A La Ronde

Summer Lane
United Kingdom
Telephone: 01392 265514

This unusual National Trust property is 16 sided, dates from the 1790s and has a unique indoor upstairs grotto.

Supposedly inspired by the basilica San Vitale in Rome the A La Ronde is a hexakaidecagonal building. More likely is that the inspiration came from the tower in Raphael's "The Marriage of the Virgin" painting. A La Ronde was created by two sisters, Mary and Jane Parminter and their family occupied the premises for two centuries. The sisters had been on a Grand Tour of Europe and much of their inspiration was likely gained from this experience. The architect who designed A la Ronde is generally thought to be John Lowder (1781 - 1829), a young aspiring architect operating around Bath and a relative of the owners.

Picture - Parminter family arms

In 1935 the building was first opened to the public by the descendants of Mary and Jane Parminter. In the two centuries of occupation the building has acquired not only decoration and features but also contents reflecting the unusual tastes of the creators and subsequent decedents. Much of this can still be seen today, including the collection of 25,000 shells.

Picture - shell fireplace

A gradual process of conservation and restoration has resulted in substantial improvements to the quality of the contents and building over the years. Examples of the Parminter's decorative craftsmanship using feathers, paper, moss, seaweed and glass are readily apparent. Late Victorian alterations to the building included the addition of nine dormer windows in the formerly thatched roof, thereafter replaced with tiles. In addition six rectangular windows were added at ground floor level. This and other modernisations were carried out by Rev. Oswald Reichel, the only male owner of the house ever.

Picture - the grotto shell gallery

The building is four storeys high and the grotto or shell gallery is located in the top storey where there is also an outside viewing walkway. The central octagon or core of the house looks up to the grotto which is styled around a circular walkway inside the roof with windows looking out. The windows give a superb view across the Exe estuary. The decoration of the octagon reflects an under sea cave with the shell galleries above.

Picture - the George III crown above the entrance to the Shell Gallery painted by the Parminters

The reason for the main shell gallery being indoors was that the ladies preferred an easily accessible grotto rather than one in the farthest corner of the grounds. In addition secondary Gothic grottoes are located in alcoves on the stairway up. Despite centuries of wear and tear the grotto decoration and displays are in extraordinary good condition although repairs are on-going. Visitors are not generally permitted to the shell galleries but these can be viewed downstairs using imaging on a screen.

Picture - windows with a view of the Exe

The National Trust took over the house and 4 hectares of land in 1991.

Email: alaronde@nationaltrust.org.uk (click here to send an email)

Website: Click Here


Directions: Two miles north of Exmouth on the A376 road.




Click to go to Grotto.Directory home page


Open set times only


Access by Road, Access on Foot, Disabled Access, Entry Fee, Grottoes - more than one, Restaurant/Food, Toilets


Inland Water, National Trust Property, Rural


England - Southern


+Cared for and maintained in good condition, +Crystals and/or minerals, either natural or simulated, +External rock structures, either real or simulated, +Fossils and/or shells incorporated into the decor, +Stunning setting and location, +Viewing points from within to an intriguing landscape outside, GRADED SIX

(C)Copyright The Spas Research Fellowship. To contact the SRF, email: srf@thespas.co.uk or mail to: Tower House, Tower Road, Tadworth, Surrey. KT20 5QY. UK