Wilton House - Enchanting Havens
"Wilton House, home to the 18th Earl and Countess of Pembroke, provides a fascinating insight into British history. Built on the site of a 9th century nunnery but now set in 21 acres of parkland, with water and rose gardens beside the River Nadder and Palladian Bridge."
I visited Wilton House in Wiltshire, with my usual companion in tow in May. The house remains a private home and can only be visited by booking a tour. I have never gone on a tour before because every time I see one the people look bored out of their minds and are trapped there, unable to escape the torturous drone of their guide. On this occasion I braved it as not only does the house have connections to the Bright Young Things, it has also been used as a set for many films and series that I’ve loved.
Of all the tours we could have picked we really lucked out as our tour guide was one of the most engaging women I have ever met. She took us round the house telling us stories about rooms and objects like she was telling the stories for the first time. The house was beautiful, the cloisters were exquisite and as photos were not permitted I couldn’t work and just had to enjoy myself like a normal person.
What also makes Wilton House so special is the Sotheby's exhibition: Cecil Beaton at Wilton, curated by English designer Jasper Conran. It is a permanent exhibition, open year round, and it contains many images of Cecil and the Bright Young Things that I had never seen before. Wilton was pivotal to Cecil's life in Wiltshire:
“He loved Wiltshire from his first visit - to Wilsford Manor, as a guest of Stephen Tenant, in January 1927. He was taken under the wing of Edith Olivier, at the Daye House on the Wilton Estate. She helped him with his early books and found him two houses - Ashcombe in 1930 and Reddish House, Broadchalke in 1948.
Invited to Sidney Herbert's 21st birthday ball in August 1927, he enraged a group of young bloods by wearing make-up. They catapulted him into the Nadder. With squelching shoes he returned to the dance, defying his attackers. David Herbert became a lifelong friend and Cecil was fond of Henry, 17th Earl and his wife Claire. In 1979, a few weeks before he died he could be found at their ball, seated in the Double Cube Room, under Van Dyke's portrait of the 4th Earl, Lady Diana Cooper on one side and the Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury on the other. He was almost the guest of honour. He had slain the dragons of the past.”
- Hugo Vickers
The gardens were lovely, I tried to recreate a picture in the gardens of Edith Olivier in front of the Paladin Bridge by Cecil Beaton (minus Edith Olivier) and imagine what it was like for Rex Whistler when he painted the house from the opposite bank of the river.
Wilton House has found its rightful place in my top five great country houses of Britain (as well as the Pembroke Arms as one of my top five pubs) and so I would encourage all to visit this most remarkable house.