Through the Keyhole: Cadhay House, Ottery St Mary
PUBLISHED: 11:30 23 October 2013
A glorious Elizabethan manor set in an unspoilt landscape, KATE WILLIAMS learns just exactly how Cadhay House earns its keep
Inheriting a manor house is a daunting prospect and when Rupert Thistlethwayte was entrusted with the responsibility of Cadhay House a decade ago, he was forced to think long and hard about how the future of the estate would pan out.
Nestled in the Ottery St Mary countryside, the impressive Elizabethan manor certainly makes a statement. Flanked by avenues of lime trees, the long, luxurious driveway sets the scene for the grand property and its beautiful gardens with stunning views over an unspoilt landscape.
A vigorous restoration project has taken several years for Rupert to bring Cadhay back to its previous splendour, carefully adding the comforts and necessities of modern-day living.
Many of the wonderful historic features of the house needed little work and they are what really makes Cadhay so stunning.
Created around a central roofless Court of the Sovereigns, a rectangular space at the heart of the house which is flagged by four carvings of Tudor monarchs, the awe-inspiring building continues to present a majestic feel.
The east side of the property houses three reception rooms adorned with fine art and family portraits adjacent to which is the dramatic Georgian dining room which was created in 1739 by the insertion of a lower ceiling in the Great Hall.
The grand stone fireplaces and leaded windows decorate many of the rooms adding to the feeling that any visitor could easily be playing a part in a period drama.
The working kitchen complete with Aga radiates warmth and is home to a huge wooden table at the centre with a scullery off one side and the long gallery upstairs houses a multitude of interesting historic items, both inherited and donated.
The bedrooms are all light and airy - helped by Rupert’s decision to paint the walls white - and each have excellent views across the gardens and landscape beyond, much of which has not changed in hundreds of years.
Paintings, carpets and rugs decorate each room and some of Rupert’s own handmade furniture provides an easy accompaniment to some antique pieces.
Above the dining room, on the first floor, behind a heavy wooden door, steps lead to the magnificent roof chamber with a beautiful arc of chestnut beams dominating the room.
“My grandmother always said that the chestnut wood kept the cobwebs away - but I’m not sure I believe her,” Rupert laughs.
When Rupert’s grandparents - Major Barton Newton Wallop William-Powlett and his wife, Charlotte - were looking for somewhere to buy in the 1920s, they viewed Cadhay and were astonished to discover the Major’s coat of arms on the dining room chimney piece, learning that his ancestors, the Paulets, had lived there many years ago. The Major decided it must be fate and bought the property back into the family.
Built in 1550, the house had some parts added at later dates and within the estate were many acres of farmland, woods and gardens which all needed work when Rupert inherited Cadhay from his uncle, ten years ago.
Born at Cadhay, Rupert has fond memories of the stately home as a child and has worked tirelessly to bring what was a rather run-down building into the 21st century.
Having installed central heating and a bio-mass boiler, Rupert’s restoration project has also included refurbishment of bedrooms and addition of bathrooms to bring new purpose to the 500-year-old manor.
“It is expensive and hard work to upkeep,” admits Rupert. “But it is a special house with lovely views and gardens.
“I have tried to make it work for itself as much as possible, to share it so that others can enjoy it but also to ensure it is maintained and kept well. I have a responsibility to future generations to try to help them to afford to keep it going.”
Rupert’s love for the estate and crucial forethought have devised a clever syndicate of services to establish an income to keep the estate running.
Cadhay is first and foremost a home, so Rupert hires the house out in its entirety for holiday accommodation, house parties and family get-togethers.
“It makes a nice venue for families to come together and it’s not often most people get to enjoy such a wonderful type of house,” he enthuses.
The elegance of Cadhay also offers itself as an amazing wedding venue, providing the whole property and its gardens with accommodation for up to 22 in the main house as well as additional space in the converted stables and coach house. A civil wedding licence enables couples to marry outside in the exceptional gardens or in a purpose-built glazed room near to the house.
The stunning surroundings are a real treat to peruse with the picturesque medieval fish ponds and informal gardens which were laid after the farm buildings were demolished in 1910.
“The gardens were a real mess when we stared work here,” Rupert recalls. “Bindweed was taking hold everywhere. It’s much easier now. Dave Armstrong, the head gardener, has worked here from the beginning and has worked hard.”
The gardens and house are open to the public every Friday for tours, another source of income towards the costs and a converted barn provides a welcome tea room and the wonderful walled kitchen garden has been astutely redesigned into allotments which are rented out to local gardeners.
With much of the farmland rented out to local farmers, the estate of Cadhay is being used to its full potential in every way possible, which is Rupert’s plan for the Grade I listed building and its beautiful surroundings.
A building proposal is currently threatening the unspoilt landscape - a stunning scene which remains unchanged for centuries, which envelopes the house, forging an amazing Devon backdrop to Cadhay.
With a passion for the house which runs through his blood, Rupert accepts his duty to Cadhay.
“It is important that the history is kept safe at Cadhay. It should be enjoyed by others as much as possible and it is my responsibility to safeguard its future for generations to come,” he says.n
For further information about Cadhay House or for tour opening times, please visit cadhay.org.uk.
• With thanks to Beverley Rumsey for additional research.