The Arts & Crafts Splendour of Rodmarton Manor

In 1906 Claud, the youngest son of politician Sir Michael Biddulph, commissioned a house to be built on land gifted by his father.  The commission was given to Ernest Barnsley who specialised in design and building in the Arts & Crafts style.   In the spirit of the movement, all materials had to be sourced locally and hand-crafted with no machinery used.  Claud stated that the house should have the feel of “a cottage in the country”, somewhat of an understatement by the time the building was completed in 1929.

Rodmarton Manor seen from one of the ‘garden rooms’

The house, which has a total of seventy-four rooms, was built as three angled sections with a sweeping driveway and circular lawn to the front courtyard.  The family lived in one wing, servants in another (now converted into flats) and the central section was to be used as a community space where local villagers could meet and learn skills and craftsmanship.  In this way, the Biddulphs were instrumental in maintaining age-old traditions that were in danger of dying out. 

Rodmarton Manor

The mansion, still family owned and open to the public, retains much of its original furniture and furnishings.  Listed as a Grade 1 building by Historic England it has been described as “the single best example of the Arts & Crafts movement”.  On the day of my visit the house was closed but I was able to explore the gardens which are also listed and have been created in the same style.

Old stone urns and troughs frame the entrance

Close to the house, the gardens consist of a series of room-like areas enclosed by stone walls and hedges.  Lichen encrusted pots, urns and troughs, along with precisely clipped topiary give a timeless feel to the garden and also ensures that there is plenty of interest during the winter months. The aptly named Long Garden comes as a surprise after visiting other areas, for although very much of the style, it is relatively narrow in width.  A flagstone path emphasises its 75-metre length and leads to a delightful pavilion, a small pool and a seating area.  Divided by clipped yew hedges and bordered by densely planted herbaceous borders it was, for me, the highlight of the garden. 

The Long Garden at Rodmarton Manor in June
The Pavilion at the far end of the Long Garden

It was disappointing not being able to see the craftsmanship of the interior of the house.  However, the exterior of the building revealed many surprises.  What I liked most of all was the exquisite detail of the rainwater downpipes proving once and for all that even when something is utilitarian it can still also be beautiful.

Even the practical is made to look beautiful exquisite detail of the rainwater downpipes
Every downpipe detail differs

Rodmarton Hall is situated midway between the Cotswold towns of Cirencester and Tetbury and is open to the public throughout the summer months on selected days.  There are additional garden open days in February to view the snowdrops of which there are over 150 varieties.  To find out more click on the link here

The Irish Castle Dedicated to Isis

The children’s bikes in the entrance porch casually propped against four aged-stone saintly figures tells you in an instant that a visit to Huntington Castle [see footnote] is likely to be memorable.  They also act as a reminder that this historic, four-hundred-year-old castle near Clonegal, Ireland is also very much a present-day family home.

Huntington Castle, Co. Carlow, Ireland

Built in 1625, it held a strategic position on the trade route between Dublin and Wexford but fell to the invading (English) Cromwellian army in 1650.  By the time of its capture much of the garden as seen today had been laid out.  

The oldest part of the castle viewed from the gardens
the gardens have a timeless feel about them…

As might be expected of a grand country house, the castle has its fair share of richly decorated rooms and it is possible to visit these during the summer months subject to any Covid-19 restrictions that may be in force, of course.  However, it is the basement cellars of the castle that hold the biggest surprise for it is here that you will find the Temple of Isis.  The Fellowship of Isis, founded in 1976 by members of the family was, in 1993, recognised as a world faith, the first time that the Goddess had been internationally acknowledged.   I have always considered myself to be open to alternative beliefs and cultures but, to be honest, I found the Temple and its purpose difficult to understand or appreciate.  For me, the decor and artefacts were too theatrical, almost farcical.   I half-expected Angela Lansbury’s Mrs Salome Otterbourne from the film Death on the Nile to appear from behind one of the wall hangings.  However, I am obviously wrong as there is a worldwide following of over 24,000 in a hundred countries or more.

The Temple of Isis, Huntington Castle

My real appreciation of Huntington Castle came from exploring the grounds which are quite beautiful.  For the photographer, opportunities abound for around every corner there is a vista or ancient building vying for the title of most picturesque.  The castle itself is better appreciated from the outside too, for there are numerous ‘odd’ windows and contrasts of building materials tucked away and waiting to be noticed – the result of centuries of alterations and extensions.

a mish-mash of building materials and styles gives the castle added charm
around every corner a photo opportunity!

I came away from Huntington Castle somewhat confused.  In some ways, I felt a little let down by it, in others quite uplifted.  Would I visit again?  Most definitely.  For it is its quirkiness, eccentricity, ancient trees and moss-encrusted stones that leave you slightly unsettled making the visit all the more worthwhile.

ancient tree-lined walks

For more information on visiting or even staying at Huntington Castle visit https://www.huntingtoncastle.com/

To discover more about the Fellowship of Isis follow this link by visiting
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fellowship_of_Isis

[Note: Rather confusingly Huntington Castle is also called Clonegal Castle – sometimes even in the same article or website!]