Group Travel Guide to Historic Houses

Historic exhibits on show during an event at Beaulieu Palace House

Historic exhibits on show during an event at Beaulieu Palace House

Whether it’s a peek behind the scenes at Britain’s ancestral homes, or a better understanding of the UK as a fortress nation, the country’s historic houses hold much in store for groups in 2019, reports Abbe Bates.

Amongst the attractions at Beaulieu in Hampshire is Palace House, the ancestral Montagu family home, and 13th century Beaulieu Abbey. New highlights for 2019 include a professional sculpture exhibition featuring the work of 45 national and international sculptors throughout the grounds and gardens of Palace House from 25th May to 14th July.

An exhibition of painting, drawing and needlework by Belinda, Lord Montagu’s mother, will feature within the house, opening at Easter and remaining on display throughout the year.

New falconry tours give a chance to meet Lord Montagu’s first official falconer, Paul Manning, and a new exhibition about falconry will be in the historic Abbots Mews – Paul’s base in the grounds of Beaulieu Abbey.

Paul Manning, falconer at Beaulieu

Paul Manning, falconer at Beaulieu

Your group can also join The Victorian Kitchen tour in Palace House to meet cook Mrs Hale in the recently restored Victorian Kitchen.

To complete a visit, groups can pre-book refreshments in the Brabazon Restaurant. Pre-booked groups of 15 or more can take advantage of a generous group rate and a general admission ticket also includes the National Motor Museum on site, where an exhibition celebrating 50 years of the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang runs until November and includes memorabilia not on show before.

View of the striking façade of Knebworth House

View of the striking façade of Knebworth House

Set in 250 acres of beautiful Hertfordshire countryside, including 28 acres of formal gardens, Knebworth House has been home to the Lytton family for more than 500 years. Between March and September, groups can enjoy exploring the heritage of the property.

The romantic Gothic exterior hides a Tudor red brick house and, inside, stories and heirlooms reflect the family’s contribution to literature, politics and Foreign Service, alongside visits by characters as diverse as Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill and Noel Gallagher.

Tours are included with house admission tickets and are guided on most days, lasting about an hour. A free-flow system is implemented on event days and most Sundays. There is one free ticket for groups of 20 plus people. Private dining can be arranged for groups visiting on non-public open days.

As well as garden tours at Waddesdon Manor the house is a fascinating place to visit capturing the style of the Rothschilds.

As well as garden tours at Waddesdon Manor the house is a fascinating place to visit capturing the style of the Rothschilds.

To view one of the finest collections of French 18th-century decorative arts in the world, you can visit Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire. The Renaissance-style château was once the country home of the Rothschilds and new for 2019 is a guided group tour of the Rothschild Walled Garden at Eythrope on the estate.

The garden supplies vegetables, fruit, herbs and cut flowers for the Rothschild family as well as Waddesdon’s restaurants, hotel and artisan food market. Discover the four-acre walled garden and glasshouses on the tours, which take place on Wednesdays, from May to October, and include a two-course lunch menu or afternoon tea in Waddesdon Manor’s restaurant.

A day package is available combining two other Buckinghamshire properties. Visit the National Trust owned Hartwell House, now a hotel, restaurant and spa. Enjoy a tea or coffee on arrival at the 17th-century, Grade I-listed house before enjoying a guided tour with the head gardener around some of the 90 acres of Capability Brown-inspired gardens and parkland.

After a two-course lunch, groups can make their way to Turn End in Haddenham, designed in the 1960s by architect Peter Aldington. Here, groups can enjoy a personal tour of this 20th-century world-renowned garden with the head gardener.

Longleat in Wiltshire was the first stately home to fully open its doors to the public in 1949. The house dates back to 1580 and is home to the Marquess of Bath and his family.

Three different tours are available to help your group explore the house and learn about its magnificent treasures and history. Register to come to the South West Group Travel Show – and you can take a complimentary tour while you’re there.

Burghley House © Lee Hellwing

Burghley House © Lee Hellwing

Gearing up to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the birth of its founder William Cecil in 2020 – with plans including a high profile lecture series, new exhibitions and events – the Elizabethan Burghley House in Lincolnshire has a bumper season in store for 2019 too. The House and Gardens reopen in March, with this year’s exhibition, ‘Treasures of the East’, bringing to life objects used and obtained by Burghley’s two great collecting Earls in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Spring also sees the annual opening of the normally closed South Gardens between 16th March and 5th April. A myriad of tours include ‘The Great Collectors’ focusing on the 5th and 9th Earls of Exeter and their extravagant purchases on the Grand Tour, ‘Remarkable Craftsman at Burghley’, exploring the craftsmanship of Verrio’s ceilings, Mayhew & Ince, the London furniture makers, and Martens’ plaster ceilings from 1675 and, for family groups, a Burghley ‘Butler and Maid’ will lead you on an exciting journey through the house to find turtle skulls in the Kitchen, secret animal code names in the Billiard Room and English villains in the Pagoda Room. An ‘Introduction to Burghley’ is also available for free-flow groups over tea and coffee in the Loggia.

Arley Hall in Cheshire is one of the locations used in the popular TV drama Peaky Blinders

Arley Hall in Cheshire is one of the locations used in the popular TV drama Peaky Blinders

Elaborate ceilings and oak panelling, impressive fireplaces and intricate stained glass are features that draw groups to Arley Hall in Cheshire. A visit gives an intimate insight into life in the hall that has been home to the same Cheshire family for more than 500 years.

In recent times, the house has found fame as one of the locations for the TV drama Peaky Blinders. The hall doubles as lead character Tommy Shelby’s home complete with bespoke portraits and 1920s furniture; Arley’s library is featured as Tommy’s study whilst the Gallery is the Shelby family’s dining hall. Discover more on a hall tour and pre-booked groups are given a meet and greet service.

Also in Cheshire, at the heart of 1,000 acres of landscaped parkland, the mansion house at Tatton Park is where the Egerton family made a home from the turn of the 18th century. It houses important paintings and books along with an outstanding collection of Gillows of Lancaster furniture. A permanent exhibition details the life and interests of Maurice Egerton, the last Baron Egerton of Tatton Park.

There are four attractions to choose from on the estate – the Mansion, Gardens, Farm and Old Hall – with a range of group tours on offer, including some new specialist tours at the farm for 2019. The Stables Restaurant has a dedicated room for groups where the meals are waitress-served, while the Gardener’s Cottage offers a more intimate setting for afternoon teas.

Leighton Hall

Leighton Hall

You can find out more about the world-renowned Gillow Reynolds furniture family at their ancestral home, Leighton Hall, in Lancashire. Still lived in today, it appeals to groups with its hands-on policy; there are no roped-off areas and visitors can sit on the furniture and even play the piano.

The elegant Music Room in Leighton Hall

The elegant Music Room in Leighton Hall

For a combined day out, the ‘Brief Encounter with Leighton Hall’ package offers a visit to the Heritage Centre at Carnforth Station in the morning to discover a fascinating range of exhibition areas and the famous Refreshment Rooms where the iconic movie Brief Encounter was filmed.

Then it’s full steam ahead to Leighton Hall, where after a light meal or afternoon tea, your group can enjoy the beautiful grounds and gardens, fascinating house tours and entertaining birds of prey displays.