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When visiting Salisbury you will more likely than not want to visit the cathedral, a rather prominent landmark with some stunning architecture and a daunting spire. The cathedral is located on The Close, the immediate area (an acre and a half) surrounding the cathedral where all the clergy, the craftsmen and servants working at the cathedral lived nearby for convenience. One attraction situated on The Close is Mompesson House which was completed in 1701 for use by Sir Thomas Mompesson who was the MP for the constituency of Salisbury at the time. The house has a distinctive Chilmark limestone facing reflecting the classic Queen Ann style of the late 17th / early 18th Century and was actually constructed by Thomas’ own son Charles Mompesson. The house eventually passed hands to the Longueville family, then on to the Townsend family from 1846-1939 (including the artist Barbara Townsend who lived there for her entire 96 years on planet earth give or take). Next cometh the Bishop of Salisbury Neville Lovett who lived there from 1942-1946 until finally the National Trust took over in 1952 where it has remained ever since.
You may not find getting to The Close all that convenient as you’ll have to expect a little walk depending on how you arrived at the city, but fortunately the surrounding area leading towards the historical city is very pleasant with the two rivers Avon and Nadder flowing around and if you follow signs for the cathedral you’ll end up on The Close with little fuss. If driving in, it is recommended parking at one of the main city centre care parks (long and short stay ones available on Old George Mall or Crane Street) or you can use the park and ride facilities ((Wilton (A36), Beehive (A345), London Road (A30), Petersfinger (A36) and Britford (A338)). Public transport includes buses, coaches and coming in to Salisbury station by train but these will all leave you a good 10 minute walk however you will receive a discount voucher for use in the tea room if you can prove use of this method of environmental friendliness so that’s a bonus.
The house, garden and tea room are open from mid-March to early November (as of 2013) from 11am – 5pm every Sunday-Wednesday with Thursdays and Fridays (apart from Good Friday) being closed.
Type | Standard | Gift Aid Garden | £1 | N/A House & Garden (Adult) | £5.50 | £6.10 House & Garden (Child) | £2.75 | £3.05 House & Garden
Pictures of Mompesson House, Salisbury
The big black sign lets you know you've come to the right place.
There are several reasons that you may wish to visit this house. One is if you have an interest in periods of history and enjoy immersing yourself in riches of the past and the other is if you’re a fan of Jane Austen, in particular the 1995 Emma Thompson adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. As a member of the National Trust I love strolling round historical houses as a way of escapism so I probably would have visited this house anyway since I was in the area, but the knowledge that this house was used for filming scenes set in Mrs Jennings’ townhouse from awkward meals at the dining room table to poor old Kate Winslet as Marianne spectacularly bursting in to tears at the cruel treatment of Willoughby in one of the bedrooms was the deal clincher. Hoping maybe for a chance to recognise some of the rooms in the movie the first step was to actually find the place which is pretty easy once you’re on the Close as you simply need to find some impressive looking black wrought iron railings with a giant, black, rather obvious NT sign affixed as well as an ornately twizzled entrance gate pointing you towards the front façade of the house and onward to the magical doorway catapulting you into the past...
As you pass through the gateway to another time you first enter a rather exquisite looking entrance hall with some lovely artwork, a wonderful plasterwork ceiling and intricate plaster wall designs possibly to soften the blow of having to part ways with the entrance fee (unless you are an NT member) and any guidebooks you may wish to purchase. From then on you are free to explore the house as you wish, but the recommended route is through the dining room, up the rather handsome oak stairs to the upstairs rooms then back down to the library hidden cunningly under the stairs. There are in fact only 6 rooms (at least that’s what my slightly dodgy memory is telling me) and it doesn’t take much time to navigate the whole house but there are a lot of antiquities and items of interest to take your fancy and certainly give you pause in each room, as well as some information sheets and stewards on hand to garner extra information on top of what’s in the guidebook (assuming you snaffled one) if you so desire. I personally found chatting to the stewards the best way to learn about the place and special items on display as they were an enthusiastic, knowledgeable bunch with the inside scoop.
