Wilton House has been lived in by continuous generations for over 460 years; it is currently occupied by the Earl and Countess of Pembroke. The buildings and land were granted to Sir William Herbert in 1544 by Henry VIII and Wilton has since been linked to the political and artistic circles of England. The House first opened its doors to the general public on 1st May 1951 and has attracted visitors from across the globe.
Wilton House displays decades of history, architecture and art treasures, and is spread across 21 acres of gardens and parklands. The House used to stand on the site of a 9th century nunnery, founded by King Alfred, but this was replaced by a 12th century Benedictine abbey. It was around the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries that the House & Gardens were surrendered to King Henry VIII.
Around the year 1632, Isaac De Caus started a project that would transform the gardens to include a variety of water features reaching over 300 metres across the river. Plans were also made around this time to extend the house to match the dimensions of the garden. Due to a change in family fortunes, these plans were unfortunately heavily scaled down, resulting in the present size of the house.
A little later, in 1647, a fire broke out, damaging the interior of the south range. It was John Webb who completed the rebuilding of the house and his work has been greatly praised due to the widespread popularity of the Palladian style of architecture so often featured in the middle of the seventeenth century.
In 1737, the ninth Earl was the architect who built the Palladian Bridge stretching across the River Nadder and between 1801 and 1815, the eleventh Earl had cloisters designed on two levels as well as remodelling the north and west sides of the house, creating what is now the main entrance.
A major restoration project on the interior and exterior of the house was commissioned by the 17th Earl between 1987 and 1992. To celebrate the completion of the project, a new Coat of Arms was carved to replace the exceedingly eroded one on the inside of the Clock Tower.
Wilton House today
The estate is roughly one-third of the size it was in the 1870s, encompassing 14,000 acres of land spreading over the valleys of the Wylye and Nadder Rivers and Grovely Wood, the largest wood in the south of England. Due to the age of the property and its history, combined with the changes made during two World Wars, modern management techniques have been introduced to guarantee the long-term survival of the building and grounds.
Farming and the letting of farms and residential and commercial properties still form the traditional basis of the Estate’s business. However, recent years have seen the establishment of other tourist related retail operations. Salisbury Racecourse and South Wilts Golf Course are actually situated on the Estate.
Wilton House makes sure its farming practices fully reflect the need for food production, whilst incorporating organic farming of the in-hand beef and sheep and local conservation projects, to achieve a balanced farming economy.
The Estate is enormously involved with the community and currently runs the Michael Herbert Hall in conjunction with the Town Council of Wilton. The Estate also provides facilities for village halls and recreations grounds as well as the Wilton branch of Riding for the Disabled.
Wilton House offers a wide range of locations for cinema, television and stills photography, and has been welcoming film crews for years. The 14,000 acres of Wilton Estate provide spectacular state rooms and incredible landscaped parkland, an ideal backdrop for filming. A few films that have been shot on the Estate include Sense and Sensibility, The Madness of King George, Mrs. Brown, Pride and Prejudice and The Young Victoria.