Kate's Places

Dauntsey House, Kate’s ancestral home

Locator map showing Dauntsey House northeast of Chippenham, WiltshireKate DeWitt was born Catherine Gorham in 1903 in Dauntsey House. At least, that’s the story.Aerial view of Dauntsey House from the southeast

There really is a Dauntsey House. It’s the manor house for the Dauntsey Park estate in northern Wiltshire, and it’s been around for a very long time in one form or another.

Real History

According to British History Online, King Ethelwulf established Dauntsey Manor (the estate) in 850 AD. Miles of Dauntsey held the estate in the late 1100s. It passed through several generations of the Dauntsey family until 1420, when a Dauntsey daughter, Lady Joan Stradling, inherited it. In 1487 it went to the Danvers family, who kept it until 1662, after Sir John Danvers had The Dauntsey House main door, with a lantern and wisteriaparticipated in sacking Charles I from the English throne and cutting off his head. Charles II confiscated the estate, granted it on1928 view of Dauntsey House covered with ivy, with the Bristol Avon cascades outside James, the Duke of York (later to be James II), who gave it to his Queen Mary. From there on, the estate passed from one set of owners to another up to the present day.

Dauntsey House was probably built for the Dauntsey family. Its core is a 14th century hall that’s been lengthened, refaced, added onto, refurbished multiple times, shrunken, and so on into the 20th century, changing hands as often as the land around it. What’s left today is the house and 300 acres; the stables and service block (kitchens, laundry, servants’ quarters, etc.) were sold off in the 1990s(?) to be turned into eight homes.

Kate History

I chose this place for Kate’s home because (a) it looks the part, and (b) it’s quite pretty. To pull this off, I had to change history a bit. In real life, Sir Henry Meux (a rich brewer) bought1928 view of Dauntsey House's east face covered with ivy, and an ornamental garden and reflecting pool the estate in 1877. In Kate history, Baron Charles Gorham (Kate’s grandfather) bought it, and it’s stayed in the family since.

Auction notice for Dauntsey Manor, July 1913The 1913 auction notice describes Dauntsey Park and Dauntsey House as they were when Kate was a young girl. It was a sizable place: 5200 acres, with thirty tenant dairy farms and its own town (Dauntsey Green). The house had twenty bed and dressing rooms, three halls, five reception rooms, and stables for 27 horses. (The notice says “bathroom” [singular], which may be a typo, or may reflect the state of indoor plumbing in country houses in 1913.) The two 1928 photos show this grand pile with all its pieces still attached. This is the house that Kate and her brother Charlie grew up in.Elaborate plasterwork on the ceiling of the Dauntsey House parlor

I got to visit Dauntsey House in May of 2022. The present owner graciously showed me around and told me what she knew of the place’s more recent history. That auction notice? Apparently, the owner then had a flamboyant wife who was a circus performer and kept a training ring for elephants(!). (The neighbors didn’t approve, thus the sale.) Some of the 19th century decor still exists on the ground floor (see the photo of the ceiling).

St. James Church, a Norman/Gothic parish church next to Dauntsey House

The Neighborhood

Dauntsey House has its own parish church: St. James the Great, which is right next door. It dates from the 11th century and is still an active church. Be sure to check out the virtual tour of the church; it has one of the five surviving 14th century doom boards in England.

The Bristol Avon flows right past the west side of the house. A large terrace serves as the parking area and sometime event space. The part of the river next to the house was cleared and straightened in the 18th century as a millrace. The river north of the house has been leftA view of the Bristol Avon from the Dauntsey House terrace in its more natural state, with a pond surrounded by mature trees. Kate, her girlfriends, and Charlie and his friends swam in the pond in the summers (usually not at the same time), while the groundsmen caught eels and brown trout for supper.

A footbridge, pond, and trees along the Bristol Avon north of Dauntsey HouseKate left Dauntsey House after her marriage in February 1922, when she moved to Langley House (fictional but based on the real Sheldon Manor). She, her husband Phillip, and their son Michael visited Kate’s father and stepmother Sarah regularly until 1927, when her father disowned her for divorcing Phillip (a story for another time). As of Bluejay Rises (set in 1936), she hasn’t been in the place since late 1927.

The countryside around Dauntsey Park is green and quiet, with individual holdings divided by dry-fit stone walls or hedgerows. Rabbits and quail roam the fields and sometimes the roads. Those scenic country roads are narrow, twisty, full of blind corners, and absolutely terrifying to drive, but they look just like they do in Midsomer Murders.

 


Have questions? Have you been to northern Wiltshire? Do you know anything about Dauntsey Park’s history? Leave a comment!

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