The Historic Homes of England
Athelhampton House, Dorset
Surrounded by the River Piddle and situated close to the village of Tolpuddle, famous for its 19th-century rural martyrs, Athelhampton, a Grade 1 listed manor house, dates back to the late 15th century. The west wing (above centre) was added around 1550 and the estate was passed down through the Long family before being sold firstly to George Wood, then to the antiquarian Alfred de la Fontaine who added the north wing in 1920. He also engaged the landscape artist, Inigo Thomas, to transform the 160-acre estate, including 20 acres of formal garden “outdoor rooms” with accompanying fountains, pavilions, statues, obelisks and terraces. Particularly impressive is the Great Court with its 12 superb giant pyramid-shaped yew trees.
It is believed Thomas Hardy’s father worked here as a stonemason and that the novelist was a regular visitor who painted a watercolour of the house and also wrote a poem called “The Dame of Athelhall”. Great Western Railway steam locomotive 6971, Athelhampton Hall, was scrapped in 1965 but the engine’s name plates were removed and are kept on display.
The current owners are the Cooke family who endured a serious fire in 1992 which destroyed the attic and first floor of the south wing. Robert Cooke, MP for Bristol West, sadly died young from motor neurone disease but during his tenure the house was used for the 1972 film thriller Sleuth, starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. In 2009 it was also used for the Julian Fellowes film From Time to Time based on the children’s time travel novel The Chimneys of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston.