When in the 18th century many families built a new neoclassical house they pulled down the earlier medieval manor located elsewhere on the estate. This, for example, is what happened at Harewood House.
However, when the Walpoles in Norfolk built a new house and then another one (close to the new house), they left the old moated manor house standing and it became the Dowager House. Hence, current Lord Walpole has both Mannington Hall (where he, as did his grandfather prefers to live) and Wollterton Park, where the heir in waiting lives in the wing. This, of course, shows, most notably in the fact that Mannington Hall has a clearly loved garden which is open to the public, whereas Wolterton is open only on Friday afternoons (that inheritance tax exemption requirement) and for social events, but the garden is lacking and the interior quite uninhabited.
We went to Wolterton first: a house of many portraits
Built from red brick, sturdy behind its gravel moat and fields beyond. A single wing (the other never completed).
The external stairs into the first floor reception on the walls of which are ancestors and an oil of Cromwell originally commissioned for the Walpoles’ bedroom (the current Lord Walpole shakes his head over why anyone would want Cromwell in their bedroom) have been removed. Nowadays one enters into a lower hall and walks up the internal stairs, at the side of which an oversized portrait of Louis XVI(?), which hung originally in the entrance hall in the space where Cromwell is today.
Beyond the entrance hall is the dining room with a family portrait of Robert Walpole whose family would lead to the current family, that of Robert Walpole the Prime Minister (the first) and Horace Walpole (or Strawberry Hill fame). Then into what was a dressing room with large Venetian window but which now houses a variety of Catholic and religious paraphernalia. Lord Walpole himself had started the tour (he warmed up but seemed quite shy to start with). He and his wife take turns on alternate Friday afternoon.
We were handed over to another volunteer (there was one in each of the three other rooms: who knows what they did while they waited for us (dreamed of their payment in the form of Christmas Lunch at the ‘big house’ as a thank you each year?)).
There was a sitting room with even more pictures of the family. We were told the name and connection of each and I have forgotten them all, but of the mention of the wife who was not interested in her child and promptly disappeared off to the continent leaving her husband to care for the child. I focused on the brass of a cat pinching some buns in the fireplace.
Next, the main hall (forming the centre of the original structure), from which we watched deer darting across the lawn. Here, just a couple of rare (in this house) landscape and some tapestries. We were told that the age of a tapestry can be guessed from its border – elaborate pictures in the border indicates 17th century but more abstract patterns indicate 18th century.
The main hall is an open space with furniture around the edges of the room, no doubt used for corporate entertainment.
Next, another sitting room looking over the back garden and this time more portraits and also lots of pots and nick nacks – more of a comfortable room.
Finally, the last occupant’s (the father of the current Baron) bedroom. There was some redesign in here following water damange and we’re told that is why there is a tiny mirror is position 10ft high above the fireplace. It is so high it is could never be of any use.
At this point Lord Walpole popped his head around the door to tell us that he needed to get back to Mannington and wanted us out so that he could lock up.
We were in the house from 3-5pm. That is a long tour. We were flagging (and quickly forgetting everything so we all had to go downstairs and buy a family tree booklet).
We went to Mannington too, where we enjoyed a stroll around the moated gardens with plenty of bird life, a lovely walled rose garden housing many historic roses and then (as the sun was going down), watched in awe as a barn owl floated silently over the neighbouring fields in search of a mouse.
The day after our visit to these two Walpole houses we cantered over to ‘other Walpole house’, Houghton Hall. Guess which one of the three I prefer ?
When visited: June 2012