Nunwell House is famous for having been King Charles I’s first port of call, after his escape from London, to visit his friend and supporter Sir John Oglander. But the night of Thursday November 18th, 1647 was to be his last night of freedom as he was then taken to Carisbrooke Castle and later executed in Whitehall.
King Charles arrived on a very wet night and his clothes were dried in front of the large fireplace in the original entrance hall. You can follow his steps up the original oak staircase to the room in which he stayed, and see his equerry’s small anteroom. Originally access to the bedchamber would have been through the smaller room and the equerry would have positioned his bed across the door in the panelled wall to prevent entry.
The Oglander family, descendants of Richard D’Oglandes who fought with William the Conqueror in 1066, were granted the lands around Nunwell in the twelfth century. They moved to this ‘farmhouse’ in 1522 and whenever invasion has threatened, Nunwell has been a headquarters and an Oglander the Commander of this ‘Home Guard’.
It is difficult to envision the house being a centre of military activity, but the last home guard to be housed here during the WWII took over the gatehouses to either side of the back entrance and had their ops room in the basement.
On the ground floor is a kitchen area and music room that was built as a ballroom in 1906 – it even has a sprung floor for dancing and French windows leading out to the garden. A few stairs take you up to the dining room that was added in around 1896 with a Venetian window overlooking the front garden.
The drawing room , a small paneled morning room and the library, were added in 1750. The library, although next-door, is accessed via the old entrance hall. In around 1760/65 the Oglanders of the day did a grand tour and brought back two Italian plasterers to make the ornate ceiling.
This ‘front’ part of the house that looks out over the fields towards Bembridge Harbour has an attractive Regency façade, with a bay being added in the centre in around 1760. But look at the house from the entrance door as you leave the house and to the side/back and you have a Jacobean central building, that was given a Queen Anne style appearance in 1700, flanked by the Jacobean wing housing the ‘King’s Bedroom’, and the Regency wing to the front.
Walking from the entrance around to the front of the house you come across an attractive portico with a large sundial on the wall of the house above it. This was once a conservatory and was converted by the once Lord Mottistone and architect John Seely in around 1920.
The front garden is mostly laid to lawn with a balustrade and a fountain that came from Crystal Palace. Take a turn up the ‘long walk’ on the eastern side of the house and you can walk through the pretty perennials all the way up to the walled garden.
Accessed via the rose garden and now laid mainly to lawn, the walled garden has two pleasant bay tree lined avenues. Outside to the west is the arboretum of flowering fruit trees added in 1963.
The tearooms, where you can stop for a slice of Rosie’s homemade cakes and a cup of tea, reside in the earliest part of the building, and you can see the original beams in this high ceilinged room that would once have had two stories.