So whilst there was very little on the actual inhabitants of the house from years yonder, with the exception of a little on the Townsends (in particular Barbara Townsend, who has many a painting on display around the house) this house seemed more a vessel to showcase some antique furniture, longcase clocks, English porcelain, art and apparently some “drinking glasses of national importance” whatever that may entail. Many of the rooms have some fabulously detailed plaster ceilings and wall designs and some sparkling chandeliers to captivate, and it is a very aesthetically pleasing place to walk around. The first room is the dining room, easily recognisable from the film which is a spot of fun, which is nicely laid out from perhaps the 19th Century with a spotless table with the appropriately fragile looking china, candles galore, cutlery and a pineapple centrepiece alongside a rather magnificent looking cabinet full of some quality looking porcelain figurines, some which may tickle your fancy. There is another cabinet upstairs in the drawing room which contains similar porcelain this time in the shape of plates and goblets as well as a few more figurines but is stored in one of the more collectable items the mahogany Draughtsman’s bookcase from 1727 – 1760…so pretty old then…but amazingly sturdy and in fine condition compared to most of the tat manufactured in this day and age that lasts only a few years before bits start dropping off. A lost art, perhaps?
There are plenty of other important pieces of 18th and 19th century furniture to look out for as you stroll through the drawing room, the two bedrooms and the little drawing room including Rudd’s toilet table (not multitasking in the way it sounds) in one of the bedrooms which has many a hinge and folding parts probably designed for the 18th Century courtesan Margaret Caroline Rudd and you must stop and take note of the Turnbull collection of 18th Century drinking glasses (of national importance) in the little drawing room for they are rather entrancing with some of the wine glasses having designs engraved on the glass to indicate what drink should be added like apples and barley as well as highlighting changes in glassware manufacturing after the dramatic Glass Tax of 1745 was introduced. State rulers really will steal from all areas of life. The little drawing room also has a more modern feeling about it as it has been left with many remnants from Barbara Townsend’s time spent there including an easel and paint palette and the flowery décor and here you can learn a little about the Townsend family if you so wish. The little hidden away library is also of interest as it was a room that escaped refurbishment when the house was being overhauled and changed purpose over the years before settling on being a library. I believe the current style is from the 1950s so relatively modern and whilst it is small, the steward at the time had a breadth of fascinating information about the books themselves (often going off on a tangent) and this became one of the standout rooms because of it.
That’s that then, probably taking you no more than 45 minutes to visit the house and you then get to step into the rather lovely garden (at least when the sun is shining and the birds are singing), with wild looking flower borders surrounding the square lawn and an ivy riddled pergola creating an interesting effect at one end. There is also what looks to be a disused old lavatory in one corner - historical value, perhaps…cultural and aesthetic value, none. There are a few benches to sit on, probably easier to procure one when visiting off peak and they make the perfect place to sit and reflect for a while or to catch your breath if you’ve over exerted yourself. Next to the garden is also the tea room where you can inevitably get yourself a lovely cuppa among other beverages plus some light snacks and lunches like salads, sandwiches, scones and cakes. Resist if you can. So whilst you can probably only make your experience last a couple of hours at the most, it is a very relaxing and interesting place to visit both indoors and outdoors, though I’m not sure how captivating it would be for children, and you certainly get your money’s worth which is pretty cheap considering the historical merit the house has to offer and for those that may have enjoyed Sense and Sensibility you may get some extra pleasure from recognising filming locations from the movie. Possibly not a place to go out of your way to see by itself, but if you’re in the area it’s well worth popping in for.
Other potentially pertinent information
* The garden and tea room are on well paved and flat surfaces so are accessible for wheelchair users, and in fact even though the front entrance to the house has stairs there is an alternative route for wheelchair users to access the ground floor, although unfortunately there is no way up to the second floor. Wheelchairs are also available for loan.
* Pushchairs are welcome and baby back-carriers are fine, and you can even hire front and hip carrying slings and seats.
* Induction loops are available.
* Children’s, Braille and large print guides are available.
* I’ve been reliably informed there are toilets at the property but I never saw them so if they do in fact exist they may be a struggle to find.
* There is no shop but the separate National Trust Shop is 50 yards away.