Brympton d'Evercy

Brympton d'Evercy
Yellow stone building at the end of a driveway accessed via stone gateposts.
Brympton d' Evercy, Somerset, England. (taken from spot marked "M" on plan below)
Entrance front. A photo from an album made by a Fane cousin c.1868.

Brympton d'Evercy (also known as Brympton House) is a manor house near Yeovil in the county of Somerset, England. It has been described as the most beautiful house in England,[1] in a country of architecturally pleasing country houses; whatever the truth of that statement, in 1927 the British magazine Country Life published a set of three articles on the house, in which Christopher Hussey, near the start of his 50-year career as a notable architectural authority and documentor of British country houses, described Brympton d'Evercy as "The most incomparable house in Britain, the one which created the greatest impression and summarises so exquisitely English country life qualities".[2] Hussey's articles remain the only detailed account of the mansion. During its long history Brympton d'Evercy has belonged to just five families, the d'Evercys, the Sydenhams, the Fanes, the Weeks (from 1992 to 2007) and the most recent owner who purchased the property in 2007.

Brympton D'Evercy's was not built in a single campaign as an entirety; instead, it was slowly expanded between about 1220, when it was begun by the D'Evercy family, and the 18th century. During three quarters of a millennium it has remained little known, and little recorded. For a few years following World War II Brympton d'Evercy was a boys' school, before being reclaimed by its owners as a private house. Today occasionally hired out as a location for filming, or a hospitality event, it remains essentially a private residence.



Brympton d'Evercy from the south circa 1722 by Jan Kip and Leonard Knyff.

The house is part of a complex consisting of the mansion, its stables and other outbuildings, the parish church and a curious building today known as the "priest house". Little remains of the original D'Evercy manor built between 1220 and 1325, for on its site the present house has evolved.

Brympton d'Evercy was listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Brunetone, meaning 'The brown enclosure' from the Old English brun and tun.[3]

The village of Brympton is larger today than at any time in its history. Until the last century the village barely qualified for the title, having been deserted in the 14th century. Since then the village has consisted merely a few cottages scattered along the long drive to the mansion's secluded site, a few of these cottages can be discerned in the view by Knyff (illustrated right) Today a new area known as Brympton is a suburb of Yeovil which encroaches on the secluded house at an alarming pace.

In Somerset and the adjoining county of Dorset, such houses as Brympton d'Evercy containing wings in an assortment of architectural styles by unrecorded local architects and builders are numerous. The owners of these houses were nearly all related to each other in some way, and competition among them was great. As a result one often finds in various houses wings that are almost identical, having been constructed by the same builder, rather than an architect using drawings based on the works of the master architects from as far afield as Rome. This is particularly true from the 17th century onwards.

The owners of Brympton d'Evercy at various times were related to the Stourtons of Preston Plucknett, the Pouletts of Hinton House, the Phelips of Montacute House, and the Strangways of Melbury House. Those "County" families that were not actually related were usually close friends, so in the frequent visits between the great houses of the county architectural ideas could be exchanged along with the local gossip. Before the 17th century the profession of "architect" was unknown, Sir John Summerson has observed, and all houses were built by local builders according to the ideas of their patrons. Inigo Jones, perhaps the first widely notable English architect, introduced Palladian ideals to English architecture: his Banqueting House at Whitehall of 1619 set a standard, and was much copied; by the 1630s his ideas permeated as far as Somerset. Among the grander families, there was generally a Member of Parliament, or as in the case of the earls of Ilchester, the head of the family kept a London house. These more travelled members of this provincial society would return to their Somerset estates and country houses with the latest architectural ideas. Occasionally one of the richer county families would employ a renowned architect, such as John Webb, Jones's son-in-law. Born in Somerset, Webb moved to London, but following his cosmopolitan success later worked in Dorset at Kingston Lacy—a new mansion, built by the Banks family to replace Corfe Castle destroyed by Cromwellian troops in the Civil War— and at Wilton House [4] in the adjacent county of Wiltshire.

Once introduced to Somerset practice, the new genres of architecture were interpreted by the local draughtsmen and masons, and then applied, often haphazardly, to the old houses of the local gentry, and what one cousin had in one part of Somerset the next cousin soon had in another. In this way Brympton d'Evercy and its neighbours slowly evolved.

