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National Trust announces Clandon Park restoration contest

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The National Trust will launch a competition for a ‘bold and imaginative’ restoration of Surrey’s fire-damaged Clandon Park later this year

The announcement comes eight months after the Grade I-listed Palladian style mansion was struck by a major blaze which destroyed the roof, floors and thousands of historic objects.

Described as the charity’s ‘biggest conservation project in a generation’, the project will restore the building’s historically significant state rooms on the ground floor.

Key rooms such as the Marble Hall, Speakers’ Parlour and Saloon – where some items and architectural features survived the blaze – are expected to be reconstructed to their eighteenth century glory.

The ‘less architecturally significant’ upper floors of the house will meanwhile be transformed into a new flexible spaces for exhibitions, events and performances.

Clandon Park’s ‘parterre garden’ – designed by Royal gardeners London and Wise – and ‘gravell garden’ will also be restored.

The Trust’s director general, Helen Ghosh said: ‘The fire at Clandon was shocking, but gives us the opportunity not only to show our respect for the heritage of the past, but also to create new heritage for the future.

‘Our plans involve returning parts of the house to its 18th century glory whilst at the same time creating a building of beauty and relevance for the 21st century.

She continued: ‘The loss of so many of the contents of the house means that we cannot return it to how it looked the day before the fire.

‘However, we now know more about the original layout and recognise that the enduring significance of the house is its architecture and so we would like to return it to the 18th century design – making it a purer, more faithful version of Clandon as it was when it was first built.’



Source: Image by John Millar National Trust Images

Inside the Marble Hall of Clandon Park

Designed by Venetian architect Giacomo Leoni, Clandon Park was commissioned as a home for the Onslow family and completed in the 1720s.

The building – which was one of the five surviving works by Leoni in England – fell into disrepair during the twentieth century and was given to the National Trust in the 1950s.

Following the fire, the trust considered a range of options for the house – including leaving it as a ruin – but decided restoration was both technically possible and could generate enough income for long-term conservation.

The restoration cost will mostly be covered by the building’s insurance and additional fundraising will commence once the plans are further developed.

Surrey Fire and Rescue Service changed its approach to fires in historic houses after criticism that fire fighters prioritised rescuing art works over saving Clandon Park itself.

Commenting on the row, a trust spokesperson said: ‘We greatly appreciated the efforts of Surrey Fire and Rescue Service both in tackling the fire and in the salvage operation that helped to save many important objects in the house.

‘We are looking forward to working with them collaboratively in the future to enhance our fire safety procedures.’


Clandon Park history



Source: Image by John Miller National trust Images

Pre-fire, the west front at the National Trust Clandon Park

The gardens

Following the fire, a geophysical survey was conducted by Historic England over the east lawn at Clandon Park to inform the site set up for the salvage operation This survey revealed that the elaborate parterre garden [designed by Royal gardeners London and Wise] had survived for two hundred years under the lawn. This beautiful formal ‘gravell garden’ can be seen in an early 18th century painting of the first house at Clandon. These excellent physical and visual / documentary sources give us the evidence to recreate the design garden when the house was built, in line with our aim to rebuild the house in keeping with its original 18th century decorative schemes, designs and layout.

The house

Clandon Park was one of the country’s most complete examples of a Palladian mansion designed by Venetian architect Giacomo Leoni (c1686-1746). This extraordinary commission for a new house required the demolition of an historic house of some architectural importance which had been the Onslow family’s home and power-base for some 70 years. It was a bold move which revealed the self-confidence of the Onslow family whose members had been financially and politically upwardly mobile since the accession of James I and reflects their assurance in the Hanoverian succession in 1714, after the uncertainties of Queen Anne’s accession. The significance of the architecture is recognised in its Grade 1 listing.

Leoni marked his arrival in England by publishing the first English translation of the work of his Venetian predecessor; architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580). This had a significant cultural impact amongst English patrons and architects and brought Leoni to the attention of Lord Onslow through the Duke of Kent, younger brother of George I. The arrival and adoption of authentic Palladianism brought an end to the English Baroque architectural style which had been prevalent since the Restoration. By at least 1747, a principal drawing room at Clandon Park was named after Andrea Palladio, which appears to be ground-breaking.



