for People with a Passion for Period Property

Period Property of the Month - June 2009

Cothelstone Manor is still going strong after a long and turbulent history, which included being bombarded during the Civil War.

A little bruised – but beautiful

One of the most historic houses in Somerset, the splendid Cothelstone Manor near Bishops Lydeard is built of sandstone and the local pink-tinged Quantock stone from a quarry in the surrounding hills.

The magnificent triple-arched gateway marking the beginning of the tree-lined avenue to the manor house. From these arches in 1685, during the Monmouth Rebellion, the notorious Judge Jeffreys hanged three local men as a warning to others.

The beautiful Tudor manor of Cothelstone in Somerset seems to lie drowsing in the sunshine and visitors would never suspect its turbulent past. But its history goes back to Saxon times and, among other indignities, it was badly shelled during the Civil War; later the arched entrance gateway was the scene of three grisly hangings by the notorious Judge Jeffreys.

The gazebo in the grounds was built by Sir John Stawell to celebrate his wedding circa 1620.

The legend is that Cothelstone was founded by a Saxon king (possibly Cuthwulf) who, with his queen, secluded himself within its walls to fulfil a vow undertaken at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. A network of ancient foundations found within the grounds in mid-Victorian times supports this idea. "What we do know for certain is that there's been a manor house here since at least 1066 when William the Conqueror gave the land to Sir Adam de Coveston," says Nigel Muers-Raby who, with his wife Finny, and three children has taken a long lease on the house. "Amazingly, the estate has only ever been owned by two families - the Stawells and the Esdailes - during the past thousand years."

In 1646, on Cromwell's orders, Admiral Blake half-demolished the house with cannon fire and vowed that "no Stawell will ever live there again." "And they didn't," says Nigel. "We still have two of the cannon balls - originally found in the walls of the house during its restoration in the 19th Century."

The dining room is painted in Cambridge Blue

After the Civil War, the remains of Cothelstone were patched up and for the next 200 years it served as a farmhouse. However, in 1685, the notorious Judge Jeffreys ordered three local men to be hanged from the triple-arched gateway (now a Grade II* Listed building) and even when the house was restored in the calmer times of 1856, the original dungeons revealed some grisly secrets. Shackles and chains were found there, harking back to when the house was a fortified manor. The dungeons were subsequently filled in.

The present U-shaped Listed Grade II* house dates back to the 16th Century, or rather those parts of it which escaped the shelling, including the left-hand wing and the ground floor of the house. "The rebuilding is Victorian, although the workmen did use the original materials which were still lying around," says Nigel. The famous country house authority, Nikolaus Pevsner, remarked upon the very unusual banded pilasters set between the window panes and also upon the 16th Century gatehouse which is Grade I Listed.

There is also a Listed Grade II* gazebo which Sir John Stawell had built for his wedding circa1620. The listing describes this as 'an unusual survival'.

The entrance hall: the marble-topped table is a family heirloom thought to be a 19th Century copy of an Irish piece from the 18th Century. It used to stand  in Nigel's grandfather's house in Kensington, which has now become the Russian Embassy.

Nigel's family moved to Somerset over 40 years ago and he has known the house for many years, although he never dreamed that one day he would live in it. Then, two years ago, he and Finny, an interior designer, had the chance of leasing it, and they moved in with their three sons, Tom (20), Ollie (17) and Jack (9), plus their terrier, Wellington and cocker spaniel, Guinness.

Once installed, they decided to create their own look and began by putting in a new kitchen of painted units while retaining the black four-door Aga which was already there. They also refurbished the three bathrooms and had all the timber floors polished - "to bring them back to life" - as well as repainting throughout.

"It's a lovely house and just oozes history," says Nigel. "The enormous flagstones in the kitchen are thought to date back as far as the 1300s, and we have a number of fireplaces which look Tudor. The entrance hall is two storeys high with a minstrels' gallery above and this is reached by a magnificent cantilevered staircase of oak, dating from about 1856 when the rebuilding took place.

This 15thC gable end was built when bricks cost a fortune and were a symbol of social success . even within the devotional walls of a monastery.

"One drawback is that it is difficult to heat such a big house (although surprisingly, it has only five bedrooms) despite the oil-fired central heating. The Muers-Rabys rely on the Aga to heat the kitchen and always keep a fire burning in the entrance hall fireplace during winter. "We tend to wear layers of warm clothing, which also helps," laughs Nigel.

Finny Muers-Raby works as an interior designer and stylist and has a shop near Taunton. "I don't think we've ever bought a new sofa in our lives," says Nigel. "Finny has such a wonderful eye for finding things."

The Muers-Raby family think Cothelstone Manor is a wonderful home and feel lucky to live there. "We live on the edge of the Quantocks, in an area of outstanding natural beauty, in what many people regard as one of Somerset's most interesting and historic houses. What could be better than that?" adds Nigel.

The lovely 15th Century parish church of St Thomas of Canterbury, which stands close to the manor house and is within the body of the estate.


Address book

Cothelstone Manor is available for wedding receptions, corporate events, small functions and B&B.

Contact Nigel and Finny Muers-Raby on 01823 433480 or 07970-477865. Finny Muers-Raby Decorative Antiques & Interiors Tel: 07709-434411