We’ve visited a number of times now and are constantly learning new things about Dyrham Park’s history and how best to make the most of your visit.
So while this blog post isn’t an extensive guide to Dyrham Park and its history, it is a culmination of what we’ve learned and found interesting throughout our many years of visiting the house and its ancient parkland.
We hope you find the info below just as captivating as we do…
Dyrham Park’s History
Before the 1600s
While the Dyrham Park we know and admire today is largely down to William Blathwayt and his influence in the 1600s (more on this in a moment), people have been frequenting Dyrham and the surrounding area since as far back as the Bronze Age.
A particularly fascinating event in history is the Battle of Deorham (what Dyrham would have once been called) in 577, which happened at Hinton Hill near Dyrham.
This battle between the West Saxons and the Britons of the West Country ended with the West Saxons defeating three British kingdoms and pushing their frontiers into Wales and Cornwall.
This battle was seen as a major victory for Wessex’s forces and resulted in the capture of the Brythonic cities of Gleveum (Gloucester), Corinium Dobunnorum (Cirencester) and Aquae Sulis (Bath). It also led to the permanent cultural and ethnic divide of Dumnonia (Devon and Cornwall) from Wales.
Despite the Battle of Deorham having a profound impact on how Britain is divided up today, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is thought to be the only source from the time that even mentions the battle taking place!
In 972, Dyrham was part of the Pershore Abbey, Worcestershire estate and was included in the infamous Domesday Book of 1086.
William Blathwayt and his Colonial Influence
Ancient battles and documents aside, there were plenty of ambitious men and families who sought to make Dyrham Park into the grand estate we can see and visit today.
However, how the estate currently looks is mostly down to one William Blathwayt who created the house and developed the magnificent estate and gardens between 1691 and 1704.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Blathwayt’s wealth sadly came from colonialism and the slave trade.
He was Auditor General of Plantation Revenues, which meant his connections stretched far and wide.
Also, as Secretary at War for King William III, his position of power gave him direct access to royal artists, designers, artisans and suppliers in London and the Netherlands.
As such, you’ll notice things like luxurious walnut and cedar timber used to make grand staircases and wood panelling inside the house, alongside Carrara marble, Indian textiles and fine silks that could have only come from overseas and reserved for the rich and powerful.
But what we’ve found most extraordinary is just how different the estate looks from when it was first built – particularly the gardens.
Originally, William Blathwayt designed them as a Dutch water garden.
Upon visiting today, you’ll come across an old Statue of Neptune. It sits atop a hill overlooking the house and we’ve always thought it looked a little out of place.
Well, it turns out that this statue was part of a series of canals and water features leading to the front of the house, which made up part of Blathwayt’s Dutch water garden.
You can just make out the statue in the historic artwork below (it’s just to the left of the crest):
And here’s another engraving (in colour this time) – although I’m afraid this image is a bit smaller than the one above, so it’s a little harder to make out.
But this version really helps to bring to light just how magnificent the gardens must have looked all those centuries ago.
Notice how the gardens differ from the Dyrham Park we can see today:
Dyrham Park and its Time of Great Dispair
After William Blathwayt’s death in 1717, the once-fine Dyrham Park fell more and more into disrepair.
William III Blathwayt inherited Dyrham as a young man, but he later experienced severe financial problems.
Thus ensued the need to auction off paintings and portraits to raise funds. Interestingly, many of these appear to have been bought by his younger brother and were later returned to the house.
The grand gardens also suffered, leading to the writer, Samuel Rudder remarking in 1779 that the gardens “which were made at great expense, are much neglected and going to decay.”
By the late 1700s, the fourth William Blathwayt had inherited the house and began repairing it.
However, the fashions of the time dictated an open parkland setting, which meant much of the formal landscaped gardens you can see in the engravings above were essentially demolished and taken away… leaving a lone Neptune statue to tell the story of what once was.
Opening Dyrham Park to the Public
Of course, this story still has a happy ending.
While you might not be able to see the original formal gardens at the front of the house (which I’m sure would have been truly spectacular), the National Trust has fought hard since the 1950s to look after Dyrham Park and make it an exceptional place to visit.
From restoring grand staircases and installing new exhibitions to redecorating the magnificent rooms and even reopening the Terraces to the public (more on this story below), the National Trust has spent millions on helping to restore this property to some of its former glory.
We just think it’s so sad that the original landscaped gardens at the front of the house could well be lost forever.
