Introducing our remarkable collections

We look after one of the world's largest and most significant holdings of fine art and heritage objects – a treasure chest of history. No other organisation conserves such a range of heritage locations with buildings, contents, gardens and settings intact, nor provides such extensive public access.

Our places, our collections

Many works of art, furniture and other objects in the collections were commissioned, acquired and accumulated by country house owners over many centuries, as contemporary furnishings and as dazzling displays.

Frequently these were conscious creations - personal statements of taste, patronage, lineage and social status. High fashion, design and superb craftsmanship were the order of the day.

But not all places are grand treasure houses. Many are small and not at all ostentatious, with deep personal associations, sometimes with an individual writer, politician, architect, poet or composer.

Every object tells a story

Our collections offer you the chance to uncover a broad spectrum of social, political, scientific and industrial histories. The lives and occupations of former inhabitants of our places are quietly evoked, illuminated by their surviving personal treasures.

Many historic libraries also survive remarkably intact, conjuring a special atmosphere of personal study and reflection. They range from those of wealthy collectors to those formed with more practical and provincial ambitions. Some were formed by literary giants, such as the writers Rudyard Kipling and George Bernard Shaw.

Art from far flung corners

Works of art and objects originate from many places and times, from ancient Egypt and Greece, China and India, and of course Britain and Europe.

Archaeological sites in Britain tell stories that are thousands of years old, through surviving artefacts, structures and landscape features.

Something for everyone

Special collections, displays and ever-changing exhibitions can now be enjoyed at more places, inviting discovery of the full extent of our holdings.

With close to a million objects – from Samurai armour to a Rembrandt self-portrait, from Chippendale furniture to an exquisite pietre dure cabinet – there is no shortage of choice.

Explore some of the highlights from our collections
Paolo and Francesca by Richard Westmacott III, RA

Romance in our collections 

Discover tales of love and romance in our collections, from sculptures of doomed lovers and paintings of romantic ruins to portraits of unconventional relationships that shocked and challenged societal norms.

Scallop shell dish set, c. 1756, Ickworth House

Shining tales: The silver treasures of Ickworth 

A symbol of wealth, power and fashion, discover the stories of the one of the most important collections of 18th-century silver in Europe.

A Meissen porcelain figure of the Lady of the Order of the Pug, Fenton House

Best in show: ceramic highlights from our collections 

Our ceramics collection is vast. Discover some of our highlights including an early Ming dish that once formed part of a Mughal treasury, an exquisite Japanese porcelain bowl that is also a rare relic of the Stuart court in exile and a beautifully painted dish signed by a Renaissance master.

E.C. Hardman, The Diver, Photograph, 1929

A trip through sporting history 

Sports have inspired the arts for centuries, shaping the way we present ourselves, the way we dress and the very way we move. Delve in and explore a sporting history through our art collections.

Dress conservators preparing Ellen Terry beetle wing dress for display at Smallhythe Place, Kent.

If clothes could talk... 

Why were Marie Antoinette’s garters designed by a dentist? Why was a 19th-century baronet determined to make a coat in a day? And why did dressmakers painstakingly sew jewel beetles’ wings onto a costume for Lady Macbeth?

Half of a Chinese incised lacquer screen decorated with birds and flowers, late 17th Century, at Ham House

The hidden meaning in Chinese design at our places 

Did you know that peonies, pine trees and plums symbolise specific wishes and feelings in oriental design? Discover the unexpected meanings of the intertwining birds and flowers on 'chinoiserie' wallpaper, vases and textiles.

Walnut table inlaid with various woods and marbles, Hardwick Hall

Uncovering the secrets of our furniture collection 

We're embarking upon a research project to catalogue thousands of pieces of furniture in our collections. We've made some exciting discoveries whilst adding to the existing knowledge of our most treasured items.