Just outside Exeter sits a house, a house that presently is shrouded by scaffolding. This is a house that, over the past hundred years , has had to evolve and change with the times; from a family home to a school and then used as a hospital, before being left empty to face the elements and dereliction.
Poltimore House first came to my attention in the early 2000’s, when it was featured in a TV series called Restoration. This was a show which featured all sorts of buildings in need, which the public could vote on, the winner receiving a cash prize towards the restoration of the building. Although I was intrigued by the story of Poltimore, I must admit I did vote for Mavisbank house, a rather lovely 18th century Palladian villa not far from Edinburgh.
Almost 15 years later, I was hunting Ebay, scrolling through the 100s if not 1000s of country house postcards, I came across a name I recognized. It was a postcard of Poltimore at its most beautiful taken in the early 1900’s, prior to the ballroom wing being added. I purchased it immediately. This purchase was then followed by the book ‘A Devon House, The story of Poltimore’, and from this and subsequent research online I discovered that there was to be a open house and gardens event the following month. I put the date in my diary and three weeks later I was there.
Driving up the winding country road towards Poltimore, I caught glimpses of the large scaffold structure that incased the house. Driving closer I was filled with wonder, what was the house like? How much of the facade would I get to see? Despite my increasing proximity the house was hardly visible to me, concealing its secrets.
After paying the entrance fee I made my way to the front door. Walking into the entrance hall, I was presented with a room that encapsulates everything I love about period buildings. Generous proportions, pillars, symmetry, decorative plasterwork and of course the Grand staircase. I could see past the peeling paint, the crumbling plasterwork and the scaffolding around the stairs to the history and wealth that lay beneath.
I made my way from room to room. Stopping in the Rococo Room I paused. There was no doubt that I was in a room that could be described by only one word ‘magnificent’. Lying on the floor I began to take some photos of the detailed plaster work ceiling.
Although at first I had regarded the scaffolding surrounding the building as rather an eye sore, I now could understand the vital importance of it. Continuing around the house, I came to the operating theater, a remnant from its days as a hospital and a feature none of the country houses I have visited have ever had before. At the center of the house is a courtyard, clearance of this area had been undertaken some years pervious, it is from this open space that the Tudor remnants of the building are most visible. The tower for the rear staircase is an interesting feature, a stark contrast from the corner of the courtyard.
Exiting the house I spent some time wandering around the garden. The avenues were in full leaf and were a pleasure to walk down. The silence was golden and Poltimore had done its job, despite its lack of furniture, art and a solid roof, it impressed me, its state of dereliction gave me an insight into the houses history and its construction as fallen masonry, cracked plaster and peeling wallpaper revealed the fabric of the building. Poltimore is a house that deserves to be saved and I’m sure one day it will be. But in till then the hard work of the friends of Poltimore will no doubt continue to maintain the house and grounds until the day the scaffolding is removed and Poltimore is restored to its former grandeur.
A must see property!