6 ISSUES FOR £6 Subscribe to Somerset Life today click here

Maunsel House: Home of the Heirless Slades. Sir Benjamin Slade and the family behind Maunsel House

PUBLISHED: 12:08 26 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:16 20 February 2013

Maunsel House near Taunton

Maunsel House near Taunton

Malcolm Rigby meets Sir Benjamin Slade and the extraordinary family behind Maunsel House near Taunton, where it is said that Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales and guests can party in elegance

Malcolm Rigby meets Sir Benjamin Slade and the extraordinary family behind Maunsel House near Taunton, where it is said that Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales and guests can party in elegance


Almost anyone other than a Feng Shui therapist would love Maunsel House. Far from minimalist, the place is awash with clutter, albeit interesting clutter. On the walls and ceilings are stuffed animals, hunting pictures, rifles, riding whips, swords, machine guns and in the corner even a stray canon. Looking out into the courtyard, doves and peacocks strut in front of a background of broken windows and disconnected gutters of the outbuildings - it is a timeless and romantic image.

Carved in stone above the fireplace in the bar is a quotation from Sir Francis Bacon: 'It is a reverend thing to see an ancient castle not in decay or to see a fair timber tree sound and perfect, how much more to behold an ancient noble family which hath stood against the waves and weathers of time, for new nobility is but the act of power but ancient nobility is the act of time.' If read with a certain postmodern irony it captures the spirit of the house.
There's a natural human instinct to want to put both a name and an age to an object, but when I ask Sir Benjamin Slade to specify a date on the property, he replies simply: "It's very old." Then adds, "To be totally honest with you, it's like a very old axe: it's had several new blades and six new handles."

Because of the quality of the soil, he believes, there has probably been a settlement here for a couple of thousand years. Domesday (1086) registers the manor as Maunsel, derived from the French, meaning 'sleeve of land', and owned by Count Eustace of Boulogne, a kinsman of William the Conqueror. The Slade family acquired the property at an auction for 3,000 in 1771 ("We're new here," Sir Benjamin quips.)

The first Slade to inhabit Maunsel House was General Sir John who received his baronetcy for his war efforts, although his descendant now proudly proclaims that he was the worst general in British military history. However, he does concede that General Sir John was a remarkable man: in his youth he danced with Marie Antoinette, he had 11 children, two wives and lived to the age of 97. During the first century of ownership the Slades added two new wings.

When I ask Sir Ben if there are any skeletons in the family cupboard, he smiles. "So many ... skeletons, a whole graveyard." There was the Slade who speculated on railway shares using government money. The twin who bribed the old nanny to say that he was first out of the womb - for inheritance purposes. Madeleine Slade, who went to India and became Gandhi's mistress. Then, more recently, there was Aunt Freda who lived on Mars Bars and Milky Ways whilst hunting twice a week and "drinking for Somerset".
Born in 1946, Sir Benjamin went to school at Millfield and inherited the baronetcy at the age of 15. "It was bad, there was no money, no brain cells, my family weren't academic they'd just been into hunting, fighting and drinking - killing French people, that was the family business." Packed off to Australia because of his wildness, he returned in 1971 to work as a stockbroker in London before making his fortune in the container trade. When that business was sold his interests diversified into technology, food retail, property investment, agriculture, insurance, as well as, of course, restoring and refurbishing the now magnificent Maunsel House from a positively ruinous state.

Wandering from the elegant dining room to the large Regency ballroom to the panelled but bookless library, you'll find portraits of Slade ancestors looking down upon you. Upstairs each of the 13 bedrooms is unique and each is sumptuously decorated, many have four posters and the master of them all is the Elizabethan eight-foot-six-inch-wide bed (where do they get the sheets?) complete with the family coat of arms hand-embroidered on its damask eiderdown in the King's Room. But perhaps the prize for originality should go to the en-suite bathrooms; from the bath in the box, to the shower that sprays from the side, to the copper 'bateau' tub, they're great.

A house as old as this must surely have ghosts. "There are a few," Sir Benjamin says, "we keep them all downstairs, they're not allowed upstairs. We play down the ghosts because modern people don't like ghosts, they're frightened by ghosts. In one of the cottages we did have a very bad poltergeist, the builders and the painters didn't like it so we ended up paying about 300 quid for a medium who rounded up all the spare ghosts that were going to be any trouble and sent them all down the road."

Currently Sir Benjamin is quite literally scouring the globe for a suitable Slade with the right genes to become his heir and is even hoping to make a television programme about his quest. Since there are three-and-a-half thousand Slades claiming kinship in the States alone, the task is not going to be easy. He admits the search is not entirely altruistic as he wants the successor to take over the running of the estate so that he can go skiing, take in Goodwood and participate in general partying.

These days the self-confessed eccentric, seventh Slade Baronet lives across the way in a farmhouse, while Maunsel House is let out for weddings, conferences or perhaps an out-of-London house party.

www.maunselhouse.co.uk; 01278 661076

0 comments

More from Out & About

Although Somerset is wonderful all year round, there’s something special about the county when the weather gets warmer, daffodils start to bloom and we can enjoy a cider in the sun

Read more
Friday, March 17, 2017

Chris Gladstone discovers plenty of reasons to visit this bustling market town

Read more
Friday, March 17, 2017

Chris Gladstone discovers some fascinating tales from across the ages

Read more
Tuesday, March 14, 2017

No one knows their town better than those who live there, so Clare Gladstone asks residents who tell us their favourite things about Ilminster

Read more
Tuesday, March 14, 2017

There’s nothing more appealing than a row of picture-perfect properties in some of Somerset’s most beautiful locations. Which street is your favourite in the county?

Read more
Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Clare Gladstone looks at what’s going on in Taunton in the year ahead and suggests a few reasons to visit

Read more
Monday, February 27, 2017

Swathes of delicate white snowdrops bring joy to many by signifying the end of winter and the beginning of spring. We pick 6 of Somerset’s prettiest locations to admire the beautiful flower

Read more
Thursday, February 16, 2017

World famous for its wonderful architecture, iconic sights and fascinating history, there’s plenty to see and do in the wonderful city of Bath throughout the year, says Rachael Sharpe

Read more
Monday, February 13, 2017

Chris Gladstone discovers fact, fiction and a few tall tales in the Quantocks

Read more
Monday, February 6, 2017

The largest gorge in the UK, and a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, Somerset’s Cheddar Gorge is a truly remarkable sight to see. We pick 15 times the Gorge and caves looked utterly mesmerising

Read more
Monday, January 30, 2017

Rich in history and legend, National Trust’s Glastonbury Tor is a pleasure to trek up and admire St Michael’s Tower. We choose 12 pictures that will make you want to visit Somerset’s iconic monument immediately

Read more
Thursday, January 19, 2017

Bursting with flora and fauna and pretty in bloom throughout the year, Charles Williams picks the best of Somerset’s glorious open spaces to explore

Read more
Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Boasting iconic landmarks, dramatic landscapes and idyllic scenery, it’s no surprise that Somerset has played a starring role in a variety of films. We pick 10 of the county’s famous film locations you might like to explore

Read more
Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A small journey from Yeovil and 24 miles south of Bath sits Castle Cary, a small medieval market town on the edge of gorgeous rolling countryside between the Somerset Levels and Penselwood. With plenty to see and do, we’ve assembled a guide to help plan your trip to this charming Somerset town

Read more
 
South West Life advert link
 
South West Life advert link

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter
subscription ad


Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad
Somerset Life Application Link

Local Business Directory

Somerset's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area



Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search