770 107; estate office: 0 1604 770 006
Open: times are for 2015): 1pm to 5pm, last admission to house 3.45pm; last admission to stables and grounds 4pm; May: Sundays; June Sundays except 14th; July Sun, 12th, then from 18th-31st; Aug, daily noon-5pm; Sep, Sundays admittance to house according to booking, which is required; tickets may be purchased from the website when available; tours of the house are on offer.
Shop; cafe with pre-packaged/made food; picnic area; parking across and down the road
Photos © by Barbara Ballard except the library, Princess of Wales room, and hall courtesy Althorp.
Note: photos not allowed of the interior