Friday, December 07, 2012

A Visit to Mompesson House


I recently visited Mompesson House in Salisbury, which struck me as the quintessential Queen Anne town house. Although the house itself was built in 1701 the interiors were added later  - elegant plasterwork ceilings and a new staircase – and the house looks exactly the sort of place a genteel Austenesque family might live. It is small enough to be cosy but also supremely elegant. I particularly loved the drawing room, which was on a grand scale for a relatively small house and had beautiful views onto the walled garden at the back of the house. I could just imagine myself sitting on a window seat looking out over the Cathedral Close and being inspired by all the characters I saw passing by!

 I wasn’t surprised to find that Mompesson had been used as Mrs Jennings’ house in the film of Sense and Sensibility. In another intriguing Austen connection, one of the families who lived at Mompesson House in the Georgian period was called Hayter. I could not help but wonder if they had been known to Jane Austen and she had borrowed the name for Charles Hayter in Persuasion! The Hayters lived at Mompesson for a couple of generations then in 1800 a family of three sisters belonging to the Portman family moved in. I was curious to know more of the Portman sisters but could find little other than that they belonged to the wealthy family who were descended from Sir William Portman, Lord Chief Justice to Henry VIII. In the Georgian and Regency era they own vast tracts of London. Who were the three unmarried sisters and what were they doing in Salisbury?

I don’t have a record of life in Salisbury in the Regency period but I do have one relating to Chichester, another cathedral town where society would have been similar to that in Salisbury. In the early 19th century there were five annual fairs in the city and a market every week. The coaches to London ran three days a week. Polite society was considered very genteel and there were regular subscription concerts and theatre performances. One can imagine the Portman ladies of Mompesson House enjoying such entertainments as well as shopping in the medieval city streets, attending services at the cathedral and hosting elegant dinners in their beautiful town house. There is definitely a story in there… 

4 comments:

helenajust said...

Whenever I read the words "Cathedral Close" I remember the lovely books which Elizabeth Goudge wrote. Not quite the right period (!) but evocative, anyway.

I'd always imagined the houses to be occupied predominately by those connected with the cathedral, so it's interesting to hear about a house which seems to have been very secular - and, indeed, doesn't look much like houses in Cathedral Closes usually do.

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

I love the house, Nicola. Beautiful and elegant, as you say, but not so large as to make one feel overwhelmed.

I know what you mean about Elizabeth Goudge, Helenajust. I used to love 'Gentian Hill' and 'Towers in the Mist'.

Nicola Cornick said...

I think the house belonged to the cathedral authorities until the 20th century, Helenajust, but was definitely occupied by secular families rather than the clergy.

It is a very appealing house, isn't it, Elizabeth. I must dig out my Elizabeth Goudge collection. I've got a yen to re-read some of those books.

Tanya Patrick said...

I am a relative of the Thomas Hayter who lived here at Mompesson. The Hayters were also related to the Harris family through Sarah Harris a relative of Baron Malmsbury who also lived on the Close. William, Thomas Hayter`s son, married Elizabeth Egerton who was descended from the Egerton Brydges (Duke of Chandos line) who were also family of Jane Austen. So I would not be surprised that she wrote of people she knew. They were all distantly related!