The Manor Reborn

Penelope Keith and Paul Martin in front of Avebury Manor. ©BBC

Avebury Manor, in Wiltshire, is the setting for a BBC series entitled The Manor Reborn which documents the process of bringing this historic house back to life. The first episode airs tonight on BBC One.

View through the doorway between the Great Parlour and the Little Parlour at Avebury, taken as the rooms were being cleared prior to the recent project. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The series is presented by Penelope Keith and Paul Martin. The title is a reference to the former’s appearance in the 1970s sitcom To the Manor Born, in which she memorably played a feisty upper-class lady fallen on lean times and living in the gatehouse of her ancestral mansion.

The Dining Hall at Avebury as the project was about to begin. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Avebury Manor was originally a small medieval Benedictine priory on the site of an ancient stone circle. It was turned into a manor house in the mid-sixteenth century and was further altered in the early eighteenth century and in the 1920s (more about the house’s history can be found in this interesting post by the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre).

However, by the time the National Trust acquired the house very little of the original contents remained in situ. National Trust curators had been considering for some time how best to use the interiors when the BBC approached them with the proposal to make a series of programmes about refurbishing a house.

The Dining Hall after redecoration, reimagined as it may have been in the late eighteenth century. ©National Trust/Allan King

A team of experts was assembled including architectural historian Dan Cruickshank, historian Anna Whitelock, interior designer Russell Sage and gardener David Howard. The interiors of the house were redecorated to reflect various episodes in its history. Because of the lack of original contents, the team had more freedom to reinterpret the spaces than would normally be the case with a National Trust property.

Detail of the Fromental wallpaper, where the Chinese painters have added a vignette of Avebury. ©NTPL/John Hammond

However, the emphasis of the project was also to highlight the wide range of traditional craft skills still available today. In the Dining Hall, for instance, Chinese wallpaper makers Fromental have installed a hand-painted wallpaper reflecting the ownership of Avebury by Lieutenant-General Sir Adam Williamson in the late eighteenth century. 

Chinese wallpapers were very popular in Britain at that time, and Fromental’s Chinese craftsmen have made a new paper inspired by surviving antique examples, but customised with a few witty references to Avebury (I recently did another post about Fromental’s glamorous reinterpretations of traditional Chinese wallpapers). 

Another view of the Dining Hall. The section of wallpaper at left shows the western trading posts in Guangzhou, China, evoking Governor Williamson's international career. ©NTPL/John Hammond

I hope to do further posts about other aspects of this fascinating project soon. There is also a book available accompanying the television series

13 Responses to “The Manor Reborn”

  1. Parnassus Says:

    Having your house painted into a wallpaper landscape is one step above creating a miniature of your house to use as a birdhouse. Somehow I like the empty room pictures even better than the restored ones. I like to see the signs of age, and I can indulge my own dreams of restoring a house like this in my own way.

    By the way, Happy Thanksgiving.

    Road to Parnassus

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Parnassus, when I added that photograph of the Dining Hall prior to redecorating I just knew someone would prefer it to the end result :) I kind of agree with you: it is a beautiful architectural space and Andreas von Einsiedel has taken a wonderful, Vermeer-like photograph of it. But I also love the Fromental wallpaper, with its fresh colours giving you an idea of what those Chinese export wallpapers must have looked like when they were first put up in European country houses.

  3. deana Says:

    Wonderful post… so sad that it is difficult to get these BBC programs in the states. I can’t wait to get the book!

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks very much – can you access the BBC iPlayer? Each episode becomes available there as soon as it has gone out on TV.Try this link: http://bbc.in/tg3VpR

  5. KDM Says:

    Brilliant. A fun and thoughtful use of a historic recourse and Penelope Keith is extraordinary, I love To The Manor Born and all of her Noel Coward work. KDM

  6. KDM Says:

    Resource I mean. That pesky “S” and “C”

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Keith, yes it will be interesting to see how the public at large will respond to this.

  8. HRH The Duchess of State Says:

    How exciting this new series…beautiful manor!

  9. downeastdilettante Says:

    I fear that I prefer the ‘before’ state of the dining room also, which does not mean that I don’t find the room handsome after, as it is.

    This post depresses me, because I cannot imagine the same thing happening over here—American television is obsessed these days with shows that instruct people to gut their old houses—the better to sell the sponsor’s products, I suppose. But it is epidemic, and at no point in our history has the old been less admired or respected. Interesting post.

  10. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Dilettante, thanks – but you could show ‘em how it’s done :) I think someone needs to commission you to do a TV show about how to do a redecoration of a historic American house with beauty and integrity!

  11. Angela Karinn Says:

    Hi there. I’m the Art Director at the Knowledge Network (British Columbia’s Public Broadcaster). We’re showing “Manor Reborn” this winter and don’t have good publicity shots. I love these photos. How can I get the rights to use them?

  12. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Angela, I do apologise for the delay in replying. These images (apart from the top one) can be sourced though our photo library, National Trust Images (http://www.nationaltrustimages.org.uk/). If you do a search on “Avebury Manor” you will find them, plus quite a few other recent shots.

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