Montacute, near Yeovil in the south of Somerset, is one of the finest surviving Elizabethan manor houses in the country. Today the National Trust looks after the house and garden.
Today, the gardens at Montacute offer the visitor everything from sweeping landscaped gardens and rare trees to stunning formal flowerbeds. The east court opens onto the original avenue to the house, which is flanked by huge lime trees added in the seventeenth century. It was replanted in the 1950’s to a scheme devised by Mrs Phyllis Reiss of nearby Tintinhull House.
A mixture of herbs and shrubbery brighten the borders throughout the year, while clematis and vines decorate the walls on either side of the garden and highlights include plume poppies, yuccas and purple leaved barberries. A particularly grand Magnolia grandiflora can be seen at the corner of the house.
Montacute, near Yeovil in the south of Somerset, is one of the finest surviving Elizabethan manor houses in the country. Today the National Trust looks after the house and garden and together they are one of the most popular heritage sites in the county. The stunning façade and beautifully landscaped gardens have attracted visitors and film-makers alike, and the house now holds a collection of more than 60 of the National Portrait Gallery’s earliest portraits, including paintings of Henry VIII, Catherine Parr and Elizabeth I.
The house was built in around 1598 by Sir Edward Phelips, a powerful lawyer and politician who was later involved in the trial of Guy Fawkes. It is constructed of the warm, honey-coloured Ham stone which has been quarried locally since Roman times. At first sight, the front of the house seems like a wall of glass interlaced with elaborately carved niches and sculptures; the roof gracefully covered in curved gables and topped by slender chimneys, while heraldic beasts stare down from the parapets.
The house was a fitting tribute to Sir Edward’s wealth and status, but in the centuries following his death the family fell on hard times and the house became neglected and its furniture sold off. In the early nineteenth century, Edwin Phelips obtained material from a house nearby called Clifton Maybeck and used it to rebuild Montacute’s west façade but then the money ran out again and Montacute’s future looked uncertain. Fortunately, in 1929 Ernest Cook, grandson of the founder of the travel company, bought the house and presented it to the National Trust, where it became one of their first large houses. At this point the house was almost an empty shell, but loving restoration and careful furnishing by the National Trust have brought it back to life once more.
Interestingly, however little money they had to keep the house in order, Montacute’s owners have always fought to preserve and improve the gardens. There had already been some improvements but the turning point came in the mid-nineteenth century, when William Phelips married the heiress of Coker Court, Ellen Halgar, and she brought her gardener to Montacute. She began a process of redesign and improvement which has carried on through the years; in the twentieth century, Vita Sackville-West, one of England’s most famous gardeners, was brought in as an advisor, and the summerhouse on the cedar lawn has seats designed by the influential architect, Edwin Lutyens.
Today, the gardens at Montacute offer the visitor everything from sweeping landscaped gardens and rare trees to stunning formal flowerbeds. The east court opens onto the original avenue to the house, which is flanked by huge lime trees added in the seventeenth century. It was replanted in the 1950’s to a scheme devised by Mrs Phyllis Reiss of nearby Tintinhull House. A mixture of herbs and shrubbery brighten the borders throughout the year, while clematis and vines decorate the walls on either side of the garden and highlights include plume poppies, yuccas and purple leaved barberries. A particularly grand Magnolia grandiflora can be seen at the corner of the house.
At the end of the garden near the house is a large rose bed which was suggested by Vita Sackville-West. It has many colourful and aromatic traditional roses, many of which were in cultivation when the house was built. These include Rosa gallica officinalus, (the red rose of Lancaster), its ‘sport’ Rosa gallica ‘Versicolor’ (Rosa mundi) and the double white form of the Yorkist rose, Rosa alba ‘Maxima’. Oriental roses are well represented by the Chinese Rosa moyesii and several forms of Japanese Rosa rugosa, as well as Rosa pimpenellifolia lutea, a yellow hybrid of the Burnet rose.
Small kitchen gardens exist along the eastern walls bordering the cedar lawn but a yew hedge hides the ‘Servants Walkway’ – designed so that those enjoying the lawn wouldn’t have their view spoilt by the servants. At the southern most end of the cedar lawn is a small, semi-circular garden and water feature adorned with a row of small columns. This feature, built in 1964, is the newest addition to the garden.
Jane Austen fans will recognise Montacute as the home of the Palmer family in the 1996 film version of “Sense and Sensibility”. Scenes were shot both internally and externally, and film buffs will be interested to spot locations. Particularly striking is the tall hedge of Irish yew, deformed long ago by frost and maintained ever since in its twisted form, which was used as an appropriate backdrop for an emotionally traumatic scene for Marianne, played by Kate Winslet. Keen-eyed visitors will also recognise the cedar lawn, as the backdrop to the scene where Colonel Brandon (played by Alan Rickman) is seen rescuing Marianne in the thunderstorm.
The National Trust
1 Jan–1 Mar 11–3; daily
2 Mar–1 Nov 11–4:30; daily
2 Nov–31 Dec 11–3*; daily
Garden, parkland, café and shop
1 Jan–1 Mar 10–4; daily
2 Mar–1 Nov 10–5; daily
2 Nov–31 Dec 10–4*; daily
House: visitor routes vary depending on essential
conservation work. *19 to 31 December: house open 12 to 5;
everything open 10 to 6. Closed 24 and 25 December.
Please check interactive tool on website of the NT
Admission price (standard):
Adult: £14.25, Child: £7.15, Family: £35.65
Various. See website for details.
- Shop: National Trust Shop with plant sales.
- Tea Room/ Restaurant: Café on site.
- WC: Situated by ticket office. Baby-changing facilities.
- Parking: Two free car parks. Separate disabled parking, 40 yards from entrance. Bike racks are provided.
- Seats and benches – location frequency: 2 designated picnic areas in the gardens. Benches and seats can be found around both the gardens and the house.
- Average visitor duration: 1 hour for the house, around one hour for the gardens.
- Accessibility – in the park/ garden from the car park: Dogs on leads allowed only in park. 3 wheelchairs and 1 PMV are available but booking is essential.
- Alternative accessible entrance for wheelchairs. The Great Hall is fully accessible. Many stone steps to other floors. Seating is available throughout the house.
- Ramps have been installed in places of the gardens leaving the grounds largely accessible by wheelchair or PMV.
- Shop and Refreshments have level entrances.
- A Braille guide and large print guide are available.
Children’s programme/ events or other educational activities::
- Children’s play area. Children’s guide and a Children’s quiz/trail. Family activity packs are available free of charge by the ticket office. In the art gallery both adult and children specific information is provided.
- There is a family picnic area where children can run and play ball games, etc.
Maps of sites/ visitor information etc:
A free leaflet is provided on walks in the park and estates.
- Bus services: Safeway 681 Yeovil Bus Station-South Petherton/Crewkerne
- Cycling: NCN30 Passes Montacute Village
- By road: In Montacute village, 4ml W of Yeovil, on S side of A3088, 3ml E of A303; signposted
- By train: Yeovil Pen Mill 5½ml; Yeovil Junction 7ml (bus to Yeovil Bus Station); Crewkerne 7ml
- On foot: Leyland Trail and Monarch Trail both pass through Montacute Park