The house sits proudly on the main street of Monmouth, behind a railed garden, divided in part into the local newspaper’s office (since 1987), and on the door of the house on a very rainy day we found a very little notice, which frankly anyone would miss from the street, saying ‘Open, 2-5pm’.
We visited on a Sunday. Turns out we were the first visitors of the week. Not surprising given the advertising and the smallest of descriptions on the Historic Houses Association’s website.
Undeterred, and glad of a chance to get inside from the rain, we interrupted the owner’s lunch and were shown around.
The bit we saw comprises the three windows to the right of the facade. Much as the owner would like to have the whole house again, her father (who bought the house and used it in part as his doctor’s surgery) and his brother split up the house and the newspaper’s office are firmly ensconced, together with the nice original fireplace in their half (the sitting room in Cornwall House proper was sold and is now a replacement).
In fact, the house is quite a hotch potch, an example of its own history: the facade is later than the house, the rear (overlooking a large garden that has shrunk over the years as the council decided to purchase land for roads etc) is red brick, the original entrance hall at the rear is now the dining room, doors are blocked up, the cornicing painted over so severely but parts of it so inaccessible over the stairs (rather fine) that it has probably resigned itself to not seeing once again its true splendour.
The house (Wikipedia tells me) occupies the sites of at least three burgages. Here is the rest of their blurb: “In 1678 it was known as the Great House and was owned by George Milborne, brother of the recusant George Milborne of Wonastow; in 1699 it was owned by Thomas Brewer, blacksmith. The Duke of Beaufort‘s agent, Henry Burgh, acquired it and was responsible for building the Queen Anne style frontage facing the fields at Chippenham – at the rear of the building as it now appears. What is now the rear of the building has a whitewashed stone dressing that covers the main red brick construction. It has two-plus-three-plus-two bays, with the central three under a pediment enclosing Diocletian windows and with a rusticated surround. There is a simple but elegant early nineteenth century staircase, and an Adamesque chimney piece with nicely carved timber. A plaque on the outside gives the date of that part of the building as 1752. The secluded walled garden, which the rear of the current building now overlooks, originally contained a grandstand from which the Duke and his friends could watch horse racing on Chippenham fields.” This latter fact, the current owner also described to us.
We could enter this house because of inheritance tax exemptions. And it is nice to see inside a real house. However, I can’t help myself in these situations asking myself what I would do differently. Here, I’d be going a bit bling and making the receptions rooms truly magnificent. In fact, the owners seem to have another grand house nearby (Treowen) and maybe the inheritance tax bill explains why the house is very much lived-in rather than gilded.
If you’re around when this house is open, do go. Maybe one day they’ll get back the whole and be able to enjoy that long-lost fireplace.
House * out of 5: **
Garden * out of 5: (what we saw): **
When visited: April 2012
Website (from HHA): http://www.hha.org.uk/Property/1812/Cornwall-House
Theme tune: Stop the Pigeon (because the owners had been shooting them from the attic windows)