5 Historic British Houses to See on Your Next Day Trip

Hughenden. A view of the North (entrance) Front of the Manor. Hughenden. A view of the North (entrance) Front of the Manor. The home of Benjamin Disraeli, from 1848 to his death in 1881. It was remodelled by the architect E.B. Lamb for Disraeli 1n 1862, © National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life,” or so goes 18th century English writer Samuel Johnson’s famous and oft-quoted adage. But if you’re looking for a taste of culture and history, you could try going a little further afield. You’ll see a bit of British countryside, and find some remarkable treasures off the usual beaten track.

The National Trust is the jewel in the crown of British heritage. The Trust maintains properties and gardens of historical and cultural significance throughout the United Kingdom, and owns over 300 historic houses across the country, with some structures dating back to the 11th century.

In addition to ancient castles and dramatic ruins, the National Trust properties offer a treat for collectors, as well as fans of history, art, architecture, and interior design through the ages. These houses are remarkable for décor that can transport you in time, as well as for the unique collections of art and objects which they house. They tell tales of loves and losses, bygone fashions and trends, eclectic and obsessive personalities, and events that have been etched into world history.

Although the breadth of houses owned and managed by the National Trust is enormous, our editors have chosen five properties from the Stuart (1603-1714), Georgian (1714-1830), Victorian (1837-1901), and 20th-Century Modernist (Art Deco and avant-garde architecture) eras that can be easily visited on a day trip from London.

Hughenden Manor, Buckinghamshire

Era: Victorian
How to get there: Train from Marylebone to High Wycombe, then a bus to Hughenden Manor (approx. 1 hour journey time)

Hughenden Manor is known for two things: It was the home of British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield (1804-1881), who was Queen Victoria’s favorite Prime Minister, and later, her friend and confidant. More recently, Hughenden has also earned a reputation as the secret location where maps were created for some of World War II’s most famous air raids.

Architecture & Décor

Hughenden. A view of the North (entrance) Front of the Manor. The home of Benjamin Disraeli, from 1848 to his death in 1881. It was remodelled by the architect E.B. Lamb for Disraeli 1n 1862, © National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus

Dramatic and gothic, the Manor’s exterior is a rare surviving example of work by the Victorian Royal Academician and architect, Edward Buckton Lamb. Inside, the house is just as decorative as it is personal and practical. Hughenden Manor more is a testament to lives lived, and the personalities that occupied the space than it is a museum assembled for public show.

The Drawing Room at Hughenden Manor, Buckinghamshire, home of prime minister Benjamin Disraeli between 1848 and 1881, © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Victorian interior is heavily evocative of the Disraelis and their era, with a warm, subdued color palette that includes mustard yellows, dusty terracottas, burgundy reds, and sage greens. Gilding and rich materials curtaining ceiling-to-floor windows create the sense of opulence for which the Victorians are known. Intricate brocades and patterns cover furniture, walls, and floors. A penchant for intricately block-printed wallpaper is one design legacy left behind by Victorian designers. At Hughenden Manor, wallpaper by makers of the day, including Frederick Crace & Son and Cole & Son (who still produce wallpaper today), can be found in the bedroom and dining room.

Look Out for These Collection Items

The Manor houses the Disraeli Collection – an internationally significant collection of Benjamin Disraeli’s personal furnishings, belongings, and effects. The Library at Hughenden features a significant book collection, including texts dating to the 1470s, and manuscripts belonging to a Pope. Many of the items in the library, as with the rest of the house, are gifts from Queen Victoria to Disraeli.

Left: The Library at Hughenden Manor, Buckinghamshire, home of prime minister Benjamin Disraeli between 1848 and 1881, © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel; Right: Detail of the black silk damask robe used by Disraeli as Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Bartolozzi Room at Hughenden Manor, © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Hughenden also offers some remarkable jewels, including a rarely displayed Garter sash and Jewel, granted to Disraeli following his success at the Congress of Berlin in 1878, and the necklace that belonged to Tiru Warq, Ethiopian Empress and wife of Tewodros II, who took his own life at the Battle of Magdala in 1868. Also on view is Disraeli’s Chancellor of the Exchequer’s robe. After quarrels with William Gladstone, who was to succeed him at Chancellor of the Exchequer, Disraeli took the robe to Hughenden rather than passing it on to Gladstone, as was the custom.

