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Behind the scenes look at Smedmore Estate in Purbeck

PUBLISHED: 10:38 13 March 2015 | UPDATED: 14:24 25 March 2015

The south-west facing garden front, a charming Queen Anne elevation which was added in 1700 by Edward Clavell

The south-west facing garden front, a charming Queen Anne elevation which was added in 1700 by Edward Clavell

(C)2008 Peter Booton Photography, all rights reserved

The Smedmore Estate is steeped in history and has remained in the same family for over six centuries. Its current owner, a renowned historian, has brought his own passion for the past to life in this Georgian manor house

Drawing RoomDrawing Room

The 1800 acre Smedmore Estate in Purbeck encompasses most of the village of Kimmeridge and is surrounded on the west by Ministry of Defence land. It takes its name from the Smedmore family who, along with Cerne Abbey, were the main landowners at the time of the Norman Conquest. Smedmore can claim one of the longest continuous descents in Dorset as the Estate has not changed hands by sale for more than six centuries.

Henry Smedmore sold his share of the land to a tenant, William Wyot, in 1391. During the 15th century the Estate passed through marriage to the Clavell family. In 1831 the Smedmore Estate was inherited, again through marriage, by the Mansel family. The present owner, a sixth generation Mansel, is Eton and Oxford educated Dr Philip Mansel - author of eleven books of history and biography. He is also an established authority on the Ottoman Empire and later French Monarchy.

Since taking over from his father, Major J C Mansel, in 1989, Philip has maintained a keen interest in the Estate and planted many trees. In 1995 he launched a successful campaign to save the Clavell Tower on the cliffs above Kimmeridge Bay from falling into the sea by relocating it a short distance inland. The tower, built as a folly in 1831 by Reverend John Clavell and later used as a lookout by coastguards, was the inspiration for P D James’s award-winning crime novel The Black Tower. Following its relocation Clavell Tower was completely modernised by the Landmark Trust and it is now their most popular holiday property.

18th century oak staircase in the Inner Hall18th century oak staircase in the Inner Hall

The Grade 2* listed Smedmore House lies to the east of Kimmeridge village and dates in part from 1610 when it was built as ‘the little newe house’ by Sir William Clavell who wanted to live near his industrial workings in Kimmeridge. Significant alterations to the manor house were carried out in 1700 when Edward Clavell built its south-west facing garden front, a charming Queen Anne elevation, and in 1761 when George Clavell added the double-fronted Georgian façade which visitors first see as they approach from the drive.

The ground floor of the house contains the principal rooms; the Outer Hall, Dining Room, Drawing Room and wood-panelled Cedar Room. From the Inner Hall at the centre of the house a splendid early 18th century oak staircase rises to the first floor where there are six elegantly furnished bedrooms, one graced by a magnificent rococo fireplace. From the west and south-west facing windows there are superb views of Kimmeridge Bay and the surrounding countryside. There are two further bedrooms on the second floor.

Parts of the interior have been remodelled at different times and the present 1840’s kitchen – much modernised since – replaces an earlier kitchen at the rear of the house which, along with a bakery and servants’ rooms, was probably added during Edward Clavell’s period of ownership. Very different in style to the other period furnished rooms on the ground floor is the Turkish Room; created by Philip it reflects his keen interest in the Ottoman Empire and is decorated with richly coloured and patterned fabrics, including a beautiful mosque hanging.

Dining Room with more than 100 Furstenberg china plates on the wallsDining Room with more than 100 Furstenberg china plates on the walls

Also on the ground floor is the War Room, a small museum added by Philip. It commemorates his two great aunts, Marcia and Juliet Mansel, who served as nurses on the Western Front during the First World War, initially with the British Red Cross and later with the French Red Cross. Marcia and Juliet were born at Smedmore in 1890 and 1893, respectively. On display are the medals they were awarded, personal photographs and letters, above which fittingly hang the national flags of Great Britain and France. Philip’s father, Major J C Mansel, who served in The Rifle Brigade during the Second World War, is honoured, too, with pieces of military memorabilia.

In a corridor near the War Room is a glass cabinet containing various items relating to the family, including personal letters, photographs, dolls and an invitation from Mrs Disraeli, the wife of the British Prime Minster, Benjamin Disraeli. On a nearby wall hangs the framed result of many years of research into the Mansel family history meticulously carried out by Pamela McClintock, one of Philip’s aunts. “Pamela was devoted to the family history,” says Philip. “We have a continuous estate archive since the 16th century: this features an extraordinary collection of family letters, estate papers, accounts and rent books.”

Smedmore is comfortably furnished with a wealth of period items; notably paintings and Dutch furniture which came from the home of Philip’s great-great-great aunt Lady Elizabeth Villiers who inherited them from the last descendant of one of William III’s generals. Among the many other historic pieces gracing the house is a chair made for Napoleon during his exile on St Helena which was given to Colonel John Mansel who was serving at the garrison there.

The Blue Bedroom with its sleigh bed and magnificent coast and countryside viewsThe Blue Bedroom with its sleigh bed and magnificent coast and countryside views

Splendidly displayed around the walls of the Dining Room are more than a hundred 18th century Furstenberg plates which were made in the German china factory of the Dukes of Brunswick. Each plate has a different pattern. They were hung recently by Philip and his decorator, Frooz Fartash, who has beautifully decorated many of Smedmore’s rooms.

The Portland stone manor house sits comfortably in the Purbeck countryside and is complemented by two acres of flower gardens, orchards and a Mediterranean garden. Philip’s mother, a keen gardener, created a large part of the gardens and added a small market garden. Beyond the colourful formal beds is a shady arboretum harbouring the grave of a tiger brought back from India in about 1880 by Philip’s great grandfather. “Sadly, the tiger died during the first British winter,” Philip adds.

Near the arboretum is a path leading across fields to Kimmeridge Bay. A pair of stone sphinxes indicates the start of the path, which is way-marked along its route to the sea by stone urns and obelisks. The path was recently created by Philip for the benefit of guests at Smedmore (the house can be hired for weddings, events and holiday lets) and visitors to the nearby Caravan Club site which has 40 pitches.

Richly coloured and patterned fabrics in the Turkish RoomRichly coloured and patterned fabrics in the Turkish Room

Now guests at Smedmore can enjoy all that this great Dorset country house has to offer; an opportunity to stay in a comfortable and elegantly furnished historic property close to the beautiful Purbeck coast. And what more can anyone desire? The Mansel family motto, translated from Latin as, ‘What a man wants, he wants very much’, seems particularly appropriate.

The elegant proportions of the Outer HallThe elegant proportions of the Outer Hall

Open Days at Smedmore House & Gardens

Smedmore is open to the public on two weekends a year to raise funds for local charities (the next is 16-17 May 2015, 2pm - 5pm). In 2014 the beneficiaries were Autism Wessex, the Margaret Green Animal Trust, Weldmar Hospice Trust and the Motor Neurone Disease Association. The house and gardens can also be booked throughout the year for private or corporate hire and the War Room is available for school visits.

Stay at Smedmore House

Smedmore House is available for wedding receptions, civil ceremonies, private functions, corporate events and holiday lets. There is accommodation for up to 16 guests within the house which includes six bedrooms (two en-suite) on the First Floor and two bedrooms on the Second Floor. The Dining Room seats over 20 and up to 60 wedding guests can be entertained in the house. The lawn in front of the house is suitable for marquees. There is satellite TV in the Cedar Room and wireless broadband in most rooms. Kitchen facilities include two 4-ring hobs and two ovens. Kitchen staff and first-class cooks can be provided. For further details visit smedmorehouse.com or call 01929 480719.

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