Architectural appraisal

Brympton d'Evercy, stages of construction. A:Hall 1450; B:1460; C:Nether parlour 1520; D:Church 14th century; E:Priest House 15th century; F:West front:16th century; G:Porch 1722 H:Clock tower (original porch); K:Staircase hall possible site of earlier manor; L:State rooms 1680?; O:Kitchen 16th century; P:Farmhouse

For 250 years from 1434 the Sydenham family created Brympton d'Evercy until it appeared today. Each generation enlarged and altered the house depending on their whim or current fashion. The west front (pictured top of page) was built during the late Tudor period and is 130 feet (40 m) long.[5] The two large windows either side of the door light the double height Great Hall, which as a result of the new west front substantially increased the size of the D'Evercy's original Great Hall. The older North wing to the left of the great hall was likely to have contained the private rooms of its builder John Sydenham.

The architecture of the house is as diverse as the characters who created it over its four hundred year process of evolution. Built in its entirety from the immediately local Hamstone, a stone of a unique golden yellow colour, which is used as a building material in just a few villages in the immediate vicinity of Yeovil.

It appears that for the first few years the Sydenhams owned the house they were content with that purchased from the heirs of the d'Evercy family. However from the mid 15th century English domestic architecture began to awaken to the ideas of privacy and comfort, if only for the immediate family of the head of the household. These new ideals are reflected at Brympton d'Evercy in the first major building works undertaken by the Sydenhams in 1460.

The 1460 wing

This is the first expansion of the original d'Evercy house, probably on the site of the present staircase hall ("K" on plan) occurred in 1460, when the Sydenhams added the southwest block ("B" on plan). This contained the house's first reception rooms other than the hall, consisting of a solar and retiring or withdrawing rooms for the lord of the manor and his family. Until this time the entire household would have lived and dined together in the hall. This wing has been much altered, having been given a new fenestration in the 17th century, when the south wing was built. However, the wing retains its original mock battlements, which together with the slight irregularity of the placements of the windows, compared to the perfect symmetry of the adjoining later south wing betray its older age.

The Priest House

The "Priest House" (marked E on plan): thought to have been built 1460–1470 as a dower house by Joan Sydenham

In the late 15th century, a free-standing earlier structure (marked "E" on plan) was very much enhanced; it flanks the mansion almost as though it were a wing of the house itself. Its origins and uses have always been debated. Possibly this was the chantry said to have been built by the D'Evercy family. Though it is known traditionally as the "priest's house", its entrance faces away from the church, into the former forecourt of the 15th-century house. "It may originally have been a range of lodgings for retainers or guests" (Cooper 1999 p 258). Whatever its original use, it seems certain that it was remade as a dower house by Joan Stourton, who had married John Sydenham in 1434, not realising that her own son was to predecease her, thus allowing her to remain in the main house for the duration of her life.

The building is a very rare example of a complete small medieval country house, an oblong structure on two floors, the upper floor containing a hall, solar and bedroom, while the lower floor for servants had no internal means of reaching the upper floor, to which access was only obtained by a newel staircase in a turret with only an external entrance. The house, obviously designed for a person of refinement, had unusually good sanitation in the form of two garderobes; the wooden chutes were still in existence in the early 20th century. The siting of the garderobes here facing the church reinforces the idea that this was considered the rear of the house; an arrangement such as this would not have been made if this were in fact the Priest's house. In the 17th century the Priest's house's principal room, on the upper storey, was given a decorative plaster ceiling.

Upstairs is a tessellated Roman pavement of blue lias limestone and red tile. This was excavated in 1923 by Ralegh Radford from a building near Westland Road in Yeovil.[6]

The North or Henry VIII wing

The next major addition to the house was the north wing ("C" on plan). With its turret, oriels and external sculpted moulding it is almost a miniature country house in itself. This wing has remained largely unchanged since it was built circa 1520.[7] John Sydenham wished to retain an independent lodging at the house after he had handed the house over to his son; for himself he built three floors with a room on each, its own external entrance and staircase turret— a house within a house. Architecturally it must have been strikingly modern at the time of its construction. The facade is richly ornamented with coats-of-arms and tracery. The roof line is castellated, the battlements being purely for ornament, not defence. The two upper floors have large oriel windows; between these windows are finely sculpted the coat of arms of King Henry VIII. The Sydenhams were permitted the honour of displaying the royal arms, due to their relationship to the Stourton family who claimed connections with the blood royal; as a consequence this part of the house is sometimes called the Henry VIII wing, though the King never visited the house. Of all the house's varied wings, this north wing is probably the most architecturally accomplished, displaying all the most up-to-date traits and flamboyances of contemporary Tudor architecture.

West Front

The clock tower ("H" on plan) the base was formerly the Tudor entrance porch to the house. It was given an upper storey and moved to its current location in 1722.

