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Montacute House (Somerset)

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Address: Montacute / Somerset TA15 6XP / England

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      08.09.2008 21:56
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      As a member of the National Trust I try to get the most out of my membership and spend some my weekends visiting places. Montacute was one of the places that was at the top of my list as it has a large collection of historical portraits from the National Portrait Gallery. SOME HISTORY: Montacute was originally built at the end of the 16th century by Sir Edward Phelips. He was a member of parliament under Elizabeth I. The same family lived in the house until 1911 and by 1931 it was up for sale as scrap! This seems so strange considering the history of the house. Thank goodness the house was taken over by the National Trust instead. The house is a mix of gothic and renaissance architecture. GETTING THERE: Montacute is a small village in Somerset. The village is located just off the A303 and the house is well signposted from there. There is plenty of parking at the house, although if you go when it's raining I'd recommend wearing old shoes as a lot of the car park is on grass and could get very muddy! The public transport links aren't great as it's a small village, so I would recommend taking the car. OPENING TIMES: The house is only open at certain times of the year. This year the house is open from 15th March to 2nd November. I would imagine the months would be the same in other years. The house is open from 11am until 5 pm, every day, except Tuesdays. The garden and shop are open until mid-December, as are the café and restaurant. The park is open all year round. I understand that National Trust houses are closed during the winter for cleaning etc but it does frustrate me as I have paid for a year's membership and then for 3 months I can't use it. I know you can still see lots of the gardens and parks but these don't really hold any interest for me. PRICES: The house and grounds are free for National Trust Members. For others the prices are £8.50 for adults, £4 for children and £21.10 for a family. These are the standard admission prices, but you do have the option of have a gift aid admission which costs more but helps the Trust with the upkeep of the house. THE EXPERIENCE: Tickets to the house and gardens can be bought in one of the outbuildings. You are given a map of the house and grounds and information about any special exhibitions. The first place I visited was the toilet (always important to spot these early!!) which was right by the entrance once you had paid. I headed straight for the house itself as this is the main attraction for me. After taking some photos outside (I must have gone on one of the only dry days this summer!) I headed in. At the entrance they check your tickets or membership card and point you in the right direction. This first room you visit is the great hall. This is a typical panelled room but look out for the plaster frieze at one end. This shows a husband being told off by his wife after he gets drunk while looking after the baby - they had more of a sense of humour than you think! There are a few other highlights to look out for in the house. The stained glass, especially in the library is very beautiful and old. They show various coats of arms. There is also a beautiful tapestry. One corridor is taken up with a display of samplers. Some of them are really old and therefore quite interesting but I have to admit they didn't capture my attention. Each room in the house has information cards which tell you about any paintings and furniture. In some of the rooms there is also a booklet with a lot more information - these are lower down in the card holders and are marked 'for visitors and staff'. The highlight of the house for me was the long gallery as this is where most of the portraits are. There are some in other rooms of the house but they are mainly here. I did some research into portraits for my masters and the National Portrait Gallery is one of my favourite places, so I was excited to see this. The first set of portraits are of the early English monarchs from William the Conqueror to Mary I (with a few omissions). These portraits are clearly not from life (the first portrait of an English monarch is Richard II sometime between 1377 and 1399). The ones up to Richard II are imagination and the ones of later monarchs are copies of actual portraits. They are not great copies when you know the originals but they are still old being from the 16th century and therefore interesting to me! Other rooms have portraits of the leading figures of the 16th and 17th century. These include Sir Thomas More, Catherine Parr, Walter Raleigh, Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I. So, I got overexcited by all the portraits and had to stop myself correcting other people's history! There was also an exhibition on in the house on Tudor and Jacobean women in portraits. This consisted of 6 portraits of important women of the age including Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury. She provides one of my favourite stories in History (the kids love it in lessons). Under Henry VIII she was tried for treason due to her Catholic family and was sentenced to execution. As a member of the royal family she was allowed execution within the Tower of London rather than in public. At nearly 70 she decided that she didn't much like the idea of her head being removed by an axe and tried to run from the executioner. She tried to run and the executioner had to chase her - let's just say her end was not dignified! If you have children there was a family trail through the house and also there were jigsaw puzzles in the portrait rooms of the portraits. Also at Montacute there are many gardens but I didn't walk round these. They looked lovely from the house though. I also didn't try the café but it seemed to serve the usual National Trust fare, at the usual slightly over-inflated prices. I did have a look round the shop but I was slightly disappointed with it. There were lots of souvenirs, nice smellies, books etc. However, I was expecting more to do with the portraits but there was very little. Perhaps this is because the portraits aren't part of the Trust's collection but seeing as they are in a Trust house I would have thought the National Portrait Gallery would have provided things for sale. I didn't buy anything, but the prices were not too bad. RECOMMENDED? Definitely! I love historic houses and this one did not disappoint. If you like History and nice grounds then this place is definitely worth a visit. I think the ticket prices are quite steep but it would be possible to spend a lot longer there than I did if you do all the grounds as well. The portraits were amazing and for me they were worth the visit by themselves.

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      Renaissance manor house with three floors of historic treasures and features a fantastic exhibition of 17th-century textile samplers and the Long Gallery boasts Elizabethan artwork from the National Portrait Gallery.