“ Address: 59 Cathedral Close / Salisbury / SP1 2EN „
If you find yourself sightseeing in Salisbury, oh say near the Cathedral, then you might as well visit some of the nearby attractions located in The Close, the first of which being Arundells, the home of Sir Edward Heath from 1985 until his death in 2005 whereby he passed over the house to "The Trustees of the Sir Edward Heath Foundation" with the intention of opening it up to the public. I'll be honest, Ted Heath was a bit before my time and the only thing I really knew about him was he was a Conservative Prime Minister from 1970-1974 and that he somewhat dramatically clashed with Margaret Thatcher. Thankfully though, after leaving this house I felt a heck of a lot more knowledgeable about his political and personal life and all in all I felt it was a very worthwhile visit. The house is pretty well signposted when you get to The Close (at least from the entrance of the Cathedral) and you shouldn't struggle to find it unless you confuse left with right. Upon arrival (on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday only) you then have the option of simply plumping for a garden only visit for £2.50 or the full house and garden tour for £10 (I'm not sure there were any concessionary prices). On a Sunday there are no guided tours and you can freely float around the house and gardens for a reduced price of £7 but you may be forced to buy the guide book for £5 if you want to actually learn anything.
My party (3 of us) just turned up randomly on a Monday at about 1:45pm with no idea about the guided tour timings etc when we were told there was a tour due at 2pm (they occur every 30 minutes from 11:30am to 3:30pm, but on a Sunday you are granted unsupervised access from 11am - 4pm) which gave us a chance to wander around the gardens first which we dutifully accepted. The gardens were by no means huge, but were tastefully done in the style of a big lawn with some smaller copses for borders. I don't know what the gardens would look like out in full bloom, but when we arrived in the Autumn there were only a few flowers out and about but some lovely autumnal colours to some of the trees so I'd guess this garden, like most, is in a state of constant change so you may have to time your visit for that optimum bloom. To give an idea of size it really will take less than 5 minutes to skirt round the garden if you don't stop to smell the roses, but the bottom of the garden leads right up to some fantastic views of the convergence of the River Avon and Nadder flowing by so it is stunningly picturesque. There is also a small summer house plus lots of niches and secret paths with random statues to discover leading in to some of the copses so there are some nice surprises to this garden making it worth the £2.50 alone to see it.
As 2pm came around our guide, a very amiable lady actually sought us out within the gardens and led us to join one other straggler back at the front of the house where the tour began. It turned out this gentleman had actually sailed with Ted Heath decades ago so he turned out to be an excellent addition to the tour throwing out his own titbits of information nuggets. There is a maximum of 12 per tour and the website suggests booking ahead to ensure you get on a tour, but we had obviously no difficulty getting on with just the 4 of us, so I have no idea when the tricky peak time would be, but 2pm on a Monday at the start of September isn't it. Anywho, the introductory talk begins with the history of the house and how it started life in the thirteenth century as a Medieval Canonry for Henry of Blunston the Archdeacon of Dorset. Then by the mid-1550s tenants began to lease it out including John Wyndham (not the author!) who is responsible for much of the house's current appearance. His daughter Ann married James Everard Arundel, son of the 6th Lord Arundel of Wardour, and they received the house as a wedding present, and she playfully added on the extra l and s to take away the connection to Arundel. By the 1960s the house however was on the verge of demolition but was saved at the last minute and finally refurbished by Ted Heath and it is this final state that we see the house in today.
The actual tour of the house is a pretty small one with only access to 4 rooms plus a long hallway and a few stairs but there is still plenty to see and the tour will last over 50 minutes. The first room you enter is the parlour which is the welcoming area for guests and is exactly how Heath supposedly wanted it. Your eyes are immediately drawn to the fabulous display cabinet at the end of the room encasing models of his yachts spanning his sailing career. There is much to learn here about his interest in sailing, personal tragedy with the loss of a friend and godson in a horrific sailing accident and his successes and epic failures in competitions. There is also an impressive model, albeit distastefully made out of an elephant's tusk which saddens me, from some important person from abroad that I cannot remember plus lots of smaller trinkets to learn about. Moving on you are taken to his drawing room filled with paintings plus an impressive array of photos perched atop a piano (which pianists are welcome to play if they wish) of many famous political figures that Heath had met over the years including many a Pope and I think Fidel Castro to name a few. Apparently every time he played these photos were removed and then had to be painstakingly replaced in exactly the same way. Divas, eh? Here we learn about Heath's affinity with music as a very talented amateur, and the mini-career he had as a conductor which was fascinating to discover.
