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History of Lytes Cary Manor

The south front of Lytes Cary Manor by J.C. Buckler
View of the South Front of Lytes Cary Manor | © National Trust Images/John Hammond

Lytes Cary Manor has been home to two main families. Find out about the people who lived here and called this place home, and the way the house and garden has changed over time. Discover an unusual rental agreement for one tenant family and how another family saved the manor from decay.

The Lyte family

A feudal tenant

The Lyte family lived at Lytes Cary Manor for several centuries. William le Lyte was a feudal tenant as early as 1286. Feudal tenants were given homes and land by Lords and landholders at a lower rent or in exchange for their loyalty and service.

The charge for the manor was an annual rent of 10 shillings or the contents of a swan’s nest on the River Cary. At this time in history swans were part of the menu and eaten at feasts and banquets.

Expanding the manor

Six generations of the Lyte family lived at the Manor and the building was gradually expanded over time. It’s believed that William le Lyte’s grandson commissioned the Chapel in 1343. The Great Hall was constructed in the 1460s by Thomas Lyte and the south wing, kitchens and outhouses were added by 1533 by John Lyte and his wife, Edith.

Translating herbal remedies

Henry Lyte later inherited the estate in 1558. He was a devotee of botany and genealogy, and a keen herbalist and gardener. Henry published the English translation of Niewe Herball in 1578 and dedicated it to Queen Elizabeth. This book brought cutting-edge herbal remedies to a much wider audience.

Henry’s son Thomas wrote that his father grew many different fruit trees including apple, pear, plum, grape, cherry, walnut and peach. Peaches are particularly difficult to grow, telling us how dedicated Henry was to the garden.

A royal presentation

Thomas, was also very academic. He decided to research the family tree of James I and discovered a connection back to the traditional founder of the Roman republic.

When the King found out he was a direct descent of Brutus, the traditional founder, he was so delighted that he rewarded Thomas with a miniature of himself set in a gold locket decorated with diamonds.

The manor is sold

By the mid-18th century the family experienced serious financial difficulty. In 1755 they decided they had no other option but to sell Lytes Cary Manor, garden and estate.

Much of the original garden was lost after the Lyte family sold the estate. The following 150 years saw a series of owners and tenants living in the manor, which gradually fell into disrepair.

During the Victorian period the garden gradually disappeared from sight as the flat land was farmed right up to the side of the manor.

Oil painting on canvas, Flora Alice Stewart, Lady Jenner (d. 1948), British School, inscribed top right, F.A.J. [for: Flora Alice Jenner], 1893. A head-and-shoulders portrait of Flora Stewart, Lady Jenner, wife of Sir Walter Jenner, wearing a black dress and a black feather boa.
Flora Alice Stewart, Lady Jenner, British School, Lytes Cary Manor, Somerset | © National Trust Images/John Hammond

Flora, Lady Jenner

A head-and-shoulders portrait painting of Flora Stewart, Lady Jenner, wife of Sir Walter Jenner, wearing a black dress and a black feather boa. British School oil painting on canvas.

The Jenner family

Walter and Flora

Sir Walter Jenner and his wife Flora purchased the house in 1907. When they first arrived at the manor they found it being used in a non-conventional way. A large cider press had been used in the Great Hall and agricultural farming equipment was stored in the Great Parlour. They also found a carpenter’s workshop set up inside the Little Parlour.

Rescue from decay

The Jenners saw potential in the manor and restored the building and rooms in a 17th-century style. They added on a new west wing to create space. The home as it stands today is filled with the collection that the Jenner family used when they lived here.

Sir Walter and Lady Flora Jenner also created a new garden. The design was inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement and featured rectangular ‘rooms’ separated by yew hedges and stone walls, each reflecting a different mood or purpose.

A unique gift

Sir Walter Jenner later decided to gift the house and estate to the National Trust in 1948. His daughter Esme had died of pneumonia when she was 37 and he had no other family left to inherit the manor.

After Sir Walter passed the house and estate to the National Trust, it was let to new tenants. In 1955, Jeremy and Biddy Chittenden took the lease and both worked over the next 45 years to transform the garden.

The south front of Lytes Cary Manor by J.C. Buckler

Lytes Cary Manor's collections

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Lytes Cary Manor on the National Trust Collections website.

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Things to see and do in Lytes Cary Manor house 

Find out about exploring the manor and the objects on display inside. See a 16th-century herbal book translated into English, leather mannequins and an embroidered mirror.

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Things to see in the garden at Lytes Cary Manor 

Explore the garden and see the unusual shaped topiary trees and hedges or catch the light on the sundial in the orchard.

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Family-friendly things to do at Lytes Cary Manor 

Learn about the wildlife around the estate, the carved characters and creatures you may spot in the house, enjoy seasonal activities or some quality time in the great outdoors.

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Learn about people from the past, discover remarkable works of art and brush up on your knowledge of architecture and gardens.