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.