Moving on there is a dining room which is a room full of hidden gems. The furniture itself was cleverly designed, the table having plinth supports rather than legs to make the slotting of chairs underneath an absolute doddle instead of trying to squeeze round those intrusive legs which was fun to note, and here there is also a log of all the famous people that have come to visit Arundells including some very unexpected people beyond the normal political rabble such as Sting plus a great collection of china on display, many of which were gifts (he did seem to be like the opposite of Santa). There were also some pieces by Laurence Whistler, which led on to a discussion of both brothers Laurence and Rex, who was tragically cut down in his prime in the war. The final room is another smaller drawing room leading on to a patio overseeing the gardens which would have been a room for relaxation. There is a lot of stuff piled in to this room so you'll be given a bit of time to soak it all in, but there's not so much about the man himself here. This just leaves the remaining hallway which has some hanging art, which your guide will discuss although I don't really get art, before leading on up to the first landing of the winding stairs (the upper floors are off limits) in order to get a great view of the fantastic wallpaper (another gift, sheesh) sent from China depicting the journey of a Monkey King forced to do battle with Gods and such the like in order to finally become the guardian over some fruit or something (for a more cohesive guide to the story on the wallpaper go and visit Arundells where a guide that actually knows what they are talking about will fill you in).
The tour is then pretty much complete with all that remains being a wonderful little collection of satirical caricatures mostly covering political scenes that visitors can peruse at their leisure. There are a lot of hilarious ones with Margaret Thatcher and John Major in and I suspect these will bring a chuckle to most visitors, although I some of them went right over my head, but those that remember the figures being mocked in them will probably appreciate them more. The tour concluded, you are then led back in to the garden which you can then explore if you haven't already done so. So £10 may seem a bit expensive, but despite the smallness of the tour there is actually a lot of intriguing information to be gleaned about both his personal life and his political achievements and not to mention the wonderful cantankerous relationship he had with Thatcher, and obviously it is cheaper when you are left to your own devices on a Sunday, and so I personally don't mind spending that much considering it all goes to conserving the house anyway but it may put some people off. The gardens alone are worth a visit but they probably won't take you more than 20 minutes to cover. I wouldn't suggest going out of your way to visit unless you are fascinated by Edward Heath, but if you are already in the vicinity I'd recommend giving it a go (unless of course you despise politics).
My husband has been a life-long supporter of the Labour Party and he's the kind of person who dreams of the day he'll be able to dance on the grave of Margaret Thatcher - or as he would call her 'That bloody woman'. So you can perhaps imagine that I was more than a little surprised when he announced that he wanted to go and visit Arundells, the home of the late Conservative Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath.
Arundells is located in Salisbury's Cathedral Close, a beautiful historic district of a beautiful and historic city. In the morning we'd been just a few doors away at Mompesson House, a National Trust property. As we passed Arundells we stopped to admire the place that everyone in Salisbury has come to know as 'Ted's house'. My husband pointed out a sign on the gates which explained that the trustees of Arundells are going to have to sell the house and that it will close later this year. Ted's collection of personal effects will have to be broken up and sold off. We realised that if we did want to see where Ted had lived, we didn't have much time to do something about it.
"I want to go" said my husband, and marched off to check about ticket availability. I was still unconvinced. Why would I want to visit the home of a man who - during my adult lifetime - had been a bit of a figure of fun? He had been Prime Minister when I was too young to really know what that entailed and had then hung around for rather too long in the shadow of his much more famous successor, the aforementioned Mrs Thatcher, occasionally popping up to make a mercy mission to see Sadam Hussein. It's a general 'rule' that ex-PMs should shuffle off and do the after-dinner speech circuit and not hang around to upset their successors - Ted never quite got the hang of that idea. My impression from a great distance was that he seemed like an embittered old man, who had struggled to deal with his fall from grace. Arundells taught me that I'd seen only one side of the man.
