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25 Best Stately Homes in Britain

Posted: 2009-06-05

25 Best Stately Homes in Britain

Following on from my earlier article covering the 25 Best British Castles, here's a list of the 25 Best Stately Homes in Britain. Again, these are stately homes that I personally have visited and can recommend from experience, so there may well be some quite wonderful country houses not on this list.

Some of these houses have roots as medieval castles, while some were built from scratch during the height of the country house boom during the 18th century. Some that might well qualify, like Warwick Castle and Alnwick Castle, are already on my castles list, so I've left them out here.

This isn't meant to be a list of the most opulent houses, or the largest, though, naturally, quite a few of these stately homes are indeed large and certainly opulent. Mostly, these are the places that we enjoyed visiting the most; places that combine historical interest with a wonderful visitor experience.

  • 25. Buscot Park - Oxfordshire. A late 18th-century neo-classical house, set in lovely landscape and water gardens. Within the house are fine furniture and art of the very highest order, including the Faringdon Collection of Old Master paintings and Pre-Raphaelite artwork.
  • 24. Plas Newydd - Anglesey, Wales. The home of the Marquis of Anglesey, Plas Newydd is an 18th century house built by James Wyatt. It boasts a massive mural painted by Rex Whistler
  • 23. Woburn Abbey - Bedfordshire. Family home of the Dukes of Bedford, Woburn Abbey is a Jacobean house remodelled by Flitcroft and Henry Holland. A veritable treasure house of ceramics, furniture, and paintings.
  • 22. Wilton House - Wiltshire. Begun in 1630 on earlier Tudor foundations, with later contributions by Inigo Jones, James Wyatt, and William Kent. The highlights of Wilton are the fabulous Single Cube Room (30 x 30 x 30 feet) and the Double Cube Room (60 x 30 x 30 feet).
  • 21. Waddesdon Manor - Buckinghamshire. Waddesdon Manor was built in the style of a 16th-century French chateau for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild. It houses an extraordinary collection of French 18th-century decorative arts and 17th and 18th century English paintings.
  • 20. Penshurst Place - Kent. Formal gardens surround this magnificent house, the family home of powerful Sidney family. Penshurst was begun in 1340 and consists of a hall with a central hearth, a stone staircase, and a wonderful long gallery.
  • 19. Mellerstain House - Scottish Borders. The home of the Earls of Haddington. Two wings of the house were built in 1725 by William Adam and expanded by Robert Adam in 1765. Built to emulate a castle, with interiors in classical style featuring outstanding original plasterwork ceilings, friezes and fireplaces. The library is among the younger Adam's finest rooms.
  • 18. Ickworth - Suffolk. An amazing, eccentric Italianate building surmounted by a huge rotunda, built for the 4th Earl of Bristol in 1795 to house the earl's art treasures.
  • 17. Holker Hall - Cumbria. The home of Lord and Lady Cavendish, Holker Hall dates from the early 16th century. The house is set in lovely parkland overlooking Morecambe Bay.
  • 16. Coughton Court - Warwickshire. The home of the Throckmorton family since 1409, Coughton features a half-timbered courtyard, an impressive gatehouse, and two separate churches.
  • 15. Holkham Hall - Norfolk. This gorgeous Palladian house in lovely parkland was the work of William Kent inside and out. A showpiece setting for art, rather than a place to live. Old Master paintings, formal gardens.
  • 14. Floors Castle - Scottish Borders. Home of the Duke and Duchess of Roxburghe, Floors is a palatial home built between 1721 and 1726 by William Adam. It was remodelled in the 19th century to become the largest [inhabited] stately home in Britain. A superb art collection includes works by Matisse, tapestries oriental porcelain, and a superb collection of French furniture and Fabergé ornaments.
  • 13. Dunrobin Castle - Highlands. The home of the Earls of Sutherland, Dunrobin is a French style castle with a keep dating from around 1300 augmented by 17th and 18th century additions. The interior features fine furniture and china, paintings and silver. The beautiful formal gardens were modelled after Versailles.
