Who lived at Mompesson House?

Watercolour of Mompesson House by George Henton (1888)

Mompesson House has been a home to many families, each of whom made their mark on the house. Today we’re continuing their legacy.

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The Mompessons

Although there has long been a house on the site, the current Mompesson House is around 300 years old and was named after Charles Mompesson for whom it was built in 1701. The hopper heads at the top of the downpipes bear the initials CM and the date of construction.

Detail of a lead rain water head on the front facade of Mompesson House
Detail of a lead rain water head on the front facade of Mompesson House
Detail of a lead rain water head on the front facade of Mompesson House

The Mompessons were an old Wiltshire family, recorded from the early fifteenth century. Several of them had been sheriffs. Charles’s father, Sir Thomas, an ardent royalist, was a MP and Charles was for some years himself an MP – one of two for the rotten borough of Old Sarum which had an electorate of only ten.

The situation of Mompesson on the north side of Chorister’s Green in Salisbury’s Cathedral Close made it a very desirable place for the Mompessons to live. Originally the houses in the Close had been intended for the clergy to live in but by the mid seventeenth century it became very fashionable for local gentry and professional classes to live there.

In 1703 Charles Mompesson married Elizabeth Longueville and their union was celebrated with the addition of a decorative cartouche above the front door – their new joint coat of arms.

A replica of the original cartouche, carved by specialist stonemasons from Cliveden Conservation
Cartouche above the front door
A replica of the original cartouche, carved by specialist stonemasons from Cliveden Conservation

Charles Longueville

Charles Mompesson died in 1714 and soon after his brother-in-law Charles Longueville took over the lease on the house. It is him we have to thank for the richly decorated interiors; he commissioned the magnificent plasterwork and the oak staircase in the 1740s and raised the height of the ceiling in the large drawing room.

The spectacular staircase at Mompesson House
The spectacular staircase at Mompesson House
The spectacular staircase at Mompesson House

The fact that the land and buildings on the site have been leased from the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury Cathedral from the sixteenth century onwards is a critical factor in the creation of Mompesson as we know it today.

Following in the footsteps of the Mompessons and Charles Longueville – successive families took over the lease on the house – the Hayters to 1800, the Portmans to 1843 and the Townsends to 1939. They each took possession of an empty house, moved in, bringing their furniture and belongings with them, created their home and made modest changes to the interiors (generally just a simple coat of paint in the fashion of the time). When they moved out they took all their personal effects, furniture and belongings with them. As a result the collection you see when you visit when you visit Mompesson contains very few indigenous items. Those which we have are treasured and many relate to Barbara Townsend – who lived at Mompesson for almost a century.

Barbara Townsend

Her family moved into the house in 1843 when she was a young child and she lived there until her death in 1939. She was a self-taught artist and recorded everyday life in the Cathedral Close and family excursions further afield. She worked mainly in watercolour and produced a huge number of paintings during her long life. She also decorated cups, plates and tiles, all her work piling up around her. Many of her pictures are on display in the house and there are copies of some of her watercolours in the garden tea-room.

The large drawing room in 1857 by Barbara Townsend
Painting of the large drawing room in 1857 by Barbara
The large drawing room in 1857 by Barbara Townsend

Barbara Townsend was very happy with Mompesson as it was – in all its un-modernised splendour and so it largely due to her that it survived into the twentieth century in its unchanged and intact condition.

After Barbara Townsend’s death, the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury Cathedral sold the freehold of the house to the Church Commissioners. The house temporarily acted as the official home for the Bishop of Salisbury but it proved to be unsuitable so the Church Commissioners decided that the house would be sold. 

Denis Martineau

Denis Martineau was a London-based architect who was looking to buy a cottage in Wiltshire to use as a weekend retreat. Mompesson was drawn to his attention when it appeared as an advertisement in Country Life magazine in 1952. After considerable negotiation, Denis arranged to buy the house from the Church Commissioners; a condition of the sale was that Denis agreed to give the property to the National Trust on his death.

Denis Martineau
Denis Martineau
Denis Martineau

Denis died in 1975 and contrary to expectations he did not leave the contents of the house to the National Trust. Suddenly the National Trust had to decide the future of the empty house. In April 1976 it was decided that the principal rooms of the house were to be redecorated, furnished and opened to visitors and Mompesson officially opened on 1 May 1977.