Monthly Archives: April 2012

The National Trust’s Tredegar House is now open!

On Wednesday the National Trust opened the doors of Tredegar House to visitors. We had quite a week leading up to it. Several events had already been booked in during the run up to the handover by Newport City Council to the National Trust, and this meant that most of the changes had to wait until they were held. Paintings have been moved around, rooms have been reinterpreted, props and hands-on furniture have been brought in and more delicate items moved out. We have also changed the names of some of the rooms that we are showing in the styles of different periods. Therefore, the Brown Room is now the Dining Room, the Dining Room is now the New Parlour and the Morning Room is now the ….. well, we’re still thinking about that one. Most confusing for me is that the Staff Room is now the Mess Room.

The Brown Room was the C17th Dining Room. Photo by Monty Dart.

The Gilt Room was always the room that had retained most of its original decoration, but it always felt a little bare and so Venita Gribble (a professional film set designer) was brought in to make it all feel a bit more lived-in and to convey the idea of the opulence that would have greeted Seventeenth Century visitors to Tredegar House. Venita was responsible for dressing and furnishing the whole of the ground floor of the North West wing, in fact. A day bed is now in the centre of the Gilt Room and visitors can lie there admiring the wonderful ceiling.

A mirror next to the bed also allows visitors to view the ceiling without straining their necks. Photo by Monty Dart

The Gilt Room. Photo by Monty Dart

Before the National Trust took over the management of the House in March, Newport City Council had been involved in a huge programme of restoration and refurbishment.  Visitors could only view the House by guided tour (except on special “open days”), but there were over twenty rooms that had been brought back to life by the Council. Simon Jenkins said that it was “equal only to Powis among the great houses of Wales” and that it was “superbly repaired, furnished and displayed – though little marketed“.

Hopefully, the National Trust can address this last comment. Visitor numbers had dwindled. In 1983 over 200,000 people visited the grounds and 15,000 paid to go on guided tours of the House itself, and in 1985 the House tours attracted 20,000 visitors. These figures would seem to indicate that, as a visitor attraction, Tredegar House was going from strength to strength. So what went wrong? Why, as a tour guide last year, was I occasionally left looking for other jobs to do because  nobody at all had turned up for a tour? Why did visitors keep asking the question “Why haven’t we heard about this place before“? It has to be the lack of marketing again.  Another factor could well be that a visit to Tredegar House and Country Park had been a great family day out. Farm animals, boats on the lake etc. Bit by bit, many of these other attractions had disappeared. This is where the National Trust will make a huge improvement. Let’s get the families back, let’s see people coming down for the day and enjoying all the facilities and let’s make sure that everybody hears about Tredegar House and what a wonderful place it is. Yes, I am biased – but, justifiably so.

I quoted Simon Jenkins from his book “Wales: Churches, Houses, Castles” published by Allen Lane in 2008.

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Tredegar House Opens on April the Fourth

On Wednesday, the National Trust’s latest property will be opening its doors to the public. Tredegar House had been in the care of the local authority, Newport City Council, for nearly forty years. When they took the House on it was in a dreadful condition and decades of Restoration projects began to bring the property back to its former glory. The Morgan family, who had lived on the site for over five hundred years, had sold up in 1951 and most of its contents sold off. Newport Council, with help from many quarters, managed to re-acquire many pieces and some of them will still be on show. The Council still own Tredegar House, but a unique partnership finally agreed to earlier this year means that the running of the House and its grounds will be the responsibility of the National Trust.

There have been some changes, and there will probably be a lot more. The House will benefit from the expertise in preservation and presentation that the Trust can bring. Indeed, over the last few months a small army of experts have minutely inspected the House and its contents and have come up with some interesting ‘finds’. Hopefully, I will be able to mention some of these in future posts.

A personal worry for me, previously a Council employed Tour Guide and Facilitator, was the intention to abandon guided tours. However, for the past month I have been kept very busy in my new role as a National Trust Visitor Experience Assistant. I have been preparing a group of rooms that we will show dressed as they may well have been in 1897, when Godfrey Morgan lived at Tredegar House.

As Captain Godfrey Morgan of the 17th Lancers, he had survived the Charge of the Light Brigade. In 1875 he inherited the Tredegar Estates from his father and became the second Baron Tredegar. Godfrey was probably the most popular and best loved of the Lords Tredegar. Known as Godfrey the Good he was renowned for his benevolence and philanthropy. On the other hand, he could afford to. Some estimates have put the value of the estate he left behind on his death in 1913 at ten million pounds. The journey his body took to its resting place in Bassaleg was the closest that Newport has come to experiencing a state funeral.

He treated his staff well and this seems to have engendered a strong feeling of loyalty. One of those loyal servants was the Butler. The Butler’s Pantry is another room that I have been responsible for, and my colleagues and I have been dressing it so that visitors don’t have to worry too much about damaging original items. You can polish the silver, brush his Lordship’s top hat, buff up his boots – or just watch other people working instead.

If you want to hear more about Godfrey Morgan, come along to Tredegar House. Either myself, or a colleague will be giving short talks on Victorian Tredegar in the Side Hall and Morning Room. If it gets so busy that it is not practical to do the talk (which is a possibility), just come and ask me about it!

Tredegar House will open on the fourth of April 2012, 11.30 until 4pm (last admission), seven days a week!