Back to life: the house where time stood still

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The Independent Online
One of England's most complete Jacobean houses opens to the public next week after a pounds 3.2m scheme to stop its decay turning into dereliction.

To say that the National Trust has "restored" Chastleton House, in north Oxfordshire, would be to belittle six years of sensitive work done by specialists and craftsmen. They used as light a touch as possible on the house which, until six years ago, was owned by the same family that bought it in 1602 from Robert Catesby, who was later the mastermind of the Gunpowder Plot.

Much of the furniture and fittings from that period are still at Chastleton, and, apart from the weathering of its Cotswold stone, the exterior of the house has barely changed. It stands by a 12th-century church, down narrow lanes wrapped in a gentle breath of decay.

Only one event of any significance occurred at Chastleton, but from it stemmed the family's poverty and, paradoxically, the house's preservation.

In 1651 Arthur Jones, the grandson of the man who bought the house from Catesby, fought alongside Charles I at the Battle of Worcester. After their defeat, Jones fled to the house and, with Cromwell's men in hot pursuit, hid in a secret room over the porch.

Having found Arthur's exhausted horse in the stable, the Commonwealth soldiers thought that they had their man cornered and demanded supper and a bed from Jones's wife, Sarah. She drugged their ale with laudanum, and, while they slept, Arthur escaped on one of his enemies' horses.

Arthur Jones celebrated the Restoration by planting two oak trees at Chastleton which still survive. However, the family never recovered financially from the fines imposed on them as Jacobite sympathisers.

When the trust took over the house with the aid of grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, snow blew from end to end of the barrel-vaulted Long Gallery, one of the finest rooms in England, and the furniture was beetle-infested. Even today, the tapping of the death watch beetle can still be heard in the timbers. In the gardens, lawns have been reinstated as they were when the rules of croquet were codified there in 1865.

The house and gardens will open on 9 September. There is a ticket system intended to limit numbers so that visitors can savour the timeless tranquillity which is Chastleton's special quality.

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