Two years and enormous progress at Clandon Park

The scenes of Clandon Park on fire are no less poignant today than they were on 29 April 2015. However, in the intervening two years, a dedicated project team, with the support of numerous volunteers, specialists, and contractors from around the country, and the world, have achieved so much.

The fire was devastating.  An architectural masterpiece and beautiful collection that the National Trust was proud to share with visitors was, in just a few short hours, left a smoking ruin.  The sense of loss felt by the local community, by National Trust staff and volunteers and many more across the world was huge. However, it was this strength of feeling that has channelled our dedication and determination to restore this magnificent house.

Facing a huge task

From that very first morning after the fire we began to plan the recovery and future of Clandon – protecting the salvaged collection, stabilising the house, assessing the damage, arranging contractors, recording what had been saved and mapping where we might find objects in the rubble, establishing who and how many people we needed, were just a few of the challenges faced.  

That planning on day one, and every day since, led to a fully operational salvage in ‘field’ conditions. The scale was enormous – 1160 sq m's filled with debris over 2m's high in places. Before we could even set foot in the house all high level debris had to be removed. Two enormous cranes allowed safe access to the inside of the house; removing huge timbers, melted lead and a jumble of metal and wires. Gradually, the process of clearance made way for temporary repair work to take place; delicate ornate plaster was held in place, fireplaces and ceilings were propped; all to avoid further damage. 

Archaeologists, had to follow the cranes into clear and safe areas. The Saloon was the first room they could access - one person at a time to start with, then when there was enough room, two people and so on.  Discoveries of collection items intact, such as the stoneware duck, were rewarding moments, giving us hope for what else we might find. 

Archaeologists in the State Bedroom at Clandon Park
Archaeologists in the State Bedroom at Clandon Park

While all this was going on, the huge task to scaffold the house began and by Christmas 2015, the house was protected from the elements by 31 miles of scaffolding. 

The building, now protected from rain and beginning to be cleared of debris, could start the long process of drying out. To avoid removing the temporary roof, the last clearance and protection work was carried out by a team of abseilers. Suspended from the temporary roof structure, they removed all the heavy stone treads from the Stone stairs and secured fireplaces that no longer had a floor beneath them.

The house was clear

A year after we first accessed the house it was clear of debris and the salvage operation was dismantled; an incredible achievement. We had filled 2,000 trays with fragments of plaster, marble, metalwork and ceramics, as well as countless other survivals. These discoveries provided us with the evidence that a restoration of the significant ground floor rooms was possible and appropriate.

Surviving plasterwork, Clandon Park
Surviving plasterwork, Clandon Park

With clear access to the house, we brought in specialists to analyse and record the building – every inch of the walls and floors were captured digitally, producing a comprehensive record of the building as it looks now – and indeed how it looked almost 300 years ago when the structure was last seen. 

A total of 22,000 images have been taken and drawings produced, showing the amazing quality of the brickwork and construction and design intricacies, such as hidden alcoves that the fire has revealed. 

We have removed and sent for conservation and safe storage wallpaper, lanterns, the state bed, pelmets and picture frames, protected the marble floors, and created a freestanding walkway to allow visitors to see the incredible survival inside the building and record their reactions on our “Thoughts Board.”

Carved and gilded picture frames from the Speakers’ Parlour and a Marble Hall lantern ready for conservation, Clandon Park
Carved and gilded picture frames from the Speakers’ Parlour and a Marble Hall lantern ready for conservation, Clandon Park

Thorough research and investigations currently taking place are providing us with an insight into Clandon previously unknown. We have discovered traces of the original Jacobean house, in the basement, and we now understand that the timbers used to build the house were felled in the Baltic in the winter of 1729, leading to a new understanding about when and how the house was built.

Conversation is shaping the future

Key to the planning of Clandon’s future has been the input of our neighbours, volunteers, experts from around the country, partners, staff and visitors.  We have listened to the views of hundreds of people and have carried out online surveys, focus groups and numerous tours and presentations.  This feedback and knowledge has resulted in a richer and deeper understanding of Clandon, as we brief architect teams for the design competition. 

The future looked bleak for Clandon, but two years of hard work driven by the encouragement and support of so many, leads us towards the creation of a renewed Clandon for future generations to enjoy.