Tudor Tredegar House from the Cedar Garden
A part of the Tredegar House story that is often overlooked these days is the pre-Restoration Period building. One wing remains of three that formed the grey stone edifice John Leland described as “A very fair place in stone”. This is what remains of the home of Sir John Morgan who accompanied Henry Tudor to Bosworth Field and helped put him on the throne of England. This was when the Morgans became respectable and they remained firm royalists from then on; even after the end of the Tudor Dynasty. King Charles I stayed as an overnight guest in 1645. The wing has changed considerably since then, but still gives a wonderful contrast to the later redbrick building.
Occasionally, it is possible for visitors to see inside parts of the wing, and the Still Room and surrounding parts of the House are within the Fifteenth Century structure that became part of the service areas. What may well have been the Great Hall of Sir John and his family became the Servants Hall in later centuries. The ceiling in here had disappeared by the time the Hall had been handed over to the servants and the upper windows brought in much more light. The ceiling was replaced during the 1970s after Newport Borough Council took over the care of the property and began a programme of restoration and refurbishment.
For a short a while the Hall became a bar and the restored upper room was designated as being an Education Room for school activities. However, in recent years it became more of a store room. For me, however, it is one of the most interesting rooms in the House. By last week it was completely empty. It has been cleared in anticipation of its new role as office space and I took the opportunity to have a look at a very interesting wall.
The “Tudor Wall”
The wall is almost a chronology of the development of the wing showing blocked up windows, fireplaces and doors. The large fireplace corresponds to a similar one below it, the doorway would have taken people out to a external staircase and there is still a chimney in place.
When this part of the House was completed the residents were still thinking defensively and there were no windows looking outwards, the light came from windows looking inwards onto a central courtyard.
This is a large part of the history of Tredegar House and the Morgan family who lived here. It is a pity that it is not open to the public, but it would be a logisitc nightmare to try and include it on the visitor route and so utilising it as desperately needed office space does make sense. However, I do hope that some specialist tours may still be allowed to peep in from time to time.
The windows overlooking the central courtyard
Tredegar House has been a National Trust property for six months now. On March the sixteenth Newport City Council officially handed over the keys to the House and the Trust’s management commenced. I say management because the arrangement was, at the time, quite unique. The National Trust are not the owners; the House is leased from the Council. As, I’m afraid, I say on public tours, it is still a council house – it just has new tenants.
Things were a bit hectic, to say the least, when it was decided to open the House to visitors within three weeks. There had been plans formulated and decisions made beforehand of course. One thing that was certain was that the visitor route and entrance would have to be changed. The Seventeenth Century entrance would become the main way into Tredegar House for the first time in nearly a hundred and fifty years. Another huge change was that there would be no guided tours. Visitors would enter and experience the House in a free flow system and everything would be much more hands-on and approachable. This would be facilitated by National Trust volunteers acting as Meeters-and-Greeters and Room Hosts. The problem was that in an area with very few NT properties there was no army of volunteers to call upon and therefore a recruitment drive was initiated. Very soon we had a good core of about fifty people who were willing to give up their time to help us open the House. Currently we have around two hundred and fifty volunteers on the books with about seventy or eighty coming in on a very regular basis.
Some of the ‘veterans’ and staff at a party celebrating getting through the first month!
There were a couple of downsides to these decisions. The logistics of it all meant that eight of the refurbished rooms that had previously been opened for guided tours, had to be closed for the time being. The decision to make the House more family friendly with a hands-on approach necessitated the removal of many original pieces from display. However, this was the price we would have to pay for becoming more attractive to visitors. I have to say, it is quite a relief not to be continually worrying about antiques and furniture being touched and not having to keep telling people not to touch or lean or sit on items. In many ways, it all makes for a happier, friendlier and more welcoming Tredegar House. Indeed, that is the response of a good eighty per cent of the visitors who leave comments.
Visitor numbers are up. We had hoped to have forty thousand visitors in the first year and we have already had thirty four thousand, so it looks like we will easily achieve that target. Membership is going well too. However, for me the success story is the group of regular volunteers we have here now. As one of them, John, said to me “This place gets a hold on you. I love it. When I’m not actually here, I’m reading about the House and the family”. I know what he means and he is far from being alone in thinking that.
Therefore, the new tenants of Tredegar House seem to have settled in and I suspect they will be resident for quite some time.