Tag Archives: National Trust

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.

Image

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.


Sir Briggs – Newport’s Own Warhorse

On Friday I returned to Tredegar House to meet up with the Crew from the Welsh language TV programme Heno. I was being interviewed about Godfrey Morgan, second Lord Tredegar, his importance to Newport and, in particular, his role in the Charge of the Light Brigade. Of course, Godfrey’s famous warhorse, Sir Briggs, featured prominently too.

A few months before, on the twenty-fifth of October, staff and volunteers from Tredegar House met up at the Tredegar Arms in Bassaleg. For many years this had been one of the venues for Lord Tredegar’s Balaclava dinner. Godfrey Morgan, first Viscount Tredegar, had survived the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade during the Battle of Balaclava on this date in 1854, and it was marked by this annual dinner. There have been previous attempts to revive this tradition, but nothing for some years.

To be honest, it wasn’t a dinner this time. This was more of a Balaclava bar meal and couple of pints. There were two talks (by myself and my colleague Paul Busby) and it was suggested that we end with a toast. It was decided that the toast should be to the horse that got the future Viscount out of the Valley of Death in one piece – Sir Briggs.  Sir Briggs is Wales’ most famous warhorse and stories of him still survive in the Newport area. Some of them are true, but some are not.

The film Warhorse has sparked a renewed interest in Sir Briggs, and he features in The National Army Museum’s exhibition “War Horse: Fact and Fiction”. The Museum’s website gallery features a very fine painting of Sir Briggs by Alfred de Prades. However, it always seemed a bit odd to the Tredegar House guides and facilitators that the Museum claims that “… little is known about ‘Sir Briggs’ beyond the evidence of this painting … “. We actually now know quite a bit about him, even if fact and fiction does get a little confused at times. Last month an article in the Wales on Sunday newspaper had tried to put things straight, but became slightly confusing itself in the end. One of the myths that has been repeated concerns how Sir Briggs got his name.

Sir Briggs was bought by Charles Morgan Robinson Morgan in 1851(soon to become the first Lord Tredegar). Sir Briggs was a good investment and had already proved his worth at the Cowbridge Steeplechases. In 1853 he was one of the entrants in the Tredegar Park Races, which were part of the Christmas tradition at the Estate. The owner is given as being C. R. Morgan, and may refer to Charles Morgan Robinson Morgan, or just as easily his eldest son and heir, Charles Rodney Morgan. The other thing that this cutting from the Nottinghamshire Guardian  0f 13th January 1853 demonstrates, of course, is that Sir Briggs was so named at least twenty one months before The Charge of the Light Brigade.  There is another story that Godfrey ‘knighted’ his horse on the battlefield for his bravery. Yet another says that it was a Russian sabre cut on the shoulder that gave Briggs the title of ‘Sir’. The wound was inflicted above the horse’s eye. The horse was not dubbed for his part in the Battle of Balaclava.

Notts Guardian 1853

Godfrey wrote to his father a couple of days after the Charge.

“My Dear Father,

…… I am at present commanding officer of the 17th Lancers, which gallant little regiment now consists of 50 men and horses fit for duty and 3 officers. 

I fear that before you receive this letter you will have heard some bad news of the Cavalry Light Brigade. However, not to keep you in suspense, I will begin by saying that I am safe and well in my own person, having come out of that gallant, brilliant (but as all add, useless) charge under a tremendous fire of all arms from front and flanks, and a perfect forest of swords and lances, untouched, with only a sabre cut on poor old Sir Briggs’ head just over the right eye…”

The story that Sir Briggs was named after a Tredegar House servant is equally unfounded. Bridger Champion was a groom at Ruperra Castle who was said to have been with Godfrey at Aldershot and was perhaps his groom or even batman. Was he with Godfrey during the Crimean campaign?  Again, there is nothing in the archives to substantiate this story. The servant, John Stokes,who went out with Godfrey had to return due to ill health and many of his duties were taken on by Trooper Dobson.

Over the years at Tredegar House we had heard many stories about Sir Briggs and Godfrey. Some claimed that the horse had been stuffed and buried standing up in a deep grave in the Cedar Garden, others say that he is not actually buried at Tredegar House beneath the obelisk in the garden, but is actually interred on top of Twmbarlwm mountain overlooking the Morgan lands.

