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Journey with A la Ronde

A view of A la Ronde and the park on a sunny day, A la Ronde, Devon
A la Ronde in Devon | © National Trust/Emma Mee

A la Ronde has completed a major conservation project in the house, including the unusual 18th-century Shell Gallery. It marks the first step in an ambitious project to reimagine visitors’ experiences of A la Ronde, both online and in person.

Over the next year, there will be exciting opportunities to learn more about the project, and we hope you will join us as we delve into the history of A la Ronde and how we look after it today.

The conservation of these two spaces was completed in September 2023. Tens of thousands of shells and other objects, including feathers, starfish, and crystals line their walls.

They were at risk from leaks in the roof and chimneys, which have been repaired, and they are inherently vulnerable to the effects of light and changes in temperature and humidity, as are the plaster walls beneath.

The conservation process involved a team of specialists painstakingly cleaning, reattaching, and stabilising the intricate decorations.

Watch A la Ronde in Hidden Treasures of the National Trust

Follow the journey of conservation at the places in our care in a new series, Hidden Treasures of the National Trust, broadcast on the BBC. A la Ronde features in episode 1. You can watch the six-part series every Friday at 9pm on BBC Two or 9:30pm on BBC Two Wales, starting from Friday 10 May. You can also catch up on any episodes you miss on BBC iPlayer.

The Shell Gallery at A la Ronde in Devon after conservation
A close up of the decorations of the Shell Gallery at A la Ronde, Devon | © Paul Harris
key facts


Around 26,000 shells and other objects decorate the Shell Gallery


The Shell Gallery is about 228 years old, having been created around 1796


Conservation work took around 3,000 hours to complete

A new online experience, released in September 2023, opens the door on the Shell Gallery and Grotto Staircase.

You can explore the ins and outs of the conservation process through new photography, and see hidden treasures including a watercolour by Sarah Stone and ceiling patterns revealed by laser scanning.

The link to the virtual experience can be found below.

A conservator works on the Shell Gallery at A la Ronde, Devon
Conservation of the Shell Gallery at A la Ronde, Devon | © National Trust

The Drawing Room and Octagon

The interiors of the Octagon and Drawing Room were also conserved as part of the project.

The Drawing Room contains 27 metres of feather friezes. These real feathers, from peacocks, parrots, chickens, and other birds, were conserved using sponges and soft brushes.

In the Octagon, around 11 metres high and directly below the Shell Gallery, the wall paintings have been restored. They were painted by hand to recreate a pattern based on the oldest known decoration of the space, informed by National Trust research and paint analysis.

Conservation of the feather frieze in the Drawing Room of A la Ronde, Devon
Conservation of the feather frieze in the Drawing Room at A la Ronde in Devon | © National Trust

Working in partnership

The conservation work was funded by the National Trust with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Wolfson Foundation, and public donations.

We're establishing partnerships with local groups to strengthen our relationships with the community, including Learn Devon, the University of Plymouth, the Parminter Trust, Exmouth Community College, the Deaf Academy, Exmouth town council, and others.

We will be developing workshops, volunteering, work experience placements, talks, events, and more in collaboration.

Image of designs for a quilt at a workshop for Devon Carers group at A la Ronde
A design for a quilt at a workshop at A la Ronde in Devon | © National Trust/Karen Kelly

Devon Carers

One of our partners are Devon Carers. We're running workshops with their Peer Support Project to create a quilt which will be displayed at the house later this year.

The workshops are an opportunity for carers to connect, and keep alive a tradition of crafting that’s part of the fabric of A la Ronde.

Sarah Brooks from Devon Carers said, ‘It’s been fantastic to see the carers enjoying the activity and each other’s company. The National Trust team have been so welcoming, and their expert guidance has really inspired the carers. The carers’ craftmanship and artistic flair is amazing. It’s great when we have a project that not only reduces social isolation but also enables our carers to tap into their talents and creativity.’

Cleaning and restoring the Shell Gallery at A La Ronde, Devon
Cleaning and restoring the Shell Gallery at A La Ronde | © National Trust Images/Linda Adams

New experiences at A la Ronde

The Room of Discovery, opening later this season, will give people the chance to encounter, understand and appreciate the fragile beauty of the A la Ronde’s Shell Gallery in a completely new way.

Following a call out in 2023 for artists, designers, or craftspeople to take inspiration from the Shell Gallery and design a ‘Room of Discovery’, drawing from the original natural materials used in the gallery itself, we undertook a rigorous selection process to assess over 30 applicants. We were delighted to award the commission to visual artist Monica Shanta in January 2024. The selection panel were blown away by her intricate design and artistry of her sample shell panel, her deep resonance with the themes and intentions of the property, and her authentic connection with the motivations of the Parminter cousins who created A la Ronde.

Using an unused space on the lower ground floor, we are creating a ‘room within a room’ to give visitors an immersive impression of what it might be like to enter the original Shell Gallery, which is no longer accessible due it its extreme fragility, to ensure its survival. The new room, octagonal in shape, will enable visitors to physically experience the craft and beauty of patterned panels of shells, moss, lichen, feathers, porcelain, and pinecones up close. It will be an atmospheric space, fully wheelchair accessible, beautifully lit and featuring stunning watercolour paintings. The Room of Discovery will be just as intricate as the historic gallery, but made for touching, made for visitors, and far more robust.

Work is now underway to start building this extraordinary new space – check back here in the summer to see the finished Room of Discovery, open for visitors to enjoy.

A screen grab of the Shell Gallery virtual experience welcome

The Shell Gallery virtual experience 

Open the door on an extraordinary creation and its conservation.