Only open to the public by invitation Wilmore House is home to a collection of contemporary art by emerging and established British artists.
email the curator: firstname.lastname@example.org
WILMORE HOUSE a history
This Suffolk manor is the family seat of the Earl of Wilmore and the
location of the newly discovered lost chapters of The Count of Monte Cristo.
Secretive and silent as it had always been, the grey stone shining in the moonlight of my dream, the mullioned windows reflecting the green lawns and the terrace. Time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls, nor the site itself, a jewel in the hollow of a hand.
Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca, 1938
Replaying the iconic first line in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Wilmore House like Manderlay is located through a set of filigree iron gates at the end of a meandering drive. The first sight of this imposing stately home touches what writer Michael Bracewell has called that ‘need within the psyche of Englishness to look back to an idealised past’. This grand mansion set in the Suffolk countryside within forty acres of gardens was originally the site of a medieval Benedictine abbey founded by Henry V in 1415. One of the last great abbeys to be built it was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539. For a time the house became crown property and was frequently used by Henry as a hunting lodge. In 1604, James I gifted the freehold of the property to the 1st Earl of Wilmore and it has remained the country seat of the Wilmore family ever since.
Many alterations have been made to the house over the centuries but it was not until the 1820s and 30s when more substantial improvements took place. A suite of rooms was furnished for the young Princess Victoria who often stayed at the house, calling it ‘my glittering secret, my diamond’. It was rumoured that the ‘secret’ she referred to was in fact her own passion for the flamboyant and handsome Earl of Wilmore (the 8th incumbent of the title). It was during his tenure that the now infamous art collection began. The Earl, who made many journeys abroad, had a keen eye for art and filled the house with the best examples of contemporary European art including paintings by Géricault and Delacroix.
During the First World War, the house became a rest home for recuperating soldiers including many from the Artists’ Rifles who numbered both Wilfred Owen and Paul Nash among their number. It was felt that the artistic atmosphere of Wilmore House would be conducive to their recuperation. But it was Siegfried Sassoon, who was sent here in 1917, who immortalised the house in his poem As Arcady Sleeps:
Our secret slumbers seep into these hallowed halls
As Arcady sleeps, Wilmore weeps
Sassoon loved the house as it reminded him of Weirleigh the neo-gothic mansion in Matfield, Kent where he grew up. ‘I am home again’ he wrote in his diary ‘safe in the arms of this great and peaceful bolt hole’.
Much of the historic art collection was sold in the 1880s to pay for emergency repairs, and in the mid twentieth century death duties and other taxes meant that the house’s future looked very bleak. Fortunes have however changed. with the exciting discovery of two lost chapters of Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo in the Wilmore library. This together with a fine contemporary collection of British art (including work by Dick Jewel, Pamela Golden, Margaret Diamond, Charles Avery, Ruby Cedar, Susan Collis, Anton Goldenstein and Alex Pearl) assembled by the current Lord Wilmore with money made from African diamond trading has thrust the house back into the cultural limelight.