Can an extension to your house change your life?

Visitors outside the west front of Montacute House

Edward Phelips V and his wife Maria, bought an entire corridor from another local house, which transformed both the appearance and use of Montacute.

When Montacute House was built life was often communal with little privacy.  There was no idea of personal rooms in the way that makes us comfortable today.

The Great Hall would have been the central hub of the house, where most people met, ate, talked, transacted business and even slept.  

Moving across the ground floor meant walking through each room in turn.  On the first floor the doors to each room simply opened in to the next.  On the second floor the entire space was given over to a single gallery.  

This must have felt increasingly uncomfortable.  Unfortunately, the Phelips were rarely wealthy and had little money for improvements.  It wasn’t until 1786 that Edward Phelips V and his wife Maria Wright were able to make much change.  They added a very modern convenience that transformed everything – a corridor. 

Portrait of Edward Phelips V by an unknown artist
Portrait of Edward Phelips V by an unknown artist
Portrait of Edward Phelips V by an unknown artist

Purchased complete, the corridor was part of Clifton Maybank Hall in nearby Yeovil.  Built in 1540-60 the house was dismantled and as often happened, building materials were sold off.  Cheaper than buying new, Edward bought a chimney, windows and the stonework for a corridor.  Transported to its new site it was re-erected on the west front of Montacute.  

Externally this meant a far more fashionable entrance way.  Internally, servants were now able to move around without passing through main rooms.  On the first floor, the purchase was even more radical.  It separated rooms, starting to create the kind of private spaces that we couldn’t imagine living without today.

The corridor is easy to see from the West Drive and the arms of Sir John Horsey of Clifton Maybank are still in place over the doorway. 

The Clifton Maybank porch
The Clifton Maybank porch at Montacute House
The Clifton Maybank porch

Traces can also be found inside.  The outline of doors are visible through wall coverings on the first floor.  Heraldic beasts which once looked out onto the back courtyards of Montacute still guard the original door to the west front but now sit comfortably inside the corridor surrounded by paintings and furniture.

The corridor had another unintended but very useful effect.  Montacute was at the cutting edge of design when it was built.  Narrow with huge windows but rising to three stories the house sits on minimal foundations.  By adding the corridor, which fits neatly between the original wings, Edward and Maria also gave the house some much needed structural support.