When visiting Salisbury you will more likely than not want to visit the cathedral, a rather prominent landmark with some stunning architecture and a daunting spire. The cathedral is located on The Close, the immediate area (an acre and a half) surrounding the cathedral where all the clergy, the craftsmen and servants working at the cathedral lived nearby for convenience. One attraction situated on The Close is Mompesson House which was completed in 1701 for use by Sir Thomas Mompesson who was the MP for the constituency of Salisbury at the time. The house has a distinctive Chilmark limestone facing reflecting the classic Queen Ann style of the late 17th / early 18th Century and was actually constructed by Thomas' own son Charles Mompesson. The house eventually passed hands to the Longueville family, then on to the Townsend family from 1846-1939 (including the artist Barbara Townsend who lived there for her entire 96 years on planet earth give or take). Next cometh the Bishop of Salisbury Neville Lovett who lived there from 1942-1946 until finally the National Trust took over in 1952 where it has remained ever since.
You may not find getting to The Close all that convenient as you'll have to expect a little walk depending on how you arrived at the city, but fortunately the surrounding area leading towards the historical city is very pleasant with the two rivers Avon and Nadder flowing around and if you follow signs for the cathedral you'll end up on The Close with little fuss. If driving in, it is recommended parking at one of the main city centre care parks (long and short stay ones available on Old George Mall or Crane Street) or you can use the park and ride facilities ((Wilton (A36), Beehive (A345), London Road (A30), Petersfinger (A36) and Britford (A338)). Public transport includes buses, coaches and coming in to Salisbury station by train but these will all leave you a good 10 minute walk however you will receive a discount voucher for use in the tea room if you can prove use of this method of environmental friendliness so that's a bonus.
The house, garden and tea room are open from mid-March to early November (as of 2013) from 11am - 5pm every Sunday-Wednesday with Thursdays and Fridays (apart from Good Friday) being closed.
Type | Standard | Gift Aid
Garden | £1 | N/A
House & Garden (Adult) | £5.50 | £6.10
House & Garden (Child) | £2.75 | £3.05
House & Garden (Family)| £13.75 | £15.25
House & Garden (Group Adult) | £5.10 | N/A
There are several reasons that you may wish to visit this house. One is if you have an interest in periods of history and enjoy immersing yourself in riches of the past and the other is if you're a fan of Jane Austen, in particular the 1995 Emma Thompson adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. As a member of the National Trust I love strolling round historical houses as a way of escapism so I probably would have visited this house anyway since I was in the area, but the knowledge that this house was used for filming scenes set in Mrs Jennings' townhouse from awkward meals at the dining room table to poor old Kate Winslet as Marianne spectacularly bursting in to tears at the cruel treatment of Willoughby in one of the bedrooms was the deal clincher. Hoping maybe for a chance to recognise some of the rooms in the movie the first step was to actually find the place which is pretty easy once you're on the Close as you simply need to find some impressive looking black wrought iron railings with a giant, black, rather obvious NT sign affixed as well as an ornately twizzled entrance gate pointing you towards the front façade of the house and onward to the magical doorway catapulting you into the past...
As you pass through the gateway to another time you first enter a rather exquisite looking entrance hall with some lovely artwork, a wonderful plasterwork ceiling and intricate plaster wall designs possibly to soften the blow of having to part ways with the entrance fee (unless you are an NT member) and any guidebooks you may wish to purchase. From then on you are free to explore the house as you wish, but the recommended route is through the dining room, up the rather handsome oak stairs to the upstairs rooms then back down to the library hidden cunningly under the stairs. There are in fact only 6 rooms (at least that's what my slightly dodgy memory is telling me) and it doesn't take much time to navigate the whole house but there are a lot of antiquities and items of interest to take your fancy and certainly give you pause in each room, as well as some information sheets and stewards on hand to garner extra information on top of what's in the guidebook (assuming you snaffled one) if you so desire. I personally found chatting to the stewards the best way to learn about the place and special items on display as they were an enthusiastic, knowledgeable bunch with the inside scoop.
