I promised you Saltram after the George III connection with Cotehele so here it is! We lost no time in following up and headed straight off to Plympton today to complete the story. Oddly, though, I heard more about the royal visit at Cotehele where the couple spent just a few hours than I did at Saltram where they stayed over a week! In fact, we heard so little about the royal connections during our day that it was only when I got home and read the guidebook that I found out that the king and queen were accompanied to Saltram by the author Fanny Burney, which was quite exciting news for a bookworm like me. Burney also has close connections to my own home village so I’ve always been quite fond of her for that reason too!
The lack of information about the royal visit is perhaps unsurprising as Saltram simply has too many facts and sights to cram in to its visitors in a relatively short space of time. The story of the Parker family alone could take up a whole day and the tour guide who introduced us to them recommended a book that I must try to track down at a later date. There are certainly some highly influential and interesting characters dotted through the family tree, including a John Parker who is known to the volunteers as Jack the Lad or Scandalous Jack, and a later Montagu Parker who was a soldier and adventurer and who visited the Holy Land to try to dig up the Ark of the Covenant, leading to suggestions that he was the inspiration for Indiana Jones! There were also some tragedies along the way so all in all the Parker clan is well worth further reading.
There was just a farm at Saltram before two generations of Bagges built a more impressive Tudor home here. However, it was the Parkers that created the mansion as it stands today, and in particular the three John Parkers who followed George, the original purchaser of the property in 1712. John Parkers I and II were the most important; both married well to bring money and social status, with John Parker I and his wife Catherine being responsible for many of the exterior changes, while John Parker II and his second wife Theresa continued their work and brought in Robert Adam to create two rooms in the house. The Saloon is described in the guidebook as one of Robert Adam’s ‘finest interiors’ and I couldn’t disagree. It’s certainly the highlight of any tour around the house (although I was also particularly fond of the Library). Another interesting snippet about the early Johns was that when he died John I left about £32,000 lying around the house so John II had a tidy sum with which to employ Adam and conduct his own alterations… once he found it all! John II was also a notable patron of horse racing and owned the winner of the third Derby ever run in 1783, who was appropriately called ‘Saltram’.
It is John III that really caught my attention, though. This was the Jack the Lad or Scandalous Jack we heard about on our tour. He married twice and had six children by three different women. Yes, you’ve probably spotted that there was one more woman than there were wives! And to throw even more scandal into the situation, there was also a divorce in the mix after his first wife Augusta ran off with one of his friends. This was in 1809 when divorces were far more shocking than they would be in later years; it was also a time when husbands were entitled to compensation for the loss of their ‘property’ (i.e wife) so John III was financially reimbursed, perhaps one of the few times in his life when he actually made any money! After this, he remarried and there was no marrying well for our Jack, he simply headed off to Bath (the Match.com of its day according to our witty guide!) and found Frances, the clever, talented and genial daughter of a Norfolk surgeon. This marriage was far more successful as Frances was tolerant of her husband’s longstanding liaison with a married woman and was happy to take on not only her stepson from John III’s marriage to Augusta but also his three illegitimate sons who also lived at Saltram. Frances later gave John III two other children, although tragically his legitimate heir by Augusta and his daughter by Frances were both to die young, leaving only one legitimate child to inherit the estate and title (Earl of Morley).
The later Parkers were nowhere near as interesting as the Johns and in fact the next few generations spent most of their time trying to save the estate from the debts that John III left behind him! The next real character was Montagu or Monty Parker, the soldier, adventurer and would-be Indiana Jones I mentioned earlier. Monty was also the last Parker to own Saltram as it was passed to the National Trust in 1958 on the condition that Monty could continue to live there until his death, which he did.
There is a lot to see at Saltram and its own literature gives the highlights as being the Robert Adam interiors, the Joshua Reynolds and Angelica Kauffman paintings, the collection of ceramics and the Chinese wallpapers. I have to agree as far as the Adam interiors are concerned and the portraiture is also fairly impressive, but the Chinese wallpapers really weren’t my thing. I have picked out a few of my own favourite items, which include an odd mishmash of diverse pieces:
- Four paintings centred on the theme of the four elements in the Red Room (the elements are an interest of mine as anyone who’s read my children’s books will know!)
- The scagliola and trompe l’oeil ‘card table’ in the Red Velvet Drawing Room
- The Saloon in its entirety!
- The Stubbs painting on the stairs – not a traditional Stubbs as it has a classical theme, but it does include horses and it caught my eye immediately
- The Doll’s House
- The Adam vases on pedestals in the Dining Room, one of which hides a chamber pot for any diner caught short during the meal!
- The French Boulle desk in the Library
- The library steps, which miraculously fold over to become a beautiful chair – genius!
So, that’s the house. The gardens are pleasant enough for a stroll and include a striking Orangery, an orange grove with pond and an interesting folly at the far end of the formal grounds. I would certainly recommend a visit to the Chapel, though, as it has a gallery of local art upstairs and a fantastic tearoom below. I will stick my neck out here and say that it is the best tearoom I have yet visited on my travels, not just for the quality of the tea and food, but also for the ambience of the room itself with the potted plants, Gothic windows, gentle background music, and hotch-potch mixture of mismatched furniture and crockery. Somehow, the whole thing works perfectly to create a lovely spot for a cuppa, which will be served to you (by very friendly staff) as loose leaf tea with a strainer and a pot of sugar cubes complete with sugar tongs. We actually had a light lunch at the Chapel and then returned about 30 minutes later for a tea-and-cake dessert and everything was simply spot on! There is also a Park Café near the reception area that serves hot meals as well as the usual tea and cakes but I can’t tell you if this is any good – after experiencing the Chapel Tearoom, I was pretty sure it would be a disappointment, so I thought it best to leave it alone rather than make it suffer the comparison!
Highlights: The Robert Adam Saloon; the Library; the Chapel Tearoom
Refreshments: Caramelised onion, leek and tomato quiche with mixed leaves and coleslaw along with a glass of wild elderflower ‘bubbly’; cream tea with loose leaf rooibos
NT Connections: Cotehele (George III and Queen Charlotte were staying at Saltram when they visited Cotehele)