Coughton Court, Warwickshire

This grand castellated building, with an imposing central gatehouse, has been home to a prominent Catholic family, the Throckmortons, since the beginning of the 15th century. The sizeable estate, just 18 miles south of Birmingham, contains many outbuildings, two churches, and a variety of gardens and alks, providing plenty of all-round interest. When the present house was first built for Sir George Throckmorton in the 1530s, it was planned around a courtyard but the east range, containing a Roman Catholic chapel, was burned to the ground by a Protestant mob in 1688 and was never re-erected. Now the colourfully planted courtyard has an open aspect across the lawned gardens leading down to the River Arrow, and the countryside beyond.

Structurally, Coughton Court has remained largely untouched since Sir George Throckmorton's time, although a few additions have been made over the years, and it was given an 18th century makeover following the damage sustained at the time of the Civil War. There is little documentation referring to the sympathetic and skilled work carried out at that time, but it has been suggested that John Carter was responsible, a man known to have had a rare understanding of the importance of preserving historic buildings. In any event, the symmetry of the front fašade in its golden-toned stonework is as delightful, if not in complete contrast, to the rear view showing the brick and half-timbered courtyard ranges with their gabled roofs and higgledy-piggledy appearance.

Renowned as a Catholic stronghold, it became a refuge for persecuted priests, and also became noted for its association with the Gunpowder Plot. In 1604, Sir George Throckmorton's grandson, Thomas, had left Coughton Court and rented it to one of his cousins. A year later it became the arena from where Thomas Throckmorton's nephew, Robert Catesby, led the unsuccessful plot with Guy Fawkes. An exhibition giving details of the plot, and its connections with Coughton Court, is housed in one of the stable yard buildings.

The entrance hall of the house is set in the gatehouse tower, and is slightly reminiscent of an ancient cathedral aisle with its ornate fan-vaulted ceiling springing from the bare stone walls. Then an elegant and modern-looking staircase changes the mood and provides a perfect place for exhibiting the collection of ancestral portraits. Remembering the devout Catholicism of the Throckmortons, it is not surprising to find an exquisite piece of veneered furniture known as the Mass Cabinet, which has always been in the family's ownership, and now sits in the little drawing room. Another family member is immortalised in the dining room where an old oak dole gate from Denny Convent hangs, with Elizabeth Throckmorton's name carved upon it. Somehow managing to survive the wave of defacement and destruction at the time of the Reformation, is a superbly carved 15th century alabaster tablet showing the Nativity.

Throughout the house, numerous religious artefacts are intermingled with family collections and heirlooms in well-decorated, finely furnished rooms. Although Coughton Court was transferred to the National Trust in 1946, the Throckmortons retained a 300 year lease, and the present family are still in residence, managing the house and continually developing gardens.


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