How we're opening up our roof conservation work for you to see

The Vyne rooftop walkway during a £5.4 million restoration project

Caring for the roofs of more than 300 historic buildings is no small task. Not so long ago this kind of work would have been done behind closed doors but now many of our places, including The Vyne in Hampshire and Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire, are bringing their roof projects into the open, showcasing the importance of conservation work and giving visitors a way to experience the properties from an entirely new angle.

Damaged by storms

It was on Christmas Eve 2013 that the weather finally got the better of The Vyne, a Grade I-listed mansion built by William, Lord Sandys, Henry VIII’s Lord Chamberlain. As storms battered the 500-year old Tudor house, rainwater started dripping through the ceiling of the Tapestry Room on the first floor, and our staff spring into action to save the house from disaster.

Now, more than three years on, The Vyne’s 1,600m2 roof is being made watertight once more in a momentous £5.4m project. All 71,000 tiles are being replaced, battens and leadwork fixed, teetering chimney stacks rebuilt and a new layer of insulation installed that will cut energy loss by over half.

Inspired by the restoration of Dyrham

Dyrham Park house had a new roof in 2015
Dyrham Park house in scaffolding while the roof is replaced

The Vyne is one of many roofing projects around the Trust at various stages of completion. The £3.8m HLF-supported project at Dyrham Park completed last July has influenced the way The Vyne team is tackling the challenge of such major and expensive repairs.

‘At the beginning of Dyrham’s project we were discussing ways to compensate for the loss of the wonderful view of the house while it was covered in a protective tent of plastic,’ says Eilidh Auckland, Dyrham’s House and Collections Manager.

" The architect came up with the idea of building a rooftop walkway open to the public, who were ferried up by goods lift"
- Eilidh Auckland, Dyrham’s House and Collections Manager

'Thanks to the lift we were the first Trust property to open roof access to all visitors, including those with mobility issues or prams.’

Viewing the conservation work on Dyrham's roof
Visitor viewing the conservation work on Dyrham's roof

The walkway became a huge draw and Dyrham had one of its busiest years ever in 2015/16, attracting 218,000 visitors. ‘The feedback from visitors was incredible. People were moved to tears and came back time and time again to see the progress on the roof,’ says Eilidh.

The Vyne is following suit. Later this year you’ll be able to go up on a 360-degree walkway built around the roof scaffolding. The viewing platform will take up to 80 visitors at any one time, and volunteers will be up on the roof to answer questions and provide interpretation while the craftspeople work.

A roof guide chats with a visitor on The Vyne's rooftop walkway
A roof guide chats with a visitor on The Vyne's rooftop walkway

Some of Dyrham’s fundraising ideas have also inspired The Vyne. At Dyrham, visitors signed the undersides of new slates, raising £80,000. ‘There were so many stories from the slate signing,’ says Eilidh. ‘Thousands of people signed, including school parties, well-known personalities such as Downton Abbey author Julian Fellowes, and a lot of people marking engagements, memorials and births.

Signed slates make up part of the new roof at Dyrham Park
Signed slates make up part of the new roof at Dyrham Park

'We also had a chute from the roof to a collection pot 90 feet below, which raised thousands of pounds and was popular with children and adults alike.’

At The Vyne, visitors will be able to inscribe handmade clay tiles for the new roof for £5, have fun launching a £1 coin down a chute from the roof and enjoy behind-the-scenes tours and talks on the Tudor period, with a Tudor themed trail for families.

Gaining a closer understanding of The Vyne

The Vyne roof project is pushing the boundaries in other ways, too. The property is collaborating with the University of Oxford’s Rock Breakdown Laboratory to analyse tiles and bricks taken down from the roof to assess their origins, their age and causes of damage. Starting in May, you’ll be able to peer into portable microscopes during monthly weekend visits by the Mobile Heritage Lab to see the results. These cutting edge analysis techniques will give a real insight into how old buildings were constructed.

This article has been adapted from an original article in the Summer 2017 issue of the National Trust Magazine.

Donate to The Vyne appeal

With your support we can repair the roof of the The Vyne and secure its future for everyone to enjoy

Houses we're working to save
Killerton, near Exeter, Devon, needs your help to raise 100K to help us care for Killerton

Killerton, Devon 

Killerton’s flat lead roof is letting in rainwater. This January work started on a £1m project to replace it, along with a damaged area of the pitched roof. Can you help us raise the final £100k needed to protect Killerton and its collection?

Brand new chimney pots sit atop of the repaired chimney stacks

Tredegar House, Newport 

In the Trust’s care since 2012, Tredegar was the home of the Morgan family for more than 500 years. Last year we removed nearly 600 litres of water leaking into attic rooms. A £1.3m project, supported by the Wolfson Foundation, has begun to replace 35 tonnes of Welsh slate on the roof.

Building work at Castle Drogo

Castle Drogo, Devon 

The Lutyens-designed house is in the midst of a five-year project, supported by HLF and the Wolfson Foundation, to make its flat roof watertight. A full 60,000m of masonry is being repointed, and 2,700 granite roof blocks are being removed, then reinstated to weatherproof the building.

Saved for future generations to enjoy
Looking towards Watersmeet House tea garden, river in forground trees in background

Watersmeet, Devon 

Originally a fishing lodge and romantic retreat on the banks of the East Lyn River, Watersmeet House has been a tearoom since 1901. In March the project to reroof the house with 4,300 new slate tiles was completed, thanks to the generous support of Watersmeet’s visitors.

A view into the corner of the roof designed by John Nash

Attingham Park, Shropshire 

The curved glazing to Attingham’s Picture Gallery roof has leaked since it was built in 1807, and a temporary 1970s solution was not effective. In 2013, we began a £1.4m project to conserve the glazing and install a protective glass roof over the original. The gallery reopened in 2016.