Port Eliot launches into spring with packed programme
THE OLDEST continually inhabited dwelling in the UK opens for 100 days this spring, with a new exhibition, Reynolds and Van Dyck masterpieces, Easter events, candlelit tours and a tea party for dogs.
Port Eliot, the ancient and beautiful stately home at St Germans in South East Cornwall, will open this spring and into summer for a new series of special events, including Easter trails for children and after-dark tours by candlelight.
Set in more than 100 acres of woodland gardens and park, Port Eliot will open for 100 days, from this month until June 6, and then again from June 10 to July 15.
On each day, visitors will also be able to roam the woodland gardens and the park – created by landscape gardener Humphrey Repton – which stretches down to a secret estuary of the river Lynher, above which stands Brunel's railway viaduct. Port Eliot was recently named Best Picnic Spot at the Hudson's Heritage Awards 2012, recognising the best of the UK's historic sites.
The house at Port Eliot has been lived in for more than 1,000 years and is the oldest continually inhabited dwelling in the UK. Augustinian monks were there from the year 937, while the earliest remaining evidence of a dwelling on the site is a 1,500-year-old glazed tiled floor, dating from the late Iron Age.
The grade one listed mediaeval priory and house were remodelled in the 18th century by Soane.
Port Eliot remains a family home, crammed with the accumulated treasures of its long history.
The collection includes 14 portraits of the Eliot family by Sir Joshua Reynolds, spanning 40 years of his career, and ten from the Iconography series by Van Dyck.
Among the many distinctive pieces of furniture are a Louis XIV Boule armoire (which now houses the family's record collection); a Carlton House desk by George Hepplewhite; an extremely rare 18th-century gesso and gilt Queen Anne wedding chest; and a circular carpet which began life in a Russian palace, was later sold by revolutionaries and found its way to a spot under the central dome of Brighton Pavilion, before ending up in perhaps the most notable room at Port Eliot, the Round Room.
Regarded as one of Sir John Soane's masterpieces, the Round Room is 13 metres in diameter, 5.5m high and stands over former monastic dormitories and an abbot's lodge. Soane raised the ceiling of the Round Room, changed the position of the windows and constructed a very shallow and curved plaster domed ceiling.
Today, the room is dominated by celebrated South West artist Robert Lenkiewicz's masterpiece 'Riddle Mural', created over 20 years and depicting 'the Condition of Man'.
A captivating addition this year will be Marking The Line, a new exhibition by a group of leading contemporary potters and ceramicists, aiming to inspire lovers of art and architecture.
Following a run at the Sir John Soane's Museum, the exhibition will open from May 22 until July 15 at Port Eliot, before completing its run at Soane's weekend 'dream house', Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing, west London.
Catherine St Germans said: "We are pleased to open our home to new visitors, particularly at a time when the festival is having a year off and we're able to organise new events.
"As you make your way around Port Eliot, it is possible to detect the hands of many architects, but none more so than Soane, who made the house the way it is today; so the estate is excited to be bringing Marking The Line, an important new exhibition with a clear Soane influence, into a house which shows powerful evidence of the range of his design talents." Special events at Port Eliot:
March 31 – Easter Egg Hunt and family Easter Egg Trail, from 2pm
April 13 – Port Eliot House and Gardens open in aid of Cornwall Blind Association. From 2pm to 6pm, exhibition of historic items which can be handled by visitors, a rarity in a stately home
April 14 – Classic Car Rally drive-through. Up to 85 magnificent cars
May 11 – Port Eliot Dog Festival in aid of Children's Hospice SW. From 11am to 4.30pm. Adults £3; children under 11 free. All dog show classes £1 entry
May 12 – Pony Country Canter in aid of Children's Hospice SW and SW Equine Protection
May 18 – Port Eliot opens its doors for a rare visit after dark, tours of the tunnels under the estate and music from pianist and composer Paul K Joyce
May 18 – Summer concert: Haydn, Handel and Mozart, St Germans Priory Church in the grounds of Port Eliot.
The first of two summer concerts – 7pm to 9.30pm. Tickets: From Liskeard Tourist Information Centre and www.ecbc.co.uk – adults £16; full-time students £8; children under 12 free. Two-for-one entry to Port Eliot for people attending the concert, either before or after the performance
May 22 to July 15 – Marking the Line: Ceramics and Architecture. A group of leading contemporary ceramic artists will fill some of Soane's finest rooms with new work inspired by the architect, his creations and collections.
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