So whilst there was very little on the actual inhabitants of the house from years yonder, with the exception of a little on the Townsends (in particular Barbara Townsend, who has many a painting on display around the house) this house seemed more a vessel to showcase some antique furniture, longcase clocks, English porcelain, art and apparently some "drinking glasses of national importance" whatever that may entail. Many of the rooms have some fabulously detailed plaster ceilings and wall designs and some sparkling chandeliers to captivate, and it is a very aesthetically pleasing place to walk around. The first room is the dining room, easily recognisable from the film which is a spot of fun, which is nicely laid out from perhaps the 19th Century with a spotless table with the appropriately fragile looking china, candles galore, cutlery and a pineapple centrepiece alongside a rather magnificent looking cabinet full of some quality looking porcelain figurines, some which may tickle your fancy. There is another cabinet upstairs in the drawing room which contains similar porcelain this time in the shape of plates and goblets as well as a few more figurines but is stored in one of the more collectable items the mahogany Draughtsman's bookcase from 1727 - 1760...so pretty old then...but amazingly sturdy and in fine condition compared to most of the tat manufactured in this day and age that lasts only a few years before bits start dropping off. A lost art, perhaps?
There are plenty of other important pieces of 18th and 19th century furniture to look out for as you stroll through the drawing room, the two bedrooms and the little drawing room including Rudd's toilet table (not multitasking in the way it sounds) in one of the bedrooms which has many a hinge and folding parts probably designed for the 18th Century courtesan Margaret Caroline Rudd and you must stop and take note of the Turnbull collection of 18th Century drinking glasses (of national importance) in the little drawing room for they are rather entrancing with some of the wine glasses having designs engraved on the glass to indicate what drink should be added like apples and barley as well as highlighting changes in glassware manufacturing after the dramatic Glass Tax of 1745 was introduced. State rulers really will steal from all areas of life. The little drawing room also has a more modern feeling about it as it has been left with many remnants from Barbara Townsend's time spent there including an easel and paint palette and the flowery décor and here you can learn a little about the Townsend family if you so wish. The little hidden away library is also of interest as it was a room that escaped refurbishment when the house was being overhauled and changed purpose over the years before settling on being a library. I believe the current style is from the 1950s so relatively modern and whilst it is small, the steward at the time had a breadth of fascinating information about the books themselves (often going off on a tangent) and this became one of the standout rooms because of it.
That's that then, probably taking you no more than 45 minutes to visit the house and you then get to step into the rather lovely garden (at least when the sun is shining and the birds are singing), with wild looking flower borders surrounding the square lawn and an ivy riddled pergola creating an interesting effect at one end. There is also what looks to be a disused old lavatory in one corner - historical value, perhaps...cultural and aesthetic value, none. There are a few benches to sit on, probably easier to procure one when visiting off peak and they make the perfect place to sit and reflect for a while or to catch your breath if you've over exerted yourself. Next to the garden is also the tea room where you can inevitably get yourself a lovely cuppa among other beverages plus some light snacks and lunches like salads, sandwiches, scones and cakes. Resist if you can. So whilst you can probably only make your experience last a couple of hours at the most, it is a very relaxing and interesting place to visit both indoors and outdoors, though I'm not sure how captivating it would be for children, and you certainly get your money's worth which is pretty cheap considering the historical merit the house has to offer and for those that may have enjoyed Sense and Sensibility you may get some extra pleasure from recognising filming locations from the movie. Possibly not a place to go out of your way to see by itself, but if you're in the area it's well worth popping in for.
==Other potentially pertinent information==
* The garden and tea room are on well paved and flat surfaces so are accessible for wheelchair users, and in fact even though the front entrance to the house has stairs there is an alternative route for wheelchair users to access the ground floor, although unfortunately there is no way up to the second floor. Wheelchairs are also available for loan.
* Pushchairs are welcome and baby back-carriers are fine, and you can even hire front and hip carrying slings and seats.
* Induction loops are available.
* Children's, Braille and large print guides are available.
* I've been reliably informed there are toilets at the property but I never saw them so if they do in fact exist they may be a struggle to find.
* There is no shop but the separate National Trust Shop is 50 yards away.
Today me and my Mum visited Mompesson House in Salisbury. It is not far from where my Mum lives so we thought we would go there rather than somewhere further away as it is supposed to rain today.
==Where is and what is Mompesson House?==
Mompesson House is in Salisbury City Centre, near to the Cathedral. The house is one of the smaller National Trust properties which was featured in the film Sense and Sensibility. It was the home of Barbara Townsend and the house has an exhibit of some of her artwork.
==Arriving at Mompesson==
As the house is in the Cathedral Close there is no parking available for the house on site. However, there are many car parks in the city centre both private and council owned and there is a multi storey which is about a five minute walk away from the house. Parking is per hour and we paid £2.20 for a two hour visit but we did also have a few things to do in Salisbury too.
The house itself is well signposted and when you arrive you enter an entrance hall where you either pay your admission fee or show your membership card. The lady in here was very nice and gave us a quick idea of which way to go around the house.
