Archive for the ‘Worcestershire’ Category

Rooms present and rooms past

June 13, 2013
The Dining Room at Hanbury Hall. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

The Dining Room at Hanbury Hall. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

The colleagues at Hanbury Hall are gearing up for the final phase of the restoration of the mural paintings created by Sir James Thornhill (1675-1734). I have previously mentioned the complex work on the murals in the Painted Staircase.

Portrait of Thomas Vernon, MP, (1654-1721), the builder of Hanbury, by John Vanderbank. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Portrait of Thomas Vernon, MP, (1654-1721), the builder of Hanbury, by John Vanderbank. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Dining Room has two ceiling paintings by Thornhill. When Thomas Vernon (1654-721) built the house in the early 18th century there were two rooms here, a Lobby and a Withdrawing Room. These rooms were amalgamated into the present Dining Room after 1830.

Ceiling painting by Sir James Thornhill depicting Boreas abducting Oreithyia, in the Dining Room at Hanbury Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Ceiling painting by Sir James Thornhill depicting Boreas abducting Oreithyia, in the Dining Room at Hanbury Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The smaller painting, with Boreas, the north wind, abducting the nymph Oreithyia, was originally the ceiling of the Lobby, hinting at the draughts coming in through the door into the north-east courtyard.

Ceiling painting by Sir James Thornhill depicting Apollo abducting a nymph, possibly Cyrene, in the Dining Room at Hanbury Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Ceiling painting by Sir James Thornhill depicting Apollo abducting a nymph, possibly Cyrene, in the Dining Room at Hanbury Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The larger painting, depicting Apollo abducting a nymph, possibly Cyrene (although from some angles it appears as if she is abducting him), was originally the ceiling of the Withdrawing Room.

Composite image taken with ultra-violet light identifying the structural problems in one of the ceiling paintings in the Dining Room at Hanbury Hall. ©National Trust

Composite image taken with ultra-violet light to identify the structural problems in one of the ceiling paintings in the Dining Room at Hanbury Hall. ©National Trust

Over time the ceiling has bowed and cracked, which in turn has affected the paintings. The planned work will include strengthening the ceiling and the floors above, restoring the plasterwork and cleaning, repairing and retouching the paintings.

The south-east end of the Dining Room at Hanbury Hall. The carved wood chimneypiece and overmantel date from about 1760. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The south-east end of the Dining Room at Hanbury Hall. The carved wood chimneypiece and overmantel date from about 1760. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The total project will cost £74,500, and we have already found funds amounting to £44,500. Donations towards raising the remaining £30,000 can be made through the Hanbury Hall JustGiving site.

Croome’s Home Shrubbery coming to life

October 18, 2011

Croome Court, set in its Capability Brown Park. ©NTPL/David Noton

There is good news from Croome Court, Worcestershire, where this autumn the Home Shrubbery has been opened up, so that visitors can now walk up to the Rotunda.

The Rotunda, also designed by Brown, its roof and external stonework restored. ©National Trust

In 2008 the Rotunda was near collapse (an image of it pre-restoration can be seen in this post), but through extensive restoration work its roof and external stonework have now been repaired. The work was funded by substantial donations and grants from members of the public, from a legacy and from Natural England and the Wolfson Foundation.

Croome property manager Michael Smith contemplates what still needs to be done on the interior of the Rotunda. ©National Trust

The team at Croome hopes to be able to start restoring the delicate plasterwork decoration on the inside in 2012, allowing visitors a close-up view of the ongoing work. There are also plans to recreate the original exotic planting in the Home Shrubbery, as soon as funds allow.

The Temple Greenhouse. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

Another improvement has been the reinstatement of the large sash windows of the Temple Greenhouse. This will allow it once again to be used to grow exotic and tender plants, as in the time of the 6th Earl of Coventry in the eighteenth century.

The steps on the north front, photographed before their recent restoration, with a view towards the Temple Greenhouse. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

The restoration of the steps on the north side of the house has now also been completed, once again thanks to a generous legacy.

One of Capability Brown's drainage culverts in the park at Croome, still in situ but in need of restoration. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

However, much remains to be done at Croome, including the restoration of the interior of the Rotunda, but that all depends on further fundraising. Donations towards the conservation work can be made through the Croome webpages.

Croome contemporary

May 9, 2011

©Hitomi Kai Yoda

Although the conservation work at Croome Court gathers pace, many of its rooms are still empty. Now We Made That, a cross-disciplinary architecture and design studio, has been asked to recast the experience of being in a ‘drawing room’.

