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Set in a secluded valley on the Dorset coast, Encombe lies at the end of a long drive that sinks through the steeply rising hills between the cliffs of Swyre and St. Albans Head. The present house was begun in 1734 by John Pitt, MP for Wareham, who is now thought to have been the architect. John Pitt was a cousin of William Pitt the Elder, who visited the house on a number of occasions.
The design is strikingly original and unusual for its date showing influences of Sir John Vanburgh and William Kent. It incorporates the shell of the earlier house inhabited by the Culliford family since 1552. John Pitt's cousin and friend, William Pitt the Elder, had happy memories of Encombe from his youth and in 1753 wrote of his sorrow that Government business and gout had prevented him returning to 'dear unknown, delightful, picturesque Encombe'.
John Scott, 1st Earl of Eldon (1751-1838) was Lord Chancellor in Pitt's administration when he bought Encombe in 1806. A major political figure in the early nineteenth-century, John Scott was the younger son of a successful coal-trader from Newcastle upon Tyne. Both he and his elder brother William went to Corpus Christi, Oxford. John started his career at the bar, but entered parliament in 1783, and was appointed Solicitor General and knighted in 1788. In 1793, he was promoted to Attorney-General, before being elevated to the Bench and the peerage, as Baron Eldon, in 1799. Eldon remained loyal to King George III during his recurrent bouts of mental illness; he is credited with drawing up the Regency Bill in 1789, which secured the king's authority by placing parliamentary restrictions on a regency. Referred to as 'the keeper of the king's conscience', Eldon was appointed Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain in 1801, a position that he held more or less continuously, under various administrations, until his retirement in 1827 at the age of seventy-six. Lord Eldon was created Viscount Encombe, of Encombe, Dorset, and Earl of Eldon, Co. Durham, by George IV in 1821.
John Scott was also a valued counsellor to George IV and was closely involved in the divorce proceedings against Caroline of Brunswick. His elder brother William, Baron of Stowell (1745-1836) was an eminent maritime lawyer, a fellow of University College and MP for Oxford University.
Eldon married Elizabeth, daughter of Aubone Surtees, a Newcastle banker in 1772, after eloping with her to Edinburgh. They had two sons and two daughters, one of whom, Elizabeth, eloped with George Repton, son of Humphry Repton, incurring the Earl's extreme displeasure. Forgetting his own youthful bravado, Eldon refused to receive his son-in-law for three years. They were reconciled, however, and Repton designed the chapel in Kingston which contains the 1st Earl's monument.
He was suceeded by his grandson John, 2nd Earl, who married the Hon. Louisa Duncombe, daughter of Charles, 1st Baron Feversham. John, 3rd Earl, suceeded in 1854 and lived until 1926, was responsible for employing Anthony Salvin to make alterations and additions to the house. Encombe passed at his death to his second son Sir Ernest Scott whose nephew Colonel Harold Scott inherited in 1953. The Scott family sold Encombe in 2002 and it is a result of the sale that the contents, which have been kept in store, are now offered here.