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Stanway House, Home of the Earl of Wemyss

England

In the Cotswolds, the Earl of Wemyss opens his manor house to the public to defray the cost of maintenance. He takes us on an anecdotal tour of the rooms, discussing family mementoes, old-time games, and unusual furniture.

Complete Video Script

Throughout this region, a few of the vast domains of England’s most powerful families have survived. The Cotswolds are dotted with elegant, Downton Abbey–type mansions. Today, with the high cost of maintenance and heavy taxes, some noble families have opened their homes to the public to help pay the bills.

Stanway House, home of the Earl of Wemyss, is one such venerable manor house. The earl, whose family goes back centuries, welcomes visitors two days a week. Walking through his house offers a surprisingly intimate glimpse into the lifestyles of England’s nobility.

And the gracious and likeably eccentric earl has agreed to personally show us around his ancestral home, including a peek at some touching family mementos.

Earl of Wemyss: Hair, cut off at a death in the family.
Rick: That was a tradition?
Earl of Wemyss: It was — certainly in this house it was a tradition. And it’s kept in this drawer here. For instance, this is — this says “Papa’s hair / My sister gave it me March 11 1771.”
Rick: This piece of paper is from 1771?
Earl of Wemyss: And then that’s the hair inside…
Rick: Oh my goodness!
Earl of Wemyss: …just as fresh as the day it was cut off.
Rick: Whoa!
Earl of Wemyss: And that’s his hair. Cut off on the day his wife died of pneumonia.

Rick: So this is a huge table!
Earl of Wemyss: It is; it’s 23 feet long.
Rick: And what’s the game?
Earl of Wemyss: It’s called “shuffleboard,” or “shovelboard”; it was known in Henry VIII’s time. This one was built, we think, in 1625, just at the beginning of the reign of Charles I. And you use these 10 pieces and you try and…
Rick: Let’s try a game!
Earl of Wemyss: …“shovel” them up to the far end.

Earl of Wemyss: That’s a nice one…

It may be a game for English aristocrats, but this Yankee commoner is gonna give it a try.

Earl of Wemyss: Very good, very good. One point…very good. Very nice, but two foot short.

Another interesting artifact is what was called a “chamber horse,” a sprung exercise chair from the 1750s.

Earl of Wemyss: And you did that — you bounce up and down, and your liver gets…shaken.
Rick: For a hundred years, fine ladies would sit on here and get their liver done.
Earl of Wemyss: Yeah. And fine gentlemen, too.
Rick: Fine gentlemen, too. Yep. A “chamber horse”…I guess that makes sense, doesn’t it?
Earl of Wemyss: It’s just like going to the gym nowadays.

Lord Wemyss has rebuilt the old fountain in his backyard, and today — as one of the highest gravity-fed fountains in the world rockets 300 feet into the sky — it’s the talk of the Cotswolds. For commoners, the lord’s sprawling parkland backyard makes for a jolly good day out.