History of Mompesson House
Discover the history of Mompesson House, the home of many families over the past 300 years. Learn how each family left their mark, from Charles Mompesson in 1701 to Denis Martineau in the 1950s.
Although there has long been a house on the site, the current Mompesson House is around 300 years old and was named after Charles Mompesson, for whom it was built in 1701. The hopper heads at the top of the downpipes bear the initials CM and the date of construction.
The Mompessons were an old Wiltshire family, recorded in the county from the early 15th century, and several of them had been sheriffs. Charles’s father, Sir Thomas, an ardent royalist, was an MP. Charles was for some years also an MP – one of two for the borough of Old Sarum which had an electorate of only 10.
A desirable location
The position of Mompesson House on the north side of Choristers’ Green in Salisbury’s Cathedral Close made it a very desirable place for the Mompessons to live. Originally the houses in the close had been intended for the clergy to live in but by the mid-17th century it became very fashionable for local gentry and professional classes to live there.
In 1703 Charles Mompesson married Elizabeth Longueville and their union was celebrated with the addition of a decorative cartouche above the front door – their new joint coat of arms.
Charles Mompesson died in 1714 and, soon after, his brother-in-law Charles Longueville took over the lease on the house. He introduced the richly decorated interiors at Mompesson House; he commissioned the magnificent plasterwork and oak staircase in the 1740s, and raised the height of the ceiling in the large drawing room.
A family home
Following in the footsteps of the Mompessons and Charles Longueville, successive families took over the lease on the house – the Hayters up to 1800, the Portmans to 1843 and the Townsends to 1939. They each took possession of an empty house, bringing their furniture and belongings with them, and made modest changes to the interiors (generally just a simple coat of paint in the fashion of the time).
When they moved out they took all their personal effects with them. As a result, the collection at Mompesson contains very few original items. Most of the items that are in the collection relate to Barbara Townsend, who lived at Mompesson for almost a century.
Barbara Townsend's family moved into the house in 1843 when she was a young child and she lived there until her death in 1939. She was a self-taught artist and recorded everyday life in Cathedral Close as well as family excursions further afield. Barbara worked mainly in watercolour and produced a huge number of paintings during her long life. She also decorated cups, plates and tiles. Many of her pictures are on display in the house.
Barbara Townsend was very happy with Mompesson as it was – in all its unmodernised splendour – and so it's largely due to her that it survived into the 20th century in its unchanged and intact condition.
After Barbara Townsend’s death, the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury Cathedral sold the freehold of the house to the Church Commissioners. The house temporarily acted as the official home for the Bishop of Salisbury but it proved to be unsuitable so the Church Commissioners decided that the house would be sold.
Denis Martineau was a London-based architect who was looking to buy a cottage in Wiltshire to use as a weekend retreat. Mompesson was drawn to his attention when it appeared as an advertisement in Country Life magazine in 1952. After considerable negotiation, Denis arranged to buy the house from the Church Commissioners. A condition of the sale was that Denis agreed to give the property to the National Trust on his death.
Denis died in 1975 and contrary to expectations he did not leave the contents of the house to the National Trust. In April 1976 it was decided that the principal rooms of the house were to be redecorated, furnished and opened to visitors. Mompesson House officially opened on 1 May 1977.
Step inside the 18th-century town house, wander through the atmospheric rooms and discover a tranquil walled garden in the heart of Salisbury’s historic Cathedral Close.
Learn about people from the past, discover remarkable works of art and brush up on your knowledge of architecture and gardens.