For some time past very extensive additions and improvements have been made to the house with a view to its occupation by the Hon. Edward Berkeley Portman, Lord Portman’s eldest son . . . No less than 150 men have for some months been employed on the work and they are likely be there for some time to come. Not only is the mansion being added to and improved, but the rooms are being re-decorated in beautiful style, and it is intended to place new grates in the apartments.
‘Fire at Hestercombe Near Taunton’, Somerset County Gazette, 29 September 1894
In July 1892, ‘Teddy’ Portman married Constance Mary Lawley, third daughter of the second Baron Wenlock and widow of Captain the Hon. E. Vesey, 9th Lancers. The young couple moved into Hestercombe House in December 1894, along with Mrs. Portman’s three sons by her first marriage. The re-decorated rooms that greeted them appear to have contained a suite of first floor bedrooms and dressing rooms that took their names from the floral wallpaper patterns that adorned their walls. A recently discovered furniture inventory, dated November 1908, mentions the rooms, each of which was named after a flower – possibly favourites of Mrs Portman: Cornflower Bedroom, Wisteria Room, Rose Room, Japonica Bedroom Over Hall, Japonica Dressing Room, Poppy Dressing Room and Poppy Bedroom. The contents of the two poppy themed rooms were described as follows:
Poppy dressing room
1 3’ 0” Iron and brass bedstead.
1 4’ 0” Mahogany Wardrobe and folding doors.
1 Stuffed Armchair
1 4’ 0” Dressing-table and drawers and mirror.
1 3’0” Mahogany Writing table.
1 3’ 6” Wash-stand and marble top.
1 Towel Rail.
1 Sofa with 1 end.
2 stuffed Armchairs.
1 3’ 4” Mahogany writing table.
1 3’ 0” Mahogany Folding table.
In July 2019, the wallpaper in the Poppy Bedroom was uncovered for the first time in over 60 years during repairs to eradicate dry rot. It had been papered over by the Somerset Fire Brigade in early 1954, during the six months of redecorating that had preceded the relocation of the fire brigade headquarters from Taunton to Hestercombe that year. ‘Every member of staff was required to give one day’s decorating experience – even the chief [W. H. Barrett] – to put the place in order’, recalled senior administrator, Douglas [‘Dougie’] Deere, in an interview in 1979. The Poppy Bedroom and adjoining Poppy Dressing Room were initially incorporated into a newly created self-contained flat for the Senior Station Officer (S. S. O.), but in 1985 the space was refitted once again, this time to serve as Fire Control, the communications centre for the Fire Brigade. Control remained in Room A142, as it became known, until 2012, when it was moved to the headquarters of the newly formed Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service in Exeter. The room is now part of Hestercombe’s Contemporary Art Gallery.