Changing fortunes

Montacute in decline

Aerial photo of Montacute House and Estate © National Trust/Montacute House

The Phelips family left their ancestral home in 1911, after which Montacute was leased to a succession of tenants. In 1915, the house was taken over by the illustrious Lord Curzon. However, Montacute was put up for sale in 1929 and valued ‘for scrap’ at £5,882 in 1931.

The revival of Montacute

Montacute surrounded by buttercups © Visitor@Montacute

Offered 'for scrap' in 1931, Montacute was rescued by Ernest Cook, the grandson of Thomas Cook (of the travel company fame). He funded the purchase of Montacute by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) and the property was given to us as one of our first great houses.

The man who saved Montacute

Ernest Cook the man who saved Montacute as a young man © Thomas Cook Archives UK & Ireland

In 1928 after the selling his interest in the family travel firm, Ernest devoted himself to his art collection and the acquisition of country estates. He acquired a total of 17 estates, of which Montacute House, Bath Assembly Rooms, Bradenham, Buscot and Coleshill all passed on to the Trust.

Entertaining through time

Pudding houses

Sitting by one of the Pudding Houses in the garden at Montacute House © NTPL

Favoured dinner guests were often asked to retire to one of the pudding houses, which offered extensive views over the parkland, for the third course of fruits, sweetmeats, quince, jelly and sweet spiced wine.

Ice house

Ice house at Monatcute House © Staff National Trust/N.Rogers

Ice blocks, cut by servants from local ponds, were stored in the chamber throughout the winter to keep game, wine and other foods chilled. The family also took the opportunity to show off their wealth by serving luxury frozen desserts to their guests.

Curzon's pavillion

Wibbly Wobbly © National Trust

A pavilion was already in place at the time of Lord Curzon’s tenancy in the house. Curzon, who had also remodelled some of the rooms in the house, turned his attention to adding an Elizabethan façade to the building, linking the architecture to the house.

Top ten Montacutians

Find out more about the people who made Montacute their home.

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Meet the family