Littlecote House

Panorama of Littlecote House from the entrance drive

You are probably aware that Iris and I have been bitten by the Warner Bug. Over the last two years we have visited four of their excellent establishments namely Bodelwyddan Castle in North Wales, our favourite (3 times); Alvaston in Middlewich, Cheshire (twice) and Holme Lacy in Herefordshire just the once with the society, although we are planning a return next year but just the two of us. Our latest visit was to Littlecote House in Wiltshire, although Warners maintain it is in Berkshire.

The lounge of the Marlborough Suite

The house and grounds were magnificent and the visit was enhanced by our accommodation, the Marlborough Historic Suite. I felt that you should all be made aware of this magnificent building, which is only a two hour drive from Quinton.

Littlecote House is a large Elizabethancountry houseand estate in the civil parishesof Ramsburyand Chilton Foliatin the English county of Wiltshire, near to Hungerford.

Knot Garden and Yew Tree Gardens

The estate includes 34 hectares of historic parklands and gardens, including a walled gardenfrom the 17th and 18th centuries. In its grounds is Littlecote Roman Villa.

Littlecote Roman Villais a Romanwinged corridor villaand associated religious complex at Littlecote Parkin the civil parishof Ramsburyin the Englishcounty of Wiltshire. It has been archaeologicallyexcavatedunder the direction of Bryn Walters, and is on display to the public. The settlement may have begun life as a small short-lived military establishment guarding a crossingof the River Kennet. This was replaced by local circular farming huts around AD 70 and a Roman-style rectangular building fifty years later. Activity involved baking ovens, malting tanks and grinding stones.

Part of the remains of the Roman Villa

After another fifty years, this was replaced by a large two-storeyed winged corridor villa with integral bath suite. This building went through a number of changes over the subsequent centuries, notably a major rebuilding around AD 270.

The villa had a number of mosaicsand there were detached workshops, barns and a large gatehouse.

Around AD 360, from numismaticevidence, agricultural activity seems to have ended and the complex acquired a religious use. A large barn was converted into a courtyard and a very early triconchhall was built alongside with its own bath suite. Upon its floor was laid a now famous Orpheusmosaic, first discovered in 1727 by the Steward of the Littlecote Park estate.

Littlecote’s Orpheus Mosaic

This mosaic is usually interpreted in very complicated pagan religiousterms involving not only Orpheus, but Bacchusand Apollo, the hall being seen as a cultcentre for these two gods. Other buildings may have been converted to accommodate visiting pilgrims. This development has been associated with the pagan revival under Julian the Apostate(361-363).

Many of the buildings were demolished or fell into decay around AD 400, shortly after the Theodosianlegislation against paganism and before the Roman withdrawal from Britain. Two sub-Romantimber structures have also been identified on the site.

Littlecote House is a Grade I listedbuilding. Warner Holidaysacquired the house and estate in 1996, and now operate it as a country house hotel and resort.

The house is used in its entirety by the Bourne Leisure Group, all guests are allowed to wander around the magnificent rooms. Indeed, to such an extent that one can have tea in the Great Hall or Elizabethan Room.

The Great Hall

But mind not to sit under the chandelier (made of paper and plaster). If the lady Elizabeth is mentioned whilst you are in the room the chandelier may shake. A true story that Iris and I have seen.

The Elizabeth Room with the notorious chandelier

The other rooms in use are the beautiful Orangery (below) for table tennis and indoor bowls.

Littlecote Orangery (showing indoor bowling mat)

The Long Gallery is used for skittles and curling plus a few other activities.

The Long Gallery

Finally I have never played snooker in such magnificent

Surroundings, what a treat. (below)

The whole complex, for want of a better word is superb, with access to the Leisure Facilities, sauna, steam room, spa pool, swimming pool and gym.

Entrance Courtyard to Leisure Facilities

The first Littlecote House was built during the 13th century. A medieval mansion, it was inhabited by the de Calstone family from around 1290. When William Darrellmarried Elizabeth de Calstonein 1415, he inherited the house. Sir George Darell went on to build the Tudor mansion. King Henry VIIIcourted Jane Seymourat the house; her grandmother was Elizabeth Darrell. Sir John Pophambought the reversionof Littlecote, and succeeded to it in 1589; he built the present Elizabethan brick mansion, which was completed in 1592. Elizabeth I, James I, Charles II, and William of Orangestayed there, William on his march from Torbayto London in the Glorious Revolution.

