IT is one of the most striking houses in Warwickshire, with links to Charles I, Jane Austen and Queen Victoria - but its owners say it is a “well-kept secret”.
Now they are hoping artists can help spark a revival of interest in Stoneleigh Abbey.
Four Leaf Clover, which runs events at the historic house, is launching a competition to draw or paint either the west wing or its 14th century gatehouse.
Simon Newton, who runs Four Leaf Clover, says the aim is to spread the word about the abbey.
He said: “The place is rather a well-kept secret at the moment and we really want local people to come and use it.
“We want them to bring a picnic, bring the dog and come and buy a cup of tea. It is so beautiful in the summer. Having lunch by the river and watching the cricket it’s just fantastic. It’s a quintessentially English background for doing other things.”
Founded by Cistercian monks in the 12th century, the abbey was dissolved by King Henry VIII in 1536 and bought by the first Lord Leigh, then Lord Mayor of London.
King Charles I stayed at the abbey in 1642 when the gates of Coventry were closed to him and the baroque West Wing was built between 1720 and 1726 by the third Lord Leigh, who commissioned Warwick architect Francis Smith after seeing Italian villas on a grand tour of Europe.
In 1806, the house passed to the Rev Thomas Leigh, a relative of Jane Austen, who is believed to have based descriptions in Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park on the house and its grounds.
Queen Victoria stayed at the house, and the room in which she slept has been restored to its condition at the time she visited.
But in 1960 a fire melted lead water tanks in the roof, badly damaging the saloon’s ornate plaster ceiling.
With age categories of under 16 and over 16, the winners’ work will be featured on postcards. Visitor manager Paula Cornwell will be one judge. She said: “It’s such an unusual site with all the different periods of architecture and the landscaping. Then there’s the Jane Austen connection that people aren’t aware of.”
Also judging will be artist Mark Kaiser, who confesses to wanting to paint the house himself. He said entries should have empathy and emotion, adding: “Some artistic flair is important but it doesn’t need to be realistic, it can just have spirit. You have to have pictures that look like somebody has enjoyed doing them.”
Pictures can be any size up to A1, in charcoal, pencil, watercolour, acrylic, oil or pastel. Entry is free and application forms are availablle from the ticket kiosk. The closing date will be September 29 and winners will be announced on October 10.