Tennyson lived at Farringford, near Freshwater, with his wife, Emily, and their sons, Hallam and Lionel, from 1853 to his death in 1892. (Lionel died in 1886; Emily and Hallam outlived Alfred.) Shown at left: Alfred and Emily Tennyson with their sons Lionel, left, and Hallam, right, in the garden at Farringford, May 1863; photograph by Oscar Gustave Rejlander.
Among the writers, artists, politicians, and philosophers who visited Tennyson there were Prince Albert, Edward Lear, Charles Dodgson, Frederic Denison Maurice, William Allingham, Helen Allingham, Thoby Prinsep, Henry Irving, Ellen Terry, Bram Stoker, George Frederic Watts, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Julia Margaret Cameron (whose own home, Dimbola Lodge, was nearby) and many, many others.
Major restoration work on Farringford began last October and is expected to continue for the next year to 18 months, according to Rebecca FitzGerald, who with Martin Beisly, international director of Victorian & Impressionist Pictures at Christie's, bought the property four years ago.
“Our intention is to return the house as much as practically possible to how it was when Tennyson lived here. The library was the first room to be fully restored. Farringford has been a hotel since the mid 1940s and was in a state of considerable disrepair when we took it on in January 2006.
"However, to our delight we have uncovered original flagstones, working shutters, and plastered-over staircases and bookshelves fitted in the original study on the top floor. We are carefully stripping back layers of wallpaper and paint and discovering the original paint colour beneath, and we have a fair idea of how the house was furnished and the furniture arranged.” (Shown below: Tennyson's library at Farringford in 1892, with dog, writing desk, and other furniture; drawing by W. Binscombe Gardner.)
The house will be closed to all but a few private functions until completion, although 23 self-catering cottages on the property are available to rent with a minimum stay of two nights. Nine have full central heating. Five also have wood burning stoves and therefore can be rented throughout the year. The new Garden Restaurant serves both guests and visitors all year, using local and seasonal produce including vegetables from the kitchen garden. A wood-fired oven is a beautiful feature in the dining room.
"Guests staying in our self-catering accommodation have full use of the grounds within the estate and enjoy direct access to Tennyson Down, which Tennyson walked daily with his dogs, and which so inspired his best-loved poems,” says FitzGerald. To book a cottage, call 01983 752500 or 01983 752700 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. More information is available online at www.farringford.co.uk.
Once opened the house will no longer be a hotel but an exclusive wedding venue that can also be reserved for private functions, conferences, and workshops, as well as weekend courses and retreats with an emphasis on the creative arts.
“The house will have four principal beautifully restored bedrooms where the bride, groom, and respective parents can stay, these being Alfred and Emily’s rooms and the two original guest rooms. We will take additional private bookings in the house for those looking for an exclusive, private country house experience, but principally for those with a keen interest in Tennyson. Our intention is to mount regular exhibitions, host concerts and poetry readings, and give regular tours.”
Tennyson at Farringford, a beautifully produced catalogue of the 2009 exhibition edited by the curator Veronica Franklin Gould with an introduction by Leonée Ormond, is also available. It can be ordered online here, by e-mail at email@example.com, or by calling 01983 752500 or 01983 752700.
The exterior of the house today:
And the library before restoration:
Farringford: Home of Alfred, Lord Tennyson