There are rooms open to the public both downstairs and upstairs. Downstairs there is the dining room, library and drawing room and upstairs there are two bedrooms and a small gallery.
The dining room was the first room we entered and we were greeted by another friendly member of staff. In here there is a lot of glass on display and this is a large part of the houses history and one of the aspects that the house is famous for as it is home to the Turnball Collection which is a display of 18th century drinking glasses. These were interesting to look at in the dining room as it was nice to see what sort of designs were around in those times and as we were in the dining room it was nice to imagine the glasses being used there.
Next we went into an exhibition room which was housing a number of paintings by Barbara Townsend. Most of these were watercolours and I think this was my favourite room in the house because there was lots to see and I thought the paintings were nice. It was nice to see some of the paintings were of the local area and I enjoyed reading about how she didn't like to exhibit her work and that the paintings were found in a suitcase in a relatives attic several years later.
The drawing room housed a few paintings and more glasses but there wasn't really a lot to see here so we moved on to the library which was interesting as I love the way all houses back then seemed to have walls and walls of books. We didn't stay very long in here and only had a quick glance because another visitor was sort of blocking the way with the guide!
We then went upstairs. Personally I thought the stairs were one of the best parts of the house. The staircase is made of oak and is very wide and it looked very grand. Upstairs there are two bedrooms which were both quite interesting. One is home to an eighteenth century dressing table which was interesting. The guide there told us all about how it opened out and showed us pictures which I thought was nice to look at. She told us that the dressing table still worked and opened up which was rare for a piece of eighteenth century furniture.
The gallery is home to various pieces of art including a large portrait of Charles II and some still life. There are also some pottery vases in here that my Mum liked.
The garden is a walled garden and is in proportion to the house. There wasn't a great deal to see out here and a lot of the flowers were the same. This took us less than five minutes to walk slowly around. There is also a tea room in the garden but we did not visit here.
There is no National Trust shop on site however there is a very good sized one in the city itself which is less than a five minute walk from the house. There is a very good selection in here including books, gifts, food, ornaments and homeware.
==Did we enjoy our visit?==
Yes, but the house only took around half an hour to look around so therefore I was pleased we hadn't travelled far out of our way. I would recommend a quick visit if you are in the area as it is a nice place to go for half an hour and there are some wonderful views of the cathedral however it is quite expensive for a place where you really couldn't spend more than about an hour.
==Admission to Mompesson House and Garden==
Garden only: £1
A nice example of a smaller National Trust property in Salisbury. A nice place to wander round for an hour.
Salisbury is a city rich in history so I was surprised to discover that there's only one National Trust property in the area. Perhaps the heritage tourism income in the area is so good that the other places nearby never needed the support of the National Trust and are making enough money without their help. My mother lives nearby so on a recent visit, we decided to check out Mompesson House, the Trust's local gem.
~Close Encounters of the Heritage Kind~
Mompesson is located in Salisbury's Cathedral Close, the walled mini-city that surrounds the medieval cathedral and was once home to its clergy. These days the occupants of the Close are a more diverse bunch, with many of the clergy priced out of any chance of living there. If you want to see behind the front doors of the grand buildings there are several which are now museums and open their doors to us common-folk. The museum choices include Mompesson House, Arundells (the home of the late Prime Minster Edward Heath), the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum and The Wardrobe, a military museum.
Mompesson House is renowned as one of the finest examples of a Queen Anne townhouse and since it was built in 1701 very little has been changed. This was one of the key reasons why Mompesson House was chosen as a film set for the 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility in which Mompesson performed as the London townhouse of Mrs Jennings. As I've now clocked up 6 National Trust properties in recent weeks I'm starting to realise just how unusual that sense of 'un-mucked-about-with-ness' is amongst historic houses.
The house was built in 1701 for Charles Mompesson. Sadly Charles and his wife didn't get to enjoy their home for very long because he died in 1714. At that point the house passed to Charles' brother-in-law, Charles Longueville and from him to his servant John Clarke who sold the lease on to one Thomas Hayter whose family lived there for two generations taking the house to the end of the 18th Century. During the 19th Century and the first half of the 20th, the leasehold passed between the Portman and Townsend families with the latter family clocking up nearly a century in the house before the death of their eldest daughter at the age of 97 in 1939. The Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral then sold the freehold to the Church Commissioners and Mompesson became the official residence of the Bishop of Salisbury for a few years before being sold on to an artist called Denis Martineau. Martineau was only allowed to buy it on condition that he leave it to the National Trust on his death and this is what happened in 1975.
