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Real Work Real Lives project at Saltram

Visitors in the Library at Saltram House, Devon.
Reading in the Library at Saltram | © Chris Lacey

Forgotten tales of Saltram’s historic workforce have been uncovered by a team of passionate volunteers, illuminating the lives and legacies of those who once walked its grounds.

The National Trust’s Saltram, in Devon, has received support amounting to £238,000 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, which will be used to help connect people to nature and heritage.

Made possible by National Lottery players, this funding aims to improve access to Saltram, develop skills and improve the health and wellbeing of local communities. Working with partners, the National Trust will work to conserve local landmarks on the estate, provide better access to nature and heritage and tell new stories that explore the histories of Saltram and its connection to Plymouth.

Part of the grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund has been used to uncover the lives and work of historic staff at Saltram between1841-1921The Real Work Real Lives pilot project seeks to bring the stories of the people who lived and worked on the Saltram estate to light in partnership with The Box museum, gallery and archive in Plymouth.

The project saw nine volunteers recruited to undertake the research. With the help of the archive team at The Box and Debbie Lister, a freelance Archivist, they undertook training to develop archiving and research skills. The newly developed skills were put straight into practice at the 10 sessions, with each participant looking at a different facet of research, utilising local archive collections held by The Box.

Beginning with the census, the volunteers transcribed over 800 entries relating to Saltram and its estate properties over the 5-month project. Through this work, the participants rediscovered the lost stories of the people who came and went over the decades, the families they lived with, and the places they were born.

“We’re delighted to be involved with the “Real Works, Real Lives” project. It has been great to work in partnership with The National Trust on this project and to see the links between Saltram and the archives held at The Box. This is a project which shows the value of the archives held at The Box for telling the stories of real people who have lived in the Plymouth and West Devon area.”

A quote by Claire SkinnerThe Box museum, gallery and archive, Plymouth Archivist

Among the stories the team discovered was that of John Sarah. John was The Earl’s Steward in the mid-19thcentury, which meant he was responsible for taking in all the rents from tenants across the Earl’s land. He died suddenly in 1868, and the RWRL project found a bill in the archive which shows the Parker family paid for his funeral in recognition of his service to the estate.

The team also discovered the Vosper family, whose connection with Saltram began in 1835 when John Vosper took on the tenancy of fields and houses at Merafield on the Saltram Estate. Two years later John leased the Malthouse too. His son Thomas and grandson William renewed the tenancy and worked as farmers and maltsters – making the raw material for beer brewing across Plymouth.

When William died in 1911, he was living in the grand Merafield House, had served as a County Councillor, and was a Director of the Plymouth Belle Steamship Company and the ESSA Brewery Company based in Saltash.

“The project has revealed how researching those stories and learning how to share them with others can give people new skills and boost their confidence. Their research has really helped us to see the working histories of Saltram in a new light, and it’s been made possible by this wonderful grant from the support of national lottery players.”

A quote by Emma PhilipNational Trust Saltram Project Curator

Thanks to the development grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the researchers can now search, navigate and interpret archives and we’ll be looking to share some of their findings in the coming months.

With lots more still to discover, it is hoped that the Real Work Real Lives project will continue and that the histories uncovered will be used to support the development of new displays at Saltram.

The Real Work Real Lives pilot represents just one of the innovative ways the National Trust is looking to enhance heritage access in Plymouth. Supported by National Lottery funding, this initiative will expand opportunities for local residents to engage with Saltram’s rich heritage and enjoy its green spaces.

Looking ahead, the National Trust is hoping to secure additional support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund in 2025. This prospective funding would enable a dynamic range of access improvements at Saltram, further integrating the estate into Plymouth's health and wellbeing initiatives. This will ensure that Saltram can play a more pivotal role in supporting health and wellbeing in the city, connecting more people to nature and green space and providing skill development for Plymothians.

The white exterior of the house at Saltram with lawn in front of it

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Visitors with a child talk to a volunteer inside the Welcome Centre at Saltram, Devon

Volunteer opportunities at Saltram 

Saltram is always looking for volunteers to join its dedicated team and offers a variety of opportunities.

Two gardens working on the garden beside the pond at Saltram, Devon

Our work at Saltram 

A dedicated team of staff and volunteers work to maintain Saltram’s house and estate, which includes a project to revive the Orange Grove in the garden.

Three vintage photographs in silver frames inside Saltram house, Devon

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An 18th century Palladium summer residence, Saltram’s historic interiors are just as beautiful today. Browse the shelves in the Library and see architect Robert Adam’s designs in the Saloon.

A visitor touching plants in the garden at Saltram

The history of the garden at Saltram 

A garden made for entertaining guests amongst the Amphitheatre and Orange Grove, Saltram has plenty of history, both outside and in.