Invitation to view
PUBLISHED: 10:16 08 July 2013 | UPDATED: 10:19 08 July 2013
The weather outside is wet and unseasonably chilly, but the welcome we receive as we walk through the doors of beautiful Crowcombe Court is a very warm one.
David Kenyon, the owner of this 18th century manor house in the Quantocks, is there to greet the group of eager visitors and take it on a special tour of his home.
His guests have booked through the Invitation to View – a scheme which allows individuals to look around a house that is not normally open to the public and to meet the interesting – and sometimes eccentric – owners, who have taken on the responsibility for maintaining these beautiful buildings.
Invitation to View has been opening houses and gardens to the public in East Anglia since 1998. This year the scheme has expanded to cover the West Country, with 23 splendid houses in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset offering the same friendly tours rounded off with afternoon tea.
The properties taking part in Invitation to View range from Trereife House down in Cornwall, up to Gatcombe Court near Bristol, and include castles, 18th century country houses and homes with medieval origins.
Here in Crowcombe, eight miles from Taunton, a manor house has existed since at least the late 13th century.
Thomas Carew, who was an MP for Minehead, was born there in 1702. As a young man he began building the grand mansion, which stands here today.
David explains: “When Carew inherited he was only 18 and started building almost straight away.
“The original house, near the church, was knocked down and he positioned this house further up the combe where the views are fabulous.”
The wings were built first and then the main house was begun in 1734 to plans by Nathaniel Ireson who also designed Ven House near Sherborne. Built in the baroque style typical of the post Queen Anne period, Crowcombe Court was completed by 1739.
The tour takes in interiors described by Pevsner as ‘sumptuous’ such as the great hall with fine examples of Italian plasterwork, the ballroom which has a superb marble fireplace thought to have come from Stowe and the dining room where the floor is painted with the arms of the Carew family.
Remains of the older manor house still exist in panelling, window frames and a door dated 1642. These have been placed in a corridor leading into what would have been the butler’s office.
“The house was designed to impress,” says David.
“Carew wanted to show off, he wanted this nice ‘bling’ pile in the country but he wasn’t going to waste all the materials from the manor house, so he recycled.”
The house also benefits from vaulted undercrofts, which would have held the winter stores for the household. When we reach here David draws the group’s attention to the sound of running water and explains that the house is moated.
“This is for two reasons. Firstly because we are in the Quantocks, which is a wet area so it protects the foundations from water, and also because the house was fed with water from the hillside. It comes down the hill, runs under the length of the house and feeds a well in the garden.”
The house remained in the ownership of Carew’s descendants until the middle of the 20th century. During its history it has been used as a school and a nursing home and it was bought by architectural historian Patsy Smith and her husband Richard Anderson in 1999. The couple embarked on a major restoration of the Grade I listed property, which stands in 10 acres of land in the Quantocks AONB.
Current owners David and Kate Kenyon have been here for two years.
David retired from the army in 2001 and Kate is a former Lady Clerk in the Royal Household. She is a direct descendent of James Morrison (described as the richest commoner in England in the 18th century) and her family estate is in the New Forest where she ran events such as weddings, open air theatre and a country fair.
Kate and David have renovated bedrooms and bathrooms at Crowcombe Court and their next project is the restoration of the gardens, which include an arboretum, small lake and walled kitchen garden.
As well as being a licensed wedding venue, Crowcombe Court has recently played host to a variety of events like an arts show and opera productions.
Next month there is a chance to see plans for the gardens and Invitation to View days run on 11 July, 8 August and 12 September.
As David explains: “We are doing Invitation to View in order to raise awareness of Crowcombe.
“And by running various events here it means that people can come and enjoy the house as we do.”
For further details on events at Crowcombe Court call 01984 618752 or visit crowcombecourt.co.uk
To book a house tour with Invitation to View call 01206 573948 or visit invitationtoview.co.uk