On the August Bank Holiday 2019, I visited Nymans House and Gardens. This beautiful National Trust property has a ruined manor house and extensive gardens.
I have always enjoyed visiting historical houses and gardens. When I worked for the National Trust many years ago at Wimpole, near Cambridge, Nymans was a property that I heard a lot about. I had always wanted to visit as I was told on many occasions about how lovely it was. Unfortunately, it is on the ‘wrong’ side of the M25 from Hertfordshire!
I have a friend who lives nearby and who had never been to a National Trust property before, so I jumped at the chance to go on Bank Holiday Monday.
Nymans was originally owned by the Messel family. The estate of 600 acres was bought in the late 19th century, and the current manor house was built in 1915.
Prior to World War II, the gardens were well known. In the 1930s, they were opened to the public regularly. The gardens had plant collections of camellias, rhododendrons, eucryphias and magnolias, and rare plants from the Himalayas and South America.
Unfortunately, there was a huge fire on 19th February 1947 which ruined the house. The fire was discovered by Col. Leonard Messel, who woke up when his bedroom filled with smoke (from this newspaper archive). It was partially rebuilt and became the home of Anne Messel and her second husband, the 6th Earl of Rosse.
After the death of Col Messel (Lady Rosse’s father and the owner of the house), Nymans was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1953 with 275 acres of land. Lady Rosse remained as the Garden Director. (The National Trust acquired most of its country houses around this time, due to high death duties.)
About my visit
I have been to a lot of National Trust sites and Nymans is one of my new favourites. The burned house is incredibly dramatic and makes it really unusual. I love seeing ruined buildings slowly going back to nature. (Unfortunately, we never got to the bottom of what caused the fire, so if anyone knows please let me know in the comments!)
The house feels very cozy inside and very much like a ‘regular house’ — it didn’t feel pretentious or like a museum. I could imagine it being lived in and enjoyed.
There was an art exhibition towards the back of the house by the artist Mariusz Kaldowski called A Different View. This featured beautiful watercolours from around the gardens, which were also available to purchase.
The gardens are beautiful: a mix of rolling hills, flower beds and lawns. It also has a croquet lawn, which visitors are welcome to use, and we saw a lot of families playing together.
We visited on a Bank Holiday so it was naturally busier than usual, but at no point did we feel crowded. The gardens are large enough that you can walk around in privacy. I loved exploring the different pathways around the gardens — there were lots of walkways and areas that felt secret and hidden away. (Secret gardens are most definitely my favourite gardens.)
Visit the National Trust website for up-to-date details of pricing and opening times.
Nymans has a large second-hand bookshop in a shed in the garden (‘shed’ makes it sound not very nice, but it is!). Proceeds from the book sales go towards the upkeep of the house and gardens.
There is of course a gift shop and a cafe (what National Trust property would be without cream teas?), though I recommend bringing a packed lunch with you as the prices in the cafe can be pricey.