The central section of the west front contains on the ground floor the hall (marked "A" on the plan); the rear section of the hall almost certainly was once the great hall of the original smaller d'Evercy manor; this was rebuilt by the Sydenhams in 1450. The great hall, though, did not achieve its present size until the building of the west front ("F" on plan) in the late 16th century. The new front projects further forward than the previous; thus the older turret of the north wing became less obvious, as three quarters of its mass was absorbed into the enlarged hall. The west front has two large mullioned double height windows flanking the principal entrance. The present glazed Gothick castellated porch (G on plan) was added in 1722, when the existing 15th century porch was moved into the garden, given an extra story and transformed into a clock tower ("H" on plan). The hall's central open fire, was replaced by a fireplace complete with chimney, thus it was possible to place a secondary floor above the hall.

The kitchen wing

The next major addition, still 16th century, was the kitchen block ("O" on plan) which is interesting for its huge proportions and barrel vaulted roof, suggesting an original function less humble than a kitchen. The kitchen is on two levels, the upper reached by a flight of short steps from the lower at each side of its width, yet the space does not appear ever to been divided. From the kitchen range a turret projects, (in the right hand between O and K on the plan) containing a spiral staircase, crowned by a belfry. This would have originally given a secondary access to the upper floor of the original house, now replaced by the Palladian south wing. From the kitchen stretches another wing ("P" on plan) of indeterminate date (no later than 1690) this seems always to have been known as "the farmhouse" and lived in by the family of the tenant of the "home farm". It may possibly have been intended as a secondary or service wing, or even part of a grander never-completed scheme.

South Front and wing

The wing which finally brought the mansion to its present-day appearance is no better documented than the rest of the house. Opinion on the exact date of construction of the south wing is divided ("L" on plan), given dates between 1670 and 1680 or suggested to have been started as early as 1636 and completed in the early years of the Restoration of 1660.[8] Dating the wing is essential in identifying the architect: the south wing, if considered to date in the 1630s, was often attributed to Inigo Jones—many English houses make this claim, some like Wilton House with more plausibility than others [9]— until Christopher Hussey debunked the myth in 1927. Hussey's claim was largely based on the assumption that the south wing was completed in 1680, at a time when Jones would have been dead for 20 years.[10] The most noticeable similarity between Jones's documented work and Brympton d'Evercy is the use of alternating triangular and segmental window pediments, but Jones only ever used this motif to give importance to the windows of the piano nobile, at Brympton d'Evercy the alternating pediments give both floors equal value. At Brympton the piano nobile is most unusual in being on the ground floor. It is doubtful a master architect who had designed for the Royal family, and the highest echelons of the aristocracy, would have considered such a siting. Also typical of Jones, but a common feature of the time, is the balustrade parapet hiding a hipped roof. However, the greatest architectural clues which suggest Jones had no hand in the design of the mansion are basic: the architect of Brympton d'Evercy gave the facade 10 bays, which meant the windows begin with a segmental pediment and end with a triangular one, and no master architect would have permitted such an affront to balance. Finally, as the house is of ten bays, there is no central focal point: this is not an architectural crime, but what is an architectural crime is that the South front in its centre does have a focal point - a drain pipe, which has been sited there since the building's completion. The evidence seems to suggest that the South facade was probably inspired by Hinton House, at nearby Hinton St George, (the childhood home of Sir John Posthumous Sydenham's wife) completed in 1638. These two houses together with Long Ashton House were most probably designed and built by the same local family of architects and masons, working from drawings by Serlio's treatise on architecture published in five volumes in London in 1611.

Baroque state apartments

Whoever the architect was, the new south wing was intended to transform Brympton d'Evercy from a country manor to a grand house. Of ten bays, the two storied building housed on its ground floor the finest and most lavishly decorated rooms of the house. Known as the state apartments, they follow an arrangement common in houses built before circa 1720 where important guests were received and stayed. Basically they were a large bedroom suite or apartment, with all the rooms on an axis, connected by large double doors creating an enfilade. The first, largest and grandest room, known as the salon, was intended for the visiting dignitary to grant audience to the household, all of whom would be permitted access to this room. The following room was a large withdrawing room, slightly less grand; here the honoured guest would receive more privately than in the saloon. The next room followed the same pattern, each space becoming more intimate and private as the enfilade progressed. The final, and most private room, was the state bedroom: beyond this were two small closets for staff and private ablutions. This suite pattern of Baroque apartments exists in large houses all over England; in the very largest, such as Blenheim Palace, it was possible to have two such suites branching off from either side of the saloon. However Brympton d'Evercy was not a large or very grand house. Why Brympton d'Evercy needed a suite of state apartments has never been truly answered. It has often been said they were built for an intended visit of Queen Anne, but they were at the very least ten years old when she ascended the throne, and she certainly never visited the house. The state bed remained in situ until 1956, but was never slept in by a sovereign. Circa 1720 the fashion for state rooms became antiquated, and they were often transformed for more general and frequent use. This was true at Brympton d'Evercy: the saloon became the Drawing room, the following room became known as the Oak or small drawing room, the next room the dining room, and only the state bedroom remained in solitary magnificence, slept in by honoured, but non-royal guests. At Brympton d'Evercy these were more likely to be talented cricketers than esteemed potentates.

