Re-opening the Sounding Chamber
From September, Cliveden’s newly conserved Sounding Chamber is re-opening to the public for very first time. This mysterious room is believed to be one of the oldest remaining spaces on the estate, but it's original purpose is still unknown. Clues from archived documents, hidden funnels and architectural acoustics lead us to believe the room was intended to be used to enjoy music. And, to celebrate the Sounding Chamber's re-opening and honour it's suggested musical past, we've commissioned British composer and musician Errollyn Wallen to release 'The Cliveden Suite'; a four piece sound installation inspired by the four women of Cliveden.
The Sounding Chamber
In 2012, we began the five-year, £6 million restoration project on the South Terrace and below Sounding Chamber, one of the only elements of the 17th century house to have survived two devastating fires. The complex nature of the work meant the Chamber's doors were closed to the public whilst the conservation project was undertaken. Now the extensive work is complete, we're inviting you to step through the gilded gates and discover the secrets of Cliveden's Sounding Chamber.
A Conservation Project
A bat abode
Before the first hi-vis could even be put on, work on the project had to come to a halt. The Sounding Chamber is a cave like structure, which is the ideal habitat for bats. In England all bat species, their breeding sites and resting places are fully protected by law, therefore any work on the Chamber had to be posponed whenever the bats decided to cosy up in the Terrace Ferneries.
Gilded Gates and Grilles return
In 1895 William Waldorf Astor commissioned Singers of Frome to produce lavish gold gates and grilles to adorn his show-piece South Terrace. Originally made from ironwork and then covered in 23¾ carat gold leaf, the gates and grilles sadly were not kept up to their intended splendour. In the many years following their installation they were simply painted over using gold imitation paint. Specialist blacksmiths discovered years of rust and corrosion had seriously damaged the design of the pieces and extensive repairs were needed. They repaired and reforged missing elements to match the original design and restored them to their original colour by re-applying 23¾ carat gold leaf. The gates and grilles can now be seen for miles around as they sit glimmering right at the heart of the house.
An extensive survey of the floor’s condition showed a large number of the floors stones had suffered cracking, sinking and dampness leading to instability and fragmentation, making costly repairs critical. The Cliveden Conservation Workshop began the process began by investigating the materials and condition of each and every stone – no simple task given its elaborate design. Though comprised of varying types of stone pavers arranged in different decorative patterns, the main material was identified as Devonian limestone – traditionally known as ‘marble’, although this isn’t strictly true in geological terms. The impressive central compass feature within the inner chamber appears to have been cut from a piece of ‘marble’ known as Red Ogwell, surrounded by a ring of black Pooil Vaaish from the Plymouth area. The work needed to conserve these pieces included: taking up and re-setting broken stones, filling losses with fine lime mortar, re-pointing over 40 linear metres of stone, and replacing two square metres of stone in the middle chamber, which have been missing since electricity was installed in the mid 20th century. Now the floor has been repaired and relayed, visitors can once again walk in the steps of the past.
A history of music
Part of the conservation project included removing damaged rendering from the walls. This process not only uncovered intricate brickwork, but the discovery of hidden light wells in the inner chamber ceiling. Suggestions for what the funnels were used for came pouring in, from the simple to the celestial, all theories were considered by the team. However, one theory stuck out, a suggestion that the funnels were designed to breathe music into another room of the house was most intriguing. The idea was supported by an archived sales inventory from 1849 which refers to the space as the ‘sounding room’, strongly indicating at this time it may have been used for music. The impressive acoustics of the domed space and the prevalence of lavish masques and balls around the time it was built also support the idea the room was used for musical performances.
" "The 2nd Duke of Buckingham built Cliveden at a time when lavish masques and balls were held. It would be tempting to imagine therefore that this room was intended to be used for musical recitals""
'Ghosts' - a 2016 sound installation
In 2016, as we marked Cliveden's 350th anniversary, we re-opened the chamber for the first time in 30 years. Contemporary sound artist Robin Rimbaud, alias Scanner, was commissioned to create a musical installation inside the Chamber to reflect Cliveden’s rich stories. Scanner said of his piece titled Ghosts: 'Music clearly played a key part in the sonic makeup of the building so I created a hypnotic background loop based on a piece of music by Vivaldi. This acts like a glue, holding the piece together, whilst elsewhere you hear elements of opera, Music Hall and even the audience awaiting a concert, chatting away, as the orchestra tunes up..."
The chamber was open for a limited time only and once the installation finished, the conservation picked back up and the gates to this room were once again closed to the public.
Continuing the legacy; 'The Cliveden Suite' - a 2018 sound installtion
Now the project is finally competed, we have commissioned renowned composer Errollyn Wallen to create four short pieces of music that together create The Cliveden Suite. Each piece of music from the suite is inspired by a former Lady of the house and is the next phase of Cliveden’s ‘Women and Power programme’. Visitors to Cliveden can hear Wallen’s recordings and visit the newly conserved Sounding Chamber from September. During this month Cliveden’s summer planting schemes are still be in place and the final blooms in the Rose Garden will be on show until they’re deadheaded for autumn.