During the building works to replace the roof at Dyrham Park near Bath, the house is remaining open for visitors with new areas and exhibitions.
New displays in the house will allow visitor to literally experience the sights, sounds, smells, touch and tastes of the 17th Century, when Dyrham Park was being built.
Dyrham Park is at the start of a year-long £3.8 million building programme to replace the roof and safeguard the future of the house and its important original Dutch-inspired interiors and an important collection of furniture and paintings collected by 17th-century government administrator William Blathwayt. The new displays have been made possible thanks to a grant of £85,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) towards new exhibitions and activities while the building work is being done.
“We were really keen that the house should stay open so that visitors can see the work which needs doing to save the building and also see as much of the fantastic collection as possible,” said Rupert Goulding, Dyrham Park Curator.
Now by entering the house through a specially built tunnel created in the huge scaffolding surrounding the National Trust house, visitors will enter a new exhibition “Mr Blathwayt’s Apartment” in a suite of rooms which have been presented using the titles they were originally given in an inventory carried out in 1710.
One of the rooms contains the famous Dyrham Park Hoogstraten perspective painting, which creates an optical illusion as if looking down a corridor. The painting is hung, as intended, in a closet with lights which come on as people get near – creating the surprise of the illusion. The painting had been described in a similar setting by Samuel Pepys in his diaries before it was acquired by William Blathwayt and brought to Dyrham.
Nearby a harpsichord will be played by volunteers who were tutored by Harpsichord player and artist in residence Penelope Cave, who will also play performances monthly using music which is known to have been played in Dyrham house.
The sense of smell is brought to life in room decorated with silk flowers displayed by Blathwayt’s delft flower pots and fragranced with potpourri to recreate the smells of real flowers.
Touch is demonstrated with a recreation of a box of textiles in the Damask bedchamber which represents a trunk of rare textiles which Blathwayt imported from the Netherlands. The trunk contains damask, velvets and a modern reproduction of Indian-printed cottons imported via the Netherlands.
In the final part of the exhibition, visitors exit the house through the Green House (also known as the orangery), where they can taste hot chocolate to an original 17th-century recipe.
Dr Goulding said: “It is a different way to show what life was like in the 17th-century splendour of Dyrham Park and we will be keen to hear what people think of it. We have taken our displays back as closely as we can to the original 17th-century feel, using some new research into the history of the house. Even the exhibition guide is a booklet designed as a 17th-century pamphlet might have been.”
The house is also now home to a new Collections store area where visitors can learn about how Dyrham Park cares for its collection. From chairs and paintings to large pieces of furniture and delftware, regular guided tours will help you understand more about conserving a historical collection.
For those interested in the work to replace the roof, another small exhibition shows what is being done to replace the 150–year-old roof where 8,000 welsh slates and 46 tonnes of lead will have to be removed and replaced, in addition to stone work repairs. The exhibition also features information on how the house was originally built by William Blathwayt, sourcing materials from across the globe using his connections as a government administrator.
Dr Goulding added: “Even though he didn’t live at Dyrham during the building, he managed the project tightly and was a prolific letter writer making sure his clerk of works and agents knew exactly what he wanted. He sourced marble from Tuscany, cedar from Carolina and oak from Flanders but in many cases the hardest part of the journey to Dyrham was the last few miles from Bristol Docks to the house.”
Dyrham Park, near Bristol/Bath, is open daily from 10am-5pm (last entry at 4pm).
More information is available on www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dyrhampark