Montacute in Somerset, is a village of exceptional interest. The buildings are almost entirely of golden coloured Ham Hill stone, including Montacute House, one of the finest Elizabethan houses in Britain. The village name is derived from St. Michael’s Hill, which overlooks the village. The ‘pointed hill’ in Latin is “mons acutus”, which in time, became Montacute. On top of the hill, is the Prospect Tower, a folly built in 1760.
Montacute House was built for Sir Edward Phelips by William Arnold, a Somerset mason, who completed it in 1601. Sir Edward Phelips, was an important lawyer who led the prosecution of Guy Fawkes in 1606. By 1604, Sir Edward had become Speaker of the House of Commons. Montacute House remained in possession of the Phelips family for over 300 years, until 1931, when it was bought for the National Trust. It had become valued ‘for scrap’ at only £5,882. Ernest Cook, grandson of Thomas Cook, the travel agent, generously funded the purchase.
The village is very attractive. Many of the cottages in Bishopston, the street which runs north from St. Catherine’s Church, date from the 18th century. They contrast with the village’s only thatched building, Monk’s House, built in the 15th century. The Borough is the village square, where the 18th century Phelips Arms pub and the Old Bakery still stand. Montacute Cottage and the Chantry date from the 16th century. Many of the cottages in South Street were weavers’ homes, when the glove trade flourished in the 18th century. The Church contains 15th and 16th century effigies of the Phelips family.
Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey, has written a new novel, “Belgravia”. It will be published in instalments in the way that many Victorian works were, with one chapter released each week as an e-book. The novel is set in the 19th century, during the Napoleonic Wars and involves the Trenchard family, which he has based on Montacute and the Phelips family, who built and lived there for over 300 years.