Country house near Banbury celebrates 75 years of being open to the public

This month, Upton House and Gardens will celebrate 75 years since it was given to the care of the National Trust, and its doors first opened to the public.
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The house, set high near Edgehill, between Stratford and Banbury, displays one of the finest National Trust collections of European paintings dating from the 14th to the 19th century and 18th-century English and French porcelain.

Built by landowner Sir Rushout Cullen in 1695, the house changed ownership several times before it was acquired by the Jewish philanthropist, collector, and chairman of the Shell Transport and Trading Company, Walter Samuel, the 2nd Viscount Bearsted (1885–1948), in 1927.

Lord Bearsted and his wife, Lady Dorothea, oversaw the remodelling of the historic house and its dramatic terrace gardens. In the 1930s, Upton was the family’s country retreat, where Lord Bearsted chose to keep his cherished and growing art collection.

The Long Gallery from near the Dining Room, with ceramic cabinets on the right.The Long Gallery from near the Dining Room, with ceramic cabinets on the right.
The Long Gallery from near the Dining Room, with ceramic cabinets on the right.

Michelle Leake, property curator at Upton House, said: "Upton was extensively remodelled by Lord Bearsted to create a series of modern galleries to display his paintings and porcelain.

"These were grouped by date and School, creating the effect of a public museum but combined with the comfort and ease of a modern country home."

With works by artists including Reynolds, Stubbs, Saenredam, Hogarth, Bosch, El Greco, and Gainsborough, by the end of his life, Lord Bearsted had assembled one of the finest private collections of paintings in England.

Lord Bearsted wanted the collection and gardens that he and his wife had created and loved to be kept intact for others to enjoy forever. So, in February 1948, he gave Upton House and his collection to the National Trust, which opened Upton’s doors to the public for the first time on July 24, 1948.

Thousands of visitors enjoy Upton House's vast art collection each year.Thousands of visitors enjoy Upton House's vast art collection each year.
Thousands of visitors enjoy Upton House's vast art collection each year.

The Banbury Guardian reported that "Nearly 100 people visited Upton House on Saturday when it was opened for the first time for public inspection since Lord Bearsted presented this munificent gift to the Nation".

Today, Upton House and Gardens welcomes visitors all year-round, and Lord Bearsted’s vision of the public being able to enjoy the treasured art gallery in a beautiful country house lives on.

Michelle said: "Upton was a weekend retreat for the Bearsteds, a place for leisure, relaxation, and social interaction. This created a distinctly intimate experience of art that can still be felt by contemporary audiences. Lots of visitors to the house report that it’s a lovely place to come and relax and be with family and friends while also having the opportunity to engage with such a significant collection of art."

The house now contains a pavilion café and gift shop located just 300 metres from the car park. The gardens are partially accessible to visitors with mobility impairments, with ramped access at the main garden entrance and sloped paths leading from the cafe.

A copy of the Banbury Guardian edition featuring the opening of Upton House.A copy of the Banbury Guardian edition featuring the opening of Upton House.
A copy of the Banbury Guardian edition featuring the opening of Upton House.

There is designated ‘disabled’ parking available, and a driver-assisted buggy transporting visitors from the car park to the house’s main entrance.

For more information, visit the house’s page on the National Trust website at https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/warwickshire/upton-house-and-gardens or follow the house's

social media @UptonHouseNT.

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