Why Dyrham Park is special
A honey-coloured Baroque house, formal garden and dramatic parkland with fallow deer, Dyrham Park sits on the western edge of the Cotswolds. Nestled into the folds of the landscape, it is a place of contrasts and perspectives, from parkland views of distant counties, to the intricate strawberry-plant design on a 17th century lock.
Dyrham’s main significance dates from the creation of the house and garden by William Blathwayt from 1691 to 1704. Dyrham reflects Blathwayt’s unique position as a leading government, military and colonial administrator.
He was a witness and participant at a moment in history when Britain developed the economic and military tools to become a world power.
Nobody knew more about British colonies than William Blathwayt. As Auditor General of Plantation Revenues, his networks stretched across global trade routes and distant European settlements. And as Secretary at War for King William III, his proximity to power gave him access to royal artists, designers and suppliers, in London and the Netherlands. Most importantly his several jobs paid very well. All this came back to Dyrham Park, the new house and garden he created on his wife’s ancestral estate.
Building the dream
Blathwayt employed leading architect William Talman, and fashionable gardeners George London and Henry Wise. The contents of Dyrham reflect his career and interests: a tea-table from Java, gilt leather wall panels from Amsterdam, books in many European languages, fine Dutch paintings, and a splendid collection of Delftware – from enormous tulip vases to plaques showing then exotic scenes of China.
Blathwayt’s colonial colleagues sourced walnut and cedar timber from Virginia and Carolina, which was shipped to Dyrham for staircases and panelling. The timber reflects his unique position at the epicentre of British colonial activity. This was at a pivotal moment of economic expansion, which included displacing indigenous peoples and expanding enslaved labour.
Before and after
Dyrham’s story starts long before William Blathwayt. People have been at Dyrham since the Bronze Age. In 577 the decisive battle of Deorham saw West Saxons defeat three British kingdoms, and push their frontiers into Wales and Cornwall.
Subsequent generations never had William Blathwayt’s ambition and changes to the house were subtle. In the mid-19th century Colonel George Blathwayt saved the house from decline, renovated the kitchens and secured the contents.
By the 1950s the house was again at risk. Dyrham was bought for the nation through the Land Fund, saving places of cultural value as a memorial to those lost in the Second World War.
Today Dyrham provides, in the story of William Blathwayt and the house he created, a place to explore how Britain became the country we know today.