The Manor’s second life, as a secret war planning and map drawing station during World War II, was only revealed to the public in 2004. During Operation Hillside (Hillside was the codename for Hughenden reduce the chances of its location being discovered), the maps for the most famous raids of World War II were drawn in Hughenden’s ice house and cellars.

The Red House, Kent

Era: Victorian Arts & Crafts
How to get there: Train from London Bridge to Bexleyheath (approx. 40 mins)

The Red House was the only home commissioned and occupied by William Morris along with his wife, Janey. Today, Morris is best known for his textiles and prints, and his significant role in the British Arts and Crafts Movement.

It was the process of decorating and furnishing The Red House (having been unable to find anything he deemed sufficiently beautiful on the open market, Morris undertook the task himself), that inspired Morris and his friends to launch the design firm, Morris & Co. Some of Morris & Co.’s most famous designs remain under license to the London store, Liberty of London, which continues to sell Morris & Co. prints to this day.

The Red House was intended to be William and Janey Morris’ “forever home,” as the firm became more successful, Morris and his family needed to move closer to the business in London, and some of the decorative schemes at The Red House remain unfinished.

Architecture & Décor

The north front of Red House, London, © National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Morris’ friend and collaborator, Phillip Webb, designed the house to be ‘mediaeval in spirit,’ with towers and dining halls that complement Morris’ Chaucer-inspired paintings, embroideries and designs found in the interiors. Other Morris design devices to look out for include painted tiles and brightly stained glass.

Detail of the iconic Acanthus William Morris wallpaper at Wightwick Manor and Gardens, West Midlands, © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

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Left: Detail of ceiling at Red House, Kent, © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel; Right: “The Wedding Feast” mural in the Drawing Room at Red House, Kent, © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

When the Morrises moved away, they took the majority of their furniture and belongings with them. Nevertheless, examples remain of Pre-Raphaelite-style wall paintings by Morris’ other collaborators, such as Edward Burne-Jones and even a scene believed to have been drawn by Dante Gabriel Rosetti on a piece of Phillip Webb’s fixed furniture.

Upton House, Warwickshire

Era: Stuart exterior; Art Deco interior
How to get there:
Train from Marylebone to Banbury, then a bus (ask at Banbury station for details; approx. 2 hours)

Upton House is a  Stuart house, but with a surprise 1920s-style interior. The expansive House was originally built in 1695, commissioned by its owner, Sir Rushout Cullen, in traditional Stuart architectural style. It is best known for its interiors, which take visitors back in time to the building’s heyday, the late 1920s. At this time, the house was extensively remodeled and updated by the second Lord Bearsted, in order to house his growing collection of 15th and 16th century paintings, and it remains a testament to the sleek glamour of the Roaring Twenties still today.

Architecture & Décor

The south or garden front at Upton House, Warwickshire, with the balustraded terrace, and sweeping lawn below, © National Trust Images/Rupert Truman

The exterior of Upton House is recognizable by its Restoration-style architecture (also known as Carolean), marked by an emphasis on symmetry and advancing and receding planes.

Inside, the house tells a different story. The walls reflect the 1920s predilection for textured paint effects, made popular by an extended member of the Bearsted family and Basil Ionides, the designer of the new Savoy theatre in 1929. Though popular among art collectors of the day, few examples of the style remain today. Cartoonist Osbert Lancaster once described the aesthetic as “Curzon Street Baroque” (so dubbed after the fashionable central London street where such styles were popular).

Lady Bearsted’s stunning silver and red bathroom, which has been described as having a “certain film star quality,” is thought of as one of the most striking Art Deco interiors surviving from the 1920s.

The Art Deco bathroom at Upton House, Warwickshire, © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Look Out for These Collection Items

While the house’s furnishings, such as the Knole sofa (held together by tasseled cords – another trademark of the Curzon Street Baroque style) are collection items worth hunting down. The most remarkable pieces in the Upton House collection remain Lord Bearsted’s art collection, which includes masterpieces such as Pieter Bruegel’s Death of the Virgin and El Greco’s El Espolio, and porcelain including Sèvres and examples from most of the leading English factories of the time. A group of Chelsea figures, described passionately by the National Trust as “unrivaled,” are displayed in purpose-built cabinets in the Long Gallery.

