Scandalously overlooked Somerset conceals one of England’s quirkiest party houses and wedding venues. Maunsel House is home to strutting peacocks, fancy hats and a bizarre collection of guns.
If you’re into sleek design and minimalism, look elsewhere. But it you want to spend a weekend pretending you’re an eccentric member of the English aristocracy, step right up.
This Grade II-listed, 13th-century manor house, the family seat of the Slade baronets, sits in 100 acres of pretty parkland. Its vine-covered exterior is stately, sober even. But inside is another matter. It’s a riot of chandeliers, stuffed animals and vast portraits of sneering nobles. Every square inch of the place contains some antique or curiosity. It’s a cacophony of Victoriana.
There are guns. More than 150 of them, in fact, from dusty muskets to 20-pound Brens, simply scattered about the place. They are decommissioned, of course, and guests are welcome to pick them up and pose for photos (the swords, alas, are off-limits). There are hats, too. Hundreds and hundreds, filling every nook and cranny, from deerstalkers and straw boaters to Tommy helmets and cricket caps. And dress-up is positively encouraged.
The property’s pub
The heart of the house is the old library, now stripped of books, where an open fire and comfy sofas entice on cold evenings, but the grandest spaces are the ballroom (used for wedding ceremonies) and the dining room (perfect for formal feasting).
Outside you’ll find a lake, a field full of sheep, strutting peacocks, a confusion of guinea fowl, and a trio of shire horses (eager to be fed carrots). Walk west and you’ll find the estate’s creaky old church, St Michael’s (ask the staff to borrow the key). To the east is the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal (its towpath makes a good route for a ramble).
Meeting the neighbours: exploring the property’s grounds CREDIT: MATTBOWENPHOTOGRAPHY.CO.UK
In the Somerset Levels, one of England’s best-kept secrets and heaven for birdwatchers in winter, when starlings fill the skies each day at dusk. Glastonbury is a 30-minute drive away, and the Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, cherished by Wordsworth and Coleridge, is within easy reach.
Homecoming: crossing the threshold at Maunsel House CREDIT: MATTBOWENPHOTOGRAPHY.CO.UK
What to expect
Maunsel, which specialises in weddings, is staffed at all times. Gardeners, kitchen workers and housekeepers, and, finally, the night porter, will come and go.
But it will do its best to offer something close to self-catering. There’s a pantry with a fridge, toaster, and tea- and coffee-making facilities, while access to a microwave can be arranged. However, those who wish to make full use of the professional kitchen must hire the services of an external catering team.
The arrangement will suit those who don’t want to think about hot stoves and washing up, but it bumps up the cost. Prices for a simple two-course supper start at £20 a head; more extensive three-course menus cost between £40 and £50 per person.
Blackcurrant and caramel cheesecake, Maunsel House-style CREDIT: MAUNSEL HOUSE FACEBOOK
There’s a fair chance you’ll meet the lord of the manor too. Sir Benjamin Slade, the 7th Baronet, who rescued the property from ruin, lives close by and is known to check up on his ancestral pile.
He’s an unashamed throwback from a bygone era, and won’t win any awards for political correctness (Google his name), but there’s nobody better to provide a guided tour — and a potted history of the fascinating Slade family. (He counts among his relatives Madeleine Slade, the disciple — and, he claims, lover — of Mahatma Gandhi known as “Mirabehn”, and Sir Thomas Slade, who designed HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar — a model of it can be found in the house.)
The King’s Room is staggering, with a soaring vaulted ceiling, a four-poster bed wide enough for at least half a dozen guests, a giant freestanding copper bathtub, and the best views.
The property also has its own pub. With flagstones, wooden beams, leather armchairs and roaring fire, it’s the archetypal country boozer — but created for your own personal enjoyment. A bartender can be hired (at an extra cost) to pull pints in the evenings.
Anti-minimalism, and bags of character, at Maunsel House CREDIT: MATTBOWENPHOTOGRAPHY.CO.UK
Not so keen
The lack of kitchen access — and perhaps the guns — may be off-putting. Tech addicts might also bemoan the lack of televisions and gadgets. This is a place for long walks, whisky and board games, not loud music and movies.
The master bedroom might be the standout, but the other 12, arranged over three creaky floors, are pretty sumptuous too. All have grand beds, are filled with antiques, including a handful of vanity tables, and have bags of character. Look out too for a couple of strange bathtubs — including one that might be mistaken for a coffin.
The four rooms on the top floor, away from the chatter downstairs, suit families with young children.
One of the property’s exuberantly styled bedrooms CREDIT: MATTBOWENPHOTOGRAPHY.CO.UK
Who it’s good for
Fans of history and country living.
Rarely a week goes by in summer without a wedding at Maunsel. The ballroom, which seats up to 162, offers a fabulous setting for an indoor ceremony, the garden — with its bandstand — provides an outdoor option. Not forgetting St Michael’s, one of the smallest churches in England.
The dining room seats 26 but in warmer months a walled garden provides a venue for up to 220 guests. There’s also room for a large marquee at the back of the property.
Weddings are a speciality at Maunsel House CREDIT: MATTBOWENPHOTOGRAPHY.CO.UK
It’s a little over three hours by car from London (M4/M5). The nearest station is Taunton, on the London to Penzance line (trains from Paddington take around two hours).
Cost and how to book
Bookable through House Party Solutions, stays at Maunsel House cost from £8,500 for a weekend hire (Friday-Monday). The main house sleeps 26; the South Wing sleeps a further eight, and there are five cottages on site that sleep a total of 32.