National Trust welcomes visitors back to its historic houses and collections in a Year of Treasures

Press release
Cleaning a window at Little Moreton Hall
Published : 13 May 2021

National Trust houses and other properties in England will start to reopen their doors to visitors from 17 May following the Government’s easing of Covid restrictions.

Properties in Wales are expected to start reopening from 17 May and in Northern Ireland from 24 May once Covid restrictions lift.

Staff and volunteers have been working hard behind the scenes to get properties ready to reopen safely with social distancing in place.

Some small properties or rooms which can’t accommodate social distancing will reopen later once Covid restrictions are lifted or when repair or redisplay work is completed.

Hilary McGrady, Director General, National Trust says, “This is a big moment that we have all looked forward to for months as we welcome people back safely, to spend time together at their favourite properties.  

“Hundreds of our parks, gardens and countryside locations have already reopened, but we know how much our members and supporters have been looking forward to returning to see our houses and collections again.

“Our places are nothing without our visitors there to enjoy them and our staff and volunteers have been working hard behind the scenes, cleaning chandeliers, polishing floors and dusting books, to get everything ready. It is a matter of huge relief, pride and gratitude that the places in our care can start to reopen following closure due to the pandemic. Not a single place will be lost to the public. The cultural treasures that are our shared inheritance are waiting – for everyone.”

During the pandemic conservation work has continued at a number of the Trust’s houses, and visitors will be able to see results of some of the work that has taken place. The reopening of houses also coincides with the Trust’s focus this year on its collections and the one million items it looks after, with many properties featuring in a new book celebrating 125 treasures in the charity’s care.

For example:

  • Blickling Hall in Norfolk has completed the repair of an elaborate decorated plaster ceiling.
  • Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland has finished restoration of its Vanbrugh designed cantilevered staircases and stone vaulted basement with beer and wine cellars.
  • Ickworth in Suffolk has completed repairs of their iconic Rotunda roof and is putting the spotlight on highlights from the collections.
  • Nostell in Yorkshire will be displaying their recently conserved 18th century dolls’ house, while a highlight at Stourhead in Wiltshire is its bejewelled 16th century Pope’s Cabinet, both among objects featured in the Trust’s new book of 125 Treasures.
  • Newark Park in Gloucestershire has conserved its nationally significant stained-glass in windows on the grand main staircase.
  • Monk’s House in East Sussex will display a recently conserved furniture suite owned by Virginia Woolf and painted and decorated by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.
  • Coughton Court in Warwickshire will have a new display of their historic silver collection which includes a striking horse sculpture awarded to Sir William Throckmorton when his horse Herald won the Goodwood Steward’s Cup in 1877.
  • Newton House in Carmarthenshire will be showcasing finds from their collection that illustrates building materials and decorative techniques from their 300-year history.
  • Castle Ward in Co Down will reveal interiors restored to their former glories after a year of cleaning and specialist conservation.

Andy Beer, Director of Operations, National Trust says, “Our houses have been closed and treasured collections haven’t been seen for some time. But a lot of work has been going on behind the scenes. As a result of some of the changes we’ve had to make during the last year we have looked at new ways to present and share places and their individual stories, for example by introducing guided tours to bring them to life, as we have done for years with places like the Beatles’ houses and the Back to Backs. These tours will, we hope, give visitors a more in-depth experience and a personal welcome.”

Among the properties introducing new guided tours are Benthall Hall in Shropshire, a family home spanning 500 years of history, Paycocke’s in Essex, a wealthy Tudor merchant’s house from the prosperous days of the cloth trade; and Treasurer’s House in York, once owned by an Edwardian industrialist and the first to be donated to the Trust with a complete collection.

Hilary McGrady concludes, “We could not reopen so many of our places or carry out essential conservation without the patience and support of our members, visitors and donors and government schemes throughout this pandemic. And we are enormously grateful to our volunteers for the roles they have played, and will be playing again, as they return to our properties.

“All the support we have received has made the difference to the National Trust being able to continue its work and ensure that our places remain here for everyone to enjoy.”

Entry arrangements for houses will vary so please check property web pages before visiting www.nationaltrust.org.uk

More about property projects and objects mentioned

Blickling Hall, Norfolk                                      

The Grade 1 listed manor house at Blickling was constructed in around 1619-27 and remodelled in the late 18th century. The Upper Ante Room, located between the Long Gallery Library and South Drawing Room, has a heavily embellished ceiling, which measures approximately 7m x 7m. It consists of a large central octagon with eight decorated panels surrounding a pendant with floral decorations. Each corner has an elaborate arrangement of hexagonal and squared panels and each side of the coving features three masked heads. Inspections carried out in early 2020 highlighted defects to the 17th century ceiling and raised concern for the condition of the pendant, which was showing signs of movement. The Culture Recovery Fund awarded a £20,000 Lifeline Grant which enabled a full inspection of the timber structure supporting the pendant at a time when the building could not open and was crucial in preventing further damage or decay. The grant helped to repair cracks to the historic lime plaster ceiling of the Upper Ante Room and structurally stabilise the central pendant.

