Wilton House, Salisbury – October 2019

Invicta Car Club visit

Wilton House, Salisbury
October 2019

Invicta Car Club Visit

In October 2019 The Invicta Car Club enjoyed a much anticipated visit to Wilton House, the magnificent ancestral home of the Earls of Pembroke, and the venue for the club’s Autumn gathering.  Our host was the present Earl of Pembroke, who is the proud possessor of an Invicta S type – one of the ex-Raymond Mays cars, that was for so many years owned by our late Archivist Duncan McGregor. The Earl of Pembroke hereafter referred to as Will (Pembroke) had invited us to see his car collection, and had also offered to give us a private tour of the house. 

As we arrived the cars swept up to the arched and gated entrance of the house to be met by a guardian who instructed us to drive around the full sweep of the gravel drive, past the front door and back almost to where we had come in. The cars were then parked in a presentation line-up whilst their occupants were directed to the old indoor riding school for coffee and pastries, not to mention a viewing of Will’s “modest” car collection of which his white low chassis S type Invicta was the pride of the floor.  Other cars included a very impressive Mercedes Gullwing, a Jaguar E type, and various more from a Datsun 240Z to a WW2 Jeep.

By mid-morning there were 35 people in attendance, and the selection of club members cars parked round the Fountain Courtyard included ten Invictas, one Alvis, one SS100 and a vintage Avions Voisin. The cars were then marshalled into a semi-circle and once Will had driven his white Invicta out it took pride of place with Alan Brown’s white sister car, the ‘India Tyre Co’ S type which had been Raymond Mays first Invicta, and an instruction was given for owners to stand by their cars for the “official” photograph by photographer Stuart Freeman.

Will then gathered everyone together and proceeded to conduct us around the exterior of the house, explaining as we went both the history of the family over the last 400 years and the story of the house involving construction, demolition, fire and additions over the centuries. The first recorded building on the site was an abbey dating back to around 870, and Will told us that his ancestor William Herbert was first granted the estate by Henry VIII, and immediately began to transform the deserted abbey into a fine house. The oldest part of the existing house – the Tudor centre section – was built in 1551. It had been thought that the old abbey had been completely demolished, but interestingly when some renovation took place after the Second World War traces of the old abbey were found under the existing walls.

Aside from the house the wonderful Palladian bridge over the River Nadder is the original for a number of copies both in the UK at Stowe and as far afield as Russia. It was designed around 1736 by the 9th Earl of Pembroke himself, and is a truly stunning piece of architecture.

Will then led us into the house and the effect was just overwhelming, not just the scale and quality of the restoration and maintenance that such a house entails but also the treasures that the family possesses, whilst not forgetting that this is a private house! Every room contains pictures that would easily grace the galleries of a National Collection. Will pointed out one of Wilton’s most famous treasures – Rembrandt’s painting of his Mother. The portrait was actually stolen from the house some years ago and only recovered and returned several years later.

We also saw the Smoking Room which houses the famous Chippendale violin bookcase, but the highlight of the tour had to be the Single Cube Room (30 foot long x 30 foot high x 30 foot wide) and the Double Cube Room (60 foot long x 30 foot high and 30 foot wide) which were breath taking, with fabulously decorated ceilings and beautiful paintings adorning the walls. The huge Van Dyck painting of Philip Herbert, the 4th Earl of Pembroke with his family, takes up almost an entire wall.

There was so much to look at inside the house, with literally hundreds of paintings by so many different artists, such as Rubens and Reynolds, that it was quite difficult to take it all in!

After the tour had finished, we walked back through the assembled Invictas’ and out of the wrought iron gates where we headed the short distance to Wilton market square and The Greyhound Inn to review the experience and enjoy a “ploughman’s lunch” that any self-respecting ploughman would have been a little overwhelmed by.

Eventually, everyone wandered back to the Fountain Courtyard and chatted and looked again at the line-up of Invictas and the other fine vehicles in attendance, before people started to make their way home after what had been a truly excellent Invicta Car Club event and a very memorable day for all who attended.