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 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.
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.