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IT’S GREAT fun watching the PBS series Downton Abbey. And one of my favorite mystery movies is Gosford Park. What’s more, through friendship with Rob Walker and his wife Betty, rest their souls, I’ve enjoyed the pleasures of an English country house.
Wouldn’t you know, there’s even a book on the subject in my collection.
Gervase Jackson-Stops’ The English Country House in Perspective is broad in its chronology, from Bodiam Castle as it appeared in 1400 to Castle Drogo started in 1911, albeit in Norman style.
It happens that Highclere, the actual setting of Downton Abbey, isn’t included in the book. Neither is Wrotham Park, the filming location for Gosford Park. However, several of the book’s other country houses certainly offer an ambience the Crawleys or Sir William McCordle’s weekend guests would have appreciated.
Along with its informative text, the book’s forte is its handsomely illustrated bird’s eye views, often with cutaways showing the character of the twelve country houses discussed. Floor plans, period sketches and modern photos accompany these perspectives.
My favorite of the twelve is Stourhead, a grand mansion in Palladian style located in Wiltshire, about 120 miles west-southwest of London.
Wife Dottie and I have visited Stourhead several times. It’s only 11 miles south of Nunney Court, Rob and Betty Walker’s home in Somerset.
Rob and Betty’s country house is Georgian, dating from 1760. A recent sales brochure described its early 19th century extensions and alterations, including “doulting ashlar and accentuated quoins…” How could I not research this?
Doulting stone comes from only three English locales, including one in Shepton Mallet, just down the road from Nunney. Ashlar is finely finished masonry; the term is also part of Masonic symbolism.
One of Nunney Court’s special attractions was its own castle, complete with moat. Sir Walter de la Mere built Nunney Castle in 1373.
The castle is now in the care of English Heritage.
The Walkers were wonderfully gracious hosts and are part of fond memories of Nunney Court. Rob recounting a racing tale, Betty showing us how to use a divining rod to search for Roman coins in Nunney Court’s adjoining fields.
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014