The longest survivor: the Long Gallery at Montacute House
Montacute’s gallery may have been one of the last examples built of this ‘must have’ feature of great Elizabethan houses, it is also the longest which survives.
A status symbol
Great houses were something to be marvelled at. The lofty top floor is the place to imagine how Montacute felt for a visitor in 1603. This is where Edward Phelips knew that his guests would be astonished and enraptured with his house. It’s where he would want us to be a little in awe of his grandeur and aware of his wealth and social position. But it’s also a space to have fun, relax and even to take some gentle exercise.
The windows on each side allow light to pour in. They capture sunshine on the darkest winter day. When it was too cold or wet to get outside, the gallery was the place to walk and play games. It stretches for over 52m (172 feet). Even today it’s impossible to stop yourself from wandering along it, gazing out of windows or chatting if you’re walking with someone else. If this is what you find yourself doing, then it’s just what the architect William Arnold intended.
Portraits to inspire conversation
Here you can still find yourself face to face with those who would have been familiar with the shelter of similar galleries on rainy days long ago. Through our partnership with the National Portrait Gallery, the side rooms are full of people of the time. The famous, occasionally the notorious and many of those less well known. Our exhibitions continue another original use of these spaces:a place to hang picture collections, each portrait a talking point or source of a story to share on a dull day.
Why so long and narrow?
It’s easy to see the original narrow width of the house in the gallery. Here you could look out on the landscape of farms, parkland and gardens. All owned by the Phelips family and all part of a single grand design.
There was another reason why the narrowness of the building was important. Facing on to the main road (now lost within the parkland) the height would always have been imposing. At night, flickering like a lantern in the inky darkness of a country night, it must have looked astonishing.