How I moved out and Ted moved in
I grew up and went to school in Salisbury and villages nearby. I left Salisbury to go to university just before Ted moved in - so I don't perhaps have the same degree of weird adoptive loyalty that a lot of Salisbury folk have for the man. Back in the days when he was Prime Minister, my mother was out canvassing for the Labour Party and reading the Morning Star (rather than sailing the Morning Cloud) yet these days she won't hear a word said against Ted. There was no obvious reason why Ted Heath chose to spend his retirement in Salisbury. It wasn't where he was born, where he had lived, or even where he'd represented constituents. It isn't even terribly close to the sea where he could enjoy his sailing or especially well connected for heading up to London for political duties. Perhaps it was the attraction of access to the Cathedral's organ loft that pulled him in. In short I'm still not sure how he found himself at Arundells. What I would say though, is that he really couldn't have found a more beautiful spot.
A Historic Figure in Historic Accommodation
Arundells dates back to the 13th Century and is contemporary with the building of the cathedral. To look at it today, it's hard to believe it's been there for nearly 800 years. It's thought that the first inhabitant was an Archdeacon called Henry of Blunston and it was used as a Canonry - a place where the canons (the clerical type, not the weapons) of the cathedral lived - for many years. In the 1500s it was let to non-clergy and - as so often happens with rented property - it was badly neglected and neither loved nor cared for. By the 1960s there was even talk of knocking it down but luckily a tenant with deep pockets stepped in and tarted it up and in 1985 when Ted moved in he further refurbished it, making the place a very personal and characterful home. When you see this place, every room screams out the influence of its late owner and it really couldn't have been anyone else who lived there.
Tours are guided and depart every half hour between noon and 4 pm on Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The gardens are open until 5.30 pm. Tickets to see the gardens cost just £2 but the house tours are £8 per person. No concessions are available which might seem a bit mean but considering each tour has a maximum of only 10 people (so less than 400 visitors per week), what you get is a very 'personal' tour with up to three or four people showing you around. Clearly the trustees aren't making much money on the entrance fees and they don't appear to be covering the running costs. If you want to visit and will be travelling to get to Salisbury, it really is worth phoning ahead to make sure you get a place on a tour.
We didn't book and when we returned in the afternoon at about 3.15 pm, the 3.30 pm group was already full. There was nobody booked on the last tour but they were happy to do it just for us if nobody else showed up. We paid our entrance fees and headed into the gardens to look around whilst we waited for our tour. The gardens are gorgeous and covered about two acres of pretty lawns and flower beds leading down to the riverfront. There are lots of chairs and benches for visitors to sit on and we had the gardens almost to ourselves. The views of the cathedral from the riverfront are excellent and you can't help but be jealous of anyone living somewhere so pretty. We also spotted signs of how much security would have been in place when Ted lived there with security cameras scattered through the gardens. It can't have been an easy job for the security staff to cover a 2 acre garden with a river frontage.
Just as we thought we were about to get our own two-person tour, five tourists from Argentina showed up to join us. The guides were more than happy to let them bring a baby buggy and two small children into the house with them despite all the breakable items inside. I'd expected they might be a bit 'stuffy' about such things but instead almost all the comments from the guides were cooing admiration for how 'delightful' the little ones were and how they'd behaved so well.
The pale honey limestone façade is beautiful and is perfectly balanced with the windows symmetrical on either side of the door. From the rear it's a bit more disjointed with evidence of successive rounds of builders mucking about with it; a bit of brick here, a bricked up window there, a bit sticking out here and there makes for a patchwork of influences that contrasts sharply with the unity of the front and side views. It's not a massive place and only four of the ground-floor rooms are actually open but it's surprising how much there is to see.