We placed our coats on the coat stands, left our shopping with the lady at the desk and proudly presented our National Trust membership cards. I asked about cameras and was told that using them was permitted so long as the flash was turned off and so long as I didn't get too close to any of the objects. We bought a small pamphlet guide for 90p and set off to wander round the house, following the advice to start in the dining room.
The dining room is on the front of the house, looking out over Chorister's Green towards the cathedral although there's so much to see in the room that you're unlikely to be checking out the views. There are two large display cabinets with important collections of old glass and porcelain. The cabinet nearest to the window is filled with figurines by Derby and Bow. I know these are worth a lot of money but I honestly wouldn't give them house room. The glasses in the long cabinet on the opposite wall are a different matter. I have little knowledge of old glass but I can stand for hours trying to work out how much work must have gone into making their intricate twisted stems and finely engraved decoration. The dining table is laid with a fine white cloth and lots of fancy silverware. The chairs and table are by Hepplewhite and date to around 1770 and the china is a mix of Sevres and Staffordshire. They've carefully avoided too gory a table setting by presenting a selection of decorative nuts and a pile of fruit along with a decanter of wine. I would guess it's intended to represent the after-dinner nuts and port session.
Leaving the dining room we headed for the large drawing room which is on the back of the house. This is a stunning room with long tall windows and lovely views over the garden. It's decorated in deep red wallpaper with a sofa and armchairs gathered round the fire-place and a tea tray - complete with a rather old fruit cake - set for afternoon tea. I now suspect this was the inspiration for the living room in my parents' previous home which they painted in a deep and rather disturbing shade of red, similar to that at Mompesson. The chandelier is impressive and its notable that the ceiling in here is higher than in the rest of the house with some of the height 'stolen' out of the upstairs bedrooms. The plasterwork on the ceiling is well worth a look though I hope it hasn't given my husband any big ideas for his next DIY project. There's a small drawing room off the side of the large one and during our visit this had been given over to an exhibition of French political cartoons that I didn't find terribly interesting.
The library is a small neat room on the back of the house tucked away behind the stairs. We flopped on the sofas and asked questions whilst the very friendly guide told us about how this had been the only room that Ang Lee didn't use in Sense and Sensibility. Apparently there was a problem with the fitted carpets but I suspect it wasn't really big enough of grand enough for them.
We headed up the beautiful oak staircase, stopping to look at the garden on the way. Upstairs we found four rooms to explore. On the back of the house there was a weird room with a display of tromp l'oeil paintings by Denis Martineau which went right over my head. In the corridor on the landing were paintings by Barbara Townsend, the lady who'd lived her whole life in Mompesson and died in her 90s. There were also photos of her time in the house along the corridor walls and more of her watercolours appear in the blue bedroom.
The two bedrooms are both set up with four poster beds and both have views towards the cathedral. In the blue bedroom things are pretty much as Barbara Townsend would have had them. The bed is draped in blue taffeta and there's a pretty little dressing table and a lot of old dark wood furniture. The south east bedroom lies in the other front corner of the house and has a stunning draped four poster bed and a complex dressing table desk that was made by Hepplewhite Rudd and opens out with a complex arrangement of knobs and levers. Between the two south facing bedrooms is a large room called the Green Room which served as an upstairs reception room, most likely used when close friends and family were visiting, as an alternative to the more formal drawing rooms downstairs. There's a lovely grandfather clock and a stunning old bureau in this room which I really liked.
Heading back downstairs we took a look at the photo album in the entrance hall which shows pictures from the filming of Sense and Sensibility. We then grabbed our coats and took the door out into the garden and wandered around. If the weather were better, this would be a lovely place to stop and sit for a while. If we hadn't promised my mother that we'd be back for lunch, the tea shop looked very tempting. We took some photos of the cathedral from the gardens and then followed the 'way out' signs, leaving through what had probably been the trademen's entrance, before remembering we had to go back and get our shopping from inside.
For National Trust members, it's a definite must-visit if you are in the area. For others, the entrance fee of £5.50 might seem a bit steep for a place that can comfortably be seen in 30 to 40 minutes but I found it generally rather a fascinating place. There's a lot of competition for things to see in the Cathedral Close so I think most will only get to Mompesson after seeing the Cathedral and possibly one of the other three museums nearby. I enjoyed our visit and whilst our membership is active, we'll pop back and have coffee next time and mooch around the garden if the weather's a bit better. The volunteers working in the house were all knowledgeable and helpful and knew just how much to tell you without going too far so we found their assistance added a lot to the visit.