With its undisturbed cobwebs, decades of dust, and peeling plaster, Chastleton House is like an authentic version of the fictional home of Miss Haversham in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.

Built for the wealthy wool merchant and MP Walter Jones between 1607 and 1612, the Cotswold property passed down his descendants for nearly four centuries. This line of succession spelt the demise, but also historic preservation of Chastleton House. The family had an unfortunate tendency to choose allegiance with the losing side in any civil unrest – first Royalists, supporting Charles II, then Jacobites.

Their subsequent downturn in fortunes meant they never had the money to make changes to the Jacobean property over the centuries – much to the delight of historians!

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Old Kitchen at Chastleton House Oxfordshire

The old kitchen at Chastleton House has barely changed since the house was built. The remains of a 17th century spit mechanism can still be seen above the fireplace

When Chastleton House was handed to the National Trust in its fragile state in 1991, it still contained much of its furniture and original contents. It was the Trust’s decision to preserve as much as possible the gradual air of decline, rather than restore the house, and tell the story of all 19 generations of the family who had lived there.

Our Guide: Sebastian Conway

chastleton house sebastian conway

Chastleton house and visitor operations manager

What do you know of the story of Chastleton House’s past?

Walter Jones built Chastleton House as a status symbol – to show how he had risen in social hierarchy from trade to Parliament. Seen from the south side the house has symmetrical grandeur, which was the style favoured by the fashionable elite of the day.

Chastleton house garden in summer oxfordshire

Walter Jones’s grandson Arthur, known as ‘the Cavalier’, fought for the Royalist forces in the English Civil War. There is a story of how he had to hide in a closet at Chastleton House over night, while Parliamentarian soldiers searched for him following the Battle of Worcester. The fines levied against him by Oliver Cromwell probably set in motion the family’s financial downfall.

The family always seemed to support the wrong side politically: fast forward 100 years and they were heavily involved in the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, as staunch Tories in support of bringing
a Stuart king back to the throne.

Subsequent generations were equally unlucky at making their fortunes. The house was tenanted to a family of tea plantation owners from 1897 to 1923, but they, too, caught the ‘Chastleton House bug’ and ended up completely bankrupt. It returned to the hands of the family, and with no money still to halt its decline, by 1991 was in a severe state of disrepair.

Chastleton house great hall oxfordshire

The Great Hall at Chastleton House, with its 18 foot trestle table. It is unlikely the family ever used the space much as such rooms were already unfashionable by the Jacobean period

How would you describe Chastleton House?

These different ages appear as you go from room to room. It’s like peeling an onion layer by layer, seeing how the different generations of the family have managed to make their mark on it. From the 17th century Great Hall or Long Gallery, through the White Parlour, which feels quite Victorian, to the Sheldon bedroom, with its 1950s white gloss painted wall panelling.

Chastleton house white parlour

The oak panelling in the White Parlour at Chastleton House was whitened in the 1850s, making it a favourite space of the ladies of the house

The corner of the Fettiplace Closet at Chastleton House, Oxfordshire

The Fettiplace Closet at Chastleton House is hung with floor-to-ceiling almost psychedelic flamestitched wall hangings, which feel contemporary, but in fact date from the 17th century 

Chastleton house great chamber oxfordshire

The Great Chamber has the grandest decoration in Chastleton House, with an ornately moulded plaster ceiling

A view towards the east window in the Long Gallery at Chastleton House Oxfordshire

The magnificent barrel vaulted Long Gallery, designed to impress, would have been used by the occupants to take exercise in the 17th century

What is interesting about the collection at Chastleton House?

There is a collection of some 6,000 objects going back over 400 years of the house. It is a real hotchpotch, ranging from priceless tapestries, furniture and art, including rare Jacobite glass associated with the Jacobite Rebellions of 1745 and 1790, through to the most wonderful everyday domestic objects.

If you took them out of Chastleton, many of the items wouldn’t be that significant, but they add  to the sense of spirit of the property and each takes you off on a different story path.

chastelton house servants room bells

The passage of time is clear to see as you tour around Chastleton House

Images © National Trust Images / Derek Pelling / John Bigelow Taylor

Visiting information:

Chastleton House is open Wednesday to Sunday, 1pm–5pm until Sunday 30 October.

Admission (house & garden): adult £10.50, child £5.50, family (2 adults, 3 children) £27.

Chastleton House, near Moreton-in-Marsh, Oxfordshire GL56 0SU. Tel: 01608 674981