Clandon Park one year on: from caravan to conservation and beyond

A caravan in front of the house at Clandon Park

Twenty four hours was all it took for the fire at Clandon Park to damage and destroy centuries of artistry and craft skills. After a year of hard work, we’ve made huge strides but know that it will take many more before we can once again open our doors and invite visitors in to experience our ultimate goal, a remade Clandon.

Before the flames had even been extinguished a small team of experts was assembled. Together we’d take the first defining steps to make Clandon Park safe, start the salvage and clearance of the house, and begin thinking about what the future might hold.
A small team was put together immediately to begin to chart a course through the rubble
Debris and devastation in the Marble Hall immediately after the fire

Our small tightly-knit group drew from the wealth of expertise and specialisms within our organisation. Comprising a project lead, myself - a curator, conservators, archaeologists, building surveyors, communications consultants and finance experts, as well as the Clandon Park property team, we started to face the enormous task at hand. We quickly appointed external advisers. Structural engineers, enabling contractors, security teams, waste management teams and a conservation architect all came on board to help turn our plans into reality.
 
Despite the almost overwhelming support and good wishes of so many and the sustaining deliveries of cake, those early days were hard. There was no electricity, water or shelter, let alone an internet connection or loo. Finding somewhere dry to work presented a problem; starting in an open gazebo, we quickly upgraded from a marquee to a caravan on the gravel sweep and then to a nearby cottage. 
 
Whilst the fire had devastated all but a handful of rooms, the structure of the house remained solid giving us tremendous hope. However, the building still wasn’t safe to enter because of loose masonry, precarious timbers and dangling metal. Our contractors spent months working from crane baskets to clear this high level debris. Their painstaking work allowed archaeologists to safely enter the house, carefully excavating beautiful decorative plaster and objects that lay within the ash.
Teams spent months in crane baskets clearing enormous timbers and other debris
Contractors removing debris from Clandon Park

Alongside our work in the house, outdoors we were constructing a salvage village from which our team could direct operations. Scaffolders gradually engulfed the building to protect it from the elements and gardeners continued to tend the garden. Portakabins became bustling conservation studios where those amazing finds of porcelain and plaster could be assessed, cleaned and removed from site. We’ve also taken steps to conserve important features woven in to the fabric of the building like the Rysbrack fireplaces in the Marble Hall and organised complicated operations to rescue major collection items such as the State Bed.
 
The clearance of the house is now entering its final phase; we can once again walk across the familiar floors of the Marble Hall and Saloon, but looking up from the scarred basement to the bare brick walls of the Palladio Room will never lose the power to shock. The discoveries in the ash, and evidence revealed in the walls are helping us to build on our vision for the future. 
Dame Helen Ghosh stands in a cleared Marble Hall
Dame Helen Ghosh stands in a cleared Marble Hall

The coming months will see this future develop further as we embark on an exciting competition to select an architect who will help us breathe new life into this wonderful historic building. Cleaning and conservation work will continue apace away from the site, as recovered items receive specialist treatment so that they can one day be enjoyed again.
 
The Clandon Park restoration project represents one of the most significant and ambitious projects the National Trust has ever undertaken. The fire was shocking, but we now have the opportunity not only to show our respect for the heritage of the past, but also to create a new legacy for the future.
Video

Clandon one year on

A year on from the fire, hear from Project Curator Sophie Chessum about the work we’ve done and how the progress we’ve made has provided a clear vision for the future of our project.