Or, the art of British country house interiors

April 27, 2013

Dorney Court

Dorney Court near Windsor has been the Palmer family home for over 450 years and is an excellent example of Tudor architecture [1]. 'Dorney' is the ancient word for 'island of bees,' and Dorney Court well-known for its honey which is still produced there today; additionally, the very first pineapple in England was grown at Dorney Court [2]. The house contains a large collection of family portraits, many of which can be seen in Sense and SensibilityJeeves and Wooster: Series Three, Episode Six (Comrade Bingo)Marple: The Body in the Library, and Marple: The Sittaford Mystery.

The paneled rooms and galleried hall of Dorney Court provide a fitting backdrop for period pieces looking for a country house with a more serious tone. Although the dining room and great hall of Dorney Court feel dark and somber, the presence of many family portraits adds a personal touch and livens up the space.

In the mid-18th century, British country house collection additions were directly linked to the Grand Tour and the influence of European old masters [3]. The wealthy British men who would tour Europe, particularly Italy, would then return to their country houses with sculptures and artworks they purchased on their journey. Oftentimes they would acquire recreations of paintings by old masters, although occasionally they would be duped into buying a fake. I believe the former is true of the portrait of Baldassare Castiglione displayed at Dorney Court; inspired by the evident artistic expertise of Raphael, the owner of Dorney Court likely commissioned or found a copy of the classic portrait with the intention of hanging it among the other portraits displayed in his country house.

 Jeeves and Wooster: Series Three, Episode Six (Comrade Bingo)

 Jeeves and Wooster: Series Three, Episode Six (Comrade Bingo)

Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione- Raphael, 1514

It is interesting to see the many portraits of Dorney Court displayed on linenfold dark wood paneling, which provides a unique backing in comparison to usual country house white walls or wallpapered rooms. Each panel has a rippled effect which evokes a cloth-like feel, creating a flowing backdrop for the country house's art collection [3].

 Jeeves and Wooster: Series Three, Episode Six (Comrade Bingo)

For grand country houses, the hall was an essential status symbol, further heightened by the display of family and royal portraits [4]. The Great Hall of Dorney Court is the heart of the house, as the room where the lord of the manor and his family would dine, as well as where visitors would be welcomed [5]. As the central greeting place for guests, the hall was expected to be dramatic and grandiose; Dorney Court fulfills both of these, with an impressive fireplace, rustic furniture and light fixtures, and paintings covering the walls. 

Marple: The Body in the Library

Sense and Sensibility

A portrait of Barbara Palmer, wife of Sir Roger Palmer and mistress of Charles II is prominently displayed in the Great Hall at Dorney Court [1]. Charles II often visited the Palmer's country house before Barbara and her husband separated. The Dorney Court portrait of Barbara Palmer is clearly modeled off of a c.1666 portrait by Lely that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Portrait of Barbara Palmer, Countess of Castlemaine, Duchess of Cleveland

Barbara Palmer (nee Villiers), Duchess of Cleveland- Lely, c.1666

Marple: The Sittaford Mystery

 Marple: The Body in the Library

The first pineapple grown in England was raised in the greenhouse at Dorney Court; this horticulturally significant event was so important that the pineapple itself was presented to Charles II in 1661 [1]. A stone pineapple is displayed in the Great Hall of Dorney court to commemorate the event. This pineapple can be seen below, in a view of the Great Hall not often captured in films.

While many country houses are updated with each passing architectural period, Dorney Court has retained its original Tudor feel; The Palmers resisted most urges to remodel, and so their brick and timbered manor house remains surrounded in an atmosphere of antiquity [5]. With twelve generations of family portraits bedecking its walls, Dorney Court presents a palpable sense of history, as a long-held family country home as well as a setting for the filming of several period pieces.


[1] The DiCamillo Companion to British & Irish Country Houses. “Dorney Court.” Accessed April 27, 2013. 
[2] Windsor & Maidenhead Tourist Information UK. “Dorney Court.” Accessed April 27, 2013. www.windsor.gov.uk/
[3] Musson, Jeremy. How to Read a Country House. London: Ebury Press, 2005.
[4] Gomme, A.H. Design and Plan in the Country House: from Castle Donjons to Palladian BoxesNew Haven: Yale 
                University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2008.
[5] Sproule, Anna, and Michael Pollard. The Country House Guide: Family Homes in the Historic Houses Association
                Topsfield, Massachusetts: Salem House Publishers, 1988.

1 comment:

  1. fascinating. I was just sifting my pics from my trip to dorney ct and had completely forgotten about the pineapple (already)... reminds me not to be tardy about writing up trips.