The Many Faces of Ted
The first room we came to was the entrance hall which is filled with artefacts from Ted's career as an ocean-going yachtsman. You can think of this room as the "Ted the Sailor" room. I was amazed to hear that he didn't start sailing until he was 50 years old and despite his age, he was a very successful and accomplished yachtsman. On the far wall there's a large well-lit glass case with models of the Morning Cloud sailing boats and several awards that Ted and his crews won. We also saw several model boats made by Napoleonic prisoners as well as an exquisite old carved elephant tusk (sorry elephant lovers, but not admiring it wouldn't bring the nelly back to life). Paintings of his sailing ships decorate all the walls and there's a stone fireplace in the middle of the room which must have made it very welcoming for visitors arriving at the house.
Out in the corridor the guide showed us some of Ted's art collection which included works by many painters which had my husband nodding wisely and gasping at their value. Augustus John and his wife were good friends of Ted and he also has two paintings by Winston Churchill, one of them signed twice after he sent it back to Churchill because he couldn't find the signature. It's perhaps a reminder that Ted wasn't the only multi-talented chap to become Prime Minister though I doubt that we'll ever see the like of these polymath politicians again - somehow putting in the odd appearance on 'Have I Got News For You' just doesn't weigh up against being a talented artist (Churchill) or a world-class yachtsman who also worked with all the world's greatest orchestras. Perhaps today the pace of politics just doesn't leave space for artistic or sporting endeavour.
Next stop was the dining room - let's call it the "Ted the Host" room. It's surprisingly small, about half the size of my own dining room, though admittedly I don't get the kind of guests that Ted did. It must have been a very cosy place for friends, business acquaintances, artists, musicians and the occasional political contact to gather for good food and wine. The room has an attractive wooden floor and is painted in a rather unlikely shade of pink with even more unlikely deep pink ruffle blinds. This is the home of a batchelor, remember, so I did wonder who had chosen the paint colour. It's very girlie-boudoir in appearance. The table is set for 7 people although we were told that at a squeeze they can get up to 10 into the room. We were told that the china on the table and on the display shelves in the alcove were pieces that had travelled around with Ted for decades but generally were stored away in tea-chests because he moved around so often. Arundells represented the first 'proper home' he had during his working life, a revelation that I found quite moving. The guide talked us through the different types of china and the makers of the table and chairs. She pointed out a 1300 year old animal figurine that he received as a gift from the Chinese prime minister (or president - I can't recall) and she pointed out a very old animal piece that a housekeeper had dropped many years earlier. Apparently his response to the damage was a very relaxed one of "accidents will happen", a contrast to the public perception the Sir Ted was a bit of an angry old curmudgeon. The highlight in this room was the collection of John Piper paintings which had my husband's eyes out on stalks - nine or ten of these bright, vibrant paintings including some of the house itself, contrasted deeply with the yukky pink paintwork.
From the dining room we headed to the drawing room where Ted entertained guests. This room is home to his Steinway grand piano so I think of it as the 'Ted the Musician' room or, given the number of photographs, perhaps it should be 'Ted the Politician'. The room has large sash windows with yet more frilly Austrian blinds. The floor is wooden with a selection of gorgeous rugs in shades of red. There's a large sofa and several arm chairs but the thing that really moved me in here, was his collection of photographs. I can't help but wonder if in this digital era the old habit of politicians giving each other signed photographs will survive. The whole of the top of the piano is covered in row upon row of photographs and my eye was drawn instantly to the one in pole position. At the centre of the front row was Indira Gandhi, to her left was Bill Clinton and a couple of Popes were lined up on the right flank. I have a fascination with Mrs Gandhi and I hadn't realised - until the guides explained - that she was the Iron Lady who was his contemporary, and he was a great admirer of her, unlike the Iron Lady who followed him in the UK. Bill Clinton, we were told, was consigned to a drawer for a fortnight during the Lewinsky affair, but Ted must have forgiven him soon after. It was funny to see that the much lauded relationship between the UK and the USA clearly hadn't been so strong in Ted's day since a smattering of American presidents were pushed a long way back from the keyboard and I did wonder what King Hussain of Jordan had done to get his spot in the centre of the back row.
