A dull, rainy, February afternoon was very much brightened by our visit to the historic Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire.
This property, part of the Historic Houses portfolio, is unusual in being open throughout the year, from Sunday through to Thursday every week.
Entry to the property is via the 14th Century brick Gatehouse, a remnant of the Cistercian Abbey that was dissolved by Henry VIII.
From there you can see the Stables and the red brick Elizabethan House to the rear of the 18th Century Baroque House, where the house tour takes place.
The Grounds spread out in front of the Baroque House across the River Avon. They were designed in the early 19th Century by the great landscape designer Humphry Repton, who widened the river and constructed islands.
The property was owned by the Leigh family for over four hundred years from 1561 until 1996.
Ownership was then transferred to a charitable trust that was able to obtain lottery funding for renovation, including repairs needed as a result of a disastrous fire in 1960.
The Leigh family were Jane Austen’s maternal relatives and it is known that she visited Stoneleigh Abbey with her mother and sister.
It is thought that this inspired descriptions in her novels, including, for example, that of the chapel in Mansfield Park. The current interior and furnishings in the Baroque House are much as they were in Jane’s time in the early 1800s.
Stoneleigh Abbey House Tour
The tour covers only a few rooms in the basement and first floor of the Baroque House.
The upper floors are private accommodation, as are the Elizabethan House and the Stable buildings.
The tours are guided and in our case took about an hour, even though less than ten rooms were visited.
Our guide, Jamie, was well informed and provided an entertaining commentary.
The building is entered through the basement Tea Room, an interesting room in itself with a vaulted ceiling. We later had refreshments there before visiting the grounds.
The only other room visited on the basement floor was the Chapel with its stylish candle-lit wooden pews and intricate decorative ceiling. On the balcony above is a beautiful gilded organ, reputedly played by Handel.
The Chapel also contains Humphry Repton’s Red Book in which his designs for the grounds are set out.
A broad staircase and gallery has portraits of many members of the Leigh family, including the 3rd Baron Leigh, who had this house built following a financially advantageous marriage.
To the side of the gallery is an Entertainment Room, which was used for music performances. There are fine views from here across the Courtyard Garden to the Elizabethan House.
The top of the staircase leads in to the imposing Saloon with intricate plaster work and a small statue of Handel, who apparently played the organ in the Chapel.
To the right from the Saloon is an early 1700s Drawing Room with Queen Anne furniture and more Leigh family portraits.
This leads on to the Card Room and what was the Master Bedroom, but is now the Library. There is a small statue of Lord Byron, who was a schoolmate and friend of Chandos, the 1st Baron Leigh.
To the left from the Saloon is a second Drawing Room, lavishly prepared for Queen Victoria and painted greenish-blue to suit her taste. This leads through to the Queen’s Bedroom, although in reality the actual room prepared for Queen Victoria was one floor above. However the decoration has been carefully reproduced and the Chippendale furnishings remain the same as when she visited.
That concluded the tour and we exited the House via the main entrance staircase.
Fortunately the rain had stopped by the time we had finished the house tour, so we could explore the grounds whilst dodging the many muddy areas along the way.
To the nearside of the River Avon to the front of the House and to the south by an Orangery, there are grassed areas running down to the river, with a long herbaceous border and an unusual African-style Gazebo. A walled orchard area was not open to the public.
On the far side of the River Avon, there are two so-called Repton Walks (1.5 and 2.1 miles in length) with views back to the House over the river area. The walks pass through woodland with steep sections that were very slippery on the day we visited. We also had the indignity of having to climb over a gate that someone had forgotten to unlock for visitors!
Entry to the Stoneleigh Abbey grounds is £7 for adults, £1.50 for children, entry to the house is an additional £7 for adults and £3.50 for children. However if you take up annual membership with Historic Houses, you will get free entry, plus free entry to 300 other heritage sites. Enter our unique code STEW05 at ‘Add discount code’ and new members will receive a £5 discount. This also applies if you wish to give annual membership as a gift.
We have reviewed several other properties under Historic Houses and see also Historic Houses versus National Trust – Which to join?
Additional Photographs of Stoneleigh Abbey
POSTED 16th MARCH 2022 by STEVE HANSON. The photographs were taken by BARBARA HANSON.