One of the Knole sofas in the Picture Gallery at Upton House, Warwickshire, © National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Michelle Leake, Collections and Engagement Manager at Upton House says the aim of current visitor activities are to explore the way the house was remodelled “for the benefit of both the collection and the Bearsteds’ lifestyle.” Leake notes that by using “contemporary house and garden advice manuals and publications, we highlight how the house was adapted for the art collection. It’s been encouraging some interesting conversations about how to best display and view paintings – in a white-walled modern gallery space or in a more traditional gallery setting such as the National Gallery, from which Lord Bearsted took inspiration when he created his Picture Gallery.”

2 Willow Road, London

Era: Modernist
How to get there: Overground train to Hampstead Heath

If you don’t have the time to escape the capital then Hampstead Heath, arguably London’s greatest park, will satisfy any desire for greenery. And Ernő Goldfinger’s Modernist home, 2 Willow Road, will sate any appetite for architecture, period decor and living history.

Hungarian-born Goldfinger was one of the leading architects in London’s Modernist movement, and his Brutalist structures still define London’s skyline. 2 Willow Road was Goldfinger’s personal residence, and it’s said that his namesake (James Bond’s infamous nemesis) was so named because Ian Fleming protested the demolition of a number of pre-war properties to make way for the house.

Architecture & Décor

The street front of 1-3 Willow Road designed by Erno Goldfinger, © National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

Though inspired by the traditional Georgian terraced house, 2 Willow Road is a perfect example of the Modernist ethos; the building prioritizes function over form, and has been created with careful balance through clean lines that maximize space and light. Described by one writer as a “shrine to true modernism,” 2 Willow Road is unprepossessing, and a house built for a modest family. Bespoke mid-century modern furniture fills the space, with anglepoise lamps and deep brown teak fittings, parquet flooring tiles, and wooden wall panelling.

Entrance Hall at 2 Willow Road showing the opaque glass wall, © National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert


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“Standing Figures” by Henry Moore (1898-1986) from 2 Willow Road, © National Trust Images/Richard Holttum

Goldfinger collected art by his contemporaries, and the shelves and paneled walls are covered with works by Henry Moore, Max Ernst, and Bridget Riley.

Peckover House, Cambridgeshire

Era: Georgian
How to get there:
Train from London King’s Cross to Peterborough, then a bus to Horse Fair Bus Station (approx. 2 hours)

Peckover House, a beautiful Georgian merchant’s townhouse once owned by a Quaker family called the Peckovers, can be found in bucolic Cambridgeshire, approximately two hours from London. Because the Quaker way of life favors simplicity, the curators at National Trust chose to redecorate the house in order to create a more typically Georgian feel in its interior for today’s visitors.

Architecture & Décor

The back of the house at Peckover House and Garden, Cambridgeshire, © National Trust/ Ian Ward

The National Trust’s recreation of a typical Georgian interior provides a variety of decorative themes from the period: carved statuettes of Roman gods and goddesses; classical figures shown in profile and used on plasterwork, vases and urns; motifs including ribbons, garlands and husks; animal and mythical figures such as dolphins, sphinxes, griffins and satyrs, forming the bases or handles of objects. In terms of color scheme, the Georgians tended to favor pastels, especially pea-green, duck egg blue, mauve and pink.

The Drawing Room at Peckover House and Garden, Cambridgeshire, © National Trust/ Ian Ward

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One of the items in the collection that remains from the Peckover family is a fascinating Cabinet of Curiosities, known as a “Wunderkammer,” a collector’s cabinet containing additions from successive generations of the Peckover family from travels around Europe and North Africa. The famous surrealist proponent Roland Penrose whose grandfather, Lord Peckover, had owned Peckover House, fondly recalled his own curiosity over the cabinet – along with Peckover’s commands to “keep off dirty paws!”

The Cabinet of Curiosities in the Morning Room at Peckover House and Garden, Cambridgeshire, © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Treasures of British history can be found all over the country, and these National Trust properties are just one place to begin your adventures. So think about a day trip if you’re tired of London, but not at all tired of life.

Inspired by these elegant British interiors? Explore artwork in Freeman’s European Art & Old Masters auction (June 12), as well as fitting decorative art in upcoming auctions on Invaluable.