In another part of the room a smaller table was set with large black and white photos of the prime ministers that Ted served under - Churchill, Eden, Macmillan and Doughlas-Home. Mrs Thatcher was conspicuous by her absence. On the opposite side of the fireplace were several pictures of the Queen and other members of the royal family at the dinners that occasionally take place with all the ex-prime ministers and their wives. The remarkable thing about these was how relaxed and jolly the Queen and the other family members looked - certainly they look like these dinners were very friendly affairs.
Back along the corridor we came to Ted's back room which is known as the library. This is a smaller room than the drawring room but with the same beautiful oak floor and gorgeous rugs. Ted's favourite chair was placed so that he could look up at his collection of Chinese paintings of boats, including a beautiful set showing the same two boats from sunrise through to sunset. This is a more casual room with a wall full of his CDs including many on which he had been the conductor with many great orchestras. The Chinese theme is strong in here with many pieces of valuable Chinese ceramics in addition to all the paintings. This is also where we saw Ted's 'garter' - framed on the wall with a picture of him smiling in his robes with the certificate appointing him as a Knight of the Garter in 1992.
No Silver Spoons
I had always assumed - like I think many people did - that Ted was a man who came from a privileged background. In this room we learned that was far from the truth. A pair of framed photographs showed his mother and father. His father was a carpenter and his mother was a maid and Ted's route to success was through education. As a grammar school boy, his parents scraped together the money for him to stay on at school and he won a scholarship to Balliol College in Oxford. At a time when so many of even our left-wing politicians seem to have been born with silver spoons in their mouths and with fancy public school backgrounds, it was an eye-opener to learn that Ted came from such an underprivileged background. His brother, like his father, went on to become a carpenter whilst Ted shot on to higher office.
Wallpaper and Political Cartoons
Back in the corridor we took a short walk up half the staircase to admire the special Chinese wallpaper mural that had been gifted to Ted by some businessmen that he helped. The staircase - perhaps ironically - is one of the grandest parts of the building with light flooding in from the windows. We were told that the mural which shows scenes from the life of the monkey king, was specially made to fit this space and was so precious that nobody wanted the job of hanging it. Ted used to have a stair-lift for going upstairs and the guides told us that he used to stop it half-way up so he could admire the paintings.
Finally we returned to the ground floor to look at Ted's gallery of political cartoons which fill the corridor that leads to the kitchen. Many of these were cartoons which Ted had liked so much that he'd contacted the artists to buy them. Our Argentinian tour-mates didn't seem particularly interested in these and had headed out to the garden and as we were the last group, we had both the two tour guides (both lovely ladies called Diana) and the manager of Arundells (a lovely chap called Stuart who originally came to Arundells to design the garden when Ted first bought the house and then stayed on working in different roles until Ted's death) all to ourselves. I thought they must be getting anxious to get rid of us because we'd been there so long, asking so many questions, and then one of the Dianas sidled up to my husband and handed him a small plastic bag. "Stuart wants you to have this" she said. Inside the bag was a copy of one of Ted's books about his life in music, complete with a label from his library and a facsimile of his signature.
We'd walked in as jaded cynics with big misperceptions of this man but we walked out as complete converts to the astonishing life of Ted Heath - an inspirational man who came from a poor background to become a world-class musician and conductor, sailor, friend of artists and man of immaculate taste (I can turn a blind eye to the Austrian blinds) - oh and yes, of course, a Prime Minister. Never have the contents of four walls changed my impression so strongly.
Get it whilst you can
Arundells is due to close later this year. The only other 20th Century prime minister whose home is open to the public is Churchill and if the trustees don't find a way to keep Arundells open, it will very shortly be sold and the contents will be broken up. I for one think that would be a very great shame.
Note - disabled access is good since there's a ramp up to the front door, most of the doorways are quite wide and the only thing you'll miss is going up the stairs to see the wallpaper. None of the upstairs rooms are open to the public.
Cameras are not permitted inside the house.