Hestercombe has a rich and diverse history. The first written record of the estate is from an Anglo–Saxon charter of 682 and the earliest remaining medieval feature of the house in a stone archway dating from about 1280. In 1391 the estate was acquired by Sir John Warre.
The house underwent a major makeover in the 1680s when under the ownership of Sir Francis Warre and again between 1725 and 1730 when his son-in-law John Bampfylde took down most of the medieval part of the house and re-fronted the west elevation creating a typical Georgian façade that still survives. In the years following his death in 1750 the famous landscape garden was created by his son and heir Coplestone Warre Bampfylde.
In 1872, after almost 500 years in the hands of the Warre family, the Hestercombe estate was purchased by the 1st Viscount Portman. Lord Portman gutted the house interior giving it an expensive Victorian facelift, including a porte cochere at the entrance (a covered area under which carriages could park) and an elaborate water tower, typical of the fashionable picturesque asymmetry of the day.
In 1895 a new wing was added to the rear of the 17th century Orangery which was then further extended eventually creating the courtyard that now forms the visitor centre. Used initially as stables the buildings contained a tack room, groom’s accommodation and a number of loose boxes, some of the fitting for which have been retained in what is now the Stables Cafe.
In 1904, the house was greatly embellished by the addition of the Formal Garden designed by Edwin Lutyens with planting schemes by Gertrude Jekyll. At this time, the Hon. Teddy Portman bought a matching pair of Cadillacs for himself and Mrs Portman. He built a garage with an inspection pit on the site of the present picnic terrace and a fine chauffeur’s cottage at the entrance to the courtyard – now housing the estate office. On the south wall above the porch is the Portman coat of arms incorporating the motto: A clean heart and a cheerful spirit.
After the death of Mrs Portman in 1951 the house was the headquarters of Somerset Fire Brigade for over 60 years before, in 2013, being acquired by the Hestercombe Gardens Trust from Somerset County Council through the community asset transfer scheme. The house, which was opened to the public for the first time in May 2014, now houses a contemporary art gallery, the Column Room Restaurant and a second hand bookshop.
The Hestercombe Gardens visitor centre opened in May 2005, made up of a low range of 17th century stone farm buildings with tiled roofs and brick detailing. The upper storey of the ticket office was built as a dovecote in the early 19th century and still contains nesting holes for pigeons.
The house was bought by the Hestercombe Trust in 2013 from Somerset County Council for a mere £1 and now has many uses, mainly as home to Hestercombe Gallery, a Second-hand Book Shop and the Column Room Restaurant and also as a functions and weddings venue.