Over a year has past since the worst nightmare of any homeowner hit Clandon Park, Surrey: fire. The National Trust prides itself on preserving for eternity, properties of families who can no longer maintain them. But even for such a professional body, tragedy can strike. As with nearby Uppark, in Sussex, a fire started and has gutted the house. This time through an electric fault which could have ignited at any time. Some contents were saved, no-one hurt. But a large chunk of history and chattels have perished. But these things happen, and much more so in centuries gone by. Many families re-build and start again, Uppark was restored in full.
The future of Clandon in this modern era, is under much discussion at present. But whilst all this is being contemplated, the team are in action. The building is clad in a white weather-proof coat, with a vast scaffolding, to keep the weather out whilst repairs can continue. Clearing large amounts of debris has been completed and now the Trust are beginning to invite people in to look at the situation so far.
Curious about distressed images, buildings, decor and the artistic inspiration, I had to go along. Much of my painting in oils is inspired by distress, aged effects and layers revealed. Photography was openly welcomed – at last, it looked intriguing. I discussed my previous experiences with a volunteer. I had photographed the interiors ‘by appointment’, twenty years ago and made drawings. From what little I could see, most of the rooms had gone, only brick walls remained. Again it makes me so disappointed to see legalities of photography banned on places that could perish at any moment and are there for the public to enjoy.
After a brief induction on the novelty of wearing hard hats and a high-vis vest, we went in. What confronted me was the sheer breathtaking beauty of a plaster fireplace that had been stripped of it’s paint and plaster and was left with a roman-like, warm, pink layer beneath with all the sculptured design in tact. It reminded me of Pompei, rising from the ashes. The walls were no longer cloaked in damasked 18th splendour, sadly no French wallpaper either, only bare brick walls, with oval over-door designs. Through one arch you could see some wallpaper still hanging. The marble hall had fared better as expected.
The floor had a pounding due to falling furniture and the floors and roof caving in from above, but there wasn’t too much damage on the main walls there. There was no roof and you could see right through all the floors with black scorch marks everywhere. It was a splendour in it’s own right, although of course, very starkly different from recent history. Nymans had a bad fire and their rooms have been kept, in part and the shell of fire damage left open to the elements.
We were asked to give our views on what they might do with it, and what we thought about it’s future. I’d be pleased with a full restoration, but I also would like to accept what has happened and to continue to see the bones of the house after this trauma. I would be keen to see a half and half, leave the rooms half restored and half left as they are now. It needs windows and a roof of course! There seems to be a strong opinion on keeping the upper floor for something new, as there is nothing much there. I’m not sure about that. I think if restored in part, and blended with it’s new beauty of the stripped back bare bones, it could be rather unique. There are other Georgian mansions in the south east which illustrate similar style of grandeur, could Clandon pioneer a newer half restored, half revealed future?
However today was a privilege to see. I can only hope they allow the public to see many more rooms which one could only glimpse at from the narrow walkway. Clandon has a long way to go.