A few miles north of Bath, and to the east of Bristol, Dyrham Park is a National Trust property that was built in the late 17th century on the site of a former Tudor manor house.
It was the creation of William Blathwayt, a senior civil servant who rose to become Secretary at War among other posts. After leaving government he served as a Member of Parliament for a number of years before he died in 1717.
Completed by 1704, Dyrham Park is an interesting combination of architectural features because it was designed by two architects, the west wing by Samuel Hauduroy, a Huguenot, and showing distinct French influences, and the east by William Talman, who also designed Chatsworth House in Derbyshire and Hanbury Hall close to where I live in Worcestershire. Parts of a pre-existing Tudor mansion at Dryham were demolished as the two wings of this house were completed.
William Blathwayt married heiress Mary Wynter in 1686 whose family owned the Tudor mansion at Dryham. Mary died in 1691, leaving William with three children, and she never saw the building of the house we see today.
From the outside, this is a magnificent building in quite an extraordinary setting.
The estate lies to the west of the A46 (that connects Bath and Stroud), and the car park is close to the entrance. There’s a shuttle bus to the house (which I was very grateful for yesterday) or you can walk down a winding and rather steep road to the house, or across the park. It’s remarkable because Dyrham lies at the bottom of a valley, almost in an amphitheatre, surrounded by the most magnificent mature trees. From up above in the car park you would have no idea what lies over the brow of the hill. And looking at early drawings of the site, and seeing the park today, you have to wonder at the imagination of the creators of estates such as Dyrham, for they would obviously never live to see their creations as they had planned them.
It was the home of the Blathwayt family until the 1950s; however, Dyrham Park has been owned by the National Trust since the 1960s. Last year there was a major project to repair the roof and make the property water-tight once again. There is only access to rooms on the ground floor, but there are plans, budget permitting, to restore the house to its former glory. Most of the rooms do not have furniture, although there is a selection of oil paintings on display in many.
Unlike many houses we have visited, the Orangery is connected to the left side of the house (to the south on the east facing wing).
But, stripped of their interior decor finery, your attention is drawn to many of the fine features that exemplify 17th and early 18th century design: the fireplaces, the doors and their beautiful hardwood frames, and the two magnificent staircases. A couple of pieces of information caught my eye during our visit: the house was constructed from local materials in the main, but finished off using imported woods from around the world, marbles from Italy, and slates from Cornwall. Also, it seems that Blathwayt financed the construction of the house from his own resources rather than borrowing the money. He thus left his estate unencumbered by debts on his death.
Outside, there are quite small landscaped gardens leading down to two pools, and original 17th century iron gates at the far (west) end, and in need of some TLC.
St Peter’s Church is much older than the 17th century house, and has a beautiful stone tile roof. Actually three roofs, for the central nave and side aisles. William Blathwayt is buried in the churchyard.
Above the church are ‘Mr Blathwayt’s Lost Terraces’, now mostly overgrown.
Next to the terraces lies the deer park and, with advice from other visitors to Dyrham yesterday, we tracked down the large herd of fallow deer that was resting nearby.
Dyrham Park is on a trajectory to former glory. We look forward to visiting again in a couple of years once further restoration has been completed, and more rooms (fully furnished) are once again open to the public. And hopefully by then I’ll be able to take full advantage of the walking opportunities through the park once my leg is fully healed.