Popham's descendants, the Pophams and (from 1762) the Leyborne Pophams owned the house until the 1920s. The Leyborne Pophams refurbished much of the house in 1810. They retained it until 1929, when the house was purchased by Sir Ernest Wills, 3rd Baronet.

Extract-Andrews & Drury Map of Wiltshire, 1773

During the Second World War, 1941–42, the house was the headquarters of 34th Army Tank Brigade, commanded by Brigadier J Noel Tetley. Then in September 1943 the US 101st Airborne Division requisitioned part of the house, and it became home to regimental staff, regimental headquarters company, and headquarters company of the 1st Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The house provided office space and sleeping quarters for 506th officers, with the best rooms being allocated to Col. Robert F. Sink, regimental commander, and Lt. Col. Charles H. Chase, his executive officer.

The colonel used the library as his office, and a memorial plaque can now be found in this room. From airfields in this area, including Ramsbury just to the west of here, the Airborne Division took off during the night of 5 June 1944, the eve of D-Day, as part of the invasion of Normandy. Easy Companyfrom this regiment has become famous through the book and TV mini-series Band of Brothers. All other ranks lived in Nissen hutsbuilt alongside the main drive between the house and the east lodge.

Littlecote Library

After the war, the owner's younger son, Seton Wills, inherited the estate and sold the house to the entrepreneur Peter de Savary in 1985. On New Year's Eve 1992–93, the grounds were used for an all-night rave run by Fantazia.

The last of the Darrell owners is connected with several scandals and the house's resident ghost story. William Darrell'sfather had left the house to his mistress Mary Danyell, but Darrell was able to recover it when he came of age in 1560. He spent lavishly, left his debts unpaid, and went to law with most of his neighbours, acquiring enemies in the process. Sir John Pophamwas his relative and lawyer

He had an affair with Anne Hungerfordthe wife of Sir Walter Hungerford (Knight of Farley), his neighbour; when Sir Walter sued for divorce, she was acquitted, and Sir Walter sent to prison. Some years later, Mother Barnes, a midwife from Great Shefford, recalled being brought blindfold in 1575 to the childbed of a lady, with a gentleman standing by who commanded her to save the life of the mother, but who (as soon as the child was born) threw it into the fire. Barnes did not name or indicate either Darrell or Littlecote, but his enemies quickly ascribed this murder to him.

Darrell's financial troubles increased, and he mortgaged Littlecote, first to Sir Thomas Bromley, and then to Popham. He moved to London and spent some time in a debtors' prison, but died in 1589 after a riding accident while visiting Littlecote. Legend has it that whilst hunting, the ghost of the murdered newborn appeared to him, causing his horse to shy and throw him. Darrell is said to haunt the site of his death, known as Darrell's stile (or Style, as well as the church at Ramsbury, two miles away), although one famed clairvoyant, Tom Corbett, detected nothing of the sort. But he reported to author Peter Underwoodthat he did see "a ghost in the garden, a beautiful woman whom he later recognised from a portrait in the house as Mrs Leybourne Popham", and another ghost in the Chinese bedroom he termed a "busybody", a word Mrs. Wills, wife of the then owner Major George Wills, agreed described the presence in that room. Another possible ghost is that of a past tenant, Gerard Lee Bevin (or Bevan), who lived at Littlecote after World War I and later served time for embezzlement. His presence has been felt in the Long Gallery.

Rumour managed to increase this scandal, suggesting that the sale of the estate was fictitious to avoid confiscation if Darrell was ever convicted, and that Popham kept Littlecote from Darrell's heirs (which he did not have). John Aubreytells that Littlecote was a bribe to Popham as his judge in a criminal case, which is impossible: Darrell was not charged or tried, and Popham was not yet a judge. Nevertheless, this story was borrowed by Sir Walter Scott, in Rokeby, and by Charles Dickens, in A Tale of Two Cities.

Littlecote House is steeped in history and it is all there for every guest to encounter, at no extra cost.

The magnificent stained glass window of St Benedictus

The organ to the rear of the chapel

The delightful Puritan Chapel

All this and I haven’t even mentioned the super rooms, wonderful catering and fantastic entertainment. Certainly not cheap, no Warners Break ever is, but quality never comes cheap. If you would like further information or to see the many colour photos we took then please ask, we would be only too pleased to share them with you. Again, a possible society holiday visit in the future, who knows?

Acknowledgements to Wikipedia and “Littlecote-A History” – a Warner Publication for the text extracts, the photos were taken by yours truly.

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