The Cotswolds gets a lot of attention; they are stunning. My parents have lived in the area for 35 years, and although the cars have gotten bigger, the houses have seen a few dozen makeovers and are lit up like they're on the stage; it still can play host to many a bucolic daydream. Nowhere does this ring more true than when entering the grounds of Chastleton House, a Jacobean Manor that sits on the outskirts of Moreton in Marsh. It is a daunting spectacle when you enter the gates; the house is vast, which is no surprise considering that at the top of the house is home to the long gallery, which measures over 72ft long.
The Long gallery is a significant room in the house as it has the longest surviving barrel-vaulted ceiling of its date in England. In the Jacobean period, it acted as a place one could walk in bad weather, contemplate the world and show ancestral portraits. It would have been a calculated addition by the owner, Walter Jones, a prosperous wool merchant and lawyer, who would have been conscious that this house was a vital asset. Not only to house him and his family but as an advertisement of his burgeoning wealth and power. Long galleries were an essential part of that advertisement as they became status symbols and a subject for competition. And even with its historic barrel-vaulted ceiling, it still didn't win over all its visitors. The German-British art historian Nikolaus Pevsner was damning in his description of the house's decoration 'blatantly nouveau riche, even barbaric, uninhibited by any consideration of insipid good taste." I'd dread hearing Mr Pevsner's judgement of today's interiors and architecture - or perhaps, I would love it.
Walter Jones built Chastleton in 1607 and 1612. Sadly his fine fortune did not trickle down through his heirs. The family's wealth diminished due to their 'commitment to lost causes: they were Royalists then Jacobites. Family legend goes that Irene Whitmore Jones, owner of Chastleton in the 1930s and 1940s, was fond of telling visitors in the late 40s that her family had lost all their money 'in the war' – by which she meant not the recent world war but the Civil War.' Irene lived in Chastleton with her husband until his death in 1917, when she became the sole owner. The financial toll of keeping up a house like Chastleon never abated, and in 1936 she decided to sell almost the entire estate. The household staff was reduced to two servants, Wing, the butler and Old Sarah, the maid. In the 1940s, Irene opened Chastleton to the public in an attempt to generate income. On Irene's death in 1955, it passed to her cousin Alan Clutton-Brock and his second wife, Barbra. They kept many of the rooms as show rooms and continued to open them to the public. Alan died in 1976, and Barbra was left in a similar position to Irene. She resided in the house by herself with no other company than her *'army of cats'. Barbara Clutton-Brock left Chastleton in 1991 after the National Heritage Memorial Fund bought it. Ownership of the house then passed to the National Trust, who began a programme of research and cautious repair to the building before opening it to the public in 1996, 'the intention was to retain as far as possible the romantic air of decline which hung to the building.' So many houses I go to feel almost theme park-like. Chastleton could easily have fallen into this trap with its glorious history (said to be the birthplace of croquet) and range of excentric and intriguing owners. Thankfully the Trust has held off with the waxwork figures, and instead, you are met with a house which does feel as if you have popped in on one of Irene's open days.