Seaton Delaval, Northumberland

‘The Curtain Rises’ project was the largest Trust project to continue throughout the pandemic. In the basement – previously a soil floor – the floor was levelled, a flagstone floor laid and lighting installed to highlight the striking spaces with their vaulted ceilings. The iconic East and West cantilevered staircases, installed in the early 1700s as part of Vanbrugh’s original design, were also painstakingly repaired with funding from The Historic House Foundation and The National Lottery Heritage Fund. The stairs are early examples in the development of the fashion for cantilevered stone staircases in Britain and were restored to retain as much of their original fabric as possible.  Each step had its own detailed restoration methodology, with input from a wide range of experts and stakeholders including Conservation Architects, Conservation Structural Engineers, National Trust stonemasons, Building Surveyors, Curators and Archaeologists.

Ickworth, Suffolk

A multi-million pound major conservation project to restore the roof of the iconic Rotunda of Ickworth House has now been completed. The project, which saw one of Suffolk’s most famous landmarks covered in over 270 miles of scaffolding plunged the house into darkness and a new exhibition inside presented the collection in a new light. However, the coronavirus pandemic resulted in the house having to close after just three months. Now, the scaffolding has gone and a new version of the exhibition aims to present Ickworth as a Home of Great Art, as was the vision of Frederick Hervey, the 4th Earl of Bristol, also known as the Earl-Bishop. His idea was to see the building display an extensive art collection that reflected his deep love of Italy and become an important place for art culture. It was built as an 18th century palace to showcase the many treasures collected over successive generations. This new exhibition created by The Decorators and light designers Studio Dekka and funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund does just that, highlighting the interior architectural detail and celebrates some of the most beloved collection items including portrait of a Prince Baltasar by Velázquez and the statue of The Fury of Athamas, featured in the book 125 Treasurers from the Collections of the National Trust.

Nostell, Yorkshire

Only a handful of dolls’ houses have survived from the 18th century and the one at Nostell, West Yorkshire, is the only one you can see still in its original family home. However, in the 18th century, dolls’ houses weren’t toys for children. Known as ‘baby houses’, they were used by aristocratic women in their teenage and adult years to learn how to run a country house, practice social etiquette and express their creativity. From rehearsing how to take tea and manage servants to choosing clothes and curtains in the latest fashions, dolls’ houses were miniature worlds in which 18th-century life played out.

At nearly 300 years old, Nostell’s dolls’ house is a remarkable survival, but it had been subject to all the agents of deterioration that affect a real-sized house, which have taken their toll. In 2019, Nostell launched a fundraising appeal to undertake vital conservation work on the dolls’ house and, thanks to generous donations from donors and the public, the team raised over £100,000 to bring this unique treasure back to life.

Stourhead, Wiltshire

One of the most magnificent and elaborate items of furniture in the National Trust’s collections, the piece known as the ‘Pope’s Cabinet’ was once owned by Felice Peretti, Pope Sixtus V (b.1521; r.1585–90). Inside are 153 separate drawers for keeping secret items and precious personal collections, such as miniatures. The cabinet was designed to amaze and impress, so it was made with a range of rich materials, including gilt bronze, ebony, alabaster and a vast number of different hardstones, semi-precious materials and jewels, such as crystal, garnet, jasper, lapis lazuli, amethyst and mother-of-pearl.

The exuberance of the design, which is modelled like a church façade, was characteristic of baroque papal taste, and it was probably commissioned by the pope c.1585 for display at his private palace in Rome. The cabinet was sold around 1740 by a Roman convent and purchased by the banker Henry Hoare II (1705–85) during a grand tour and displayed at his house at Stourhead in Wiltshire.

Newark Park, Gloucestershire

Newark Park began life as a hunting lodge in the mid-1500s and was expanded and remodelled over the next 400 years, the most significant building phase undertaken in the 1790s by the Reverend Lewis Clutterbuck. The orange hued glass in the Newark Park window on the main staircase dates from 1817 and is of national significance. It is thin, ‘crown’ glass, decorated using a technique called silver staining, which was only in fashion for a short time. The fact that so much of the Newark window is original glass makes it a rare survivor, and it is tied to the house by the arms of Reverend Clutterbuck in the central panel.

The window needed conservation because old cracks and previous repairs had become dirty and visually obtrusive, new cracks had appeared since the glass had been previously conserved in 1994 and the glass had a generally dirty appearance. The window was also structurally insecure and moving in high winds. The work carried out by Holy Well Glass studio in Somerset included re-leading the windows, old repairs cleaned and stabilised, and new cracks consolidated. During conservation some interesting discoveries were made, when the team realised just how thin some of the pieces are, and for the first time the name of the maker was uncovered: Pittard and Pardoe, Bath 1817.