Visiting Dyrham Park Today
Superb walking trails and exquisite gardens
Today, you have well over 270 acres of ancient parkland and gardens to explore.
If you take a slow rambling walk following the outskirts of the estate, then you’ll be on the walking trail “Prospect Walk”, which has unparalleled views across the estate and surrounding countryside.
Afterwards, you can stroll through the formal gardens, rediscover the “Lost Terraces” and even scout out the Old Lodge play area if you’re visiting with young children.
Unfortunately, it’s no longer possible to see the herd of fallow deer that once frequented the estate.
In March 2021, the herd started spreading a terrible disease and so they had to be culled to avoid any further suffering.
Once the disease has been completely eradicated, the National Trust does hope to reintroduce deer to the ancient parkland, so here’s hoping we’ll be able to see deer roaming free once again.
The Lost Terraces
As this is mostly a blog post about Dyrham Park’s history, we thought you might like to know more about the story of the Lost Terraces.
These terraces were once part of the 17th-century Dutch water garden that the first William Blathwayt commissioned. With the estate going through various stages of disrepair over the centuries, the terraces weren’t accessible until as late as 2017.
With a £100,000 project spanning 10-15 years, the National Trust and over 200 volunteers sought to make the terraces accessible again and turn them into a charming woodland walk with superb views of the house and St Peter’s Church.
Dyrham Park House
We’ve already briefly touched on the treasures that can be seen within the house at Dyrham Park – even if they’re only there because of its upsetting connection with British colonialism.
Even so, do take your time admiring the luxurious interiors including red damask wall coverings, dark wood panelling, fine art, archaic portraits and Dutch Delftware.
When we visited recently, some of the rooms weren’t open to the public, but there was still plenty to see.
You might also recognise the Dyrham Park house as it’s been used in various movie and TV adaptations.
Last year, filming also took place within the Gilt Leather Parlour and Grand Hall inside the house for the BBC drama The Pursuit of Love, an adaptation of the Nancy Mitford novel.
Outdoor theatre shows
Another fantastic selling point of Dyrham Park is that in the summer months, the theatre group “The Lord Chamberlain’s Men” hold outdoor performances in Dyrham Park’s gorgeous grounds.
You need to book ahead and pay for your ticket, but it’s well worth it.
We’ve seen two performances now; first of Romeo and Juliet and then of Twelfth Night. The whole atmosphere of watching a Shakespeare play outside, with a picnic, in summer and watching men frolick about in dresses (like they would’ve done in the golden age) was simply fantastic. We’ll certainly be going to another performance again!
More Things To Do Near Dyrham Park
In case you want to make a day or weekend of it, there’s lots more to see in the surrounding area or within a short drive away from Dyrham Park. Here are some of our top picks (with links to read more).
Within as little as 2 miles away from Dyrham Park, you can be at Marshfield Farm. Known for their well-loved ice cream, their ice cream parlour is open at the weekend where you can tuck into various flavours or take some ice cream home with you.
Cotswolds National Trust Places
Make the most of your National Trust membership by visiting other National Trust places nearby.
Southern Cotswolds Towns and Villages
It wouldn’t be a trip to the Cotswolds without exploring some of the many quaint towns and villages here. There are plenty to choose from, but it might be worth noting that the picturesque Castle Combe is just a 20-minute drive away from Dyrham Park (with Marshfield Farm en route!)
Towards the north and within a 30-minute drive away is the oh-so-charming Westonbirt Arboretum. Here, you can take a slow wander through beautiful trees (surely a must during the autumn where they’re all aglow with reds, ambers and golds. Or, if you’re visiting in the winter, take a look at Westonbirt’s Enchanted Christmas event, which is nothing short of magical!
Head south for roughly 30 minutes from Dyrham Park and you can be in the beautiful spa city of Bath. Admittedly, you could easily spend a full day or weekend here, but if you’re in the area and you’ve never visited before, then you may well want to make time for both Dyrham Park and this historic city. Check out our guide to Bath here.
Ahh Bristol, our home for over six years now. This quirky port city is about 45 minutes away from Dyrham Park (making it an excellent day trip from Bristol), and there’s also lots to do in Bristol should you have the time. Here are over 75 ideas of things to do in Bristol if you’re a first time visitor.
And there you have it – our quick guide to Dyrham Park’s fascinating history. As we say, this was by no means an extensive history lesson, but we do hope you found our discoveries interesting to read and learn about.
If you want to learn more, take a look at the National Trust’s detailed information here.
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