Montacute House was built in about 1598 by Sir Edward Phelips, whose family had lived in the Montacute area since at least 1460, first as yeomen farmers before rising in status. The site was bought from the Cluniac Montacute Priory by Thomas Phelips and passed to his grandson, also called Thomas, who started planning the house, but died before it was built and left the completion of the work to his son Edward. Edward Phelips was a lawyer who had been in Parliament since 1584. He was knighted in 1603 and a year later became Speaker of the House. James I appointed him Master of the Rolls and Chancellor to his son and heir Henry, Prince of Wales. Phelips remained at the hub of English political life, and his legal skills were employed when he became opening prosecutor during the trial of the Gunpowder Plotters. Sir Edward Phelips died in 1614, leaving his family wealthy and landed; he was succeeded by his son, Sir Robert Phelips, who represented various West Country constituencies in Parliament. Robert Phelips has the distinction of being arrested at Montacute. A staunch Protestant, he was subsequently imprisoned in the Tower of London as a result of his opposition to the "Spanish Match" between the Prince of Wales and a Catholic Spanish Infanta.
The family's fame and notoriety were to be short-lived. Subsequent generations settled down in Somerset to live the lives of county gentry, representing Somerset in Parliament and, when necessary, following occupations in the army and the church. This peaceful existence was jolted when the estate was inherited by William Phelips (1823–89), who in his early days made many improvements and renovations to Montacute. He was responsible for the Base Court, a low service range adjoining the south side of the mansion and the restoration of the Great Chamber, which he transformed into a library. Later, he was to become insane; an addicted gambler, he was eventually incarcerated for his own good. Sadly for his family, this was after he had gambled away the family fortune and vast tracts of the Montacute Estate. In 1875, when his son William Phelips (1846–1919) took control of the estate, agricultural rents from what remained of the mortgaged estate were low, and the house was a drain on limited resources. Selling the family silver and art works delayed the inevitable by a few years, but in 1911 the family were forced to let the house, for an annual sum of £650, and move out. The Phelipses never returned.
The Great Hall, leading off from the corridor, was the most important communal eating and living room, but by the time Montacute was completed the traditional Great Hall was largely an anachronism. Such halls continued to be built, however, albeit as at Montacute on a smaller scale. For the first few years after its completion, the servants continued to dine in the hall, but the family and honoured guests now ate in the Great Chamber above. The hall now served as a room to receive and also for processions to commence to the grander rooms above. The room on the opposite side of the Clifton Maybank corridor from the Great Hall was originally two rooms comprising the "pannetry" (sic) and "buttery." In a large household the buttery and "pannetry" were part of the offices pertaining to the kitchen, and as at Montacute they were generally close to the Great Hall. The buttery was traditionally the place from which the yeoman of the buttery served beer and candles to those lower members of the household not entitled to drink wine. Montacute's buttery is typical, as it had a staircase to the beer cellar below. The "pannetry" was the room from which the yeoman of the pantry served bread. By the time of Montacute's completion, upper servants often dined and entertained visiting servants in the pantry.
A notable feature of the house is the 172-foot (52 m) second-floor Long Gallery, spanning the entire top floor of the house; it is the longest surviving long gallery in England. The gallery is lit by a continuous wall of glass on its eastern side while its length is extended by oriel windows at each end, which from the exterior appear to cling perilously to the wall, supported only by a small corbel to the masonry. Long galleries were a feature of large 16th- and 17th-century houses and had many purposes, from entertaining to exercising during inclement weather; the Phelips children would lead their ponies up these stairs to ride in the gallery. Today, it is used by the National Portrait Gallery to display part of its collection. The garden planting, laid out within the former forecourt and in the slightly sunken grassed parterre square, was the work of Mrs Ellen Phelips, who lived at Montacute from the 1840s to her death in 1911, and her gardener, Mr Pridham, who had worked for her at Coker Court. The avenue of clipped yews that reinforces the slightly gappy mature avenue of trees stretching away from the outer walls of the former forecourt to end in fields, and the clipped yews that outline the grassed parterre date from that time, though the famous "melted" shape of the giant hedge was inspired by the effects of a freak snowfall in 1947. The house is wheelchair accessible and there are three wheelchairs available for loan. Accessible toilets are by the ticket entrance. Designated mobility parking 40 yards from entrance.
Location : Montacute, Somerset, TA15 6XP
Transport: Yeovil Pen Mill (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : 81 and 652 stop at the entrance gate.
Opening Times : Daily 11:00 - 16:30; June - August until 20:00
Tickets : Adults £11.40; Children £5.70
Tel: 01935 823289
The museum, believed to be the only one of its kind in the country, is like a Tardis, opening up inside to reveal an unexpectedly immense number of displays, probably the largest collection of toys, books, annuals, jigsaws and games related to TV and radio programmes. Alan Hicken who runs the museum says “What ever your age I believe you will find something from your favourite programmes”. Whether you like Westerns, comedy programmes, detective series, game shows or soaps there is something here for everyone. Remember programmes such as ‘Bonanza’, ‘Emergency Ward 10’, ‘Dixon of Dock Green’, ‘Dad’s Army’, ‘Tony Hancock’, ‘The Man from Uncle’, ‘Monty Python’, ‘The Magic Roundabout’, the list is endless. There is plenty for youngsters, covering many children’s TV programmes going back to ‘Muffin the Mule’ and Andy Pandy to more recent programmes such as Telly Tubbies, Noddy, The Simpsons and much more including our delightful Alice-in-Wonderland section. Alan has also collected thousands of items of memorabilia, and over 600 radios and TVs, from vintage wirelesses to colourful novelty transistors, radiogrammes and televisions. Amongst these you may find the first TV or radio you ever owned!
There are life size figures of Roger Moore as ‘The Saint’, Patrick McNee as John Steed from ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Kojak’ to name just a few. Recognise original props such as ‘Hank’ the cowboy puppet and 'Pete the Mexican' used in the original 1950s TV series 'Hank Rides Aagin'. Annie Sugden’s AGA from ‘Emmerdale’, when it was known as ‘Emmerdale Farm’, and the original jousting poles from the 90s series of ‘Gladiators’. Programmes are brought to life through scenes and displays including: Mr Bean’s second hand TV and radio shop; a life size performing Homer Simpson; ‘Step into the Tardis’ - see all the doctors from past to present around the console, life size cybermen, daleks, clockwork men, the giant robot plus lots more. A new display features the Superhero and Sci-fi Exhibition, where a wealth of life size Superhero and sci-fi characters await you. Take a nostalgic trip through the world of radio and television programmes, a real time capsule of all your favourite memories from your best loved programmes leaving you reminiscing and smiling for hours after. The museum is wheelchair accessible if packed with exhibits. There are plenty of items to touch. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : 1 South St, Montacute, Somerset TA15 6XD
Transport: Yeovil Pen Mill (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : 81 and 652 stop right outside.
Opening Times : Daily 11:00 to 17:00; Sunday from 12:00
Tickets : Adults £7.99; Concessions £6.99; Children (4 - 16) £4.99
Tel: 01935 823024