I have also recently heard that Godfrey took his pet dog down into the Valley of Death with him. This is all very entertaining, but sometimes these stories make us doubt the very truth about this remarkable horse. Sir Briggs was a remarkable horse. Having survived the sea journey to the Crimea (unlike Godfrey’s other horses), taken part in several actions including Alma, Balaclava and Inkerman, and lived through a winter that saw many horses and men perish, Sir Briggs was left in the Crimea with Godfrey’s brother, Frederick Morgan, who had became a staff officer at Sebastopol. When Godfrey finally left the Crimea after illness Frederick asked for Sir Briggs to be left with him. There was no rest for this horse. This warhorse, having lived through the battles of Alma, Balaclava and Inkerman was entered in the Sebastopol Military Steeplechase and won.

Finally, in 1855 Sir Briggs returned to Tredegar Park where he lived in retirement for twenty years. He died in 1874 and was buried in the Cedar Garden with a magnificent memorial erected above his grave. A fine tribute to this equine hero. It reads:

In Memory of

Sir Briggs

Favourite charger. He carried his master the Hon. Godfrey Morgan, Captain 17th Lancers boldly and well at the Battle of Alma, in the first line of the Light Cavalry Charge of Balaclava and the Battle of Inkerman, 1854. He died at Tredegar Park February 6th 1874. Age 28 years.

The Heno programme is due to be broadcast on Wednesday (16th January) evening on S4C and after that via their website on the Clic player with English subtitles available.


New Tenants in a Council House

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.


A Tale of Two Tredegars

The National Trust Poster for Tredegar House’s Housewarming Party.

The above poster has been spotted on buses, bus shelters and billboards around South East Wales and has provoked a few comments – especially in the town of Tredegar and the City of Newport.  To the Project Team at Tredegar House, “I Love Tredegar” is a snappy little phrase that can be attached to campaigns and advertisement for lots of events and activities. The House and grounds are referred to simply as Tredegar. However, beyond the walls of the House, Gardens and Park the common usage for the name Tredegar has , for more than a century, alluded to the town at the Heads of the Valleys. This is causing some confusion now; only a little to be honest though. Occasionally in the past, some coach parties have found themselves in the birthplace of Aneurin Bevan and I do wonder if the recently restored Bedwellty House is benefiting from the advertising campaign.  With Google maps, Sat Nav and a eye on the road signs this shouldn’t really be a problem these days.

So why the two Tredegars? Visitors to Tredegar House often ask why the House is named after the Blaenau Gwent town. The answer is simple. It is not. Tredegar House is a Restoration period mansion with an even older Tudor wing. Indeed there seems to have been an earlier building on the site too. There are Fourteenth Century references to a Tredegar on the site and Medieval pottery has turned up. Until the Industrial Revolution was in full swing there was only one Tredegar; and that was at the bottom of the valley not at its head.

Samuel Homfray was a successful industrialist from a family of successful industrialists. Having made his mark at Penydarren Ironworks he moved to fresh ventures. In 1793 he had married Mary Jane, daughter of Sir Charles Morgan of the Tredegar Estate. When Richard Fothergill and Matthew Monkhouse looked to build a new Ironworks further down the Sirhowy Valley, they realised that Homfray would be an advantageous business partner. The land they had their eyes on for the new works  belonged to Sir Charles and favourable terms for a 99 lease were agreed upon in 1799. The Tredegar Iron Company began work in 1800 on the site and the first three furnaces were completed within a couple of years. Homfray seems to have thought it only right that they should name the Ironworks after his wife’s home – Tredegar! A public house, the Tredegar Arms, was soon opened nearby as well as workers houses, a tram road and a “Company Shop”. Other shops, more houses, chapels and churches, roads and tramways followed over the next ten years and the town of Tredegar was becoming well established.

Before long this town was more well known than the estate after which it was named and it became important in its own right. A. J. Cronin’s novel The Citadel, was based on his experiences working with Tredegar Medical Aid Society. The Society is rightly regarded as being the model, or a blueprint, for the National Health Service, and of course Tredegar’s most famous son was its architect Aneurin Bevan.

I think it’s quite OK for us to love both Tredegars. Both important in different ways.


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.


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!