Viva Vivat

There are many agencies and organizations that rent houses, apartments or villas for vacation throughout the world, but none that I am aware of quite like the Vivat Trust. Established in 1981, it is small and not terribly well known, but it should be. This worthy British association takes small historic buildings that no one either wants or can afford to keep, restores them with grants from trusts and foundations and then rents them out as high end holiday accommodations. The income then covers running and maintenance costs.

Founded by a group of architects and surveyors from Bristol, their first restoration was of the Summer House at Eyton-on-Severn, Shropshire built in 1595. Frances Lloyd, the original and long standing Trust Director, who has since retired, described their first project. “It was a labour of love. A lot of the work was done by the trustees and their wives. And they started with no money.”

Summerhouse is a rare surviving example of an Elizabethan banqueting tower (did you even know there was such a thing?). It is comprised of two connected octagons. The larger one is the living space and the smaller contains an oak spiral staircase which leads up to a viewing platform, where there are beautiful views of the Shropshire countryside.

And lest you wonder if these houses are comfortable for contemporary travelers, all trust properties have been modernized with TV, DVD player and CD player plus fully equipped kitchens.

There are properties all over Britain and a stay at any of these charming homes could easily be tied in with a trip to nearby locations.

One of my favorite properties is Cloister House. One of the trust’s larger acquisitions, it is furnished in Georgian style and even has an attic games room with a pool table. Built in 1815 on the grounds of Melrose Abbey, it is 39 miles from Edinburgh where you could also explore local Border towns and their abbeys.

In the middle of the English countryside, in Herefordshire, is The Folly. A charming cottage, it is adjacent to the Laskett Garden, the largest private formal garden to be created in England since 1945. It resides on the grounds of the Laskett, the home of Sir Roy Strong, a Vivat Trust patron who has been Director of both the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum as well as having published widely on English history and civilization. Who knows, you might even be invited for tea.

North Lees Hall in Derbyshire is a 16th century tower house in the heart of the Peak District National Park. Thirteen miles from Sheffield and near such historic attractions as Chatsworth and Haddon Hall, it is believed to have been the inspiration for Thornfield Hall, Mr. Rochester’s house in Jane Eyre. It is known that Charlotte Bronte paid several visits to the house and the name is a variation of Thornfield: ‘thorn’ is an anagram of ‘north’ and ‘field’ stems from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘leah’, later ‘lee’, meaning woodland glade or field – fascinating, no? There was even a legend of a mad woman at North Lees, who supposedly died in fire. Not to mention that the Eyres were actually a local family who lived at North Lees for two generations in the 15th century and then again from 1750-1882. I love these sorts of historical puzzles. The house is attributed to Robert Smythson, one of the country’s first practicing architects.

When work started, the hall was totally derelict. Luckily pictures from 1904 were available to use in the reconstruction of the beautiful and historic decorative plaster ceiling which had collapsed.

These appealing properties, now all financially self sufficient thanks to Vivat, are restored to maintain the integrity of the original buildings. They “use architects who have the most sympathetic rapport with the buildings” employing traditional techniques and materials as well as local craftsmen whenever possible. They are then furnished with finds from auction houses and donations from such companies as Mulberry, Farrow and Ball, Wedgewood and Zoffany. I think you’ll agree that the results are fabulous. What better way to appreciate the qualities of the British countryside and historic past than to stay in one of these magnificent houses.

all photos courtesy of the Vivat Trust

65 thoughts on “Viva Vivat

  1. One of my all time favorite vacations was a month I spent in the English countryside, exploring the country. We stayed primarily in stately homes that had been converted into small hotels.

    I will definitely remember this post when I next plan a visit to the English countryside!

  2. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!! For telling us about this, how wonderful! I am going to look into this, they look fabulous and what a wondeful way to see England and support a worthy cause at the same time. Fabulous. Thank you for sharing and have a wonderful day.

  3. Wonderful post! And thanks for calling my attention to the Vivat Trust. We are travelling to England several times in the coming two years and I am excited to have another (gorgeous) option for accommodations. tIOx

  4. My mom lives in England and each year when I visit her we enjoy the countryside so much. Maybe next time I could stay in one of those amazing places. I love how they look and all the history behind. Magical! Happy Tuesday, my dear

  5. How do you know about all these fabulous things??? This is a fantasy vacation …. Thank you for sharing.

  6. This is definitely one for the travel files! We stayed in an apt in Paris last summer and having a place that felt like a home was so relaxing, especially with children.

    Thank you for sharing this incredible resource!

    • PPT – That sounds like a lovely vacation. This could be next on your list- perfect for going with the kids.

  7. I’m so excited. We are going to England in May. I am not planning the trip but am going to forward this info to my Mom and hope one of these fabulous places will fit into our plans. I wonder if other countries have something similar?

    • Oh Jeanette – what perfect timing. Wouldn’t that be fun. I have no idea if this exists elsewhere.

  8. Oh, I would love to stay in one of these homes in the English countryside. Can only imagine how fun that would be. I’m still sitting here drooling after that amazing staircase with the brick in the first house. thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Mona – Isn’t that staircase amazing? I’d love to stay as well – I’m living vicariously through my post!

  9. I love this on so many different levels. I find it so sad to come across a once grand home which is going to ruin. How wonderful to be able to stay at these historic residences and be a part of the effort to keep them in tact! Thank you for the tip “Q”!

  10. What timing! My husband and I are, as I type, noodling over a summer trip to the UK. You can bet we will be strolling through this site. Thank you for sharing, and for visiting Inspirational Sketchbook and leaving such a nice comment. Kindly, Roxanne

    • IS – My pleasure and so glad this is good timing for you. Perhaps you’ll have the opportunity to stay at one of these lovely houses.

  11. My Dear, thank you very much for visiting my blog and leaving a kind comment! I adored your Blog! This particular post made my day. I loved my months living in London. People at Candem College of English were not happy with me, for I was always lost in some pretty but distant corner of Britain exploring your fabulous land. You have a new follower, that’s for sure! Have a great day! XoXo

    • Hi McKenzie – Isn’t The Folly charming? I really think this would be the way to see the country!

    • PD – Yes, the Landmark Trust is a larger and better funded operation but I do believe that have helped this organization as well.

  12. Such a great way to procure history! Quite an astounding job by this group! Having a cup of tea would take on a whole different feel and meaning if had at the Cloister House, wouldn’t it?:-) XX

  13. This is such a great post! I find old houses too charming to not save this in my one-day-would-like-to-go file. A lot of my parents’ friends and neighbors in Czech have restored some really old farm homes and even with their updates I love seeing each home’s old “self” shining throughout because it is this type of history that should never be completely erased.

    • Hi pk – I think they’d be a wonderful place to stay to really experience the ambiance of the English countryside.

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