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Our work at Hughenden

Garden volunteer speaking with a visitor in the Walled Garden at Hughenden.
Garden volunteer speaking with a visitor in the Walled Garden | © National Trust Images / Chris Lacey

Our team at Hughenden does a great job of keeping everything at this country estate ticking over. At Hughenden, we're dedicated to preserving its rich heritage, from restoring the historic Castle Gates to conserving statues and even uncovering the fascinating stories behind them, including the intriguing tale of the "Spare Chair," commissioned by Benjamin Disraeli but never used for its intended purpose. Find out how we’re doing our bit for bees with help from our volunteer beekeepers.

Spare Chair, Hughenden, Buckinghamshire | © Royal Oak Conservation Studio, Knole

The Spare Chair

This chair commissioned by Benjamin Disraeli in 1832 displaying his campaign colours of pink and white, was made for the December general election. It is affectionately known as the ‘Spare chair’ at Hughenden in reference to the fact that it was never used for its intended purpose. Disraeli finished last in the polling, and as a result was not ‘chaired’ or carried aloft in victory.

In August 2022, the spare chair was sent to the Royal Oak Conservation Studio at Knole to undertake important conservaiton work. The conservation work done to the spare chair included consolidation and stabilisation, removal of remnants of an old plywood label, stabilising the damaged cane seat, and surface cleaning.

Castle gates with Hughenden's parkland behind
Castle Gates, Hughenden, Buckinghamshire.jpg | © Hugh Mothersole

Restoring the Castle Gates

The Castle Gates were commissioned by Benjamin Disraeli and his wife Mary Anne as part of their transformation of the gardens and parkland at Hughenden.

Recent research and paint sampling suggest the gates were originally painted black and gilt. This historic scheme was restored as a part of a conservation project which will included the gates’ cleaning, repair, and painting before the details were gilded in gold leaf.

Honey bee on a pink flower in the Walled Garden at Hughenden, Buckinghamshire
Honey bee in the Walled Garden at Hughenden, Buckinghamshire | © National Trust Images/Hugh Mothersole

Bees at Hughenden

Hughenden has its very own colony of honeybees. It’s looked after by a team of expert volunteer beekeepers in a working apiary, which you can visit. There are several active hives here, as there were in Disraeli's day. These are important at a time when wild bees are struggling with several modern threats including the varroa mite, reduced forage and predators such as the Asian hornet.

Managing the hives

The beekeepers regularly monitor the honeybees and manage the hives to keep the colony healthy and happy. They also produce a range of hive products including beeswax candles and delicious honey. The products are available to take home in exchange for a donation and every purchase helps to maintain the Hughenden apiary.

Two beekeepers in protective suits look at a honeycomb with bees on they've taken from a hive
Beekeeping at Hughenden Manor, Buckinghamshire | © National Trust Images/Gill Sandford

Meet the beekeepers

In spring and summer, we hold scheduled talks where visitors can look inside a full-size model hive, see how it works and try out the specialist equipment, such as honey extractors and smokers, without the fear of being stung.

Keep an eye out on our upcoming events page for further details.

Close-up of bees on the outside of a hive
Honey bees | © National Trust Images / Hugh Mothersole

The role of bees at a country house

In the past, many large country houses kept bees when sugar was still very expensive and with their vital role in increasing crop yields, they were also an important part of the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign during the Second World War; beekeepers were given sugar rations to feed the bees with over winter.

The Disraelis' bees

When the Disraelis lived here, Hughenden Manor had hives to help increase the yield of the walled garden and fruit trees. Today the volunteer beekeepers keep that tradition alive, while the garden team care for the types of old rose that Mary Ann Disraeli planted in the parterre, which are an ideal source of nectar for the bees.

Two statues flank a bench on a gravel path
Statues in the garden at Hughenden | © National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus

Statue conservation

Conservation work is not just about caring for the precious items in the house collection at Hughenden, garden statuary and sculpture are equally at risk from damage and decay and need protecting in the winter.
Wind-blown pollen and dirt can stick to statues dampened by rain, and animals, birds and insects, not known to be greatly respectful of artworks, and their droppings can encourage the growth of moss, lichen and fungi.

Spring cleaning

As soon as the weather warms in the spring, the protective covers come off the historic statuary and we begin the process of conservation cleaning.

The garden at Hughenden, Buckinghamshire. Hughenden was the home of the Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli
The garden at Hughenden, Buckinghamshire | © National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

‘The statues are wet-cleaned with a natural diluted conservation-grade detergent and are gently scrubbed with denture brushes to remove the dirt and lichen. A small amount of water is used to wash off any debris, which will hopefully stop the moss and lichen returning. We then condition check each one to note signs of deterioration as part of the work.’

– Ellen Wood, Senior Collections and House Officer

The stories behind the statues

Next time you’re enjoying the grounds at Hughenden, take a closer look at the statues and think of our team, hard at work with their brushes and sponges. Ask the house team about any of the pieces that capture your interest – there's a tale of romance behind many.

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

View of the house from the parkland at Hughenden, Buckinghamshire


Everyone needs nature, now more than ever. Donate today and you could help people and nature to thrive at the places we care for.

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