Monthly Archives: January 2012

Cleaning Tredegar – The Derelict Room!

Away from the glitter and glamour of the better known state rooms at Tredegar House, the Spring Clean goes on. The Derelict Room, as you may have guessed, was not always known as such. This was the Chintz Room for some time and Godfrey Morgan, the Second Baron Tredegar, used it as his library-cum-study. We think it was quite an important room. It is at the top of the stairs directly above the New Hall entrance and has spectacular views looking past the stables and up the Oak Avenue to the brow of the hill. Indeed, the BBC once set up a film crew in this room to use the exterior view for an episode of Doctor Who set in the Palace of Versailles!

A rainy view from the "Derelict Room".

In 1974 when Newport Borough Council (as it was then) took control of the House many of the rooms were in a dreadful condition, and the evidence of that is still to be seen in the derelict Room. Decades of schoolchildren and a few vandals have left their marks here. This room does form part of the Tredegar House experience however.  The House Curator, Emily Price, feels that visitors should see the whole story – warts and all. Most visitors appreciate seeing it.

It was very dirty and dusty in the Derelict Room

The room is a very interesting one and raises questions about the House and the chronology of its development. The room had changed considerably over the years, even before the Sisters of Saint Joseph used it as a classroom. Some of the decoration is older than other parts. Internal walls were erected through the upstairs rooms at some point to create a passageway (previously the only way to one room was to walk through another – enfilade), but we were not certain when.  In one corner, where the Sisters had removed an old wall cupboard there was evidence of an old wallpaper which we guessed at being Regency Period.

However, last year, some experts from the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester had a look at it and dated it to about 1740. A rare surviving example of an early paper with an even earlier design that was originally used in fabrics. Although it was always roped off we now made sure it received the extra care it needed. It was in a fairly bad state. It needed cleaning and preserving and so paper conservator, Laura Caradonna, came in to work on it. It looks much more presentable now, of course, and we take care to keep direct light away from it.

The paper is also partially covering one of the walls put up to create the upstairs corridor and this has made us rethink the date of these alterations – much earlier than we had thought. Many of these changes may have been made when Tredegar House was the home of the Dowager Lady Rachel Morgan (nee Cavendish, daughter of the Second Duke of Devonshire) and her son William.

Hopefully, the National Trust will allow this controversial, but fascinating room to remain open to visitors when the House opens again at Easter. Perhaps we should start giving it a different name though.

The Derelict Room.


The New Hall: the orginal entrance into Tredegar House

Things are going quite well with the Spring Clean now. We have had to change the schedule somewhat as new events are booked in. However, being flexible is the answer, and so we have made a start on the Library and its safe.

I have been wearing my Learning Facilitator’s hat this week too, and consequently have not been participating in the Clean quite as much. We managed to complete the New Hall  before a Stuarts Workshop was due to take place in there. Our Stuarts Workshop is popular with primary schools (Key Stage 2). While one group of pupils is up in the Master’s Bedchamber learning about life in a Seventeenth Century home, the others are in the New Hall being instructed in Baroque dances and the associated social etiquette.

The Edwardian New Hall

Before the 1860s, the New Hall was the main entrance into Tredegar House. However, after a porch and doorway replaced a window in the Side Hall on the other wing, the New Hall came to be used as a Drawing Room. Today, it is used for a multitude of functions and events. This is where wedding ceremonies are conducted, mayoral functions, period dances, folk dancing and carol singing, lectures and concerts and even the occasional final showdown between Doctor Who and The Master! It has not been an entrance hall for a long time though. That seems set to change. The National Trust is very keen to have visitors approach Tredegar House towards the North West wing and into the New Hall. This will mean quite a few changes, but I get the feeling that any problems will somehow be overcome.

Folk Dancing in the New Hall

Sadly, although Twenty First Century visitors will come into the House the same way as  Seventeenth Century visitors did, they will not be met with the same spectacle.  The main difference is the ceiling. The grand ceiling with its ornate plasterwork came crashing down in the mid-Twentieth Century and there is a rather unimpressive functional local authority replacement in its stead. The large fireplace  probably dates to the Regency Period and the present floor covers an original flagged or tiled surface. Most of the paintings in the New Hall are on loan from the Dulwich Picture Gallery. There is one painting of note, if not for its artistic qualities, then for its content.

The Regency New Hall

Here we see the New Hall in the Regency Period. The Grand Staircase and the fireplace are visible and similar to that seen by visitors today. The painting also gives a glimpse of that old ceiling. We are not certain who the artist was, but there is a tradition that it was painted by one of the Morgan children themselves. There they are, by the way, lined up at the foot of the stairs like something out of The Sound of Music.

The Brown Room

The Spring Clean at Tredegar House continued this week and we moved from the Gilt Room to the Brown Room. This is my favourite room in the House. When I open the doors to the Brown Room first thing in the morning, the smell of oak is wonderful. This room has oak panelling on all sides and a giant oak that grew on the Estate provided the planks for the floor. Originally these were all single planks running the length of the room – forty-two feet.

The carving in the Brown Room is quite magnificent, and the name Grinling Gibbons often crops up. Members of the Morgan family often claimed that Gibbons contributed to the House’s decoration, however this lacks the finesse associated with his work. Nonetheless it is impressive. Carved busts of Roman emperors are positioned between the scrolled pediments in the upper reaches (although busts of Augustus and Livia above the doorways are later replacements) and probably date to the Late Seventeenth or Early Eighteenth Century. Below the panels amongst the scrolling acanthus leaves are serpents and putti, lions and griffins (supporters of the old family coat of arms) and allusions to Green Man motifs and cartoons of royalty perhaps.

