Rooftop walkway showcases heritage science at The Vyne

Visitors on the rooftop walkway at The Vyne, Hampshire
Published : 08 May 2017 Last update : 25 Jul 2017

The National Trust is embracing heritage science to give you an extraordinary insight into an ambitious £5.4 million scheme to save former Tudor ‘power house’ The Vyne in Hampshire. Embark on an exciting journey to discover how new technology and centuries-old practices are working together to repair its leaking roof and crumbling chimneys.

The highpoint of our ‘Lifting the Lid’ project is the newly opened, all-access, 360° rooftop walkway.  Protected from the elements by a huge, metal and shrink-wrap shell, the walkway looks down on to dramatic views of The Vyne’s rooftops. You’ll see 71,000 tiles being removed and replaced, above historic interiors such as the 16th century oak gallery. Viewing areas give a breath-taking panorama across the wider estate, taking in the north lawn where Tudor buildings once sprawled. 

Discoveries we’ve made about Tudor roof construction, as well as the new techniques we’re introducing, are revealed in illustrated panels. Our knowledgeable volunteer roof guides have lots of fascinating facts to share. Don’t forget to drop a coin down the rooftop money chute or, back at ground level, become part of history by tagging one of our hand-made clay tiles, destined for a spot on the new roof. Every penny we raise goes towards our roof fundraising appeal. 

Get involved in heritage science

Monthly visits from Oxford University’s Rock Breakdown Laboratory will give you a unique opportunity to study our ancient roof materials. Visitors of all ages can spend time working alongside scientists using specialist equipment to find out how we protect historic buildings from decay.

" We’ve developed a range of high and low tech equipment allowing us to investigate the serious problem of water ingress. By combining simple tools such as hand held moisture meters with more complex methods like 2D resistivity surveys, we can probe into the walls without causing damage."
- Professor Heather Viles

Opportunities for insight

We’re also working with archaeologists to gain greater insight into how this complex 500 year old mansion was constructed and then re-arranged over the centuries. Dendrochronology, the science of tree-ring dating, has identified some of the 16th century roof timbers as re-used stock. These are likely to have originated from The Vyne’s ‘lost’ Tudor courtyard, part of a larger estate that now lies hidden beneath the north lawn. 

National Trust archaeologist Gary Marshall and his torch have spent lots of time in The Vyne’s roof space: ‘This is such an exciting time to visit The Vyne; we’re finding out so much about how it was built and altered. We’ll be sharing as many of these finds with our visitors as possible.’

" This is such an exciting time to visit The Vyne; we’re finding out so much about how it was built and altered. We’ll be sharing as many of these finds with our visitors as possible."
- Gary Marshall, Archaeologist

Although we have to remove all the roof’s clay tiles and some of the brickwork, we’re replacing them with building materials that have been hand-made using medieval techniques.

Away from the walkway you’ll find Tudor-themed outdoor trails for adults as well as children. Hunt for 16th century treasures on a woodland geocaching adventure, or visit newly presented show rooms in the house that reveal untold stories from The Vyne’s dramatic past.

Historic challenges

In the house, discover the story of The Vyne’s 19th century owner William Wiggett Chute. He inherited a building in great disrepair but his extraordinary determination to save the neglected mansion secured its future. The huge cost left his family unable to entertain or socialise, but there were greater hardships for others to endure on the way.

He explained: 'The rainwater made its way into and through the house, which was necessarily made very damp, and wood work and pictures suffered in consequence. There were known to be some large drains, so search was made and at last they were all discovered and mapped.'

" A boy crawled through them knocking as he proceeded in order to show his whereabouts, and at one time, to the great alarm of all and especially of himself, he was lost for some hours..."
- William Wiggett Chute, 1872

'A boy crawled through them knocking as he proceeded in order to show his whereabouts, and at one time, to the great alarm of all and especially of himself, he was lost for some hours, but was then fortunately found and no harm happened to him. The water from the house roofs is now carried into them to the great advantage of the house and its inmates.’

Wiggett Chute faced many of the challenges the National Trust faces today. Happily, thanks to the application of a little technology, we won’t be resorting to the techniques that he used to overcome them.

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