Question: What are the three most important factors in establishing the value of a house?Answer: Location, location and location
Based on this old adage from the property world, Mompesson House must be absolutely priceless. Facing on to the grassy quadrangle of Choristers Green in Salisbury, every one of the house’s front windows frames a view of the towering spire of the Cathedral dominating the skyline. The NT guidebook for the house suggests that many visitors’ first reaction to the house is ‘I could move straight in’. I have to say I agreed with this opinion even before I’d stepped over the threshold. It really is a beautiful setting.
And it’s not bad on the inside either. A small and fairly simple property, it has been home to several families since the Mompessons took on the original building and rebuilt it to their own needs in 1701. One thing that stands out from the history of the house’s occupants is the longevity of the women, with the last of the Portman sisters supposedly living to ‘a great age’, while Barbara Townsend, the house’s longest resident whose watercolour paintings cover many of the walls, was 96 when she died in 1939. So, I stepped into the house taking deep breaths in the hope that something in the air would send me back out again fitter and healthier than when I came in.
Besides the entrance hall, the house has just eight rooms for visitors to see, although there are signs upstairs that further work is being done to open up some of the others in the future. The highlight for me was probably the carved oak staircase, framed by white walls of ornate plasterwork. The large drawing room was also very welcoming with the silver tea service on the table in front of the fire and the two porcelain parrots and cockatoo perched on the top of the china cabinet surveying their domain.
The house is particularly known for the Turnbull collection of 18th century drinking glasses, which are on display in cabinets in the dining room and small drawing room. These aren’t original to the house but were housed here after being bequeathed to the Trust. The slightly wonky bowls on some of the glasses are a clear indication of their age and the hands-on nature of their creation. (Or perhaps a suggestion that the glassmakers had emptied a few tankards of the strong stuff before getting to work making glasses for their next drinking spree!)
Speaking of drinking, in the library there are two doors masquerading as bookcases: one leading to the kitchens and the other to a drinks cabinet. A nice excuse for a member of the household who fancies a tipple – ‘just off to the library to read’.
A nice touch is the availability of family albums in the entrance hall so visitors can see Barbara Townsend’s family tree and snapshots of her life. One of these shows her with her cousin who suffered from the rather unfortunate name of Miss Cooey Hussey. I do hope the lady in question found a husband and at least got rid of the Hussey part of her name at some stage. After all, if she was as long-lived as her Mompesson House relation that was an awfully long time to be a Hussey. The Cooey part was less easy to shift, although it would appear from the family tree that it was a nickname that stuck rather than a cruel trick played by evil parents, so I guess if it troubled her she could have gone back to whatever her christened name was. This wasn’t shown in the family tree, though, so heaven forbid it may actually have been something worse for all we know!
Mompesson doesn’t have a large garden but it’s very pretty nevertheless with a lawn on which visitors can grab a quick game of croquet and flower-filled borders. There is also a small café in the corner of the garden so you can sit under the pergola with a cuppa and piece of cake.
I had decided when embarking on this project that I would buy a guide and a bookmark at each property as evidence of my visits. I had pre-ordered the guidebook but a quick visit to the National Trust shop around the corner in the High Street revealed only a small round table of Mompesson House merchandise and the nearest thing to a bookmark was the small fridge magnet. This didn’t have quite the same cultured feel as a bookmark so I came away empty-handed.
So, that’s one ticked off the list, just 257 to go!
Highlights: Location and the oak staircase
Refreshments: Redbush tea and a flapjack
Companion(s): The Dusty Jackets book group
PS: I have had some feedback from Mompesson House about our friend Cooey Hussey and it turns out her real name was either Gahfrieda or Galfrieda. I really can’t decide which is worse!