6 ISSUES FOR JUST £6 Subscribe to Somerset Life today CLICK HERE

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

12:08 26 January 2010

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

Shop with us at Great British Life

More from Out & About

Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Looking into the Punchbowl (Winsford and the Devils Punchbowl)

On a cold crisp day in winter, when frost filigrees adorn the trees and the clarity of light sharpens our senses, there are few better pastimes than a good walk. Enjoy a route from this précised selection of favourite, view-rich options from around the county

Read more
Crowcombe Church

MARK G WHITCHURCH enjoys a special motoring experience from north to west Somerset in a newly launched motor with charm and Latin character

Read more
Saturday, January 16, 2016
Winter on the High Moor, Holnicote

The wildlife presenter shares his top tips for making the most out of the Somerset side of Exmoor this autumn and winter

Read more
Saturday, January 16, 2016
Persuasion in Bath Street

HANNAH STUART-LEACH looks at the period dramas and TV shows increasingly drawn to film in our English idyll

Read more
Friday, December 4, 2015
Father Christmas at Hestercombe Gardens, Taunton

Alexandra Hurley rounds up her top 20 December events

Read more
Monday, November 23, 2015
The wonderful location of Dulverton

Visit the gateway to Exmoor and enjoy views from the highest point in Somerset on this walk with SIMONE STANBROOK-BYRNE and JAMES CLANCY

Read more
Thursday, October 29, 2015
Exciting plans for the racecourse

Bath Racecourse has announced exciting multimillion pound plans to extend its Lansdown venue

Read more
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
A view overthe Vale of Taunton Deane

Be sure to take your lip blam with you on this walk taking in a number of kissing gates and some glorious Somerset views

Read more
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
This powerful stag is ready for action

Wildlife photographer Michael Taylor looks at what autumn holds for one of our county’s ‘iconic’ animals

Read more
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
A proud Peter with fellow opening bat Roy Virgin as they walk to the middle at Lords

In the second part of his interview with Somerset’s Peter Robinson, Kerry Miller finds out about a dodgy track in Bath, opening the batting at Lords and coaching local talent in the county

Read more
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
This is Jade the Lovebird

Lonely lovebird has been left downhearted after she was admitted to an RSPCA centre on her own and now staff are desperately searching for a soulmate for her.

Read more
Monday, September 14, 2015
Climbing the hill near Bossington. Photo Chris Spracklen

If you’ve harboured thoughts of stepping out on the Coast Path to tackle that scenic stretch you’ve always wanted to experience, then now’s the time to put that plan into action.

Read more
Monday, September 14, 2015
Bentley Flying Spur outside The Bath Priory Hotel

MARK G WHITCHURCH goes from visiting exotic butterflies in a Somerset village, to an English luxury hotel in the city of Bath

Read more
Monday, September 7, 2015
Kitty seen here riding the grey pony

The Shetland Pony Grand National is a much loved British tradition seen by thousands at events up and down the country. LUCY JOHNSON meets a young aspiring jockey from Somerset

Read more


Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Somerset's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area



Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search