19th century works

Garden front c.1860. A photo in the album of a Fane cousin.

In the mid 19th century Brympton d'Evercy was the home of Lady Georgiana Fane, a single lady of modest means who had no need of a large and lavish household. Thus the house was not given the Victorian wings given so carelessly to so many of Britain's historic houses. Lady Georgiana confined herself to improvements in the gardens and grounds. She added a balustrade to the walls enclosing the forecourt in front of the west facade; the walls, topped by balustrading, link the priest house, churchyard on the south side, and clock-tower and stables on the north. The effect was to create what in a grander house than Brympton d'Evercy would be known as a cour d'honneur. Entered through great gate piers crowned by urns (see illustration top of page) the cour d'honneur effect is softened, and de-formalised by lawns and some very English style flower beds. The broad gravel terrace along the full extent of the south front was also created at this time, along with the large pond which reflects it. Other than necessary restoration work, and installation of modern plumbing and electricity, little has been added to the house since the 19th century. It is now recognised by English Heritage as a grade I listed building.[11]


The d'Evercy family

The d'Evercy family were responsible for building the almost adjoining church. Christopher Hussey suggests [2] that the D'Evercy's manor at Brympton was little more than an unostentatious range of buildings on the site of that part of the present staircase wing (marked K on plan), with an adjoining farmyard to the north of it. The remains of a farm does exist on the probable site of the D'Evercy's farm today, and an old farmhouse (marked P on plan) actually adjoins the much later south wing built on the probable site of the original manor. Thomas d'Evercy purchased the estate in 1220 from the Chilterne family (of whom nothing is known). The d'Evercy family derived their name from Evrecy, a village near Caen in Normandy. Thomas d'Evercy was part of the retinue of the Norman Earl of Devon, which is the reason he left the family estates on the Isle of Wight to reside in Somerset. D'Evercy represented Somerset and South Hampshire at the first Parliament of England. Following Thomas d'Evercy's death family records are scarce until the time of the last d'Evercy, Sir Peter, who twice represented Somerset in Parliament, under Edward II. The church next to the house, St Andrew's, dates from this period. Sir Peter founded a chantry at Brympton d'Evercy in 1306, endowing a priest with a messuage and 40 acres (160,000 m2) in the parish. It has been suggested that this is the building today known as the priest house, but no structural evidence exists to support this claim.[12] Sir Peter died in 1325, when the estate was described as "a certain capital messuage, with gardens and closes adjoining".[13] The village at this time consisted of 17 smallholders, and three tenant farmers. Sir Peter's widow remained in occupation, and on her death the estate passed to the Glamorgan family, the d'Evercy's daughter Amice having married John de Glamorgan. Later it seems to have passed through obscure descent to the Wynford family of whom nothing other than their names is recorded. In 1343 the estate was recorded as: "..a manor house sufficiently built with a certain garden adjoining planted with divers and many apple trees, the whole covery some two acres" the record goes on to record some forty householders all charged to serve their lord as "village blacksmith, drover or domestic servant".[14] This was the highest population the village was to have until the late 20th century.

The Sydenham family

Sir Philip Sydenham, 3rd Baronet (1676–1739), the last Sydenham to reside at Brympton d'Evercy.

In 1430 following a legal battle over disputed titles, the Wynfords sold the estate to John Stourton, lord of the nearby manor at Preston Plucknett, who used it as a dowry for his daughter Joan when she married John Sydenham in 1434. The Sydenhams were said at one time to be England's largest landowners,[15] yet their wealth seems to have fluctuated with each generation.

John Sydenham as in infant inherited the estate from his grandmother the original Joan Sydenham (née Stourton). However, at this time Brympton D'Evercy was not the principal family residence. In 1534 John Sydenham made over the house to his son, also, John - having first built the North wing to be his private lodgings for later visits. The new owner John III, was a great landowner bequeathing to each of his many children an estate. This lack of primogeniture proved to be the Sydenham's downfall. John III's successor John IV (died 1585), and his son John V (died 1625) were considerably less wealthy than their forebears, and used the house as their sole residence, the result of which was, despite their comparative penury, they added much to the house. John IV built the present west front thus enlarging the hall, and John V built the large kitchen block.

