History of Dyrham Park

The west front of the house

Dyrham Park as we know it was created by colonial administrator William Blathwayt in the late 17th Century.

There are so many stories about the people who owned Dyrham Park over the years and it largely focuses on the Blathwayts. Here are some of the key people from the history of the house and estate.
 
William Blathwayt (1649-1717)
 
Born into a reasonably well-to-do family of merchants and lawyers, William Blathwayt’s early life was marred by tragedy when his father – a London lawyer - died destitute. William was just 5-years-old. Fortunately William’s mother Anne had a wealthy brother, Thomas Povey (also a lawyer), who bailed her out financially and introduced her to his friend Thomas Vivian, who became a stepfather to her children. 
 
Povey also took the young William under his wing, and helped to foster his talents by securing him a job at the English embassy in The Hague in 1668. William then worked his way up the ranks as a Clerk to the Privy Council, during which time he became a key figure in the administration of the American colonies. By 1683, he had risen to become Secretary at War under James II. Even the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the deposition of James II couldn’t halt his meteoric rise, as Blathwayt's competence and ability to speak Dutch meant he was soon re-hired by the new monarch William III. 
 
The wealth and status he achieved via his work demanded a country estate to match. In 1686 he learned of Dyrham Park, its Tudor manor house and 36-year-old heiress, Mary Wynter. They were soon married. 
 
Mary Wynter (1650–1691)
 
The Wynters, who bought Dyrham in 1571, were a naval family. Captain John Wynter sailed with Francis Drake in 1577, but was accused of piracy and almost brought the family to ruin through lawsuits, which were said to have cost him £10,000. 
 
The family managed to hold on to their property during the Civil War despite their Royalist leanings, but their financial problems continued to grow and the Tudor house at Dyrham Park fell into disrepair. The situation was made worse by the fact that, of John II's five children, only Mary survived.
 
Mary was introduced to William Blathwayt in 1686 by the diplomat and statesman Sir Robert Southwell (who owned the nearby Kings Weston estate), and only a few months later they were married and went on to have four children (one of whom died in infancy). Five years after they wed, Mary died due to complications related to childbirth and never knew the grand refurbished Dyrham Park as we see it today, but she left her husband with three surviving children: William, John and Anne. 
 
Building Dyrham
 
Between 1692 and 1704 William undertook a huge renovation of the house, tearing down most of the dilapidated Tudor manor to build the spectacular baroque structure we see today. You can learn more about this in the Building Dyrham exhibition.
 
William retired to Dyrham in 1710 and remained there until his death seven year later, when he was buried in the local churchyard of St Peter’s.
 
The next generation of Blathwayts
 
The oldest son, William II (1688-1742) grew up to inherit Dyrham Park. In 1705 William and his brother John embarked on the ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe with their tutor, Monsieur de Blainville. They travelled through Holland, Germany and Switzerland on their way to Rome, where they stayed for over a year studying art, architecture and music. Following his father’s death in 1717 William took over the management of the estate and, a year later, married Thomasine Ambrose.
 
John (1690-1754) was a talented musician, and moved in musical circles during his time in Italy. On his return to England, his father bought him a commission in the Guards. John worked his way up to colonel and fought at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
 
Anne (1691-1717) married Edward Southwell (son of Robert) but sadly died in childbirth in the first year of her marriage.
 
Colonel George Blathwayt (1797 – 1871)
 
Cousin of childless William Crane Blathwayt, ‘the Colonel’ inherited Dyrham Park in the mid 19th-century. However, William's wife Frances gave the contents of the house to her family. The Colonel managed to raise or borrow £50,000 to buy them back, along with a further £23,000 for repairs to the house - vast sums at the time. He invested a great deal into “modernising” Dyrham along the new Victorian lines of economy and efficiency – e.g. re-modelling and reducing the servants quarters, installing central heating and a new kitchen.
 
Reverend Wynter Thomas Blathwayt (1825–1909)
 
As the second son of ‘the Colonel’, Wynter Thomas inherited Dyrham Park following the death of his brother, Captain George Blathwayt in 1899. Thomas had two wives: the first was Frances Philips (who gave him a son, Robert Wynter Blathwayt) and the second was Mary Hibbert-Oates.
 
Robert Wynter Blathwayt (1850–1936)
 
Robert Wynter Blathwayt inherited Dyrham Park on the death of his father, the Reverend Wynter Thomas Blathwayt. Robert and his wife Margaret had no children, so when he died in 1936 the estate passed to the line of his cousin Henry Wynter Blathwayt. Henry had sadly been killed at the Battle of Cambrai in 1917, so Dyrham Park went to his children.
 
Henry Wynter Blathwayt (1877-1917)
 
Henry Wynter Blathwayt was the grandson of Colonel Blathwayt’s brother, the Rev Charles Blathwayt. A career solider, Henry fought War World One first in Mesoptamia and then in France. He was killed during the Battle of Cambrai in 1917, leaving behind he wife Elizabeth (nee. de Grey) and their three children Christopher (b.1912), Justin (b. 1913), and Elizabeth (b. 1917 - just 6 months before the death of her father.) Although Henry never lived at Dyrham Park the estate collection contains several of his personal effects including his war medals, dog tags and letters written to his widow about his death.
 
National Trust - Dyrham Park
 
In 1956, Dyrham Park was bought by the Ministry of Works and handed over to the National Trust which has been looking after it ever since.