Tag Archives: Heritage

A New Season at The House

I didn’t spend much time at Tredegar House during the 2013 Season (even then I was mainly in the office) but managed to put in an appearance at the Christmas event. The 2014 Season has begun with the opening of the Downstairs areas and some short tours Upstairs. Volunteers have been taking visitors up the Bachelor Staircase and into the Master’s Bedchamber, Cedar Closet and the Cow Bathroom. An area of the House that has not been regularly open to the public since the National Trust took over the management of the property.

Also, we are all delighted to see the House Manager, Emily Price, return from her maternity leave. Emily has been a key member of the Tredegar House Team for some years now. She was the Tredegar House Curator under  Newport Museums & Heritage Service and came here from The Queen’s House in Greenwich.

Tredegar House had a curator as it was, and indeed still is, a museum. The House is one of several National Trust properties which have full museum accreditation. The National Trust was keen to ensure that we kept our accreditation following the handover. It serves as a reminder that there is even more to the place than the beautiful building itself, there is the Tredegar Collection too.

In addition to the parts of the Collection original to the House there are many items on loan from other museums and galleries and from private owners. One of these items is leaving Tredegar House.  The full length portrait of Henry Rich, first Earl of Holland by (or after) Anthony Van Dyck has been displayed in the stairwell of the Great Staircase for many years on a long term loan.

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The Cedar Closet at Tredegar House

I have to apologise for not updating this blog as often as I should. I hope to do more throughout the 2014 Season. With visitors already getting access to rooms such as The Cedar Closet, we are already getting queries that we have not had to deal with for a while. Last week I was asked about the painted glass Sun Dial and the name of the artist. I think that could be something for the next post.

The full Tredegar House experience begins on Saint David’s Day.

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The Beginning of the End – a Centenary at Tredegar House

Monday, 11th March 2013

One hundred years ago today Godfrey Morgan, Viscount Tredegar, died at his home of Tredegar House in Newport. This was a pivotal moment in the fate of the Morgan dynasty and their ancestral home. This was the beginning of the end.

Godfrey Funeral

The Funeral of Godfrey Morgan, Viscount Tredegar

The Morgan family had lived at the Tredegar Park site for well over five hundred years. By the end of the Eighteenth Century they owned over forty thousand acres of land. When the Industrial Revolution came into full swing they capitalised on the new wealth it brought. They were responsible for the economic development of the Newport area and benefitted from strong links (sometimes by marriage) with the new industrialist dynasties. Godfrey Morgan was actually the “spare”, his brother Rodney being the “heir”. However, the rather wayward Rodney died prematurely in France in 1854 and Godfrey found himself next in line to inherit the Tredegar Estate. This he did on the death of his father Charles Morgan Robinson Morgan, the first Baron Tredegar, in 1875. Unlike his father, Godfrey spent most of his time at Tredegar House. He took more of an interest in local politics and society and was regarded as a great philanthropist. He could afford to be. Godfrey had never married, there were no children and his lifestyle was simpler than those who preceded  and succeeded him. He was also the owner of land that was bringing industrial wealth and had interests in much of the economic infrastructure in the area. By the turn of the Century there were around a thousand farms paying rent to the Tredegar Estate. Godfrey’s net daily income was in the region of a thousand pounds.

The fortunes of the Morgans were at an apex when Godfrey died. So were the fortunes of South Wales generally, of course, with coal production at its peak. However, the iron, steel and coal industries of Wales were being threatened by the increasing competition of other European economies that had been developing and that of the United States of America. The following year would see the world thrust into the tragedy of the Great War and all of its repercussions and socio-economic upheavals. However, the Morgans were about to go into a downward spiral of near self-destruction anyway.

Courtenay Morgan

Courtenay Morgan

Godfrey’s brother Freddie had already died in 1909 and the Estate would now pass to his nephew Courtenay. Courtenay had a serious side to him, but also knew how to enjoy himself and had a very extravagant lifestyle. He spent a small fortune on servants at the various properties he owned and ran, there were yachts, parties, affairs and two children who knew how to spend just as well as their parents. Courtenay’s wife, Lady Katharine, had no desire to live in Wales and had properties in London and laterly in Surrey. When Courtenay  died in 1934 it was not just the extravagances that had taken their toll on the family fortune, but death duties were contributing to the problems of a rapidly dwindling estate. The heir to it all was not to help matters at all. Evan Morgan took his responsibilities very lightly indeed. At least Courtenay had employed level headed Estate Managers to try and manage things, Evan’s choice of employees often had more to do with their good looks than ability. By the Second World War, Evan Morgan was using only part of Tredegar House to live in, most of it was in mothballs. There was a skeleton staff running the House and the property was in need of basic repairs.