  • 12. Hutton-in-the-Forest - Cumbria. A beautiful historic house in a quiet north Cumbrian village, Hutton-in-the-Forest boasts a Stuart limsetone facade, which flanked by two towers, one a surviving pele tower from the 14th century, the other a Victorian Gothic construction. The interior is a mix of Regency and Vicorian rooms, including original William Moris wallpaper.
  • 11. Bowood House - Oxfordshire. One of England's finest stately homes, Bowood was built about 1725 on the site of an earlier hunting lodge. Transformed by the 1st Earl of Shelburne into an elegant house, with the help of Robert Adam, 'Capability' Brown, and Sir Charles Barry. The gardens are one of Brown's finest creations.
  • 10. Chatsworth - Derbyshire. One of the great treasure houses of England, Chatsworth is the home of the Dukes of Devonshire. It was begun as an Elizabethan mansion by Bess of Hardwick, but rebuilt in 1686. Fabulous collections of art and sculpture. Everything is on a massive scale, opulent and designed to impress.
  • 9. Pencarrow House - Cornwall. A quiet Palladian country house begun in 1765, featuring a panelled library and music room used by William S Gilbert. The lovely manor house is surrounded by 50 acres of parkland, woods, and formal gardens, with peaceful walks on a network of footpaths.
  • 8. Dalemain - Cumbria. Dalemain has been home to the same family since 1679. The house is built around an inner courtyard, and the interior rooms are a charming mixture of formal Georgian rococo and earlier paneled Elizabethan chambers.
  • 7. Montacute House - Somerset. An E-shaped Elizabethan mansion built of warm-toned Ham Hill stone. The interior furnishings are sparse, to allow space for over 100 portraits from the National Portrait Gallery. The long gallery stretches to 172 feet in length. The marvellous Tudor exterior includes a west front which was imported whole from another Tudor house.
  • 6. Blickling Hall - Norfolk. A Jacobean masterpiece surrounded by a Tudor era dry moat. The house was designed by Robert Lyminge, and it incorporates a lovely long gallery, and many rare book collection. The superb gardens blend features of 17th-20th century, including yew hedges, a parterre and extensive topiary. The landscaped parkland is scattered with classical temples
  • 5. Lacock Abbey - Wiltshire. An Elizabethan manor created from an Augustinian nunnery, Lacock Abbey is set on the edge of a marvellously preserved village owned by the National Trust. Many of the original medieval monastic features survive in the house, which was the home of Fox-Talbot, one of the inventors of photography.
  • 4. Burghley House - Lincolnshire. An Elizabethan mansion created by William Cecil, the 1st Lord Burghley. A four story gatehouse leads to an inner courtyard. About the house is a 300-acre deerpark designed by 'Capability' Brown.
  • 3. Blenheim Palace - Oxfordshire. A sumptuous gift from Queen Anne to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, in thanks for his victory at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. The extravagant house was designed by John Vanbrugh, and completed by Hawksmoor, with grounds by Capability Brown.
  • 2. Longleat - Wiltshire. The elegant Elizabethan/Renaissance house is set in parkland created by Capability Brown. The exterior gives way to an extravagant Italianate interior. The house is surrounded by an extensive safari park and other popular family attractions.
  • 1. Castle Howard - Yorkshire. And my pick as the top stately home to visit in Britain is Castle Howard, John Vanbrugh's extraordinary baroque mansion created for the 3rd Earl of Carlisle. One of the very first landscape gardens in England was built here, and there are paintings by Gainsborough and Rubens. A classic country house, and well worth a visit at any season.

And there you have it, my top 25 stately homes to visit in the UK. I've had to leave off more than a few of my favourites, just to pare this list down to 25, but you won't go wrong with any of the houses on this list.

Many of the stately homes on this list belong to one of these two organizations. Membership gives free entry.
National Trust
Historic Houses Association

Heritage Traveller

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