Charlecote's mysterious summerhouse
Have you ever stood outside the little thatched summerhouse in the gardens at Charlecote Park, peering through the windows wishing you could see just a little more?
Granny's Summerhouse is a Grade II listed property in its own right and was built from brick and timber for Mary Elizabeth Lucy's children and their children after them. It was built by the same company that built the marvellous dresser in the dining room, the apprentices of the Willcox Studio of Warwick.
The summerhouse was modelled on Plas Newydd in Llangollen, a place which held fond memories for Mary Elizabeth of a holiday spent there as a child. She wrote in her diaries:
‘Dearest Mamma once took me with her to visit two old ladies, Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sara Ponsonby, who lived together in a beautiful cottage at Llangollen and had no end of pretty things in their drawing room… (The little thatched summerhouse in Charlecote’s garden by the orangery I copied from what I remember of that visit and I furnished it with child-sized tables and chairs to amuse my children and their children after them).’ Chapter 1, Mistress of Charlecote
Weather and time have not been kind to this little cottage which is now very fragile. However, fund-raising from raffle tickets has paid for conservation work on the outside in recent years which should mean that it is preserved for some time yet.
The gardener and volunteers always make sure there is interesting planting in containers around the cottage which finishes the picture just perfectly. Don't forget to take a look at the arrangement of pots behind the summerhouse.
The first thing you notice when you go into the summerhouse is how much bigger it is on the inside than it looks from the outside. The interior comprises two rooms, clad with reused timber – it’s good to know they were as keen on recycling as we are today!
The wood has been beautifully crafted and both rooms have canted (angled) ceilings. The first room you enter is full of detail including wooden coats-of-arms decorated into the slanted part of the ceiling. There’s even a built-in mirrored glass cabinet to hold little trinkets.
Both rooms have colourful stained glass windows which let the sun’s rays in beautifully. Two of the stained glass windows have dates on them - 1826 and 1828. These are the years in which Mary and Caroline were born, daughters of Mary Elizabeth and George Hammond Lucy.
A detailed archway divides the two rooms and as you walk through the arch, the first thing that you notice is the fireplace. There is a chimney too and there would once have been a real fire burning in here.
Can you imagine having a playhouse like this as a child and the adventures you could have had in here? Everything has been scaled down for children, yet feels so real, not like a play house at all. Imagine Mary Elizabeth's children playing in the summerhouse, watching who comes up the long pathway to collect them, knowing playtime was about to come to an end for that day.
" My little cottage was quite finished with its Oak panels and carving, Kyte had been at work 5 months, he was so slow, but did his work so well…"
The large window where so many have peered in, looks so different looking out. Your eyes follow the path towards Charlecote house itself, taking in the beautiful gardens along the way. Mary Elizabeth spent many hours pottering around the gardens and loved her time spent in them. It is easy to imagine that as an elderly lady she may have sat in this summerhouse and watched the gardener tend to her beloved garden, although she doesn't mention it in her diaries.
The view must have changed with the seasons as it does today and because of the where the house sits, it’s a perfect spot to watch the sunset.
At the moment the only access to the summerhouse has been during Christmas weekends in previous years when it became Father Christmas's grotto. Father Christmas’s helpers tell us that they've seen a huge amount of interest in the summerhouse from visitors when standing outside at Christmas. Its fragility means we're not sure if we'll be able to use it this way again in future though.
Unfortunately we are unable to open it without volunteers; we’d love to hear from you if you have a few hours to spare. Share your fascination with this delightful little building with our visitors - and of course you’d get to sit in here every week.