The Phelips' family home
A stroll around Montacute House offers a glimpse of historic interiors, beautiful furniture and fantastic portraits.
Set in the beautiful village of Montacute, this magnificent home is a masterpiece of Elizabethan renaissance architecture. It is hard to appreciate the impact a house like Montacute had when it was first built; it must have seemed beyond the dreams of most of those who lived nearby, a work of astonishing splendour and pride. Today time has softened the effect and eyes are used to buildings on a huge scale. Even so, the house, its garden and park retain an extraordinary power to stir the emotions.
Our knowledgeable volunteer guides will be inside to greet you and to answer any questions. There are information cards in each room to help further your journey into the past. For younger visitors, the Montacute family trail will lead you on a journey around the house and there are jigsaws in the Long Gallery.
Sir Edward Phelips made his fortune as a lawyer, enjoying a successful political career after entering Parliament in 1584 and becoming speaker of the House of Commons from 1601-1611. 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: traditional Gothic and the newly 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 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 a later Edward Phelips gave the house 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, while the first floor was transformed by the creation of a corridor. It gave privacy to family and visitors; before this, they would have to go through each other’s rooms to get from one side of the house to the other.
The 20th century
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, Gerard Almarus 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.'