THE BIG WEEK­END

Stan­ley Ste­wart plays squire and mine host at a grand English pile

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

MY coun­try house par­ties have al­ways suf­fered from one slight prob­lem. I don’t have a coun­try house. The so­lu­tion is to rent one: a place with long draw­ing rooms for pre-din­ner drinks, four­poster beds, cro­quet lawns and a set of back stairs for creep­ing adul­ter­ers. I settle on Bradley House in Wilt­shire, which sleeps 26 in gra­cious en suite style with­out any­one hav­ing to re­sort to the sofa. Then I be­gin rop­ing in friends.

When we turn up it’s as if we’ve died and gone to Gos­ford Park .A fine Ge­or­gian manor set in rolling park­lands, Bradley House comes equipped with all the para­pher­na­lia of priv­i­lege: grand en­trance halls, sweep­ing stair­cases, ba­ro­nial fire­places, win­dows so tall you could ride a horse through them, and bath­tubs in which you could do lengths.

Bradley House is the kind of place to make you won­der how you’ve sur­vived all th­ese years with­out 10,000ha, a peer­age and a fam­ily motto.

The draw­ing room is larger than most city apart­ments. A fire crack­les in the li­brary where deep so­fas await guests in­clined to curl up with a good book, or one an­other. The mu­sic room is a chil­dren’s do­main of games and pi­anos and DVDs. Be­neath Flem­ish ta­pes­tries and sil­ver can­de­labra, the din­ing room ta­ble is a pol­ished run­way laid for 25. Across the hall, the kitchen is the size of a small barn. Be­yond lies a re­as­sur­ing hin­ter­land of but­ler’s pantries, laun­dry rooms, gun rooms, cloak­rooms and back stairs.

The fam­ily seat of the dukes of Som­er­set, Bradley House was built in 1720. Orig­i­nally it ri­valled Lon­gleat, its neigh­bour, but some fam­ily cri­sis in the early 19th cen­tury ne­ces­si­tated pulling down two wings, re­duc­ing the house from pala­tial to merely very large. The fam­ily are the Sey­mours, who were granted their ti­tle by Henry VIII when he took a fancy to the young Jane Sey­mour. He in­vited her to be­come lady-in-wait­ing to Anne Bo­leyn. Eleven days af­ter Anne’s ex­e­cu­tion, Henry mar­ried Jane. Their mar­i­tal bed, with its dense oak carv­ings, is up­stairs in the Bow Bed­room.

Fam­ily por­traits abound. The gloomi­est line the cen­tral stair­case. There is John Sey­mour, Jane’s fa­ther, a lugubri­ous fel­low in charge of an in­tim­i­dat­ing beard. Clearly a man with more fa­cial hair than sense, it was he who of­fered the hand of his daugh­ter to the ux­o­ri­ci­dal king. Then again, per­haps it was the old wheeze of sac­ri­fic­ing the girls so the boys could get on. Op­po­site is the paint­ing of the male heir who Jane had pro­duced, the young Ed­ward VI. He is watched over by Jane’s brothers: Ed­ward, who be­came Lord Pro­tec­tor to the boy king, and Thomas, who be­came High Ad­mi­ral.

Cars be­gin purring up the curv­ing gravel drive, and the guests make their en­trances like char­ac­ters in an Agatha Christie novel. I dole out bed­rooms with giddy aban­don. The bach­e­lor bar­ris­ter is as­signed the Gar­den Room at the end of the west wing. The bi­sex­ual nov­el­ist is given the bed in which Henry VIII bed­ded Jane Sey­mour. The his­to­rian is of­fered the Ital­ian bed­room with its fine ori­en­tal­ist prints on the grounds that she grew up in Is­tan­bul (sadly they turn out to be prints of Cairo). The jour­nal­ist with the frisky young wife is given the Park Bed­room with the chan­de­lier poised above the four­poster bed.

The glam­orous di­vorcee is in­stalled within cor­ri­dor-creep­ing dis­tance of the bach­e­lor bar­ris­ter. Chil­dren are dis­patched to nurs­ery bed­rooms on the sec­ond floor where they em­bark upon a game of hide and seek that runs longer than The So­pra­nos.

We spend three bliss­ful days in Bradley’s el­e­gant bub­ble. The house man­ages the neat trick of be­ing grand with­out be­ing in the least for­mal. I re­alise this is how a manor house would be if I owned one my­self, full of books and comfy so­fas and log fires. There are pi­ano duets in the mu­sic room, chess games half fin­ished in the li­brary, a great gag­gle of muddy wellies inside the back door and a kitchen that is the warm heart of the house.

Ev­ery evening we have drinks in the draw­ing room in front of a roar­ing fire be­fore we re­pair to bois­ter­ous can­dlelit meals at the long din­ing ta­ble. No one can re­mem­ber such a won­der­ful house or such a fine house party. And no one wants to leave.

Check­list

Prices for big prop­er­ties can be eye­wa­ter­ing so your guests should be pay­ing part­ners. Di­vided among the num­ber of oc­cu­pants, many Bri­tish houses are sur­pris­ingly good value, of­ten con­sid­er­ably less than a com­pa­ra­ble ho­tel. Bradley House is a mem­ber of the the Coun­try Cas­tle Com­pany. More: www.the­coun­trycastle­com­pany.co.uk. Stay­ing at Land­mark Trust her­itage prop­er­ties in Bri­tain ( Fab­u­lousFol­lies, Travel&In­dul­gence, May 10-11): www.theaus­tralian.com.au/travel.

Mind your manor: Lav­ish in­te­ri­ors and the grand ex­te­rior of Bradley House in Wilt­shire, which ac­com­mo­dates 26 guests; a scene from the film

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.