A journey into Clandon Park’s basement

The restaurant in the basement spaces at Clandon Park

Serving a variety of different purposes over the years and damaged to differing degrees by the fire, the basement spaces at Clandon Park have proved an interesting challenge. Our work to clear this area of the house has uncovered some wonderful finds and revealed previously unknown features.

Due to centuries of alterations and renovations, it’s difficult to definitively establish the original uses of some of these rooms. We do know that the historic kitchens were located here and, most recently, this area housed many of the utilities vital to a smooth running visitor attraction including the shop, restaurant and kitchens as well as the Surrey Infantry Museum.
 
The basement stretches across the entire footprint of the house, bisected by a long central corridor that ran the length of the building. As a result different areas were affected by the fire in different ways and to vastly differing degrees. At the southern end the damage was severe with the fire destroying all of the floors and roof structure above, leaving a huge debris field. The further north you travel the less dramatic the fire damage.
The scene that greeted us behind the basement doors on the morning after the fire
The basement corridor at Clandon Park shortly after the fire

Before we could get into the basement, we had to remove precarious timbers and brickwork from high up in the building, enabling safe access. The long corridor had been blocked when part of the Library floor collapsed under the weight of debris. I can still vividly remember opening the undamaged exterior doors from the North Courtyard for the first time and being greeted by an impenetrable pile of ash and timber.
 
My first time into the basement was through a window into an office – the only passable route at the time. It was an extremely eerie feeling as we walked through into the restaurant. Although months had passed since the fire, the tables, crockery, even a tub of ice cream, were left exactly as they had been by the visitors who’d been safely evacuated from the building. At the far end of the corridor, in rooms where the timber floors had burnt out above us, we were granted a troubling, but astonishing, view straight up through the building to the sight of clear blue sky.
" Although months had passed since the fire, the tables, the crockery, even a tub of ice cream, were left exactly as they had been by the visitors who’d been safely evacuated from the building."
- Nathan Buckell

A number of areas in the basement, including our shop and restaurant, were brick vaulted. A safety precaution built in from their previous incarnation as the house kitchens, these brilliantly designed vaulted ceilings have allowed the areas they sheltered to escape relatively unscathed. Located directly beneath the Marble Hall and Saloon, they’ve prevented any collapses and ensured the survival of the beautiful, historic marble floors in the important State Rooms on the ground floor of the house. Most of the tiled or flagstone floors in the basement have also survived extremely well and, now clear, they’re almost back to their original sheen.
Brilliantly designed brick vaulted ceilings in the restaurant
Brick vaulted ceilings in the restaurant at Clandon Park

Following our initial work to secure the structure, our focus has been on clearing the house. Archaeologists have helped us with the daunting task of separating debris from hidden collection items and elements of the historic building itself. Amongst the many things we’ve uncovered during this work were dozens of the heavy weights which balanced the sash windows. Once hidden behind wood panelling and shutters, these solid lead or cast iron weights follow a variety of designs depending on their date, with each weighing about 5kg. Many of the windows in the basement date from the construction of the house in the 1720s, whilst those on the upper floors were replaced around 1810 for more fashionable ones with thin metal glazing bars.
 
Although this area would've been used by the Onslow family, it was mostly the domain of the servants. We're very pleased that the large painted board that governed the behaviour of Clandon’s servants titled ‘Rules to be Observed in this Hall’ was also salvaged.
Fixtures and fittings belonging to the windows have been recovered from the debris
Window fixtures and fittings from the basement at Clandon Park

We’re continuing to learn more about these spaces. In the north-east corner of the basement, the only area to feature floorboards, the timber has burnt away revealing a complex network of brick-lined drains and gullies embedded in a compacted crushed chalk floor. Some of these drains cut through each other suggesting they’ve been used and replaced over an extended period. Their purpose remains unclear but they could be disused remnants from an earlier building on the site. Further careful excavation will be required to examine how the features relate to each other and to retrieve samples for analysis.
 
The next step for the treatment of these spaces is simply patience. Now that the area is cleared we’re letting the structure dry out naturally to avoid any further damage, whilst we begin to record all of the elements which have been exposed so that we can continue to learn more about the building and its history.
Video

Journey into the basement with our House Manager

Here you can follow Claire Nodder, our House Manager and Assistant Conservation Lead, as she guides us through the basement corridor into the brick vaulted restaurant, and hear her thoughts on entering these spaces for the first time since the fire.