Lord and Lady St Germans have spoken of their decision to throw open the doors of their Grade 1 listed stately home to the public for the first time.
Peregrine Nicholas Eliot, 10th Earl of St Germans, and his wife, Catherine, are inviting visitors to see their distinctive home for 100 days, from March 1 to June 10.
As a result of an ‘in lieu in situ’ settlement arranged after the death of Lord St Germans’ father in 1988, the public are entitled to have access to see paintings at Port Eliot for part of the year.
But rather than allowing admission to just one room to see the art, which includes work by Plymouth painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, Lord and Lady St Germans have decided to allow entry to all of their home’s main downstairs rooms as well as its garden and parkland.
Lady St Germans said: “The house has traditionally been opened up to the village and to visitors and we’re throwing ourselves wholeheartedly behind it.”
She explained that a nineteenth century visitors books to the house showed that it had welcomed large groups of visitors including the wives of dockyard workers.
Lord St Germans said: “I’m a natural host. I have lived here for almost 60 years. It’s belonged to me since I was 16- I have been king of the castle for a long time and I’m used to entertaining people whether it’s six for dinner, 30 for the weekend or 5,000 in the pub. I have a knack of making people feel at ease.”
One aspect of the magnificent estate that the couple are keen for visitors to appreciate is that the house is their home.
“A lot of stately homes are awe inspiring, but that’s not the atmosphere here – it’s very benign. It’s friendly and I think conveying that is my priority. Visitors will feel that people live here. It’s not a morgue, a museum or about worshipping my ancestors,” added Lord St Germans.
Port Eliot, which dates back to the fifth century, was partially remodelled by Sir John Soane at the start of the 19th century.
Visitors will also be able to enjoy the 100 acres of Grade I listed gardens including a huge rhododendron garden, a maze, an orangery and a bowling green.
The gardens, which were landscaped by Humphrey Repton in the 1790s, stretch down to the River Lynher.
The house and grounds are home to the popular Port Eliot Lit Fest which is taking a break in 2008 but will return in 2009.
Port Eliot will be open to the public for 100 days from March 1 until June 10 except for April 12 and 13. It will be open between 2pm and 6pm with last entry to the house at 5pm.
A ticket to see the house and grounds will cost £7 for adults and £3.50 for children. A ticket for the ground only will cost £4 for adults and £2 for children. There are discounts for people who do not use a car to travel to Port Eliot.