Journey with A la Ronde
In 2023, A la Ronde completed a major conservation project across four spaces in the house, including the highly unusual 18th-century Shell Gallery. It marks the first step in an ambitious project to reimagine visitors’ experiences of A la Ronde, both in person and online.
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 Shell Gallery and Grotto Staircase
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.
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
The Shell Gallery virtual experience
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 like a watercolour by Sarah Stone and ceiling patterns revealed by laser scanning.
The link to the virtual experience can be found below.
The Drawing Room and Octagon
The interiors of the Octagon and Drawing Room were the other two spaces 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, 11 metres in height 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.
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 and work experience placements, talks, events, and more in collaboration.
One of our partners are Devon Carers, and we're running workshops with their Peer Support Project to create a quilt which will be displayed at the house in 2024.
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.’
New experiences at A la Ronde
The house is now closed till spring 2024 and we're working on new experiences behind the scenes. A new community co-creation space is coming soon, bringing to life Jane and Mary Parminter’s vision of making and sharing side-by-side.
In the conservation experience space, you can explore the steps and skills, tools and techniques, involved in conservation work, with interactive displays and timelapse videos showing specialist conservators at work in the Shell Gallery.
The National Trust is also commissioning a designer to create a Room of Discovery, a permanent new part of the visitor experience. This sensory space will creatively and materially echo the beauty and fragility of the Shell Gallery and Grotto Staircase.