In 1949 Evan died at his mother’s home of Honeywood House. The next to inherit was his elderly Uncle Fred. Owing to his age and failing health arrangements had already been made that although Fred would inherit the title of Baron Tredegar, the bulk of the Estate would go directly to Fred’s son John in order to avoid paying double death duties.

John Morgan and sister

John Morgan and sister

John Morgan had little interest in the area. Indeed after feeling that he had been snubbed when not invited to any of the formal local celebrations and events marking the Coronation of the Queen in 1953, he decided to sever all links with South Wales.  He sold Tredegar House and its immediate grounds and gardens to the Sisters of St Joseph who would go on to use it as a Convent School and later  a comprehensive, St Joseph’s High School which outgrew the property and moved out to a purpose built establishment. John began selling off everything quite ruthlessly , with tenant farmers sometimes only discovering that their livelihoods were to be auctioned by reading it in the local press. Much of the local land went to the Eagle Star Insurance Company.

In 1954 John’s father died and John took the title finally.  John himself died in 1962. The childless Baron was the last Lord Tredegar. Twelve years later Tredegar House became the property of Newport Borough Council. An estate that had taken over half a millennium to build up had disappeared in less than half a century.


The Morning Room at Tredegar House

If you are a member of one of the parties coming on the Group Tours of Tredegar House on March the Seventeenth (the very last tours under Newport City Council) you will enter through the Victorian Porch and into the Side Hall. To your left you will notice a smaller room decorated in the Regency style. This is the Ladies Morning Room.

The Morning Room

The Morning Room looks as if Miss Elizabeth Bennett and her sisters should be seated in there. The wallpaper is copied from a design at Clandon Park which dates to 1810 and the Brussels carpet was recreated fitted for the Morning Room based on a carpet made in Paris in 1829. Much of the furniture is Rosewood and of the same period. However, this was not always a room for the ladies of the House. A Seventeenth Century inventory describes this as “The Drinking Roome” and gives its contents as 10 leather back chairs and an oval table – and that is all.

The Morning Room - looking in.

The Spring Clean continues at Tredegar as around us officials from the National Trust are busy making arrangements for the takeover on March the Nineteenth, and for the first visitors at Easter. When you visit Tredegar House as a National Trust property you will not enter this way (see my previous post on the New Hall), but it will continue to be part of the visitor experience.

When Tredegar House was a school (1951 – 1974) the Side Hall was the visitors’ entrance and the Morning Room was a waiting room. Prior to that it had been an office for the secretaries of the last Lords Tredegar who lived here. These days, apart from being on show to visitors, it is used by the Registrar prior to wedding ceremonies held in the New Hall. It does have something of an air of intimacy and privacy.


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.


Christmas at Tredegar House

Once again the House is  decorated for the Christmas event, with the aromas of mince pies and mulled wine and the appearance of staff and volunteers in an eclectic array of costume and coiffure.  The Tredegar House Christmas is very popular in Newport and the surrounding area. Indeed, for many locals Christmas commences with their visit to the House. The popularity of Tredegar as a venue for Christmas carousing throughout the month of December and beyond is not a new thing though.

Take a look at the National Library of Wales Blog here http://www.llgc.org.uk/blog/?p=323 and you will see that from its very beginnings, this Restoration Period home was renowned for its Yuletide hospitality. Later Sir Charles Morgan would become known as one of the great Christmas hosts of the Nineteenth Century. Some accounts of the races, masquerade parties, banquets, servants’ balls, hunts and cattle shows are included in “A Monmouthshire Christmas” compiled by Maria and Andrew Hubert. When General Thomas Molyneux visited in 1808 he was impressed by the numbers – eighty guests and just as many servants (who were entertained in the Servants Hall) and over a hundred horses easily accommodated in the Tredegar stables.  The General was an annual visitor to Tredegar House over the next eight years and seems to have eagerly anticipated the masquerades in particular. The event was so big that it provided a boost to the tradesmen of Newport and those further afield in Bristol too.

“About a dozen firms were dependent on the patronage of the house in Bristol alone, an a further six or seven in Newport. The grocery bill in the early 1830s seems to have been twice as much as the wages bill for the whole household. The seasonal house party in 1838 accounted for the slaughter of 5 bullocks, 29 sheep, 10 pigs, 1 lamb and 2 calves.

……. Candles were a huge expense, especially to keep Christmas bright during the six-week season; in 1818 the December / January bill was for 1,153 candles”.

Christmas is still a good excuse for dressing up at Tredegar House and this year the theme is Sleeping Beauty. Mixed in with the fairy-tale characters are Staff, Volunteers, Friends and visitors in Georgian and Victorian costume. And, of course, Mr Scrooge. One year, when Newport’s ‘finest council house’ dropped the Scrooge character, there were complaints from Councillors and so he was reinstated the following Christmas. If you come to the House tonight make sure you wish him “A very Merry Christmas!”