©We Made That

We Made That partners Holly Lewis and Oliver Goodhall investigated the notion of a ‘drawing room’ room through archival research and workshops with visitors, volunteers and staff. Historically, such rooms evolved to answer the need for a family to ‘withdraw’ and find some privacy and relaxation within the wider context of a large house full of servants and dependents.

©We Made That

The result of the project was an immersive installation called Withdrawing Room. It is a room within a room constructed with layer upon layer of suspended mesh fabric.

©We Made That

The work plays with notions of interiority and exteriority, boundaries and openings, withdrawal and emergence. It comments on the formal rooms of an eighteenth-century country house where the spatial and decorative semiotics would have guided people’s movements and interactions.

©Hitomi Kai Yoda

The fluid, insubstantial and yet structured nature of Withdrawing Room also echoes the experience of the park outside, with its vistas and enclosures, its paths and bridges, its shimmering waters and rippling leaves.

©Hitomi Kai Yoda

Further images as well as a time-laps film can be seen here. Withdrawing Room will be at Croome until April 2012.

Past imperfect

April 4, 2011

The Hall at Hanbury Hall before 1900. ©National Trust

The agronomist Louise Fresco recently posted  about the implications of adding traditional cuisine to UNESCO’s world heritage listings (she writes in Dutch, so apologies to English-only readers). She rightly warns against the assumption that traditional recipes are fixed, and that there is one particular dish that can be designated as the ‘official’ one. Cuisine, like any other form of heritage, is always subject to change, and that change doesn’t necessarily make it less authentic.

The Hall more recently. ©NTPL/Dennis Gilbert

That post reminds me of historic interiors, which are also often read as definitive and fixed. Of course this impression is partly caused by the sincere efforts of the owners or curators, who have done their best to make all the elements fit together into a convincing whole, just as a chef tries to harmonise all the flavours on the plate.

The Hall at Hanbury Hall is a salutary example of how radically the look of an interior can change over a hundred year period. The top image shows the fabric of the Hall unchanged since the house was rebuilt in 1701, but resplendent with Victorian clutter. The bottom image shows an attempt to recreate an eighteenth-century look by the National Trust. Both images can justifiably be called either ‘true’ or ‘untrue’. Taken together they also tell us something about our constantly changing perception of the past.

The larger view at Croome

February 25, 2011

The south front of Croome Court. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

There is a lot going on at Croome Court, in Worcestershire, at the moment, and some of this will be featured on BBC1’s Countryfile on Sunday 27 February.

Amy Forster, Croome Visitor Services Manager (left) with Countryfile's Julia Bradbury (right). ©National Trust/ Amy Forster

The programme will feature the replanting of 5,000 trees by staff and volunteers in the Old Wood to the east of Croome.

View from Croome towards the Malvern Hills, showing some of the arable fields that replaced parts of the park in the twentieth century. ©NTPL/David Noton

This is to replace woodland that was lost in the twentieth century because of the construction of an RAF airfield in the 1940s and the expansion of arable farming in the area. It will also improve the views from the house.

Croome Property Manager Michael Smith. ©NTPL/Layton Thompson

Countryfile also interviewed Property Manager Michael Smith about the restoration of the Rotunda at Croome.

The Rotunda. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

This garden pavilion, designed by Capability Brown, has needed extensive work to its exterior and interior surfaces. It is hoped that the Rotunda can be opened to the public later this year.

Interior of the Rotunda before the restoration work began. ©NTPL/Layton Thompson

Apart from just being good news, these projects also show how estates like Croome are an integrated whole, where nature, art and history all have to work together.

And the winner is: Hanbury Hall

December 3, 2010

©Perry Lithgow Partnership

Two days ago the mural conservation project at Hanbury Hall, which I featured earlier, was given the Pilgrim Trust Award for Conservation at the 2010 ICON Conservation Awards.

©NTPL/John Hammond

The judges praised the project for re-establishing the unity of this historic painted space, enabling the trompe l’oeil effects to be appreciated as its creator, Sir James Thornhill, intended.

Graphic recording the condition of the paint on the north wall. ©Perry Lithgow Partnership

The judges also said that this conservation project has added considerably to our understanding of English Baroque wall painting techniques.

©Perry Lithgow Partnership

It was a good example of the importance of rigorous planning in order to integrate research, specialist advice and conservation skills. The project benefitted from good communication between the conservators, the Perry Lithgow Partnership, and the National Trust staff who acted as informed and collaborative clients.

