Lying on the edge of the village of Westwood is the National Trust’s Westwood Manor. Dating from the 15th century, the property has limited openings for visitors during the summer months. It’s close to home, and a long time since I paid a visit, well before starting Roland’s Travels.
Let’s see what we can find out as we tour Westwood Manor.
We must respect that the Manor is a home, and the tenant administers the property on behalf of The National Trust.
The sun is shining, although the air is very cold on this Tuesday, April 26th visit. Mrs M and I arrived a few minutes early because there is limited car parking near the Manor House. At least this gives me an opportunity to take some photos of the church and Parish Hall next door. The Parish Hall opens to serve tea and cakes when the Manor is open, and toilets are available as there are none within the house for visitors.
Please click on any photo to enlarge it.
Promptly at 2 pm, the gates are opened, and rather than go directly into the house, we decided to look around the garden. There are two ponds and an array of topiary. To go through to the ponds, we need to enter through the doorway of the topiary house. There’s a first! The topiary garden is not an original feature of Westwood Manor House and was created by Edgar Lister, who restored the house from 1911 until he died in 1956. He was a diplomat in the Ottoman Court and must have spent a fortune on restoration. The furniture, tapestries, musical instruments and other furnishings are not original to the house but are period correct, having been purchased at auction or wherever Lister could find them.
The ponds are home to the rare and protected Great Crested Newt. Sadly, we didn’t see any on this visit.
As I mentioned at the outset, this is a 15th-century manor house. There were additions in the 16th century, and very fine plasterwork was added in the seventeenth. Lister was an expert in needlepoint and re-upholstered much of the furniture he purchased. The Manor House, as so many properties were in West Wiltshire, was owned by the Priory of St Swithin, Winchester. The City of Winchester was once the capital of England and had power and wealth emanating from it. The Manor House was leased to tenant farmers, and the house's core is Thomas Culverhouse's work. He farmed Westwood until 1485; records show he extended the property in 1480.
Next, we know of Thomas Horton, a local man and a clothier who acquired the lease by 1518. Horton made alterations to much of the interior. During 1616-42 the house was occupied by John Farewell (not one to say goodbye - sorry!). Saying farewell (groan) to parts of the building, he had some of the medieval work demolished, which has left the L-shaped Manor House we see today. Farewell made alterations to some of the chambers, and it was he who commissioned some fine plasterwork.
We start our visit in the house, greeted by a lovely volunteer in the dining hall. A room-by-room laminated description is given to us, and we follow our tour based on the order of rooms described. Because the house is tenanted and is, therefore, a real home, we are confined to just the short side of the “L” of this L-shaped building. There are a few rooms we can peek into, but not allowed to cross the rope barriers. More about this later.
Having collected the information guide, we left the dining hall and went to the room on the far right of the property, next to the topiary house outside. This room is beautifully panelled with portraits of the kings and queens of England spread around the walls below the intricate plaster ceiling of the 17th century. Although dark panelling can make a room feel depressing, in this house, it gives a certain warmth. Unlike later stately homes, it’s not huge and more modest than homes like Longleat House.
Crossing back through the entrance hall, there is a small area under the staircase which leads from the dining hall. Here visitors can sign the visitors’ book and see some old photos and paintings relevant to their visit.
The Great Hall, Westwood Manor
We are now back in the dining hall, which would have been in its day The Great Hall. The ceiling is lower than it was because the Music Room was later built above. The hall has a collection of fine objects, including a very grand birdcage, writing box, pen, dining table and tapestries. If you visit, do take your time in each room, they are not large, but each has many objects worthy of consideration.
At this point, we are allowed a look into a downstairs private room of the tenant. It’s a beautifully panelled room set out at one end with a circular dining table and the other with a pair of armchairs in front of a fireplace. The tenants have use of all the furnishings purchased by Lister.
The Music Room, Westwood Manor
It’s now time to climb the stairs to the music room. Westwood Manor has two rare musical instruments. There is a virginal, which is the county’s earliest Italian keyboard. Incredibly it dates back to 1537. This, along with a 1711 spinet built by Stephen Keene (London), was restored in 2009. The music playing as we look around was recorded using these instruments. The sound takes us back to the days of no TV or radio when people had to make their own music. I find this old harpsichord sound quite relaxing.
The ceiling in the music room is very fine work, as seen in the above photograph. There is a grand fireplace and much more to look at in this room, plus we get a peek into two more rooms occupied by the tenant. Both are bedrooms occupied with four-poster beds. One room has panelled walls with a square wooden framed ceiling. The other has white walls with an amazing plasterwork ceiling, similar to the music room but lower in height.
We now make our way back down the staircase, say goodbye and hand back our laminated guide to the rooms.
It doesn’t take long to get around Westwood Manor, but it is well worth a visit if you are in West Wiltshire. For more information about cost and visiting, visit the National Trust website. It is close to Bradford on Avon, where there is much to see. Here are a couple of links to my writings on Bradford on Avon to date.
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Fair old place that Roland!