Chastleton House is only about fifteen miles away from Blenheim Palace, yet these two Oxfordshire stately homes are worlds apart. Chastleton House is a down-to-earth, unrestored Jacobean country home, with none of the magnificent Baroque opulence of Blenheim Palace.
The National Trust states that Chastleton House has been ‘preserved’ in the condition in which they found it and not ‘restored’. The intention was to retain the ‘romantic air of decline’ that resulted from four hundred years of ownership by an increasingly impoverished family.
The gardens and grounds are quite small, unlike Blenheim’s thousands of acres of parkland. This is because the House was sited within the existing settlement of Chastleton village rather than in a wide open area of countryside.
The House was built between 1607 and 1612 for Walter Jones, a wealthy wool merchant and lawyer, and remained in the family until 1991 when it was taken over by the National Trust. By then the House was in quite a fragile condition, but with much of its furnishings and original contents intact.
Some people might find Chastleton House to be rather run-down and uninteresting. However, having recently visited the nearby extravagant Waddesdon Manor and Blenheim Palace itself, we found the simple preserved interior of Chastleton House to be quite fascinating. It reminded us in some ways of Calke Abbey in Derbyshire, the so-called ‘unstately stately home’.
The House along with the Gardens, provided us with a very enjoyable afternoon visit. This was helped by the refreshments offered in the medieval Church of St Mary next to the House. The homemade ginger and coffee cakes were superb.
Less nimble visitors should note that the House is about 270 yards away from the main car park, down a fairly steep hill, although there is some accessible parking 50 yards from the House. Only the lower floor of the House has wheelchair access.
The perfectly proportioned Jacobean House is built in the local Cotswold stone, which appeared particularly colourful on the clear, sunny afternoon when we visited.
Entry is by a side door, hidden from view when approaching along the front drive. This leads via small panelled rooms, with matching furnishings, to the White Parlour and the Great Parlour. The latter has fine tapestry drapes and unusual stained glass windows featuring King Charles I and his wife Queen Henrietta Maria.
The tour continues upstairs to the wood-panelled Great Chamber furnished with a dining table and elaborate high back chairs. A display cabinet contains four finely engraved Jacobite glasses and a decanter.
This leads to a series of Bedrooms with attractive wall hangings and unusual fireplaces and, in one case, rather incongruously, a Teasmade on the bed-side table. The Library along the passageway contains the Juxon Bible which is said to have been used by Charles I in his final days.
Moving up a further set of stairs leads to what we found to be the most impressive room in the House, the Long Gallery, with its intricate barrel-vaulted ceiling and uneven, creaky wooden floor.
Finally the tour leads down two sets of stairs to the Kitchen, with its badly stained ceiling and walls indicative of long intensive usage. The Kitchen contains a strange mixture of pots and pans and other cooking utensils.
The Gardens also have a look of ‘romantic neglect’. Partly that was because we were visiting in early November when most of the plants were way past their best, and partly it was that the National Trust had decided not to interfere too much with the Jacobean layout and style of the gardens.
Our route took us past the Kitchen Garden and along the short Wilderness Walk, which was still bedecked with Halloween tree hangings, to the bottom of the two croquet lawns.
We finally headed up to the so-called Best Garden (Jacobean Pleasure Garden) with its topiary display. There were good views back to the House and Church, and the many rose plants in the circular beds indicated that this would be an attractive, colourful area in the Summer.
If you intend to visit several National Trust properties in a year, then taking up annual membership could save you a lot of money, and we have a Membership Offer, which also applies to membership given as a gift.
To receive a £15 National Trust gift card with annual or gift membership paid by direct debit, click on National Trust.
POSTED 9th NOVEMBER 2021 by STEVEN HANSON. The photographs were taken by BARBARA HANSON.