Michelle Hill with the award. ©National Trust

Finally, the decision to allow the public to view the project up close was another factor in the project’s favour. Michelle Hill, the house steward at Hanbury, and her teams of volunteers organised ‘meet the gods’ tours and other activities to give visitors a better understanding of the murals and of the treatment they were receiving.

Towards an outdoor nation

November 5, 2010

The south front of Croome Court seen across the lake. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

The National Trust has started a project called Outdoor Nation to examine the British public’s relationship with the outdoors.

Visitor walking in the park, with a view to the church, designed by Brown to act as an eye-catcher. ©NTPL/Arnhel de Serra

Have we lost touch with nature? What benefits do we get from being outdoors that we cannot get through other experiences?

The Rotunda. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

Croome Court, in Worcestershire, is a great example of a designed landscape that allows people to reconnect with nature.

©NTPL/David Noton

It was created by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown during the second half of the eighteenth century for George William Coventry, later the sixth Earl of Coventry.

The icehouse - evocative, but obviously in need of restoration. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

Croome established Brown’s reputation as the creator of the new English landscape style garden. Robert Adam and James Wyatt also contributed various garden buildings.

Urn by Robert Adam, park by Lancelot Brown, sky stylist's own. ©NTPL/David Noton

In the 1940s an RAF airbase was built on the estate, and in 1948 the house was sold off. In 1996 the National Trust acquired the heart of the estate, with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund, and began to restore the landscape.

©NTPL/David Noton

The house has recently been acquired by the Croome Heritage Trust, which is working with the National Trust to allow visitors to experience Croome as a whole once again.

Mr Vernon’s murals

July 6, 2010

Hanbury Hall. ©NTPL/Dennis Gilbert

Hanbury Hall, in Worcestershire, was left to the National Trust in 1940. An endowment was provided for the house by an anonymous donor in 1953.

Bust of Thomas Vernon attributed to Edward Stanton. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The house was rebuilt in its present form around 1700 by Thomas Vernon (1654-1721), a wealthy lawyer and Whig Member of Parliament.

The Painted Staircase at Hanbury. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

Hanbury contains a staircase with an amazing set of murals showing Greek deities and mythological figures. These were created for Thomas Vernon by Sir James Thornhill (1675-1734) from about 1710. At about the same time Thornhill was also working on his masterpiece, the Painted Hall at Greenwich Hospital

A figure of Mercury hovering at the juncture of the wall and the ceiling. ©Perry Lithgow Partnership

Mercury under UV light, showing up earlier retouchings as darker areas. ©Perry Lithgow Partnership

These murals were recently conserved by the Perry Lithgow Partnership. They had last been treated in the 1950s. Since then the retouchings had discoloured and coatings had become opaque.

Infilled losses, prior to retouching. ©Perry Lithgow Partnership

Cracks had opened up, especially where the murals had been painted over the dado panelling.

Retouching in progress. ©Perry Lithgow Partnership

The paint was cleaned and stabilised, and cracks and losses were filled and retouched.

The Hall looking towards the Painted Staircase. Thomas Vernon's bust lurks in the niche above the chimneypiece. ©NTPL/Dennis Gilbert

The murals should now be all right for another half century or so.

Key people: The property manager

March 5, 2010


Michael Smith, Property Manager at Croome Court. ©NTPL/Layton Thompson

In this post, the first in an occasional series about the people involved in the acquisition process, I want to feature the property manager. At the historic houses and estates of the National Trust the property manager more or less takes on the role that the owner would have had in the past – although, for better or for worse, he or she has to do without the deference and the priviledged lifestyle. 

Croome Court, Worcestershire, in its park designed by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

The content of the job varies enormously from property to property. A manager might run a group of small properties, or a large single property that includes an agricultural estate and perhaps even a village. At some properties the focus is on the architecture of the main house and its contents, while at others the garden or park might be the most important element. Different properties attract different types of visitors. 

Sian Harrington, Property Manager at Osterley Park. ©NTPL/Matthew Antrobus

But in all cases the property manager has overall responsibility for the running of the place: from car parks, ticket sales and building maintenance to tea rooms, volunteers and concerts. Because of their key role, people like Michael Smith at Croome Court and Sian Harrington at Osterley Park are always involved in the discussion about a potential acquisition. 

Osterley Park, Middlesex, with its portico inserted by Robert Adam into the earlier, Elizabethan house. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

Each acquisition is decided on its merits. The criteria to be considered include the intrinsic importance of the object, its relevance to the house and estate, whether it can be suitably and safely displayed, what its condition is and whether funds can be found to meet the costs involved.


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