The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Dorset – a bird’s eye view, Eastbury House

Photograph by Grahame Austin of Kitchenham Photography; text by Jo Draper

Eastbury House

Eastbury House

The Eastbury House of today is an unusual mansion – very plain, and somehow not looking 18th-century. In fact the building is plain and solid because it was originally part of the magnificent stables to Dorset’s largest house.

The huge Eastbury mansion was started in 1717 and took twenty-one years to build. Palatial was the usual description, and the main front was 570 feet across. Designed by the great architect Vanbrugh, the house was intended to impress. Hutchins, the county historian, described it as ‘one of the grandest and most superb in the county, and indeed in the kingdom’ in 1774. The house was built for George Doddington, who had somehow gained a huge fortune when Paymaster to the Navy. He left the project (and the fortune) to his nephew Bubb Doddington who completed it to the original plans. This huge house was on a new site, not part of a long-established estate like all other Dorset mansions. This was new money, and a lot of bling. Doubtless the Dorset gentry and aristocracy disapproved.

Trouble was, the house was too grand and too big, and no-one wanted it. Demolition was the only answer, but it took years and dynamite to remove it. This huge house ran at right angles to the surviving wing, from the corner of the path round the square lawn (centre foreground) and on out of the photograph. Originally the big block illustrated, with its central tower, was stables, and was longer at each end. It formed one side of the huge courtyard in front of the house. To the left, with a little drive leading up to it, is the original arched entrance to the stable yard, which has trees growing on top.

The two greensand buildings running parallel to the main one are first the two-storey coach house and behind further stables. The coach block has been shortened on the left; it originally ran as far as the wall with the archway. Mostly hidden in the trees (especially the copper beech) is the remains of the chapel to the house. The red-brick buildings in the background are 19th-century. There was another matching set of buildings, just like this one, on the opposite side of the courtyard in front of the house. This contained the kitchens, dairies, servants’ hall, brewery and laundry. All this has gone. The main house, the extensive gardens and kitchen block still survive as earthworks – a very recent sort of archaeology.

The stables survived the demolition and about 1800 they were made into a house, with a new wing built to connect the front block and coach house (centre in photograph). Thomas Wedgewood, son of the potter, lived here for five years from 1800. It was then purchased by James Farquharson, the famous huntsman, who used it for his hounds. This led to many poor jokes about Eastbury having gone to the dogs.

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