What is a manor house?
Looking for a quintessential English countryside experience steeped in history? Then the manor houses of England are a must-experience. They showcase some of the finest examples of period architecture, decor, and art. Set in picturesque countryside, they are slices of history waiting to be discovered.
What is an English manor house, you may wonder? These were the seats of feudal aristocracy, occupied by generations of gentry families dating back to earlier than 16th century. These manor houses had impressive facades built in the architectural style of that time. Grand halls, libraries, art galleries, and rich decor display classic opulence that you will not find anywhere else in England.
Why visit an old countryside manor house?
Whether you are interested in classical architecture, or the heritage of British nobility, these manor houses resonate with stories from the past. Guided tours of the houses, their treasures and the gardens, are an ideal way to get a glimpse of English aristocracy.
To me, an English manor house visit is the immersive extension of a museum tour, where you get to see vintage classic items in their natural habitat. So whether it is classic Queen Anne furniture, Sevres porcelain, Staffordshire figurines, antique Majolica dinnerware or period costumes, there is something exciting about seeing all of these in their native environments.
Imagine seeing the antique Royal Worcestire porcelain dishes laid out in the beautiful Dining Room, once used by the lady of the house gracing the huge paintings on the wall? Nowhere else in the world will you find such a wide collection of carefully preserved monuments and gardens from centuries ago! So for a glimpse of how the landed aristocracy lived in the 16th-17th centuries, or to view treasures from the past, an English countryside manor house is the best pace to begin.
Most of these manor houses are open to the public for at least part of the year. Many are open all through, with events lined up for a more fascinating experience. Some can be rented for stay or booked on occasions. Whatever be your chosen English adventure, you can be assured of a unique and grand English country house experience. Sleepy villages and exquisite gardens complete the countryside narrative.
If you are a fan of British films or TV series, you can expect to recognise some of these iconic manor houses from your favourite period sagas. From Harry Potter locations to James Bond thrillers and period movies, many of these manor houses have been the period backdrops.
So whether you are an art connoisseur, garden enthusiast or a history buff, make sure to visit manor houses when you are next in England.
These are some of the best British manor houses:
Website – http://www.chatsworth.org/
Highlights – art collection spanning five centuries, neoclassical sculptures, books, gardens
Chatsworth is currently home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. The original Tudor mansion was built in the mid-16th century. This was when the house also served as refuge for Mary, Queen of Scots, when the oxburgh hangings were created. The subsequent additions showcase English Baroque architecture. The house stands east of River Derwent, set in expansive parkland and backed by wooded, rocky hills. The 105-acre gardens have Elizabethan relics like the fish ponds, cascade house fountains, Flora’s temple and the later baroque additions of the rockeries, arboretum, and hunting tower. It has remained in the possession of sixteen generations of the Cavendish family.
2. Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire
Website – https://waddesdon.org.uk/
Highlights – classic drawings and paintings, 17th century carpets, 18th century French porcelain, paintings, sculptures, period furniture, clocks, costume accessories, aviaries, formal gardens, wine cellar, Rothschild wines on sale
Waddesdon Manor is a collector’s paradise and a museum all by itself. It was built in the Neo-Renaissance style of a French chateau between 1874 and 1889. This mansion was the weekend residence of Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, both for grand entertaining and housing his collections of Savonnerie carpets, Gobelins and Beauvais tapestries, Sevres porcelain, Gainsborough paintings, Reynolds and 17th century Dutch Old Masters works. It houses the largest private collection of Rothschild wines in the world. Renaissance treasures added by members of the Rothschild family include an extraordinary 18th-century musical automaton elephant, designed by French clockmaker Martinet and a 1760s Sevres pot-pourri vase in the shape of a ship. The displays include collectibles like Limoges enamel, arms and armour, majolica pottery, manuscripts, prints and drawings. Eighteenth century garden sculptures and ornamental aviaries are other remarkable must-sees. Every item on display is part of a Rothschild family collection build painstakingly over centuries. It is no wonder that Waddesdon Manor continues to be the most visited property of National Trust, and a personal favourite too!
3. Longleat House, Wiltshire
Highlights – Elizabethan grandeur, Renaissance artistry, ornate ceilings, paintings, exquisite tapestries, libraries, safari park, Capability Brown landscaped gardens, hedge maze.