Sir John Posthumous Sydenham ("Posthumous" because born after the death of his father) built the south wing in the 17th century. He married Elizabeth Poulett, a descendant of Sir Amias Poulett, and member of one of Somerset's oldest and most notable families. The Pouletts lived at nearby Hinton House at Hinton St George. Sir John died in 1696, having severely depleted the family's already precarious fortune building the house's state apartments.

Sir John was succeeded by his son Philip, a weak spendthrift character, but also a Member of Parliament for Somerset. At the time this was an expensive rich man's occupation and the Sydenham's money was running out. By 1697 Philip Sydenham was attempting to sell the estate for a price between £16,000 and £20,000. In the event of no purchaser being found Sydenham mortgaged the estate to Thomas Penny, the Receiver General of Somerset, the official who collected Somerset's taxes for the crown.

Penny made a few alterations to the mansion: he added the castellated and glazed porch to the South front, removing the earlier porch to the garden where it became a clock tower. He also and made a new entrance to the priest house. Penny then suffered a blow to his own fortunes: he was found to be rather cavalier in his passing on the taxes he collected to the crown, and was dismissed from office. He died in 1730 having executed no further work to the estate. The house and estate were then put up for auction in 1731 and sold for a price of £15,492.10s.[16]

The Fane family

Lady Georgiana Fane as a child, by Sir Thomas Lawrence RA.

The new owner was Francis Fane, a barrister and Member of Parliament. The Fanes completed the interior decoration of the state rooms, but other than this they are remarkable only for their various eccentricities rather than their structural alterations. Francis Fane lived at Brympton d'Evercy for 26 years before bequeathing it to his brother Thomas, who became the 8th Earl of Westmorland. Thus once again the house became a secondary residence. The house seems to have been left largely empty until the time of John 10th Earl. This amorous adventurer [17] had taken as his second wife Jane Saunders, so wildly eccentric that she was described by Charles Fox as :"...perhaps not mad, but nobody ever approached so near it with so much reason".[18] The Countess decided to shock conventional society and leave her husband, taking her daughter Lady Georgiana Fane with her. This unconventional pair of ladies set up home at Brympton d'Evercy. The countess was responsible for installing the classical fireplaces which remain in situ today, and assembling the furniture and art collection which remained at Brympton until it was dispersed in a large sale in the late 1950s.

Lady Georgiana Fane, like her mother of a lively disposition, declined a proposal of marriage from Lord Palmerston, preferring instead to conduct a liaison with the Duke of Wellington. It is this relationship with the Iron Duke which is her chief claim to fame. A cousin of Wellington's friend Mrs. Arbuthnot, Georgiana too became a close friend of the Duke; however, in later life she claimed the Duke had reneged on a promise to marry her. At that time this was a civil offence; she also threatened to publish the Duke's love letters to her. By the strict Victorian standards of the day this would have been a national scandal. The affair was "hushed up" but a letter exists from the Duke of Wellington to Georgiana's mother the Countess to: "to prevail upon her daughter to cease molesting him with daily vituperative letters".[19] It has also been claimed that Lady Georgiana in fact refused the young future Duke of Wellington's proposal, on the grounds she could not marry so lowly a soldier. Another version of the same story is that Lady Georgiana's father the 10th Earl of Westmorland forbade the marriage of his daughter to an untitled soldier with apparently limited prospects. Both of these stories however must be apocryphal, as Lady Georgiana never knew him before he was a "great man." She was born in 1801;[20] Wellington (then Sir Arthur Wellesley) was married in 1806, and was created a duke in 1814. His wife died in 1831. Lady Georgiana began pursuing him some time after that. The Countess died 26 March 1857. Lady Georgiana lived on as the sole chatelaine of Brympton: her bedroom in the North wing retained her name until the 20th century. She altered the house little, but was responsible for the large pond in the garden, and some other improvements in the grounds. She died 4 Dec 1874[21] leaving the heavily indebted estate to her nephew the Hon. Spencer Ponsonby, younger son of the 4th Earl of Bessborough

The Ponsonby-Fane family

cartoon of Rt. Hon. Sir Spencer Ponsonby-Fane (1824 -1915)

Spencer Ponsonby at the time in Ireland with his elder brother Frederick, escaping a court subpoena for an indiscretion, at first refused the telegram informing him of his inheritance, assuming it was for his elder brother. Indiscretion appears to have been habitual in this family: Lady Caroline Lamb was his aunt. Fane family legend, and most reference books relate that the two brothers cut cards to decide who was to return to face the British courts and the debt-ridden estate, Spencer Ponsonby picked the lowest card and returned to claim his inheritance [22]: he is said to have seen Brympton d'Evercy and vowed to retain it at all costs.[23] Whatever the truth of the legend Spencer Ponsonby, newly renamed Spencer Ponsonby-Fane (in accordance with Lady Georgiana Fane's last wishes), was a pillar of the British establishment, one time private secretary to Lord Palmerston, and later comptroller of Buckingham Palace during the reign of King Edward VII. However it was cricket which was his first love, although he did father 11 children.

