Athelhampton Hall is a fine example of a medieval manor house. The Domesday Book records that in 1086 the Bishop of Salisbury, with Odbold as tenant, held the manor, then called Pidele. The name Aethelhelm appears in the 13th century, when Athelhampton belonged to the de Loundres family. In 1350 Richard Martyn married the de Pydele heiress, and their descendant Sir William Martyn (who was Lord Mayor of London in 1492) received licence to enclose 160 acres (65 ha) of land to form a deer park and a licence to fortify the manor. Sir William Martyn had the current Great Hall built in about 1493. A West Wing and Gatehouse were added in 1550, but in 1862 the Gatehouse was demolished. With the death of Sir William Martyn, his son Nicholas Martyn married Margaret, sister to and a co-heiress of Nicholas Wadham, co-founder with his wife Dorothy of Wadham College, Oxford. When their sons predeceased them the male line of the family became extinct and Athelhampton passed to their surviving daughters as co-heiresses.
The estate passed down to William Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley (Viscount Wellesley, later 5th Earl of Mornington), who sold it in 1848 to George Wood. In 1891, the house was acquired by the antiquarian Alfred de Lafontaine, who carried out restoration to the interior and added the North Wing in 1920–21. At the same time de Lafontaine engaged Inigo Thomas to create one of England's great gardens as a series of "outdoor rooms" inspired by the Renaissance. 20 acres of formal gardens are encircled by the River Piddle, and consist of eight walled gardens with numerous fountains and pavilions, plus a balustraded terrace, statues, obelisks and vistas through gate piers. Great Court contains 12 giant yew pyramids set around the pool by the great terrace. The lawn to the west has an early 16th-century circular dovecote, and the south terrace features a vast Magnolia grandiflora and a Banksian rose. Pear trees cover the old walls and support roses and Clematis. The house was regularly visited by Thomas Hardy; his father was a stonemason and worked on the house. It was during this time that Hardy painted a watercolour of the south front including the gatehouse. Hardy set the poem "The Dame of Athelhall" at the house and his "The Children and Sir Nameless" refers to the Martyn tombs in the Athelhampton Aisle at St Mary's in neighbouring Puddletown.
The historic village of Tolpuddle (of Martyr fame)is less than 2 miles from Athelhampton. Athelhampton has good access for visitors with limited mobility or wheelchair use, however due to the age of some areas of the Tudor house, some areas are unable to be reached. Seating is provided throughout the house and the gardens so plenty of areas to take a rest. Athelhampton has easy parking, with 8 disabled parking bays close to the entrance, and a good drop off point also. The car park is comprised of tarmac and gravel. The Coach House has the reception area, shop, bar, 2 restaurants and toilet facilities, the whole building is flat and level and has good access throughout. Through into the bar, and then the door to the toilet area, There is a large adapted toilet cubicle. Leaving the reception area, access is made to the gardens, initially on a concrete path, and then on to hardstanding gravel, which does not usually cause visitors any issue, keep away from the thicker layers of gravel to the sides of the path. The gardens have good access, either on hardstanding gravel, or grass.
Location : Athelhampton, Puddletown, Dorchester, Dorset DT2 7LG
Transport: Moreton (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : 186 and 187 stop nearby.
Opening Times : Sunday to Thursday 10:30 - 17:00.
Tickets : Adults £13.00; Disabled £8.00; Children £3.00
Tel: 01305 848682