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History of Barrington Court

A black and white photograph of Barrington Court in the 1890s with a lady and two children standing outside the entrance and a main in the doorway at Barrington Court Somerset
Barrington Court in the 1890s | © National Trust Images / John Hammond

Barrington Court has an intriguing history. While the court has stood for more than 450 years, there’s evidence that people have called the area home since the Roman period. The Tudor mansion fell into disrepair until it was eventually used as a farmhouse. However, it was given a new lease of life when the Lyles restored it in the 1920s, before it was open to the public eight decades later.

Barrington’s early history

There’s evidence that a Roman villa once stood at Barrington. The Romans occupied Britain from 43 AD to 410 AD and Barrington was a convenient spot as it’s only a few miles from the Fosse Way, a Roman road linking the southwest to the northeast.

Archaeological investigations at Barrington have found walls and ditches as well as fragments of tile, pottery and animal bone in the area.

Medieval Barrington

Little is known about Anglo-Saxon Barrington and it isn’t found in the Domesday Book. However, by 1236, the Daubeney family had moved into Barrington and lived there for 200 years.

Medieval rebellions

The manor was confiscated from a Giles Daubeney (1451-1508) in 1483 for his part in the Duke of Buckingham’s rebellion. This was a failed uprising against King Richard III during the final years of the War of the Roses.

However, Daubeney’s Barrington home was soon recovered and his son Henry Daubeney (1493-1548) mortgaged it in 1538. This was around the same time that William Clifton (c.1510-1564) became the tenant.

Strode House seen from the Lily Garden at Barrington Court, Somerset
Strode House and the Lily Garden at Barrington Court | © National Trust Images / James Dobson

Building Barrington Court

Clifton was a wealthy London cloth merchant and may have been Master of the Merchant Taylors Company in 1555. Having purchased Barrington in 1552, he set about constructing the Court House, which was completed by 1559.

Built from local honey-coloured Ham Hill stone, the house’s projecting wings and central porch make it an early example of the classic e-shaped Elizabethan house.

17th-century alterations

Clifton’s grandson Gervase 1st Baron Clifton (1569-1618) sold Barrington to Sir Thomas Phelips of nearby Montacute in 1605. After Phelips’ death, Barrington was mortgaged by his son.

Ultimately the house and demesne lands were bought by William Strode (1589-1666) in 1625.

The Strode family at Barrington

The Strode family of Shepton Mallet were wealthy cloth merchants, who did so well that they acquired extensive estates across Somerset. William Strode’s son, also called William (c.1625-1695), spent an impressive £3,000 improving Barrington.

He built the stables and coach house adjacent to the Court House, now known as Strode House. Originally an open u-shape, the building still has the date '1674' in the brickwork.

A 19th-century farmhouse

Barrington passed from owner to owner and was tenanted for much of the 18th and 19th centuries. It became, in effect, a grand farmhouse.

Half the Court House was reportedly gutted and being used as a cider cellar by 1825. Later that century, cider production was an important source of income for the estate. It even held annual cider auctions, which were popular with gentlemen and hotel keepers.

Restoring Barrington Court

Canon Hardwick Rawnsley, one of three National Trust founders, visited Barrington Court and championed its acquisition in the 1890s.

It was bought by Julia Woodward of Clevedon, who gifted it to the National Trust, in 1907. This was one of the Trust’s earliest acquisitions and its first country house.

Introducing Colonel Lyle

With no endowment and a huge amount of restoration needed, Barrington Court was a challenging property, especially during the economic downturn after the First World War. However, a solution came in the form of Lieutenant-Colonel Abram Lyle, otherwise known as Arthur, (1880-1931).

Colonel Lyle was a grandson of the sugar refiner Abram Lyle and director of the company that later merged becoming Tate & Lyle. Having fought in the Boer War at the turn of the century, he later fought in the First World War where he was injured.

The Lyles at Barrington

Lyle visited Barrington with his wife Elsie Lyle, (who was known as Ronnie), and his architect James Edwin Forbes in 1915. Lyle had an impressive collection of historic woodwork that had been salvaged from derelict and demolished buildings around the country.

The Lyles fell in love with Barrington as a place where they could realise their dream of a country estate and enjoy the Colonel's collection of architectural fittings.

After negotiations, Lyle signed a 99-year full repairing lease on Barrington for £500 a year in 1920. The Trust believed that Lyle ‘would bring back a dead thing to life again’.

Repairing Barrington Court

The Court House was in a ruinous condition when Lyle acquired it. It was only partially roofed, with few of the interiors surviving intact and ‘attics full of owls’.

Together, Forbes and Lyle completely reimagined Barrington. Using Lyle’s collection of architectural salvage and Forbes’ new designs, the house and gardens were transformed.

A modern family home

The major project required both traditional and modern craftsmen. Alongside stonemasons and carpenters, electricians and plumbers also worked to create a comfortable, 20th-century home fit for a wealthy family.

What was once the stable block became Strode House. It was extended, remodelled and turned into accommodation with an enclosed courtyard. Meanwhile, Lyle bought land and built new farm buildings and estate cottages.

A plan of the garden at Barrington Court, produced in January 1917 for Lieutenant Colonel A Arthur Lyle by the architects Forbes and Tate
A 1917 plan of the garden at Barrington Court | © National Trust Images / John Hammond

The new garden

Forbes had ambitious plans to create a formal landscape with walled garden rooms and extending avenues, with the Court House at its centre. However, the Lyles scaled these plans back, preferring open lawns to the south and orchards to the east.

The gardens around Strode House were created using a planting scheme designed by the horticulturist and garden designer Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932).

Gertrude Jekyll

Jekyll was 74 years old and battling failing eyesight when she worked on Barrington. She never visited the property and instead relied on being sent Forbes’ drawings and biscuit tins of soil samples.

Her planting plans were only partially executed. In fact, Elsie oversaw much of the planting and visited Jekyll to discuss the plans.

Revealing the new Barrington Court

After five years of renovation, Colonel Lyle and Elsie had spent approximately £100,000 on Barrington Court. Both the Court House and Strode House had been comprehensively restored and the estate reorganised.

Every facility had been provided for, from laundry and garaging to tennis and squash courts.

Sir Ian Duff Lyle

After the death of Colonel Lyle in 1931, the tenancy for Barrington passed to his son Sir Ian Duff Lyle (1907-1978). Lyle junior served in the Navy during the Second World War, at which time the Court House was occupied by boys from Streete Court School.

Lyle went on to become president of Tate & Lyle and was even knighted for his services to the sugar industry.

Evolution of Barrington Court

The Barrington estate continued to evolve under Ian Lyle’s eye. New buildings were constructed, a new entrance drive was created and the gardens were re-planted to more closely match Jekyll’s plans.

Ian’s son Andrew inherited Barrington’s tenancy in the late 1970s, during a period of decline. The household contents were auctioned and the Court House sub-let to an antique furniture company in 1985.

The Lyle lease ended in 1991, at which point Barrington’s management reverted to the Trust. The Court House was fully opened to visitors from 2009.

A plan of the garden at Barrington Court, produced in January 1917 for Lieutenant Colonel A Arthur Lyle by the architects Forbes and Tate

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