Meet Gerald Eagle

Volunteer Roof Guide, The Vyne

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Gerald Eagle - Volunteer Roof Guide

New to volunteering with the National Trust, Gerald Eagle is putting his lifelong passion for buildings to great use on our ‘Lifting the Lid’ project at The Vyne, Hampshire. Following a career spent in the building industry, Gerald is now helping our visitors to enjoy their experience on our newly opened, 360° rooftop walkway.

Volunteer Roof Guide Gerald Eagle on the scaffold at The Vyne, Hampshire

For the first time in over a century, major roof repair work is being carried out at The Vyne. A huge £5.4 million project is underway to recover the roof and rebuild the chimneys to safeguard the house and collection. 

An enormous scaffold was required for the repairs to take place. It was decided that a walkway would form part of the structure so that visitors could see the works as they were happening. My role as a Volunteer Roof Guide is to help visitors get as much out of their experience as possible whilst also looking out for their safety. Primarily it’s about talking to people, answering their questions and helping them discover more about the building. 

With its own lift and wheelchair-friendly route, the walkway provides access for everyone
Visitors on the rooftop walkway at the Vyne, Hampshire
With its own lift and wheelchair-friendly route, the walkway provides access for everyone

A career in the industry

I’ve been in the building industry my whole working life. I was a carpenter and joiner, a Clerk of Works and a Senior Building Surveyor for Hampshire County Council. Early in my career I worked as an apprentice carpenter on the roof at The Vyne. Now that I’m retired I’m back there and I’m still learning about the place. It’s strange how things come full circle that way. 

I have a complete fascination with buildings, I love them. I’ll go shopping with my wife, she’ll go into the shops and I stay outside with my dog just looking up at the buildings. You can see a lot about the story of a building just by looking carefully at it, the way the brickwork fits together. 

A fascinating building to be a part of
A view of rooftop at the Vyne, Hampshire
A fascinating building to be a part of

I’ve lived in Basingstoke since 1960, nearly my whole life. I used to cycle the three miles over to The Vyne regularly during school holidays. We’d take a piece of line, park our bikes and nip down to the lake to fish. That association goes back to when I was about 12 years old, so it’s a place I have a lot of history with and a lot of affinity for.

My role on top of The Vyne

I first saw the role advertised in the local paper and I knew the second I saw it that I was going to apply. My best mate, also a carpenter and joiner by trade, is volunteering as well. We did lots of training before we started but now that we’re launching it’s a really exciting time. I’m absolutely delighted, I love being there and the people are great. 

We volunteer in three hour shifts and I’m able to do that whenever it suits me. Typically I go a couple of times a week, although I seem to be over there so often that my wife has suggested I take my bed with me. Each day we get a briefing from our supervisor who runs through what’s happening at the property that day. We have a crib sheet that details everything that’s happened on site over the past week so we can always pass on the most up to date information. 

Inspiring the carpenters, builders, architects and archaeologists of the future
Visitors on the rooftop walkway at the Vyne, Hampshire
Inspiring the carpenters, builders, architects and archaeologists of the future

You get some great questions, particularly from kids. We’ve been asked how much the scaffolding and the building weighs. It might sound silly at first, but actually they often have quite thoughtful questions. People tend to find the age of the roof fascinating. Some of the reused timbers originated from 16th century Tudor buildings. For them to be able to see a 500 year old piece of wood with the original carpentry, all hand-crafted, is extraordinary. 

New things to learn

I knew pretty much what to expect having worked on big roofing and scaffolding projects, but I’ve never seen a roof completely exposed on a building of that age before. Every time I’m on site I learn something new, whether it’s small or large. The different joinery techniques that were used to construct the roof are fascinating to learn about. 

Panoramic views of the wider estate from the rooftop walkway
Visitors on the rooftop walkway at The Vyne, Hampshire
Panoramic views of the wider estate from the rooftop walkway

I wasn’t aware quite how many volunteers worked for the National Trust and I didn’t know how vital their contribution was. I have regular enquiries from visitors about how to get involved in volunteering. It’s something I’d definitely recommend to other people if they find an area that interests them. I’ve also become aware of how organised the National Trust is, it’s incredibly professional but hasn’t lost that authenticity.

A wonderful opportunity

Talking to the visitors is the best part of the job. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for them to see the bare bones of a building like this and people have come from all over the country. I enjoy sharing my passion for buildings and everyone has been so positive and interested. 

Maybe there’ll be a few children in there that want to become carpenters, builders, architects or archaeologists in the future and we have the opportunity to help them towards discovering that passion. It gives me an immense amount of satisfaction.