The ceiling here is a Victorian replacement, the original  had an oval painting in the centre depicting “The Tribute of the Gods to Flora and Zephyr”, collapsed in 1848. Above the fireplace had been a depiction of the seduction of Callisto, but it seems to have disappeared sometime in the third quarter of the Twentieth Century. The painting that hangs in its place is by John Wooton. It shows Sir William Morgan with his favourite racehorse, Lamprey. It was originally part of the Tredegar Collection, but is currently on loan from the National Museum of Wales.

The Brown Room

The Brown Room was the state dining Room at Tredegar in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries and the furniture on display is from that period. Again, we have the National Museum of Wales to thank for the loan of the tables; the chairs, however, were kindly donated to the House by the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich.

The Brown Room contains several portraits of Morgan family members. These include Lady Elizabeth, who ended her days in an asylum, Henry Morgan (better known to rum drinkers as Captain Morgan) and Lady Rachel Cavendish who is said to have put a curse on the Morgan line following unsuccessful battles over the inheritance of the Tredegar Estate. That, however, is another story.

The Gilt Room

The Spring Clean at Tredegar House began this week. The first room we are tackling is one of the trickiest, but one of the most impressive – the Gilt Room. Simon Jenkins calls it “one of the great rooms of Wales“, and Country Life magazine considered it to be “one of the most important surviving interiors of the late-17th-century in the country”.

Gilt Room fireplace

The Gilt Room is at the end of the North West Wing and is accessed through the Brown Room. This is very much a case of the family showing off. The Brown Room had been the main dining room in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries and we believe that the gentlemen would retire to the Gilt Room for a game of cards, a drink or two and maybe to listen to the family harpist (being a good Welsh family, the Morgans employed a full-time harpist) and flautists. This room has retained more of its original features and decoration than any other at Tredegar. The panelling in here is pine, but has been painted and grained to resemble walnut. The fire surround is dark Italian marble, but the twisted columns above it are  carved from pine and painted and marbled to complement it. Between the twisted columns is a portrait of William Morgan aged ninety in 1650; although original to the House it is currently  on loan thanks to the National Museum of Wales. The gold leaf has been reapplied by Newport Council on the carvings and mouldings.

The paintings are original though having been painted directly onto the panelling. Above the doorway is Venus, seemingly after Titian’s “Venus and the Organ Player”. Left of the doorway the panels contain depictions of the Three Virtues – Prudence, Temperance and Justice.  These  were copied from engravings  after sculptures by Artus Quellinus at the Amsterdam Town Hall. To the right of the doors we have two of the Seasons; Summer depicted as a young girl and and Winter as an old man. At least, that is what the older guide books profess; I have my personal doubts about that. Between the North East windows is another painting based on an engraving showing Cybele the Mother Goddess or possibly Diana. Smaller panels on the North West side depict a variety of Italianate landscapes, said to be after Poussin, which I find to be quite similar to the Abergavenny area.

The other important feature of the Gilt Room is its ceiling. This is the only original Seventeenth Century ceiling that has survived on the Ground Floor.  Indeed it very nearly didn’t survive. A Military Spectacular was held at Tredegar Park in the Eighties and part of it included a flypast by a Vulcan bomber from RAF St Athan. Apparently it flew over the House at a very low level, the whole building shook and the ceiling’s plasterwork started to crack, crumble and fall. Luckily Newport Council acted quickly and filled the Gilt Room with scaffolding holding it all in place until, I believe, the RAF paid for its restoration. Remarkably, however, the central painting was not damaged and this is what makes the whole room so magnificent in my opinion.

The painting is after an engraving of one of the features of Pietro da Cortona’s ceiling at the Palazzo Barberini in Rome. For me this is one of the great joys of the Spring Clean at Tredegar House; when I can get up close to this ceiling and see all the detail. Each year I feel I discover another feature I hadn’t noticed properly before. Last year I had the opportunity to see Cortona’s original and I have to say that the copy at Tredegar is not a million miles away from the one that Pope Urban VIII would have admired in the Gran Salone of his home.

The whole ceiling in Rome depicts The Triumph of Divine Providence and the fulfilment of her ends under the papacy of Pope Urban VIII. The theme of the ceiling in the Gilt Room is a depiction of The Triumph of Religion and Spirituality. Considering the fact that Tredegar House was a Catholic School run by the Sisters of St Joseph for over twenty years, we should be grateful it was not painted over. On the other hand if it was good enough for a papal palazzo ………….

Next on the list for the Spring Clean at Tredegar House is the Brown Room. I hope to post something about each of the rooms as they are cleaned. That should take us up to the National Trust takeover if everything goes according to plan.

Sources for this post included:

Jenkins, Simon (2008) – Wales: Churches, Houses, Castles. (Allen Lane)

Worsley, Giles (1994) – Country Life magazine. pp 74 – 76

Lo Bianco, Anna (2008) – Pietro da Cortona’s Ceiling. (Gestione Servizi Beni Culturali)

Davies, John (2009) – Cymru: Y 100 lle i’w gweld cyn marw. (Y Lolfa)

Room notes compiled by Tredegar House’s Curator Emily Price and her predecessors.

And a thank you to colleagues Paul Busby et al for imparting their knowledge.