I have been saving this post for what I knew would be Hilary Mantel week so yer 'tis.
Cadhay Manor mentioned in the acknowledgements in Bring Up the Bodies and if ever a house can be considered a palimpsest, Cadhay Manor is it, each aspect could have been built in an entirely different era
...and as Karen, our guide, talked us through the history of the house on that visit back in May, and the changes that successive owners had made on it, a picture emerged of the house as a sort of living breathing entity. It all felt like history up close and personal, perhaps because the current owners seem to love it as much as the Haydon family must have done back in about 1550 when they decided to build a house in this idyllic location...
... using a wealth of local materials including Salcombe sandstone, the same as used for nearby Exeter Cathedral.
Pointing out hints of Montacute House, (up the road at Yeovil) our guide made it clear that this was about showing off your wealth and imitating the best as well as incorporating the latest 'must have'. This turned out to be a Long Gallery and when the house passed into the hands of a nephew of the childless John and Joan Haydon, Milady Haydon, also Joan, just had to have one.
It's a bit like us wanting a new kitchen I suppose.
Joan's (the second) father had been the Keeper of Mary Queen of Scots from 1585 to her execution, so the family by now are upwardly mobile and would expect to entertain, therefore wealth and status must be visible and a house with a suitable amount of 'wow' factor slowly emerged. We all agreed that taking this much trouble over your stonework was all about impressing the weekend visitors...
Karen our guide talked us through all this in the most wonderful style, and as we stood in the Courtyard of the Sovereigns, with Henry VIII, Edward VII, Mary and Elizabeth looking down on us it wasn't hard to imagine them all having a rip-roaring jolly good Elizabethan time....
..and then to imagine the house through the Civil War...and on through history.
It was fascinating to hear of the political machinations and shifting allegiances of those connected with the house at the same time as I read Bring Up the Bodies. It seems a bit like a political and religious form of Natural Navigation, licking your finger and holding it up to the wind of change whilst hoping it doesn't veer in the opposite direction before you have made your choice and chosen your route.
Joan's (the Second) father. William Paulet, Great Master of the Household under Henry VIII, seems to have been as wily as the best of them, hopping from the Protestant Lady Jane Grey to the Catholic Queen Mary but quickly swearing fidelity to the cause of Elizabeth when it became apparent that this might be a wise move
Handed down through the family, and frequently sold outside the family when life was tough and debts accrued, the house hit hard times, and when someone finally arrived who could afford to carry out the repairs architectural fashions had moved on apace. By 1730 Tudor hearths really were very last year, and who cares about the original features when you can have panelling and cover the whole lot up, and those mullioned windows...well they'll have to go. Time for some Georgian sash windows, the zenith of good taste, and the picture above shows that thankfully at least some of the mullions remained.
Owners and tenants came and went through the nineteenth century as did the furniture, bits were 'modernised' and doubtless more layers added to the fabric of this stalwart of a home, making it all a bit of a mish-mash, but it was the arrival of someone with money ( Dampier Whetham,) at a time when the Arts and Crafts movement was the 'thing,' that proved to be the structural salvation of Cadhay. Successive owners continued to pour in the money and the love and the alterations, yet beneath it all lies the beating heart of the original Tudor home and it was easy (with Karen's help) to see how, though it can all be overwritten for centuries, that heart can never quite be erased, and it is that heart so much in evidence now that I think made this such a lovely visit. The house exudes a unique 'lived in' warmth where the modern sits comfortably alongside the old, much as it does at Port Eliot where, incidentally, you are quite likely to see a surfboard propped up beneath a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds.
I expect some of you, like us, may live in a palimpsest of a house, it doesn't need to be stately, but perhaps you too have layers and layers of previous ownership. It is something I had hardly considered before. The way we expect to see and admire stately homes which are preserved in aspic, and how amazing that so many of them are, given the overwhelming need most of us have to move in and start changing everything to suit our own life style, but also how refreshing to see them still being lived in and loved too....and how I love those special little nuggets of information..the floorboards in the Long Gallery purposely cut short by the Elizabethan chippies to flout the laws that stated the wood could be requisitioned for ship building should England find itself at war, the boards hardly long enough to make a rowing boat at Cadhay.
I suspect the current owner of Cadhay, Rupert Thistlethwayte, sees himself as a curator charged with the responsibility of caring for and sustaining this home for his allotted time. There is a happy and comfortable mix of the old alongside the new which always works in my book.
Though damaged by successive alterations the original ceiling of the Long Gallery (before the room was divided into two floors) reminded me of the Great Hall at Dartington, but also of interest the fact the carbon-dating suggests these timbers are at least sixty years older then the building, so recycling alive and well for the Tudors and no doubt, as Karen suggested, plenty of spare building materials around from defunct monasteries....and look, there's the window of the Solar, high up on the end wall.
When asked how he had managed to hang onto his head through such turbulent times, William Paulet, father of Joan (the second) and who died in 1572 was reputed to have said..
"Ortus sum e salice non ex quercum"...
'I am sprung from the willow not the oak', and for all that oak is the mainstay of this house it would seem, it too has adopted the flexibility of the willow in order to survive.
Thank you for a lovely afternoon Cadhay, we'll be back...because those were also the best-looking scones we have seen in ages.