When England's A La Ronde first came into the hands of the National Trust, its caretakers found a cache of 476 keys that it took them four years to match to all the doors, cupboards, secret cabinets, and trapdoors found in the home, which has a 16-sided exterior, and on the inside, entire walls decorated with seashells and feathers. The craft-shellacking was done by Jane and Mary Parminter, two cousins who commissioned the house in 1795 after returning to Britain at the conclusion of a decade-long Grand Tour of Europe and deciding to live together in a home inspired by their travels. The secret doors, on the other hand, were built in case the pair ever peered out their windows—which are spaced so that the two might move from room to room around the home, catching the sun at any time of day—to see invading French soldiers marching their way. Jane, the older of the two, tried to leave a similar failsafe in her will, this one having to do with legacy of the home. She expressed her desire that the house be kept in tact, but just as important, stipulated that it only be inhabited by unmarried kinswomen.
Sadly, Jane's wishes, hatched when the feminist movement in Great Britain was taking its very first steps, were only honored for a time. After she passed, the house went to another pair of cousins, then to a niece who signed over the house to her brother, one Oswald Reichel. When Reichel's wife eventually tried to cash in on the property's development potential, it was bought at auction by a Margaret Tudor, who promptly opened it up to the public. Which is why it's still around today, stocked with books bearing titles like The History of Beasts and The Gigantic History of Two Famous Giants, decorated with murals made from thousands of chicken feathers that remind one Guardian writer of Damien Hirst's butterfly paintings. Get a glimpse of A La Ronde below, in all its eccentric glory:
· At home with the first feminists … the eccentric Devon home built by women [The Guardian]
· All History Lessons posts [Curbed National]