Friday, 1 May 2015

Farewell to Clandon Park

Clandon Park
I had the huge privilege to work as the House Manager's Assistant part-time for three years at the beautiful Clandon Park from 2009 and, like so many others affected, am devastated by the nation's loss following the recent fire. Seeing the images of flames ripping through the rooms, destroying the beautiful objects that so many of us have lovingly cleaned and cared for over so many years, is truly heart-breaking.
The collection was fabulous and included one of the country's best assembly of porcelain and ceramic, including stunning Meissen harlequin commedia dell'arte figures and monkey orchestra as well as pieces by Sรจvres, Bow and Chelsea.
Some of Clandon Park's fabulous ceramics

The fire-fighters did an amazing job, and I was reminded of the modest antique fire-fighting equipment displayed in the basement outside the old kitchen, just metres from where the fire broke out. When giving tours of the property, I would often finish here, concluding how significant a risk fire posed to historic mansions, never thinking it might later destroy the very property I was standing in.

Fire-fighting equipment on display in the basement of
Clandon Park, where the fire broke out

Without a doubt the awe-inspiring Marble Hall (a towering 40-foot cube) was the highlight of the mansion, described in 1747 by George Vertue as:
"a most noble and elegant Hall, 40 foot high, adorn'd with marbles, pillars, carvings, bass relieves by Rysbrake, stuccos, painting[s], guildings &co, most rich and costly."

The dramatic Marble Hall

Now all that remains is a shell, an echo of its former glory. Yet miraculously surviving are the Corinthian marble pillars, marble busts and statues, and one Venetian wall-lamp. And who knows what lies under the rubble in the ashes?

The Marble Hall (copyright Hayley Bystram)

The solitary marble "blackamoor" bust, nestled in the Saloon door's pediment - now broken free and gazing towards the open sky - leaves a ghostly reminder. The 1720s mansion was built by Thomas Lord Onslow using money from his wealthy new bride, Elizabeth Knight. Elizabeth was the sole heiress of not only her father but also her childless uncle, both of whom made their fortunes from large sugar plantations in Jamaica as well as slave trading. 

A haunting legacy now remains. With a lonely and proud face, a slave whose bondage and toil funded the building of Clandon is now its final inhabitant.

Surviving marble bust in the ruins of the Marble Hall