Country house which caught fire in 2015 is to remain a ruin with only its external walls and windows restored in a move branded a ‘blatant betrayal’ by a family member of its former owners
- Clandon Park, an 18th century mansion, was left a charred shell after fire in 2015
A scion of the family that gifted one of the country’s grandest houses to the National Trust has accused the charity of betraying an agreement to preserve it.
Clandon Park, an 18th century mansion, was left a charred shell after a fire in 2015 in what was widely regarded as the greatest disaster in the history of the Trust.
It now wants to preserve Clandon, the ancient seat of the Earls of Onslow, as a ruin with its external walls and windows restored but nearly all of its interior ‘thoughtfully conserved in its fire-damaged state’.
The Trust says this will offer people ‘a unique ‘X-ray’ view of how country houses were made’.
But Constance Watson, whose grandmother Lady Teresa Waugh – daughter of the 6th Earl – lived at the mansion near Guildford, Surrey, as a child, has branded the plan a ‘blatant betrayal.’
Clandon Park (pictured), an 18th century mansion, was left a charred shell after a fire in 2015 in what was widely regarded as the greatest disaster in the history of the Trust
The National Trust now wants to preserve Clandon, the ancient seat of the Earls of Onslow, as a ruin with its external walls and windows restored but nearly all of its interior ‘thoughtfully conserved in its fire-damaged state’
Miss Watson, a journalist, said: ‘A member of the Onslow family – my ancestors – gave the mansion to the National Trust by Deed of Gift in 1956, along with an endowment of £40,500 (approximately £1.3 million in today’s money).
‘The deed recited that the donor ‘is desirous of presenting [Clandon] to the Trust for preservation’ under the National Trust Acts of 1907 and 1937. They dictate that the Trust will secure the ‘permanent preservation’ of buildings and land in its care.’
Restore Trust, a protest group of National Trust members, believes the Trust’s plan is the latest example of it failing in its values and has raised a motion ahead of the Trust’s annual general meeting in November calling for a full restoration of Clandon’s interior.
Following the fire, the Trust initially said it hoped to rebuild the Grade-I listed mansion near Guildford in Surrey. It says its approach has ‘evolved in response to expert assessment.’
Its revised plans, first announced last year, also include what it calls ‘sensitively designed walkways and platforms’ that will make the ‘dramatic fire-damaged spaces’ inside Clandon ‘fully accessible’, and a new roof with public terraces and roof lights which will it says will give ‘breath-taking views’ into the house and across surrounding countryside
Miss Watson, great-grand-daughter of satirical writer Evelyn Waugh, said the Trust’s plan amounts to turning Clandon into ‘some sort of avant-garde visitor experience’.
She added: ‘The current plans are a blatant betrayal of the Deed of Gift, intended to preserve the architectural gem for the nation in perpetuity. If Clandon is not safe, where is?’
Her comments came in an article for the Daily Telegraph, in which she added that the house’s interiors, rather than its facades, were ‘undoubtedly its greatest features’.
The Trust says this will offer people ‘a unique ‘X-ray’ view of how country houses were made’
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They included some of what experts have called the best Palladian ceilings in England and a Palladio-inspired great hall which depicted the tales of Hercules and Omphale in marble.
The National Trust has said it will restore the Speaker’s Parlour, including a hand-crafted baroque plaster ceiling, but claims that due to the extent of loss caused by the fire in the rest of the interior ‘restoration, or more accurately recreation, elsewhere would not be a valuable act of preservation.’
The project is being funded from the £63 million insurance settlement the Trust received after the fire plus additional major investment from National Trust funds.
Rupert Onslow, the 8th Earl of Onslow, said the year after the fire that he believed ‘the insurance money would be better spent saving a historic house which needs saving. This one, sadly, is dead and should be left in peace and not treated like Frankenstein’s monster.’
He added he would prefer to see Clandon left as a ruin, but the Trust’s membership should be consulted before the executive spent its insurance payout on ‘a hideous hybrid’.
An investigation into the fire concluded it was accidental and the probable cause was a defect in an electrical distribution board in a cupboard in the basement.
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