Thursday 9 September 2010

Dyrham Park

Perhaps I ow my taste for British mansions to my foreign origins (it's what the Brits might say :)), or to all those period set dramas filmed in many of them, or maybe it's just my eternal fascination with an austere, restraint, somewhat macabre aesthetic that for some reason I can never get enough of.
Whatever it is, it makes me want to go and see, as if being there - wherever that might be - could mean actually experiencing the place trough a bizarre, osmosis-like process.

All that being said, I found this property - today in the administration of the National Trust - rather overrated, particularly after a long drive and a very high entrance fee (in which - and only - it compares to Paris sites).

Built during the reign of William III, Dyrham Park consists of a baroque house surrounded by 110 hectares of parkland.

Admittedly, some of it is beautiful just as it is (always been a fan of bare hills), however one cannot shake the general impression that not a lot is being done with all this land. It is inhabited by deer though, but apart from coming across some possible evidence in the grass, we haven't actually had an encounter. That would be rather difficult too, considering the high flux of visitors.

Things are not that impressive on the inside either, as it is in general dark and funny smelling but some of the furniture is very attractive, illustrating the taste for all things Dutch in the17th century, together with some later additions from the 18th century. One room has the walls entirely covered in leather, which unfortunately today has a rather spooky appearance, but talking to a curator he showed me an image of how it would have looked back in the day, and I have to say it must have been pretty stunning.

Like a respectable property of its time, the house has its orangery, a bit plain, but finally some light!

The Victorian domestic quarters were the absolute highlight of the visit for me, with a fantastic kitchen (bear in mind I'm not somebody who cooks!) and the most beautiful delftware, adding to the lovely collection accommodated in the rest of the house.

Finally, some idyllic countryside around the property, very much my cup of tea in terms of scenery expectations, but with all its beauty couldn't quite make for an all satisfying visit.


  1. Oh wow. First: I LOVE that rich red color on you! Second: I too share your love of being "to the manor borne" (just ask my husband, whom I've been forcing to watch Gosford Park and dragging to historic site after historic site all summer....AND I've just found another one that we were slated to visit this weekend). It's sometimes amusing to see the results of my colonial forefathers' attempts to recreate English manor houses in the wilds of Canada. Sometimes they are stunning replicas with grandeur that rivals the beautiful sites I've visited in the UK. Sometimes they are rather poor, sad copies of superior originals. I'm rambling. CLEARLY, I share your passion (and love fictional manor house murder mysteries even MORE!)

  2. as austere and "wasteful" as these sites must sometimes seem, they really do preserve history in a way that is irreplaceable. Canadians don't have many sites like this that are as old and "historical," so I for one think it would be a shame if such places were redeveloped, as I find them a fantastic way to really experience and better understand the past (the old social order, etc). Also, at least they get used by the movie industry to make the aforementioned manor house movies I adore so much! At least now this land is now owned "by the people" and can be accessed and enjoyed by more than just a very select elite (although as you note, the price of admission is getting steep!)

  3. when i said that not much is done with the land i didn't have redeveloping in mind, not in the modern sense, but rather sympathetic reconstruction - i've seen the original plans of the house and the gardens they had in the 18th century were, going by the plans, absolutely regal. there's not much there today to remind of them. surely all that money that comes from the visitors could find its way into a fund that could, for example, help reestablish such past grandeur.
    as for having access to visit places like that, yes i am thankful for that, and one is lucky to have plenty of them in Britain.
    and apparently one can even organize one's wedding there, imagine those privileged couples!

  4. and thanks for the compliment, yes red is a color that seems to work for me in most of its shades - and I've tried a purply blue combination here which I think looks quite vintage but it's probably not everyone's cup of tea. My best friend hates it!