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Explore the house at Ickworth

View of the Rotunda from the path with newly restored roof at Ickworth, Suffolk
View of the Rotunda with newly restored roof at Ickworth, Suffolk | © National Trust Images/Jim Woolf

Ickworth House was far from being just a comfortable home, it was designed to impress. Grand yet functional, austere and splendid and created to entertain on a grand scale for favoured guests. Discover more about the house and what treasures you can see when you visit.

Some rooms are still closed in the house

Whilst the house and basement are now open daily for free flow, some areas and rooms are still closed to visitors as they are still under going conservation work. All areas will be open by 29 March 2024. Sorry for any disappointment caused.

Ickworth: A Design Masterpiece

25 March - 3 November | 11am - 3pm

This year we will be shining a spotlight on and celebrating Ickworth’s architectural history and displaying some rarely seen drawings of Italian scenes by French artist and architect Louis-François Cassas that inspired the Earl Bishop’s plans for Ickworth. Ickworth: A Design Masterpiece takes visitors on a chronological journey from the 18th century early beginnings of Ickworth to 20th century improvements to the living and working conditions for its servants. From the iconic Rotunda with its innovative Italianate gardens to the estate's structured parkland, Ickworth is a dream of Rome within the heart of Suffolk.

a pencil drawing of the colosseum in Rome
'The Colosseum, Rome' (1780) by Louis-François Cassas (1756-1827) Ickworth, Suffolk. | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

A home of great art

Built as an 18th-century palace to showcase the many treasures and art collected by the Earl Bishop, who survived two older brothers to unexpectedly inherit the Estate in 1779. You can explore time and time again to uncover unique treasures, art and the stories of this extraordinary family and their staff.

Raising the roof

In 2018-20, Ickworth’s biggest ever roof conservation project was undertaken to protect the grand Rotunda and all of its treasures. With the roof wrapped in 270 miles of scaffold, 2,500 objects moved in the house and 30,000 slates replaced, it was a huge undertaking. When you visit, take time to marvel at the new roof in all its glory.

The flamboyant 4th Earl of Bristol

The house you see today is the vision of the 4th Earl of Bristol, known as the Earl Bishop. He was descended from a rather eccentric family. His father John, Lord Hervey, third son of the 1st Earl of Bristol, was bisexual and a notorious and prominent figure at George II’s Court. His mother was the beautiful Mary 'Molly' Lepel, a former lady-in-waiting to Queen Caroline.

A masterpiece is conceived

The Earl Bishop, upon inheriting the estate, was keen to follow the latest styles and aspired to build a house that would in his own words unite ‘magnificence with convenience.' Started in 1795, the building was still just a shell when he died in 1803 and his son was left to complete his vision.

He had spent his life travelling in Europe and secured a vast collection of art and treasures. Sadly, his collection was confiscated by Napoleonic troops in 1798 and he spent the remainder of his days trying to recover his losses. His son, the 5th Earl who later became the 1st Marquess, took over the building project and eventually moved in with his family in 1829.

Visitors stood by the Fury of Athamas marble statue in the Inner Hall at Ickworth, Suffolk
Visitors stood by the 'Fury of Athamas' marble statue in the Inner Hall at Ickworth, Suffolk | © National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

From magnificent house to family home

The original concept of a magnificent central house with two wings as galleries was changed by the 5th Earl, who settled upon making the East Wing the family home and the central Rotunda as the gallery to impress visitors and also for grand entertaining.

The focal point of the main hall today is a large sculpture of The Fury of Athamas depicting a Greek tragedy of madness and murder. The Earl Bishop commissioned the statue from John Flaxman, a promising young sculptor, for his envisioned sculpture gallery.

A servants’ life

Life as a servant was subject to the whims of the resident family and their guests; it was hard work with incredibly long hours. There was a strict hierarchy among the servants and life could be incredibly tough.

Modernisation

By 1910 the 4th Marchioness of Bristol, Lady Theodora Hervey, became concerned by the hardships of her servants and over the years did much to improve living conditions. You will discover how she used her large inheritance to renovate the Rotunda servants’ quarters with electric lights, hot water boilers and new bathrooms.

Hands-on exploration

As you wander downstairs through the corridors and rooms, you’ll discover life in the 1930s. It’s a real hands-on experience – you can open the drawers and discover the tools and materials that would have been used by the servants.

It wasn’t all hard work, of course. In the Servants’ Hall, you’ll find a shove ha’penny board scored into the dining table, you can play cards, bagatelle or tiddlywinks, bash out a tune on the piano or sit and relax with a 1930s newspaper or magazine.

The collection at Ickworth

A close-up detail of Round Tureen, c1752 by Frederick Kandler in the Museum Landing at Ickworth, Suffolk
Round Tureen at Ickworth, Suffolk | © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The silver collection

Don't miss the magnificent collection of silver and silver-gilt items which constitutes one of the finest and largest silver dining services in any National Trust house. Many of these items date from the 18th century and were mainly collected by the 1st and 2nd Earls of Bristol and by the 1st Marquess of Bristol.

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Discover the house on a specialist tour

Various dates

Discover the story of the house and it's collection on one of our specialist tours, led by one of our team members. Book your place here

View of the Rotunda from the path with newly restored roof at Ickworth, Suffolk

Discover more at Ickworth

Find out when Ickworth is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

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