Those who have already discovered Cothay Manor know of its special magic; those who haven’t should put ‘Must go there!’ in their diaries. And there’s a chance coming up very soon: the house (but not the gardens which are closed in winter) will be open to the public on Sunday 8th December at 11.45am. The cost – £7.50 – includes mulled wine and mince pies.
Only 3 miles from Wellington, Cothay Manor is well-hidden down deep country lanes off major routes but part of its charm is a sense of it having remained bypassed by time. Records mention a house there in 1309 but much of the present manor dates from 1485, after which it was enlarged by successive owners during the 17th century and later. Bought by Alastair and Mary-Anne Robb in 1993, of necessity it has had to become a business but is still a much-loved family home – which gives it a very particular intimacy.
Described by historian Christopher Hussey as “the most perfect small 15th century country house in England” the interior is simply magnificent. An ancient gatehouse and 500 year old front door lead to a galleried Great Hall – somehow maintaining its character as a comfortable living area, but one with vaulted beams, stone floor and grand fireplace. Smaller yet no less impressive rooms are built around it, all with mullioned windows, oak panelling and charming nooks and crannies, each one furnished and decorated with the family’s treasures, collected over generations. Mary-Anne Robb’s detailed and readable guide-book identifies the historic features of each room, including some fragile but exquisite wall-paintings. It is believed that military aircraft are forbidden from flying over Cothay because of the threat of damage to these precious paintings.
The Manor Gardens – 12 acres of individual ‘rooms’ divided by carefully sculpted yews – have been lovingly restored by the Robbs according to their 1920’s formal design, a 10 year project which Mary-Anne Robb – still a very active presence in the gardens – describes as “ongoing”. They were ranked as one of the top 20 Best Gardens in Britain in The Telegraph in 2012 and are open to the public from April to September.
In 2008 Cothay Manor was the subject of ‘Country House Rescue’ on Channel 4 and, as a result, the house – which is open every Sunday from April to September – experienced an increase in the number of visitors. Managed by Charlie Campbell, the Robbs’ daughter, it now hosts events – including two big antiques’ fairs, gardening courses, concerts, ‘Shakespeare in the Garden’ performances and corporate events – during the year. ‘Exclusively Yours’ promises to be a new venture for next year. “Available options are ‘Tea in The Great Hall’, ‘Private Dining’, ‘Medieval Banquets’ and ‘Dinner in the Opium Den’,” Charlie explained. “This is a house which is full of history. To maintain it has to be managed commercially but it is a venture which we all enjoy and one which we are all passionate about.”
For those interested in seasonal crafts there is an all-day Christmas decoration workshops at Cothay on 9th December from 10am to 3.15pm. Course fees include coffee, lunch, afternoon tea and all materials. And for those who just want to see this beautiful house there’s the opportunity on Sunday 8th December.
For more information go to www.cothaymanor.co.uk