Monks House, East Sussex

The Royal Oak Foundation Conservation Studio at Knole received furniture from Monks House, the home of Virginia Woolf, with many items designed by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, who were members of the Bloomsbury Group. Working with researchers and the Trust’s national specialists much thought went into how the preservation of the furniture was approached. This was an important collaboration between the conservators specialising in paintings, decorative arts and upholstery.

The furniture presented several conservation challenges. There were sensitive distemper surfaces (a traditional paint which is easily damaged) on many pieces, which were flaky and difficult to clean. This was obviously a problem even during Virginia Woolf’s time as it was discovered that items had been retouched and, in some cases, repainted with oil-based paints. Discussion around the protection of these surfaces involved looking at the existing environmental conditions of the house to prevent further deterioration in future. As a result, the surfaces were coated to prevent further flaking.

These items were used by Virginia Woolf and her friends and there is wonderful evidence of wear. Selective retouching of paint losses made the furniture look cared for, whilst still retaining the context of the furniture and evidence of use. It is suspected there may even be evidence of damage to needlework panels caused by a previous resident – a cat!

Coughton Court, Warwickshire

Coughton Court is the home of the Throckmorton family who have lived there since 1409. We know from family wills that the Throckmortons owned silver (or ‘plate’ as it was also known) from the 1570s, maybe even earlier. Silver was a significant asset for a wealthy family and was inherited by successive baronets over hundreds of years. Plate was engraved with the family arms so that each generation was reminded of their ancestors and lineage. It wasn’t locked away in a cupboard but used and shown off – family members would have eaten from these plates and the cruets would have been filled with mustard, pepper, and vinegar. The hallmark on the plates at the front tells us that they were manufactured in 1692 by an unknown London maker, ‘SS’.

They were commissioned by Sir Robert, the 3rd baronet (1662–1721) and originally would have been simple circle and oval shapes. His son, Robert, the 4th baronet (1702–1791), had the plates reshaped in the mid-eighteenth century, adding the wavy borders to reflect the fashions arriving from France. The 4th baronet was an enthusiastic patron of the arts and made a provision in his 1788 will so ‘that the plate may be sold altered and varied from time to time’ to keep up with changing fashion as he had done. It was common practice at the time to alter historic objects in this way, but later, when old things became valued as ‘antiques’, it would have been considered very wrong. The newly displayed silver at Coughton Court has been made possible with a donation from Worcester Malvern National Trust Association.

Newton House, Carmarthenshire

First built in 1660, Newton House, Dinefwr was home to the Rhys (or Rice) family for over three hundred years. The family were descendants of the Lord Rhys, the powerful Prince of the Welsh Kingdom of Deheubarth, who ruled from the now ruined Dinefwr Castle. Over the years the house had undergone various redesigns, the most notable in the 1850s when a Gothic façade, fashionable at the time, was added. Newton House will be staging 'Unlocked: 125 Objects from Dinefwr' in an exhibition unveiling a curated selection of treasures from the stores and collections at Dinefwr. Reflecting on the many and varied aspects of life at Dinefwr over the centuries, this glimpse into the history of the estate includes many items that have not been seen by the public before.

A separate exhibition, 'Archaeology of Home' will feature fragments and materials from the estate's collections that offer a fascinating glimpse into the historical building materials and decorative techniques used at Newton House since it was built. From the original construction, to the alterations that occupants have made, we can learn much from the incidental ephemera and materials that are left behind as a home grows and changes, from a rusty hand-forged nail or a scrap of hand-printed wallpaper to a piece of decorative plaster work from an ornate ceiling.

Castle Ward, Co Down

Castle Ward in Northern Ireland is a unique 18th-century mansion, famed for its mixture of architectural styles, one half in the Gothick the other in the Classical. When visitors return to the reopened Castle Ward they will be able to see the results of efforts by resident members of staff and local volunteers locked down in the property during the pandemic, as they used the time to revitalise the historic interiors.

The work during lockdown included cleaning historic brass and copper ware so that it dazzled once again, the polishing of 18th century floorboards, the beating down of luxury carpets and rugs, and the delicate cleaning of the historic crystal chandeliers. But conservation was only one part of the story, with the curation of the historic interiors being reviewed as well.  The team sought to put this time to good use to redisplay the Collection held within the house, so that a different take on the interior could be seen by visitors when the doors can once again open. Lockdown also enabled the team to reconsider the conventional narrative of the history of the house with its contrasting classical and gothick façades, said to be the manifestation of a disagreement between husband and wife Bernard and Lady Anne Ward, with the new supposition that it was in fact born of a collaborative vision.