Source: Image by Anthony Parkinson National Trust Images

State dining room at Clandon Park before the fire

Clandon is one of only five surviving buildings by Leoni in England. Its decorative schemes were highly significant, particularly the ornate plaster ceilings by stuccadors Giuseppe Artari (d. 1769) and Giovanni Bagutti (1681-c1730) and the virtuoso Carrara marble over mantels by sculptor John Michael Rysbrack (1694-1770).

On completion in the 1720s, Clandon Park had interior decorative schemes and furnishings which were equal in importance and quality to their architectural setting. The ground floor, or piano nobile, was conceived as a series of rooms of state or parade rooms, each of which had an important function in the hospitality of Royal and other high-status guests. Rooms included: a grand entrance hall which doubled-up as dining room for large events, the Marble Hall; a large drawing room, the Saloon; a refined with-drawing room, the Palladio Room; a high status and symbolic bedroom, the State Bedroom; and an every-day dining room, the Parlour. All these rooms were decorated with appropriately lavish silk or flock-papered walls, silk or moreen curtains and marble or carpeted floors.

The family at Clandon

Clandon was built for Thomas, 2nd Baron Onslow, to replace the Elizabethan house his great-grandfather had acquired in 1641. The Onslows traditionally followed political careers; the three who served as Speakers of the House of Commons were commemorated in portraits in the Speakers’ Parlour which has survived the fire. The Maori meeting house in the grounds, its steeply pitched thatched roof reaching almost to the ground, is a memorial to another eminent Onslow, the 4th Earl, who was governor of New Zealand from 1888–92 and who also rescued Clandon from half a century of neglect by his great-uncle.

The Onslow family seem to have struggled to maintain Clandon Park after the death of the 4th Earl in 1911 and a lack of investment meant the house was in great need of repair. In 1956, the aunt of the 6th Earl, Gwendolen Guinness, Lady Iveagh, stepped in and bought the house and many of its contents which she gave to The National Trust along with an endowment, the 6th Earl also contributing towards the enormous repair costs that faced the National Trust. The house was refurbished during the 1960s to include a collection of 18th-century furniture and porcelain given to the National Trust, along with a generous endowment, by collector Hannah Gubbay.

Collections rescued from the fire

Over 400 objects were rescued from the fire including:

  • Painting depicting Speaker Arthur Onslow calling upon Sir Robert Walpole to speak in the House of Commons, by Sir James Thornhill and William Hogarth 1730, from the Library.
  • Board listing the rules to be observed in the servants’ hall at Clandon, eighteenth century.
  • Painting of an ostrich and a cassowary, each in a classical landscape, oil on canvas, by Francis Barlow (c.1626–1704), probably painted in the 1670s, from the Marble Hall.
  • Bible printed by John Basket in 1716-1717, from the Library.
  • Folding screen incorporating Victorian and Edwardian Onslow family photographs, from the Library.
  • A pair of giltwood side tables in the manner of John Gumley and James Moore, made in about 1725, from the State Bedroom.
  • Silver, including some pieces by the noted silversmith Paul Storr, from the Speaker’s Parlour.
  • The hangings of the Clandon state bed, made in about 1710. The hangings had just returned to Clandon following conservation treatment and were still packed up.
  • The ornate ormolu chandelier which was part of the decorative scheme from 1801, the large Turkey carpet dating from the 19th century, the decorative polished brass and steel fender from the fireplace and pieces of delicate, gilt etched glassware, all from the Speakers’ Parlour.
  • All the paintings from the Speakers’ Parlour, including Arthur Onslow, the Great Speaker, and Richard Onslow, Speaker in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
  • Onslow family photographs, personal mementoes belonging to the 6th Earl of Onslow relating to his time as a prisoner of war, and a silver christening mug.
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