Visiting Wilton House in Salisbury England

England is glorious for travel––a country filled with beautiful landscapes and extraordinary stately homes.

As my husband and I began our research for a trip we bought an indispensible book recommended by friends: England's Thousand Best Houses by Simon Jenkins the current Chairman of The National Trust.

Jenkins calls Wilton House a Palladian palace with Inigo Jones and James Wyatt Interiors and describes it as follows: "Wilton is one of the greatests houses of England. The old nunnery was granted to a Welshman, William Herbert, by Henry Vlll in 1544....the house came with a huge estate of 46,000 acres and, eventually, the Earldom of Pembroke."

Wilton House was the first stop on our trip and it is magnificent!

Wilton House Salisbury, England

Wilton House in Salisbury, England

The current Earl is actually the 18th Earl of Pembroke and the 15th Earl of Montgomery. Before he married the current Countess of Pembroke, he gave an interesting interview in the New York Times.

Wilton House has a fascinating history.  Quoting the web site:

"Wilton House stands on the site of a ninth century nunnery founded by King Alfred. This, in turn, was replaced by a twelfth century Benedictine abbey which, with its surrounding lands, was surrendered at the time of the Dissolution of the monasteries, to King Henry Vlll, who gave them to William Herbert around 1542. Wilton House has remained in the family since that time and is the home of the Earl of Pembroke."

In the course of almost 500 years, there are stories too numerous to tell, however, I found three specific facts espeially interesting.  The first fact: King George lll and Queen Charlotte (for whom Charlottesville, Virginia and Charlotte, North Carolina are named) stayed at Wilton in 1778 to inspect British troops preparing to fight in the War for American Independence. The second fact:  Wilton House was the headquarters of the Allied Command during World War ll and this location was used to plan the D-Day invasion. The third fact: the ninth Earl of Pembroke was an architect and in 1737 built a magnificent Palladian Bridge that spans the River Nadder. This beautiful bridge was painted by Winston Churchill on numerous occasions and when we visited Chartwell, Churchill's home, we saw one of the renditions in his studio.

While I will leave an extensive description of the architectural history and magnificent works of art to other sources, I will describe some of what we saw in the reconstructed Victorian laundry.

As noted on a sign in the laundry building, Wilton House had a private laundry until 1960.  There is a display in the laundry building that includes equipment that has been re-assembled having been in use for almost one hundred years.  This equipment includes very tall drying closets that operate like verticle drawers.  They are located near the oven.  Given the damp English weather, these were very practical items as laundresses could not count on sunny, dry weather for out-door drying and the warmth of the oven provided heat to dry the laundry on these racks and heat for the heavy irons. 

Drying Closet in the Wilton House Laundry, Salisbury England

Drying Closets in the Wilton House Laundry

The sign in the laundry says "In 1939, the week's work included 200 tea cloths (boiled and ironed at Id each) and 40 sheets (at 3d each). When the family were on holiday, the laundry was often sent by rail from Scotland to be cleaned at Wilton."

While there was no specific information about laundry services for guests, there was a wicker basket on display, with the name CURZON on the front.  I assume that this was a laundry basket used during a visit by Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India or a member of his family.  

Laundry Basket at Wilton House used for Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India

A Painting of the Laundry Basket at Wilton House for Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India

The laundry also had a small store room displaying dresses and other Victorian clothing that was pristine white -- whiter than white -- and I am curious about the technique they used to keep this clothing so beautifully preserved.  I plan to contact the conservator of Wilton House to do more research and ask additional questions.

In short, if you are planning a trip to the United Kingdom and are interested in seeing an extraordinary stately home, Wilton House should be on your list.