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Edwards Heath's last gift to the public
Member Name: Mildew82
Advantages: Lovely gardens, a very informative tour, lots to see, funny caricatures
Disadvantages: A little expensive for what you get, not open every day
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).
Summary: The last house of Edward Heath as he left it
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