Athelhampton is one of England’s best examples of 15th century domestic architecture. It has been in private ownership for more than 500 years.
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A house stood on the site from 1086 and has been added to many times over the ensuing years. In 1485 a great hall, solar, and buttery were added. In the house are a great hall, great chamber, wine cellar, and king’s room. A west wing and a gatehouse were 1550 additions, built by Robert Martyn. This gatehouse was demolished in 1862. A north wing was added in 1920-21 by owner George Cockrane. On November 2, 1992, there was a fire at Athelhampton, but fortunately most of the home’s contents were saved.
In the 13th century the home belonged to the de Loundres. The de Pydeles took over in Richard II’s time. Their heiress was married to Richard Martyn in 1350. Their descendant, Sir William Martyn, was the one who did the building in 1485. Four daughters were left when the Martyn male line died out in the 16th century.
It was at this time that Athelhampton supposedly acquired a ghost, but this is one of a different kind altogether: an ape. It belonged to the last male member of the family. When he died in 1595, the ape was left to roam the house on its own. Apparently it was trapped in the cellar with its secret staircase, and its ghost is still trying to escape. Look in the great hall for the monkey crest in the window glass.
The daughters married into various families, one of which was the nephew of the duke of Wellington. From 1848 to 1891 owner George Wood made repairs to the house, but it was a further owner Alfred Cart de Lafontaine who completed the restoration and built the formal gardens. The house saw a number of owners in the following years. Robert Cooke, a future member of parliament, received the house as a gift from his father in 1966 and continued the improvements. His son, Patrick, and his wife are the 21st century proprietors.
The 20 acres of grounds include eight walled gardens, fountains, and pavilions. All are encircled by the river Piddle. The deer park was enclosed in 1485. In 1891 the gardens and grounds underwent major restoration, and the formal gardens were created. The great court and south terrace has 12 yew pyramids, each 30 feet high.
A sunken lawn has a fishpond and fountain. A dovecote and coach house are in the grounds. The corona has a circular wall of Ham stone, set off by clipped yew. Nearby are a cascade and pool and a rock garden. Also in the grounds are a canal, octagonal pond, and a white garden. In the white garden is a collection of shrub roses.
A tour of Athelhampton
Great hall: heraldic glass from the 15th and 16th centuries; linenfold panelling and medieval screen; minstrels’ gallery with c1800 organ; Flemish tapestry.
King’s ante room: oak panelled walls, timbered ceiling; Victorian gothic art works; Coade-stone torchere, once the property of George, Prince of Wales.
Great chamber: also called the drawing room; heraldic glass in the windows; plaster ceiling; oak wall panelling dated 17th century; secret panel that leads to staircase up to library and down to cellar.
Wine cellar: authentic in design of earlier times; in use to store wine and champagne
Yellow closet: flock yellow walls give the room its name.
Library: panelled in 1893 after removing petitions that served to configure bedrooms; 3000 books; snooker table; regency mahogany sideboard.
Screens passage: 15th century oak door at each end.
Dining room: panelled in green Florentine silk; Corinthian oak pilasters; carved 17th century beams; eight George III mahogany dining chairs to a Chippendale design; kula carpet on the floor.
East wing: secret room with silver safe; family archives.
Dressing room: wallpaper designed by AWN Pugin.
State bedroom: c15th century Ham stone fireplace (look for the monkey crest); early c17th century oak four poster bed; chapel off the bedroom.
Yellow bedroom: Delft fireplace tiles
Marevna gallery: at top of west wing; displays of her art—she lived at the house before World War I.
King’s room: decorated with gothic lily wallpaper; a 15th century solar once occupied the space; takes its name from the manorial court held here; Charles I oak test bedstead.
Athelhampton is located on the A35, one mile east of Puddletown, near Dorchester, Dorset.
Tel. 0 1305 848 363
Open: April-end Oct, Sun-Thu; Nov-Feb, 11am-5pm; tea-room opens 10.30am
Historic Houses Association member
Shop, tea-room, car park; self-catering accommodation; river walk
Note: Athelhampton is a fascinating place to visit. Allow a minimum of half a day if you wish to explore the gardens and grounds and have lunch.