Through Sir Spencer Ponsonby-Fane Brympton d'Evercy became a meeting place of cricket lovers. It had its own cricket pitch where large house parties played against local and visiting teams. A houseparty devoted to cricket took place each year, a tradition which survived long after Sir Spencer's death and into the 1950s. As treasurer of the MCC Sir Spencer laid the foundation stone for the pavilion at Lord's. He founded the Old Stagers club of Canterbury, and most eccentrically the team known as I Zingari, a wandering cricket club of assorted aristocrats and Victorian and Edwardian notables. Throughout Sir Spencer's ownership of Brympton the house and estate were maintained, but survived only through the good fortune of low taxation and agricultural rents. This branch of the Fane family had never been wealthy, and World War I was to bring sweeping changes to not just Brympton d'Evercy but country houses all over Britain.

The stables built in 1720, situated in the north west corner of the forecourt, the doors have massive palladian pediments, while the windows have typical Somerset style provincial lintels.

Spencer Ponsonby-Fane died in 1915, leaving his estate to his eldest son John. John Ponsonby-Fane died just a year after inheriting leaving the estate to his son Richard. Richard Ponsonby-Fane was an aesthetic intellectual and also an invalid. Unmarried, he chose to spend most of the year in Japan, a subject on which he published several books and papers. He returned to England and Brympton d'Evercy for just a few weeks each summer in order to follow the cricket. In his prolonged absences the house was occupied by his sister Violet and her husband Captain Edward Clive, a descendant of Clive of India. Violet Clive has been described as: "....a grand eccentric..and remarkable woman, she played field hockey for the west of England, rowed for the Leander Club, was a master carpenter and keen landscape gardener".[24] Apart from an annual day trip to London to the Chelsea Flower Show and a short annual holiday at her fishing lodge in Ireland she seldom left Brympton d'Evercy, preferring to spend her days in endless gardening in the style of Gertrude Jekyll. This quiet existence admirably suited the family's finances, because on her death in 1955, her only son and heir Nicholas was forced to sell the contents of the house. This large collection of fine art and antiques had been assembled by the Countess of Westmorland and Lady Georgiana Fane. Following the sale the family (their surname now extended to Clive-Ponsonby-Fane) moved to the nearby vicarage.

World War II

From 1939 to 1940, Westcroft Preparatory School was housed at Brympton, having been evacuated from Cricklewood north London.[25]

Sale of contents

The contents of the house were sold by auction under a marquee outside the house over a five day period 26 November– 1 December 1956. Described extensively, if a little quaintly, by the auctioneers John D Wood of London as "....including interesting examples of 16th, 17th and 18th c.centuries, a fine set of George II chairs, Queen Anne and Chippendale mirrors, cabinets, chests, tables, buffets, sets of chairs, clocks, Jacobean needlework, French commodes, vitrines, tables and numerous other period piece...old paintings and a library of books".[26] In truth the collection included items of national importance, but the 1950s were an era of the destruction and dismantling of the British country house and such sales were not uncommon, as was exemplified in the Destruction of the Country House exhibition of 1974. Among the 909 paintings described as old masters were works by Thomas Lawrence including a version of his state portrait of George IV, and his portrait of the 10th Earl of Westmorland, proving the earl's estranged wife did not totally forget him. Also in the sale were numerous works by Kneller, Romney, Lely, Snyders and at least ten attributed to Van Dyke: the paintings are listed in the "contents of the house" together with Tudor, Chippendale, Sheraton and Louis XV furniture, and an "assortment of bed sheets", "3 new towels and an "old bedspread".

The sale was reported with due gravity and deference by the provincial press [27] "The 400 chairs provided for the convenience of the buyers proved insufficient to accommodate the price of the week was £2000 for a Chinese dinner service..many of the pieces being badly damaged... a pair of Chippendale mirrors £1,350...a small carpet £800". And so the list continued detailing the prices fetched for Brympton d'Evercy's former treasures. First edition works by Charles Dickens and Daniel Defoe. On the last day of the sale an iron garden seat was sold for £14. Prices for the paintings are not recorded in the article except one of those "after" Vandyck which fetched £85.

