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Beautiful setting for museum of treasures

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 25, 2012

  • Arlington Court house was designed by local architect Thomas Lee in 1820

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You could say that Arlington Court is one of the jewels in Devon's magnificent crown, or you might prefer to be more exacting and describe it as a neoclassical-style mansion, circa 1820.

Perhaps though, it's simplest to just say that it is a magnificent place to visit – where one can happily wend ones way hither and thither for hours.

Arlington Court acts as an ideal snare for those who like to do a bit of wending. All you have to do is take advantage of the WMN's 2-for-1 offer and go walkabout in the glorious gardens, explore the fine old stables housing a famous carriage collection and, of course, enjoy the house itself.

Much of the greater demesne at Arlington is criss-crossed with public footpaths, so you could visit the woodlands and lake without paying a penny. But don't be mean – hand over your dosh and go and see what the National Trust has to offer – it's well worth the while.

I tarried a while in the great house to see would I could see – and what did I see? I saw sea-shells. Thousands of them. Some in collections, some adhered to objets d'art in crazy maritime mosaics.

Extending this maritime theme, are the many and splendid models of ships – the greatest collection of model ships I have ever seen. The entire pile is stuffed with the treasures acquired by Miss Rosalie Chichester as she travelled the world. They were a rather flamboyant lot, the Chichesters – and they had a great love of roving about the high seas, as confirmed by one Sir Francis Chichester, Rosalie's nephew, who sailed single-handed around the world in Gipsy Moth IV.

Miss Rosalie was born at Arlington Court in 1865 and lived there, more-or-less, until her death in 1949, although she was forever high-tailing it elsewhere: before she'd reached her teens she had sailed on two world cruises aboard her father's schooner Erminia. As she went, she collected, and the National Trust has mounted Arlington Court as a sort of glorious museum featuring her accumulations of model ships, British and foreign shells, pewter, snuff boxes, tea caddies, candle snuffers, paperweights and other precious objects. Miss Rosalie's favourite piece was apparently a red amber elephant from China, a rather eerie and weird thing prominently displayed in the White Drawing Room. The Chichester family had lived on this Devon estate for the best part of 500 years before the house was designed by local architect Thomas Lee at the behest of Colonel John Palmer Chichester in 1820.

The mansion was added to by Chichester's grandson, Sir Bruce Chichester, in 1865. They must have had plenty of funds – by 1876 the Arlington estate extended to more than 5,300 acres.

Rosalie was Sir Bruce's unmarried daughter and heiress – and it was she who donated the mansion to the National Trust together with 3,500 acres when she died 63 years ago. As the trust puts it, she amassed a "museum-like hoard" during the 84-years she lived in the Court.

Arlington Court also plays host to the trust's Carriage Museum which boasts more than 50 horse-drawn vehicles and some 10,000 related items. There are also working stables housed in the old Victorian stable block.

It is said to be the most representative collection of British carriages to be found anywhere in the country.

There are few places in the Westcountry where you could see so much of historic interest in such a beautiful setting.

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