The His­toric Homes of England

Athel­hamp­ton House, Dorset

This England - - Contents -

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.

NEIL NEWEY

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