History of Orchardleigh

Orchardleigh House was built in 1856 by William Duckworth, the Estate previously owned by the Champneys, whose family had owned the Estate since the Norman Conquest.

Orchardleigh’s indefinable English charm is testimony to the Estate changing family ownership only twice in 800 years. Veiled in a tranquil bowl of parklands and lakes, its horizon a sweeping backdrop of rolling Somerset hills, the Poet Laureate Sir Henry Newbolt, (1863-1938) was inspired to write his finest works from his love of Orchardleigh it’s Island Church.

The house is an example of the briefly fashionable combination of Elizabethan and French styles, often described as “nouveau-riche.“ This style, which was popular in the mid-century, English Style, seen at Cragside. It has been ignored in many histories of the Victorian period and yet it was extremely popular, and deserves greater appreciation and understanding.

Duckworth was clearly building a family home, whose character was partly conditioned by the heir being acurate. However, corridors were stencilled by Crace and Morants supplied such elements as the mirror and curtain pelmets for the drawing room. There is also a stable block and an octagonal kitchen garden with glasshouses some distance from the house. A woodland walk led from the house to the formal entrance into the kitchen garden. After Wyatt’s work on the estate was completed, Devey was employed to build various cottages on the estate and park farm.

Since the last Duckworth sold the Estate in 1986, Orchardleigh has entered a new era. The Vincent Family, who had been farming near Hungeford, succeeded possession of the Estate in 2002. Christopher Vincent and his Daughter are descended from an old Frome family so have come back to their roots. The will of a Henry Vincent, of Frome, was proved as early as 1487. The Vincent’s have fitted easily into the pattern of local life and proved firm friends to our local churches and to the community at large. We are extremely fortunate that Orchardleigh has fallen into the hands of this generous, kindly and public spirited family.

 

The Vincent family have restored the big house which although basically sound had become derelict after 15 years of disuse. It is now a popular venue for Weddings and receptions, incorporating the beautiful Island Church. This after a careful restoration which has emphasized continuity with the past. The gardens, too, are being restored and there has been much interest in the early 19th century greenhouses in the Octagon Garden and the Victorian Pulhamite rockwork garden constructed of artificial stone by James Pulman and Son. The determination of the family to protect the beauties of their environment and develop in sympathy with it is encouraging.

After a period of the doldrums the future of Orchardleigh House seems set fair. Not only has it been saved from ruin but it has also been given a new lease of useful life. The motto ‘non nobis solum’ (not only for ourselves) is carved under the Oriel window. How true.

Extracts taken from ‘Orchardleigh and the Duckworths’, by Michael Mc Garvie.

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