A house to make the spirits soar
A stroll around Montacute House offers a glimpse of historic interiors, beautiful furniture and fantastic portraits. It is open every day from 11am till 4.30pm. Last entry is at 4.00pm.
There are information cards in most rooms and please take advantage of our very knowledgeable volunteer guides if you have any questions. For younger visitors, the Mousacute family will lead you on a trail around the house (you can pick one up in the Great Hall) and there are jigsaws in the Long Gallery, where you can also dress-up like an Elizabethan lord or lady.
Sir Edward Phelips made his fortune as a lawyer, enjoying a successful political career entering Parliament in 1584 and becoming speaker of the House of Commons from 1601 to 1611. Edward played a key role in one of the trials of the century, making the opening statement for the prosecution against the notorious Guy Fawkes and his fellow gunpowder plotters.
Designed to be magnificent by local builder and architect, William Arnold, and built from locally quarried Ham stone, the house was a symbol of Sir Edward’s power and wealth. The architecture is a mix of two styles, the traditional Gothic and the new fashionable Renaissance, with ideas and influences coming from the continent. The house was built on a grand scale with turrets, obelisks, shell niches, pavilions and its walls of glass. On the east front stand the Nine Worthies, statues of biblical, classical and medieval figures, including Julius Caesar and King Arthur.
In 1787 the house was occupied by a later Edward Phelips, who gave it a face lift. Remarkably he took an ornamental façade from another local 16th century house, Clifton Maybank, and added it to the west front. It meant the layout of the house could be changed. On the ground floor, rooms were enlarged and fireplaces added. The first floor was transformed, family and visitors could have privacy and their own door, as a corridor was created. Before this, family and visitors would have to go through each other’s rooms to get from one side of the house to the other.
Its later life
By 1895 Montacute House was being leased to tenants, the most notable being Lord Curzon, who took the lease from 1915 till his death in 1925. Four years later, Gerad Amarus Phelips felt he had no alternative but to sell the house. It eventually made its way into the possession of the National Trust, but the house was virtually bare except for the Phelips family portraits and Lord Curzon’s bath. Much of the collection in place today came via a bequest from the industrialist Sir Malcolm Stewart, ‘…for the adornment of Montacute House in order that it may re-assume its former character...’.