The Clive-Ponsonby-Fane family retained a few of the family portraits and smaller items of furniture and moved to their smaller new home nearby, letting the house to be converted into a boys' boarding school known as Clare School.

Nicholas Clive-Ponsonby-Fane retained the ownership of the house and estate until his sudden death in 1963, when it passed to his wife Petronilla Clive-Ponsonby-Fane. On her remarriage in 1967, the house and what remained of the estate became the property of their son Charles Clive-Ponsonby-Fane. Clare School remained in possession of the house until 1974.

Stately home

Circa 1900: A boating party on the "pond" created by Lady Georgiana Fane in the mid 19th century.

In 1974 Charles Clive-Ponsonby-Fane reclaimed his ancestral home and moved with his new wife back into Brympton d'Evercy with the intention of restoring it and opening it to the public as a stately home. His problem was that, while the empty and neglected house may have been his home, it was far from stately. While the house was structurally in a fair condition, it had not been redecorated since the 18th century and had endured the obvious ravages caused by its use as a boys' school. The redecoration of the state rooms was executed on a very restricted budget. The principal problem facing the owners was furnishing the house. Few of its former contents remained, and while Brympton d'Evercy is not on a par with Blenheim Palace in size, it still required large items and quantities of high quality antique furniture. This was the stumbling block to the stately home scheme. The Clive-Ponsonby-Fanes made great efforts to draw in the crowds, an agricultural museum, a vineyard, a distillery of apple brandy, but none of this was interesting enough to attract visitors from as far afield as London, let alone those from across the Atlantic. Ultimately, as a financial enterprise, opening to the public failed. In 1992 after almost 300 years of ownership the family sold Brympton d'Evercy. The situation was summed up at the time by the satirist Auberon Waugh: "Last week we learnt that the most beautiful house in Somerset has been is sad of course for the family who owned it who had made a valiant effort to keep it going did not succeed as a showpiece: they had run out of money, the internal decorations were dreadful, and they lacked the proper kit to make it look like anything more than a prep school on open day. So now the most beautiful house in England will be a private family home once again..".[1]

Brympton d'Evercy in the 21st century

Brympton in the 21st century

The present owner, a member of the legal profession, and his wife live privately today at Brympton d'Evercy. However, to offset the cost of maintaining such a large and historic dwelling in the 21st century, the house has to help earn its own keep, partly by being licensed for civil weddings. These can take place in the nearby church or one or two of the larger reception rooms, while receptions and functions can also be held in the house or its grounds, including the 17th century stables. The house has also been the location for television serials, and filming.[28][29] For the greater part of the year, the house remains a little-known home. It is not open for public viewing. The greatest threat to the house, now without its former estate, is the ever encroaching town of Yeovil. Once some miles distant, its suburbs and industrial estates are now almost visible from the windows of the house. As recently as June 2005 a public planning enquiry was held to investigate the suitability of 15 ha of land adjacent to the house to be developed as a business park.[30]


