On the banks of River Kennett, Wiltshire, sits an Elizabethan country house. You might know Littlecote if you enjoy fly fishing or, if you’re interested in civil war re-enactments – it possesses a unique Cromwellian Chapel and an outstanding Roundhead armoury. Above all, however, Littlecote is known for the many mysteries that shroud it: colourful ghost sightings, a cursed elm tree, tales of tragedies and many puzzling local legends inflect its knotty history.
One such legend, that of Littlecote’s Dutch parlour, is widely considered true. The ceiling and wood-panelled walls of this room are covered in paintings believed to be the work of Dutch sailors, captured and held at Littlecote during the second Anglo-Dutch war (1665-67).
It’s an intriguing story, but one that didn’t sit quite right with me when I first caught a glimpse of the wonderful room in a grainy photograph in the 1990s. I let those thoughts fall to the back of my mind until I visited Littlecote in 2020 and was once again puzzled by the style and date of the paintings. I had a hunch that the true story of the Dutch parlour paintings was far more impressive and important than the accepted origin legend of the sailors.