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Historic Contents of Stately Home to go under the Auctioneer's Hammer

Duke's of Dorchester have been instructed to sell the contents of Athelhampton House, one of the most important Tudor manor houses in England.

The oldest part of the Grade I listed manor is the magnificent Great Hall with an outstanding hammer-beam roof, a minstrel's gallery and an exceptionally fine oriole window containing heraldic glass. Architectural historians consider it to be one of the finest examples of early Tudor domestic architecture in the country.

The death of Richard III at the battle of Bosworth Field brought the War of the Roses to an end and marked the dawn of the Tudor age. With the return of stability to the country, Sir William Martyn, the Lord Mayor of London in 1492, obtained a licence to crenellate the house, which was then known as Adlampston.

After the Martyn line died out at the end of the sixteenth century the house had a succession of owners including the spendthrift nephew of the Duke of Wellington,  the 4th Earl of Mornington (died 1857). In 1891 the house was bought by Cart de Lafontaine, who set out to restore the house to its former glory. He commissioned Inigo Thomas to design what is generally regarded as one of England's finest formal gardens arranged as a series of outdoor rooms in the Renaissance style.

In 1930 it was acquired by the Honourable Mrs Esmond Harmsworth. She was a notable hostess of the 1930's and Athelhampton was the backdrop for some lavish parties with a guest list including celebrities such as Douglas Fairbanks Junior, Aly Khan and Noel Coward.

In 1957 Athelhampton House was bought by the eminent Bristol surgeon Robert Victor Cooke, who restored the house to accommodate his impressive collection of 16th and 17th century paintings, furniture and works of art. He gave the house to his son, Robert Cooke MP, (later Sir Robert) as a wedding gift when he married Jenifer King in 1966. After the death of Sir Robert in 1987 and Jenifer in 1995 (by then Lady du Cann, as the wife of Tory Grandee and businessman, Sir Edward du Cann), the house was inherited by Patrick Cooke. He has continued the restoration of the house and gardens with his wife, Andrea, and the exceptionally fine condition of the house and gardens today is a tribute to their tireless work.

Athelhampton was known to Thomas Hardy, who lived close by at Bockhampton. He immortalised the romantic old house in his poem, "The Dame of Athelhall", and in his short story, "The Waiting Supper". He also painted a watercolour of the old gatehouse whilst his father, a stonemason, was working at the house. Athelhampton was the backdrop for the 1972 film "Sleuth" starring Sir Laurence Olivier (later Lord Olivier) and Michael Caine (now Sir Michael). More recently Julian (Lord) Fellowes used the house as a setting for his film "From Time to Time" starring Dame Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville.

The contents of the house, which is on the market jointly with Savills and Knight Frank, will be offered at auction by Duke's of Dorchester once the sale of the house has been finalised. The auction will be a landmark event. Country house auctions on this scale are hugely popular with collectors. Guy Schwinge of Duke's commented: "Good old-fashioned auctions on the premises are a rarity these days and it is a privilege to organise one against such a historic backdrop".

The core of the collection was formed by Robert Victor Cooke, but it has been added to by successive generations of the family. Highlights include an exceptional collection of early oak and a magnificent George III serpentine commode traditionally attributed to Thomas Chippendale. Many of the pieces have distinguished provenances including a 16th century refectory table, which originally came from the collection of the press baron, William Randolph Hurst. An English baroque japanned cabinet on silvered stand perfectly expresses the flamboyant taste following the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. This particular piece was exhibited in the seminal exhibition "Treasure Houses of Britain" at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, in 1984.

Works of art include a rare candelabrum from a set of ten made for the conservatory at Carlton House for the Prince Regent (late George IV). It was designed by Thomas Hopper (1776-1856) and made from Coadestone and by the manufacturer, Eleanor Coade (1733-1821). They were delivered to Carlton House on 9th February 1811 at a total cost of £500. Following the demolition of Carlton House in 1827 they were installed in the coffee room at Windsor Castle, after which they were dispersed. Another candelabrum from the set is in the collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Of all the paintings in the house, the one that most resonates is a magnificent full-length portrait of  Catherine Norreys, daughter of the 1st Baron Norreys and wife of Sir Anthony Poulett (1562-1600) of Hinton St. George, Somerset. The portrait is attributed to Robert Peake and represents a powerful image of an Elizabethan lady.

For further information about this exciting auction on the premises to be conducted later this year please contact Guy Schwinge on 01305 265080 or email [email protected]