One of Somerset’s most historic houses, Brympton d’Evercy, was once described as ‘the most beautiful house in England’. Built slowly over hundreds of years and then refurbished and renovated for every century after, Brympton d’Evercy has evolved slowly and constantly, resulting in a sprawling Grade I listed mansion and estate featuring numerous architectural styles.
Key Facts about the House
- Work on the original Brympton d’Evercy began in the year 1220, although little of the original residence remains.
- Brympton d’Evercy is located on the outskirts of Yeovil in the county of Somerset, England.
- During its 800 year history, Brympton d’Evercy has been owned by just five families.
History of the House
The d’Evercy family purchased the estate recorded in the Domesday Book as Brunetone, meaning ‘brown enclosure’, in 1220, when it was nothing more than a few buildings and a farm. The d’Evercy family added a church, but by the time Brympton d’Evercy passed into the hands of the Sydenham family in 1430, it consisted of a manor house, gardens, two acres of land and forty house owners. The Sydenhams owned Brympton d’Evercy for the next three hundred years. At one time, the Sydenham family, England’s largest landowners, saw their fortunes fluctuate wildly, seeming to rise to prosperity or fall to ruin with each and every generation.
Despite the money troubles that blighted the Sydenham family descendants, many alterations were made to Brympton d’Evercy throughout the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. As a family of stature, the Sydenham’s could not be seen to fall behind the times and their additions to Brympton d’Evercy were heavily influenced by the building works of their Somerset neighbors and new ideas of domestic comfort and privacy.
The first John Sydenham enhanced what is now known as the Priest’s House, a small medieval oddity built close to the mansion house. Perhaps it was a guest house or, more likely, it was intended as a dower house for the first Mrs. Sydenham who could not have known that her son would die before her, leaving her to live in the main house for as long as she pleased.
The north wing came next, a turreted, richly ornamented and quintessentially Tudor affair with large oriel windows and a castellated roof. Almost a house within a house, the north wing has its own external entrance and has changed little since it was built around 1520. Sometimes called the Henry VIII wing, the upper windows of the north wing feature the beautifully sculpted coat of arms of King Henry VIII. The Sydenhams were bestowed with this regal honor due to their, somewhat tenuous, connections to royal blood. The fourth John Sydenham built Brympton d’Evercy’s west front around the original great hall and his son, the fifth John Sydenham, built the large, barrel-vaulted roofed kitchen wing.
The last John Sydenham built the entire Palladian style south wing. Although the architect responsible for the south wing remains a mystery, it is this addition to Brympton d’Evercy that transformed it from a country manor to a one of England’s great houses. The state apartments located on the ground floor are the most carefully and lavishly decorated in the entire house and consist of the usual arrangement of a salon leading through gradually smaller and more intimate rooms to the state bedroom. No royal ever came to stay at Bryptom d’Evercy and the rooms were soon refashioned into more usable spaces.
By the time the last John Sydenham’s son, Philip Sydenham, got hold of the keys to the castle, funds were all but depleted. Philip attempted to sell the Brymtpon d’Evercy estate in 1697 for £16-20,000 but as no buyer was interested, he mortgaged Brymton d’Evercy to Thomas Penny, the tax collector for Somerset. After making significant alterations to the mansion, Penny fell on his own hard times, losing his job for misappropriation of funds and dying poor in 1731.
Thanks to Penny, Brympton House now has a castellated and glazed porch on its south front, its own clock tower and a fine new entrance to the Priest tower. Brympton d’Evercy sold at an auction in 1731 to the Fane, and later Ponsonby-Fane, family whose impact on the estate was negligible but whose impact on easily-scandalized Victorian society was notable. The house was largely empty until John 10th Earl of Westmorland’s wife Jane Saunders and her daughter Lady Georgina Fane took up residence. That these ladies lived independently of the Earl was scandalizing enough, but Lady Georgiana’s affair with the Duke of Wellington is what really got society talking. The affair never became a marriage and Lady Georgiana lived on at Brympton d’Evercy alone following her mother’s death.
By the time the estate passed on to Georgiana’s nephew, Spencer Ponsonby, it was heavily in debt and the young man made a reluctant return from Ireland, where he is thought to have been avoiding a court subpoena, to claim his inheritance. One look at Brympton d’Evercy and the prodigal nephew is thought to have turned his life around. Vowing to retain the estate no matter what, Ponsonby became a prominent civil servant, fathered 11 children and transformed the quiet house into a cricket-lover’s haven, hosting a house party dedicated to English cricket every year.
Two world wars took their toll on Brympton d’Evercy and upon the death of Violet Clive, sister of owner Richard Ponsonby-Fane, in 1955, the entire contents of Brympton d’Evercy was sold, including the large collection of art and antiques amassed by Lady Georgiana and her mother, the countess of Westmorland. The empty house was used as a public school for the next twenty years. In 1974 Charles Clive-Ponsonby Fane reclaimed Brympton d’Evercy as his home and set about restoring it as a visitor attraction. Unfortunately, it was impossible to replace what had been sold and the enterprise failed. Now Brympton d’Evercy belongs to the Glossop family, who use it as a wedding venue and filming location.
Why is Brympton d’Evercy Famous?
The architecture of Brympton d’Evercy House is as eclectic as the personalities of the many families that have called it home over the last 800 years. Famously named ‘the most beautiful house in England’ by writer Christopher Hussey, Brympton d’Evercy was built slowly over the course of hundreds of years but fared badly in the 20th century following two world wars and a huge auction that left it almost a shell. Despite these hardships, Brympton d’Evercy is still a family home and still one of England’s great houses.
Brympton d’Evercy in TV and Film
- Restoration (1995)
- Middlemarch (1994 mini-series)
- Mansfield Park (1983 mini-series)
Brympton d’Evercy is privately-owned and is not open to the public. It’s available to hire out for weddings, however.