The stately home of the Marquesses of Bath, Longleat Manor, is a typical Elizabethan country house with signature landscaped gardens, a maze, and a safari park. It was built in the latter half of the 16th century after the original Longleat Priory was gutted down. Today, Longleat manor house is a repository of 450 years of Thynne and Priory history. Its Safari Park, opened in 1966, was the first drive-through safari park outside Africa. There is more to the Barouque styled formal and pleasure gardens. The Longleat hedge maze is the world’s longest, with 1.69 miles of pathway, constructed of more than 16,000 English yews. Longleat House is the formal setting for many film locations and seasonal events, like the Glastonbury festival.]
4. Baddesley Clinton, Warwickshire
Highlights – Elizabethan interiors, stained glass windows, 19th century chapel, gardens and lakeside walks, secret priest’s holes, historic documents, paintings, 16th century wool /silk tapestries, 17th century furniture and historical clocks, moat, trails.
Baddesley Clinton is a well known late medieval manor house with a moat and walled gardens. It is a Grade I listed monument administered by the National Trust. This moated manor house was home to the Ferrers family for almost 500 years. It was built in the 15th century on the site of a 13th century farmstead, in the middle of the Forest of Arden. The location is beautiful, with the manor itself built on an island hemmed in by a wide moat. A two-arched bridge leading to an imposing gatehouse entrance and a small, formal garden are the perfect foil to the Elizabethan interiors. The family’s coat of arms is represented in beautifully carved wood and stained-glass displays. One of its intriguing features is the presence of three secret priest’s holes – hidden chambers of 17th century England – below the floor level of the house. Take a tour of the house and listen to stories from the past. How the house was once a refuge to two Catholic Sisters, and thence a hiding place for Jesuit priests during periods of religious persecution.
5. Lyme Park, Cheshire
Website – https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lyme
Highlights – stunning gardens, tapestries, woodcarvings, medieval deer park, family friendly.
This Tudor house in Cheshire is a converted 18th century Italianate palazzo surrounded by formal gardens and a deer park. It has remained in the possession of the Legh family till 1946, when it was handed over to the National Trust. The manor house contains elements of both Palladian and Baroque styles. Built of squared sandstone rubble, ashlar sandstone and Welsh slate roofs, the Lyme Park mansion house is a magnificent building set in the midst of stunning gardens, moorland and a mediaeval deer park that was once a sporting estate. The chief attraction is the 15th century Lyme Missal prayer book, with an interactive audio-visual display and touch-screen facility to enable pages of the book to be turned and chants sung, as they would have been 500 years ago. The Wardrobe Department is another draw, where you can dress up for that period drama feel.
The 17-acre garden at Lyme stands at a mere 245m above sea level. Features include an Edwardian rose garden, manicured lawns, luxurious herbaceous borders, a mill pond, and a sunken Dutch garden. It is known for a medieval deer park that houses herds of red and fallow deer, with stunning views in the backdrop.
6. Harewood House, West Yorkshire
Website – http://harewood.org/
Highlights – paintings, best collection of Chippendale furniture, bird zoo, Himalayan garden, farm experience
Considered one of the finest houses of 18th century England, Harewood House offers you a complete family experience. It is one of the ten privileged Treasure Houses of England, and a Grade I listed building. It was built between 1759 and 1771 for plantation owner Edwin Lascelles, the 1st Baron of Harewood, and is still home to the Lascelles family. Art, culture and heritage rolls into a single tour.
Get ready to be blown away by the rarest and largest collection of Thomas Chippendale furniture and jaw-dropping interiors. Art collections and huge paintings by JMW Turner are other attractions. The 6th Earl married Princess Mary, so you can expect to see many of her personal effects. The 1000-acre landscape is another Capability Brown garden. An exotic bird garden was built by the 7th Earl of Harewood.
It houses 400 rare species including penguins and flamingoes, with a dynamic breeding and conservation programme. The Himalayan garden is another site to behold, graced with exotic species and Britain’s only Buddhist Stupa. Massive adventure playground, farm experience and the bird zoo, there is plenty to do at Harewood House.