Today we’re coming to you with a bit of a different post. You know how we love our days out to National Trust houses; beautiful furniture, textiles, cups of tea in the café and walking amongst gorgeous gardens. But this time we made a pilgrimage to a place that, very recently, had all the above. Now, however, it has none.
On 29th April, 2015, Clandon Park was struck down by a devastating fire, which moved through the house more quickly than anyone thought possible. The fire destroyed the entire interior of the house; walls, floors, staircases, leaving a shell.
The fire spread from the basement, and is thought to be an electrical fire, although no-one is entirely certain. One room in the house survived relatively intact; there are no photos online, and we were unable to get that close, but miraculously it looks to be nearly as it was (save extensive water damage from the hoses).
As one ceiling fell in, the debris piled up on the ground floor, and pulled walls and staircases with it. The house was home to an exceptional porcelain and art collection, one of the finest in the National Trust’s family. The firemen were specially trained for this eventuality, and worked through the night trying to rescue pieces, cutting paintings from frames and running them down to conservation tents which had been set up in the drive.
The fire raged all night, and was eventually put out in the early morning. Much was rescued, but much is still mixed up in the debris visible within the house shell.
Even some of the glass is still intact, while other windows (for example, on the right in the picture below) are reinforced with wooden frames.
There was a military museum in one part of the house, and we were told how brave ex-servicemen and volunteers ran back into the house against advice (though, they made sure to tell us, not against instruction) to rescue medals and other artefacts from the displays. Some of the medals had been fused to the glass from the display cabinets by the intense heat.
The scaffolding is to prop up what remains of the house until they are certain that it is stable – it looks extensive as it is self-supporting scaffolding, which avoided digging into the ground near the house [there’s an old Elizabethan garden buried which they didn’t want to damage].
The question now is what the plans are for the house – will it be restored to its former glory, filled with antiques from elsewhere? The team at Clandon are naturally keen for this to happen, but we feel as though this tragedy has now become a part of this house’s history. Restoring it will make it a largely modern version of its past, and aren’t there other truly historical houses which could benefit from these funds? My idea is to make it into a kind of Budapest ‘ruin bar’ style opera theatre, a sort of shabby, open-air Glyndebourne, where pricey tickets including a catered dinner could raise money for a gradual and understated restoration. Either way, this tragic fire shows us that history is fleeting and fallible – and that we should go off and see as many pretty houses, as quickly as we possibly can!