Few counties in England can compete with Dorset’s pastoral elegance. Its mist-blanketed fields glow orange in the morning sun, its trees are alive with animated birdsong and its idyllic villages have historically been the muses for England’s creative elite, including Constable, Gainsborough, Wordsworth and, most famously, Hardy.
In the centre of this Eden landscape, and barely a 15-minute drive from Summer Lodge Country House Hotel & Restaurant, is Mapperton House and Gardens: a gorgeous, stone Jacobean manor that has, for over half a century, been the home of the famous Sandwiches. Here we explore Mapperton’s historic halls and idyllic surrounds, both of which make for a dreamy Dorset day trip from Summer Lodge.
Mapperton village is first recorded in the Domesday Book, a record of all lands and holdings in England that was commissioned by William the Conqueror after his victory at Hastings in 1066. Even a millennium ago, it was apparently coveted land, well suited for meadows and pastures.
That said, the village remained manorless until Tudor times, when owner Robert Morgan endowed its fields with a handsome, stone-clad estate: Mapperton House. Though largely remodelled and expanded just a century later, Morgan’s visionary design can still be observed on the house’s northern wing, with delightful elements in the form of Solomonic Tudor chimneys and ornate finials betraying its 16th century creation.
Today, Mapperton House remains largely true to its 17th century remodelling and expansion under Richard Brodrepp, which included the dramatic western front, dovecote and neighbouring stable blocks. The exterior façade is a paragon of English baronial architecture: made up of golden ashlar blocks, punctuated by projecting leaded windows and daintily framed by climbing vines, wisteria and rose-bushes.
Inside, the Jacobean manor is no less resplendent. Stucco-work cornicing and plaster roof reliefs look down over stained wood-panelled walls and warming marble fireplaces. Meanwhile, the rooms are filled with the 400-year-old collection of the Sandwich family, including gilt-frame portraits of their several prominent ancestors as well as masterpieces by Hogarth, Lely and Reynolds.
Mapperton House lies on the crest of a gently sloping hill, thereby enjoying sweeping views from all its many rooms. Those rooms to the east revel in the best views however, looking out over the Grade II listed Mapperton Gardens, famous for their romantic Austenesque walkways and stunning bouquets of bright botanicals.
The gardens are laid out in terraced style, with three levels appointed in charismatic individual style. At the northern end, the upper register is the most modern, an Italianate terrace designed by Ethel Labouchere, the house’s past owner, in the 1920s. One of the garden’s most recognisable features, the gorgeous, neoclassical Orangery, is found here.
Below the Italianate garden, a lower terrace centres around two 17th-century fishponds, framing their glassy waters with immaculately trimmed topiaries and picture-perfect lawns. The third terrace is wilder in nature, encompassing an arboretum dedicated to the planting of impressive species of trees and shrubs, as well as a gorgeous flowering Spring Garden.
All Saints Church
One of Mapperton House and Garden’s hidden highlights is the medieval All Saints Church. A charming traditional village parish, the church retains its Middle Ages portal, while also featuring a Jacobean carved wooden pulpit and coterminous parish benches. Of special note are the 17th century Flemish stained-glass windows that playfully colour the warm Dorset rays as they illuminate the atmospheric interior.
Stay at Red Carnation Hotels’ Summer Lodge Country House Hotel and Restaurant to enjoy private tours of Mapperton House and Gardens, as well as nearby access to Dorset’s other heritage manors.