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Secrets and Discoveries at Clandon Park

The state bedroom after the fire at Clandon Park, Surrey
Previously hidden blue wooden panels in the State Bedroom | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Now a house laid bare, Clandon Park has been slowly revealing its secrets. Objects have been discovered in the bones of the house – its ceilings, walls, and in the ground beneath our feet. Enriching our knowledge of how the house was made, the people who made it, and those who have lived and worked here.

From tiny teeth to witch marks and remains of the Jacobean house, these objects can unlock powerful and previously hidden stories. They tell of the wealthy family who lived here and how they invested in their home. The life and experiences of the people employed as domestic servants. And we see evidence of the master craftsmen at work.

Unexpected discoveries

Sharks Teeth Group at Clandon Park Surrey
55-million-year-old sharks’ teeth | © National Trust / Andrew Shaylor

55-million-year-old sharks’ teeth

These tiny, fossilised teeth were found during excavations in the basement. They’re from a number of species, including an ancient ancestor of the Great White. The discovery of the teeth reveals Clandon Park was once at the bottom of a pre-historic lake populated by sharks and other fish.

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Uncovering Clandon’s secrets

The fire has revealed layer upon layer of the historic building in remarkable ways, showing how the house was built brick by brick and piece by piece by many hands over the generations. The journey the project team has taken has led to the uncovering of some of Clandon’s tightly held secrets.

Clandon's true age
Tree-ring analysis of the fallen timbers salvaged from the fire has found that the main timbers inside the house were felled in 1729 in Finland, which means the house was likely completed in the 1730s.
Patchwork walls
The brick walls of the house, which helped it survive the fire, are in some places over 1 metre thick. These walls also contain stones taken from an earlier Jacobean house on the same site, which the Onslow family demolished and replaced.
Designing on the go
The original plan for the house wasn’t finalised when building began. Numerous doorways and alcoves, previously hidden beneath wall coverings and revealed when the fire burnt these away, show how the architect and builders kept their options open, allowing them to reshape spaces as they went.
A blue bedroom
The State Bedroom, which was displayed with rich red wallpaper before the fire, was originally a bright blue wood-panelled room. Large areas of this panelling are now visible.
Superstitious builders
The presence of protective ‘witches’ marks’ have been discovered on exposed timbers – shapes and symbols scratched into them by superstitious builders to ward off witches and evil spirits.

Behind the scenes of post-fire Clandon Park

An archaeologist wearing protective clothing and a face mask sifts through ashes in a fire-damaged room at Clandon Park, Surrey.
An archaeologist sifting through the ruins at Clandon Park | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Sifting through the rubble

Sorting through the wreckage was hard, precise and heavy work for the archaeologists, particularly in the basement where the piles of debris reached 1.5 metres high. Despite the tough conditions there were extreme highs as items of the collection were found intact or when beautiful fragments of historic plaster were saved. Due to the way the floors collapsed during the fire some objects travelled the entire length of a room and down one or two levels.

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