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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Devon

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A woman's touch in a man's world

A woman's touch

Shell Fireplace in the drawing room
© NTPL/Geoffrey Frosh
A la Ronde also boasts some spectacular decoration. The Parminters used everything from feathers and shells to stones and seaweed to decorate the interior. John Rolfe, custodian of A la Ronde, says it was "very much a DIY job"!

The shell-encrusted gallery above the octagon and the narrow, shell-lined, grotto-like staircase, which leads up to it, are particularly striking.

Such work was a popular pastime for leisured ladies in the 18th Century, but A la Ronde is one of the best examples of it to have survived in situ.

Detail of the shell gallery
The spinsters went to great lengths to keep A la Ronde in female hands, specifying in their will that it should only pass to unmarried female relatives. In almost 200 years, before the house was purchased by the National Trust in 1991, A la Ronde had only one male owner.

The cousins used their unmarried status to their advantage in a world where marriage was seen as the only acceptable career for wealthy women.

In designing and decorating such a unique house, Mary and Jane Parminter showed considerable independence for women of their time.

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