On yet another cold and wintry weekend we drove over to Mottisfont, a country house built on the remains of a 13th century Augustinian priory. It was last owned by Maud Russell, society hostess and patron of the arts, who according to the National Trust blurb, led a ‘racy, and intriguing life’. She liked to commission art and to entertain artists, politicians and writers, is purported to have had a string of love affairs and a penchant for strange pets. Despite her contemporary fame, it’s incredibly hard to find out much more about Maud and her life, although this upcoming show, based on an artist residency and oral histories, looks intriguing. The house is divided in two, with the ground floor given over to restoration and the upper levels serving as a gallery for contemporary art works. The contents of the house were sold so the rooms are being restored in keeping with how they might have been in Maud’s day. The big draw is the saloon which was painted by Rex Whistler and makes you feel like you’re in a particularly glamorous episode of Poirot, but there’s also art work covering every inch of wall space in the main corridor which could have you standing there for hours while you figure which famous name did what. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures in the house so you’ll have to make do with the outside of the house, the gardens and the priory remains.
For the house tour, we had to leave the buggy in the reception area and carry the boy, who at 8 months is not exactly light. They had one of those hip-carrying infant seats which we could have borrowed but he didn’t seem to fit on it properly. The rest of the grounds were very accessible by buggy, including the path along the River Test. The winter and walled gardens were pretty but we’ll have to return to see the national collection of roses and as they were obviously not in bloom yet, and may never be if spring doesn’t arrive soon. As always the tea and cake (Victoria Sponge and Bakewell Tart) were spot on.