On the West Walk of Salisbury’s Cathedral Close is the former home of British Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath.
The house is open to the public, and although its history goes back long before ‘Ted’ Heath moved here in 1985, there’s only really one reason that people come here to visit, and that’s to see where Sir Edward Heath KG MBE spent some of the happiest moments of his life.
From a fairly ordinary background, Ted managed to make himself an extraordinary life. He worked his way through university into the corridors of power and eventually to leader of the Conservative party, a post he held from 1965 until 1975.
In 1970 he became Prime Minister and for the next four years struggled to contain the demands of the trade unions, curtail The Troubles in Northern Ireland, and the aspirations of Margaret Thatcher – although he did manage to take Britain into the European Economic Community in 1973.
He probably won’t be remembered as one of Britain’s greatest Prime Ministers, but he had many attributes, and even though my politics were different to his, I always thought of him as a warm and compassionate human being. Talking to the volunteers around the house I don’t think I was alone in thinking that.
Looking back, I think that maybe his political views weren’t conservative enough for his fellow party members, and not far enough to the left to embrace the working population.
He was certainly successful in the hobbies he pursued though, and he was both an experienced yachtsman and accomplished musician.
As you step through the front door you’ll notice a room to the right that covers his love of sailing with paintings and models of his five ‘Morning Cloud’ boats
On the other side of the Entrance Hall is the Drawing Room which includes a Steinway Grand piano, on top of which are several framed photographs of him with famous people from around the world.
The Dining Room comes as a bit of a surprise – not in its layout, but in the eclectic names of the guests that he entertained. His arch rival in politics was Harold Wilson, and yet they were great friends. Other names included Sting, Princess Margaret, Bob Geldof and even John Cleese.
There was another side to Ted that I hadn’t realised until I walked into the Library. There was a small drinks table in the corner of the room with a bottle of wine on it signed by Peter Ustinov. I subsequently found out by talking to the room guide that he liked a drink and often visited some of the pubs in the area, and every so often invited the landlords of these pubs to a garden party, which I thought was a nice gesture.
Although the house isn’t really that big, it’s not possible to include everything about it here, but make sure you go upstairs to see his study which overlooks the garden.
His desk used to belong to David Lloyd George, but just like the rest of the house there are plenty of stories to listen to from the knowledgeable room guides.
For instance, there’s an innocuous looking plaster bust on a plinth which happens to be of Olga Peters, who I have to admit I’d never heard of. Her mother, Svetlana, commissioned Shenda Amery to make this bust, which she later gifted to Ted Heath.
Now, you’re probably thinking the same as I was at the time – so what?
Well, Svetlana Peters caused a stir in 1967 when she defected to the United States. It wasn’t just that she was a defector, she was Joseph Stalin’s only daughter.
So why did Svetlana gift the bust of her daughter to Ted Heath? Well according to the room guide Ted had a hand in helping Svetlana to defect. I don’t suppose we’ll ever know for sure, but this is what I like about Arundells, you never know what you’re going to come across.
The gardens should not be missed either. They reach down to the point where the rivers Adder and Avon meet and, looking back, the spire of Salisbury Cathedral stands majestically overlooking the house. It’s no wonder Ted thought it was such a wonderful place to live.
He lived here for 20 years until he died in 2005 and his ashes are interred in the Cathedral.
He is one of only a handful of British prime Ministers who never married, which attracted comments about his sexuality. Consequently, with no descendants to hand the house over to, it was given to a trust to allow visitors to come and see, what is basically a museum to Edward Heath.
Arundells has seasonal opening hours and currently costs £7 for self-guided tours from Saturday to Tuesday, and £10 for a guided tour on Wednesdays (July 2018).