Sophie Chessum

Project Curator, Clandon Park

Sophie Chessum - Project Curator

Prior to the fire Sophie led a team of National Trust conservation specialists and as a previous curator for Clandon Park she researched and wrote much of the Clandon Park guidebook. Since leading the emergency salvage operation she now advises on the significance and history of the house, its garden and wider setting and the collection.

Curator holding the stoneware duck

Having studied art history, I went on to specialise in the English country house; its setting, architecture and the history of its collections. Having been a curator at the National Trust for a number of significant properties, I continued as curator for Ham House in Richmond-upon-Thames whilst leading a team of conservation specialists.

Like so many, I arrived to help on the night of the fire, part of the huge emergency salvage operation. It was a grim experience for so many of us to have to stand by and watch the destruction of a place that was at once a home, an architectural masterpiece, a museum full of remarkable artefacts, and an extraordinary workplace.

I led the salvage and conservation response for the collection immediately after the fire. Once this was safely stored I could focus working with colleagues on the preservation of the historic fabric of the house. Since the emergency response and salvage phase ended, my role now involves advising on the significance and history of all aspects of the historic fabric, garden and collection.

The first five months after the fire were the most challenging. Planning the protection of the house whilst planning the excavation, processing and conserving the collection within the debris was enormously challenging in such extraordinary reactive circumstances. Thankfully I’m part of a supportive and resilient team; we’re well led and focused on our task, comfortable with the constant review and evolution that was necessary as circumstances, knowledge and information changed, hour by hour, day by day.

" Ultimately I’m excited to bring my family to visit a completed Clandon Park, a beautiful building full of beautiful things in a beautiful setting which is relevant and where its significance is understood."
- Sophie Chessum

Why is Clandon worth all this hard work and effort? The house is architecturally and historically very significant and this is recognised in its grade I listing. Clandon was given to the National Trust by the Countess of Iveagh for us to preserve, protect and share, so we have a legal and a moral obligation to preserve the house’s significance. The same applies to the collection - we're an accredited museum caring for rare and in some cases unique objects that relate to Clandon Park, its history, its past owners, and for those who generously lent objects to us so that we could share them.

As the salvage phase of our project has ended the next milestone for me is to prepare for and then brief a brilliant architect who will repair, restore and renew the house. Ultimately I’m excited to bring my family to visit a completed Clandon Park, a beautiful building full of beautiful things in a beautiful setting which is relevant, and where its significance is understood.

More articles from Sophie

Sophie Chessum encountering witch marks at Clandon Park

Witch marks discovered at Clandon Park

During our research since the fire, we’ve revealed a number of secrets hidden from view since Clandon Park was built almost 300 years ago. Most recently, we’ve uncovered a number of apotopaic marks, commonly known as witch marks. Surprising discoveries given the date that the mansion was built.

More on apotropaic marks at Clandon
The Speakers' Parlour before the fire at Clandon Park, Surrey

Uncovering layers of history at Clandon Park

The Speakers’ Parlour was the only room at Clandon Park to make it through the fire relatively unscathed and so, apart from tiny fragments, the historic wallpaper here was the only one to survive. Conservators have now carefully removed it for cleaning, and closer inspection by Project Curator Sophie Chessum has resulted in some interesting discoveries.

More on the wallpaper at Clandon
Archaeologists at work in the State Bedroom

Rescuing the State Bed from Clandon Park

The State Bed was one of the most important items in our collection, an iconic object emblematic of the Onslow family and of Clandon Park itself. Our project curator Sophie Chessum discusses this incredible survival story and charts our journey to rescue the bed from the house.

More on the State Bed
The Marble Hall at Clandon Park following the fire

Clandon Park’s Marble Hall ceiling

Suspended from the rafters above the Marble Hall, was the elaborate plaster ceiling attributed to the noted stuccoist Guiseppe Artari. During our salvage work, we’ve discovered thousands of plaster fragments giving us enough to eventually reconstruct those beautiful, ornate ceilings.

More on our stucco ceiling
Salvage experts at work in the Marble Hall

Marble Hall fireplaces survive at Clandon Park

A joyous discovery in the aftermath of the fire, the survival of the Rysbrack fireplaces and overmantel reliefs in the Marble Hall has sustained our optimism and helped to inform our vision for the future of the house.

More on the Marble Hall fireplaces
Curator holding the stoneware duck

Clandon Park: ducks and other animals

China objects are incredibly fragile aren't they? We've found that this isn't always the case. Our tiny stoneware duck, the first object to be found by our archaeologists when salvage began, experienced an extraordinary flight through fire.

More on our stoneware duck
A caravan in front of the house at Clandon Park

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

Following an immensely challenging year of hard work, we’ve made huge strides on the Clandon Park project. Find out more about the situation we found ourselves in during the early days, the strides we’ve made since April 2015, and our hopes for the future of the house and collection.

More on our remarkable year
The fire damaged Marble Hall

A Curator’s experience of the Clandon Park fire

Sophie Chessum, our project curator, tells us more about the fire at Clandon Park. Discover her experiences on the night of the fire and the work that she and the project team are now doing to safeguard the future of our house.

More from our project curator