  1. ^ a b Waugh, Auberon (1992-08-31). "But life goes on". Way of the World (Daily Telegraph): p. 17. 
  2. ^ a b Country Life, Saturday, May 7th, 1927.
  3. ^ Robinson, Stephen (1992). Somerset Place Names. Wimbourne: The Dovecote Press Ltd. ISBN 978-1-874336-03-7. 
  4. ^ Inigo Jones himself is believed to have had a large input in the design of Wilton House.
  5. ^ Leete-Hodge, Lornie (1985). Curiosities of Somerset. Bodmin: Bossiney Books. p. 96. ISBN 978-0-906456-98-9. 
  6. ^ Adkins, Lesley and Roy (1992). A field Guide to Somerset Archeology. Stanbridge: Dovecote press. ISBN 978-0-946159-94-9. 
  7. ^ Nicholas Cooper gives the building date of this wing as 1534. However, 1534 was the date that John Sydenham made the house over to his son, in the document detailing the gift he mentions describes the already completed wing as "the nether parlour and the two chambers over" Christopher Hussey attributes the wing to a date circa 1520.
  8. ^ All references for this article agree it was built circa 1680. Sir John Posthumous Sydenham who built it died in 1692.
  9. ^ Christopher Hussey explains: "The Inigo Jones legend grew on the strength of a casual reference to it by Horace Walpole in Anecdotes of painting"
  10. ^ Historians of Brympton d'Evercy have based the 1680 date of completion on a sale particulars dated 1697 in which the house is described as "A very large new built mansion house" Robert Dunning "Somerset Country Houses" points out that rain water pipes put up at the latest on the facade's immediate completion bear the arms of Sir John Posthumous Sydenham and his wife Elizabeth Poulett. The couple married in 1664, and she died in 1669. From this Dunning concludes "work thus seems to belong to, or at the very least to have been finished in, the early years of the Restoration".
  11. ^ "Brympton House or Brympton D'Evercy". Images of England. Archived from the original on 2011-01-31. Retrieved 2007-02-10. 
  12. ^ Christopher Hussey and Robert Dunning both believe it to be a dower house built for Joan Sydenham in the 15th century. Charles Clive-Ponsonby-Fane in Brympton d'Evercy claims it was built by the d'Evercy in the 13th century.
  13. ^ Country Life, Saturday, May 7th, 1927
  14. ^ This record forms part of an enquiry by the Crown and heir to Brympton, following a dispute over ownership following the death of Peter de Glamorgan in 1343. Dunning "Somerset Country Houses".
  15. ^ Charles Clive-Ponsonby-Fane in "Brympton d'Evercy" describes them as "..the largest landowning family in England". Christopher Hussey in his "Country Life" article describes them as large Somerset landowners.
  16. ^ Charles Clive-Ponsonby-Fane, Brympton d'Evercy
  17. ^ The 10th Earl had eloped in 1782 with Anne, his first wife, the daughter and heiress of the banker Robert Child of Osterley Park. Child, incandescent with rage, followed the coupe as far as Preston, where he actually shot one of the eloping couple's carriage horses. Even this failed to stop them but one of Westmorland's coachmen cut loose the horses of Child’s carriage thus enabling the couple to reach Gretna Green and marry before Child could apprehended them.
  18. ^ Somerset Country Houses. Robert Dunning. Page 20.
  19. ^ Fulbeck Hall, A Lincolnshire House Sale in London by Sotheby's
  20. ^ Lady Georgina Fane at Genealogics
  21. ^ Burke's Peerage, 1899 edition, page 1529
  22. ^ This story which is quoted in "Brympton d'Evercy" is almost certainly apocryphal. In 1875 Ponsonby-Fane was 51 not quite a young aristocrat escaping the courts. From the 1850s he had been a member of Queen Victoria's household, a lady was not given to tolerating indiscretions among members of her household. Ponsonby-Fane was also on the committee of the MCC where any minor indiscretion would not be tolerated. He had also been private secretary to successive British Foreign Ministers, and was by all accounts an upstanding member of the establishment.
  23. ^ We Started a Stately Home. Charles Clive-Ponsonby-Fane. Introduction vi.
  24. ^ Tribute paid Violet Clive's grandson Charles. We Started a Stately Home. Intro vii.
  25. ^ Holmes, John. "Reminiscences (1939-1949)". Old Haberdashers’ Association. Retrieved 24 August 2011. 
  26. ^ Sale Catalogue of Brympton d'Evercy R B Taylor and Sons. John D Wood and Co. 1956
  27. ^ This information is taken from a newspaper cutting found in the catalogue. Other news stories on the reverse suggest the newspaper is the local Yeovil newspaper the Western Gazette for the week beginning Monday 3rd December 1956.
  28. ^ "Film & TV Productions Shot On Location In The South-Central Region, 1906-". The South-Central Region On Screen. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  29. ^ "Brympton Devercy the Somerset stately". Somerset Life. Retrieved 18 June 2011. 
  30. ^ "11. South Somerset Local Plan: Potential Employment Allocation On Land West Of Bunford Lane, Yeovil". South Somerset District Council. Retrieved 2007-02-10. 
  • Christopher Hussey, "Brympton D'Evercy, Somerset", in Country Life LXI (1927) pp 718ff, 7762ff, 775ff
  • Nicholas Cooper, Houses of the Gentry 1480–1680 (1999, pp258–59.
  • Charles Clive-Ponsonby-Fane, Brympton d'Evercy. 1976. English Life Publications Ltd.
  • Charles Clive-Ponsonby-Fane, We Started a Stately Home. 1980 Privately published by the author.
  • Robert Dunning, Somerset Country Houses. 1991. The Dovecote Press Ltd. Wimborne, Dorset
  • R B Taylor and Sons. John D Wood and Co. Sale Catalogue of Brympton d'Evercy 1956.

Further reading

  • J.D. Gray, "Brympton D'Evercy", in Proceedings of the Somerset Achaeological and Natural History Scoiety, CIX (1965), pp40–46

External links

Coordinates: 50°56′10″N 2°41′2″W / 50.93611°N 2.68389°W / 50.93611; -2.68389

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