PURBECK ARCADIA, Dunshay Manor & the Spencer Watsons
Few ancient manor houses enjoy a more beautiful setting than Dunshay. Built of warm Purbeck stone, it nestles amidst woodland on the southern slope of the Purbeck valley, reflecting the robust self-sufficiency of the Elizabethan yeomen farmers who built it.
Dunshay’s story mirrors five centuries of change. The surrounding land yielded the Purbeck marble for Salisbury Cathedral. The Civil War brought the sound of cannon. A century later Dunshay was bought by a Poole merchant grown wealthy on cod and clay. An unscrupulous military paymaster and MP called John Calcraft died in mid purchase, leaving his son to become Dunshay’s new owner. Their descendants retained Dunshay for over a century, leasing it to a succession of farmer tenants; the first of whom was Benjamin Jesty, pioneer of smallpox vaccination. After the First World War a Naval captain who dabbled in the occult was compelled to sell – due perhaps to post-war penury, gambling debts or blackmail.
Dunshay’s new owners, George and Hilda Spencer Watson, transformed Dunshay into the setting for a remarkable artistic Arcadia that endured for eighty years. George Spencer Watson was a distinguished portrait painter and RA whose paintings and watercolours of Purbeck reflect his pleasure in family life. His wife, Hilda, developed her own brand of dance and mime. Together, they redesigned the gardens, built studios and a small theatre. Their daughter Mary, danced from childhood in her mother’s company before turning to carving, becoming a successful and highly respected sculptor.
No one could be better qualified to tell Dunshay’s story than Ilay Cooper. He has lived in its grounds for a quarter of a century, allowing the inclusion of many previously unpublished illustrations.
Large format sewn paperback with flaps
200 pages + 16 pages colour plates