Grant helps save Stourhead’s Pantheon

A grant of over £260,000 has ensured the Pantheon, one of the most important features in the world-famous landscape gardens at Stourhead in Wiltshire, can be saved.

(c) National Trust

The Pantheon at Stourhead

The building is in urgent need of repairs and now thanks to the grant of £260,200 from the SITA Trust, work is able to start on essential repairs to the Pantheon and other buildings in the garden.

The money will also pay for work on the lower pump house which is currently inaccessible because the area around it is unsafe.

The SITA Trust supports community and environmental improvement projects through the Landfill Communities Fund.

Marek Gordon, Chair of SITA Trust, said ‘The Landfill Communities Fund gives us a chance to safeguard some of the country’s most precious heritage. Our Board were keen to support a project where funding will allow the National Trust to conserve Stourhead which is such an iconic place enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people each year.”

Most of the buildings in the garden need some maintenance work with several in need of extensive repairs. Probably one of the most photographed National Trust gardens in the country, the buildings carefully placed through the landscape when the gardens were designed, are an important part of its appeal.

Thanks to the grant from SITA Trust, the National Trust is now planning an appeal to raise another £240,000 to complete the project.

The first stage will be repairs to the Pantheon, which is in need of some urgent repairs. Built in 1754, it is the largest and most prominent of the temples around the lake at Stourhead – and one of the first buildings that visitors see when looking across the lake.

A number of the steps into the building are cracked and a leaking roof is causing other damage inside. It is considered to be in the most urgent need of repair.

The lower pump house and waterwheel is now quite dilapidated but was part of the water system on the estate, pumping water to a reservoir a mile away.

The area around the buildings is unsafe but repairs to steps and a wooden bridge would allow visitors to once more have access to the pump house and waterwheel and see some of the engineering which went into maintaining the landscape gardens.

There are a total of 22 buildings and structures around Stourhead, including King Alfred’s Tower, the Temple of Apollo  and the Grotto – many of which need repair.

“Mike MacCormack, General Manager at Stourhead said the buildings were an important part of the Grade 1 listed landscape and many were also listed themselves.

“The Stourhead landscape was designed over 40 years in the mid 18th Century by Henry Hoare II, with this wonderful array of buildings and features as an integral part of that design. The buildings are often the focal point for the views across the lake and the iconic views of Stourhead which is recognised and loved by so many would not be the same if the Pantheon, the bridge or the grotto wasn’t there.

“We are so fortunate that Stourhead has survived for 250 years, but time has taken its toll and, if we are to ensure it survival for future generations, we need to carry out some major repairs to many of the buildings – and essential maintenance to others.

“Thanks to the support of SITA Trust, we know we can do some of the most urgent work to the Pantheon and the lower pump house. Their support is a tremendous kick start to our plans to save the entire collection of buildings which make the garden so important and well loved.

More information on Stourhead is available on

Rare manuscript goes on show at Lacock Abbey

A rare book, a priceless survivor from the days when the nuns lived at Lacock Abbey, has gone on display for the very first time. It has been at the abbey for over 700 years. 

The Manuscript (c) National Trust / SWNS

The Manuscript (c) National Trust / SWNS

The 14th-Century copy of an early bible dictionary gives a unique insight into the ways the nuns must have lived in the abbey and was recently bought at auction by the National Trust.

It is one of very few monastic books to have survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII in the 1530s, still in its original location – the others are all in cathedral libraries.

The book Expositiones Vocabulorum Biblie by William Brito – sometimes known as Guillaume le Breton – has had a long association with Lacock.

Written in Latin, it was part of the abbey library and even has earlier 13th-Century financial accounts of the abbey pasted into the binding. The dictionary contains explanation and origins of difficult words in the Bible and is hand written on parchment.

“We know little about the everyday lives of the nuns at Lacock Abbey that this one book gives us a remarkable rare glimpse, a short glance into how they might have lived their lives,” said Sonia Jones, House and Collections Manager. “It tells us that they studied the Bible closely and most would have been literate. There is scrap parchment in the bindings which are part of the accounts of the abbey, recycled when the book was bound. Those fragments let us see just a little of some of the business side of the abbey, selling wool to provide an income.

“It is a special and important book, but to have it in Lacock and to be able to put it on display in the abbey, in its original home is simply priceless.”

Although it is known there was a book cupboard and a book room in the abbey, the size of the library is not known. Only three books from the Lacock Abbey library are known to have survived – an illuminated Psalter, currently at the Bodleian Library and a collection of Anglo-French poems.

It is not known whether books such as the dictionary were ever written at Lacock or where this copy was laboriously hand written. However, it was rare enough to be valuable and still bears the signs of having been chained when it was in the abbey library.

The National Trust’s Libraries Curator, Mark Purcell, said the book was a very rare survivor from its time.

“Books of this type would not have been printed until the late 15th Century. Being hand written would have made it rare and valuable even when it was new so it is not a surprise to find it shows signs marks from the copper clasps which held its chains when it was in the nun’s library. The manuscript in the book is written on parchment made from sheepskin – and is written in several different hands. Some of the pages show flay marks – small holes in the skins with the words carefully written around the holes.

“The dictionary had a wide circulation and was regarded as an essential scholarly tool so this would have been an important reference work in the library at Lacock.”

“The binding contains some fragments of receipts from the nuns. Both the front and back of the book contains sheets from the 13th-century compotus rolls of Lacock which record both expenses and receipts, including the sale of wool. That shows us that the book, even if not written at Lacock was probably bound here.”

The book was already known to the Trust and had passed down through generations of the Talbot family who lived at the abbey. It was put up for sale and was bought by the National Trust at auction at Christies.

Lacock Abbey was founded in 1232 by Ela, Countess of Salisbury. Although there were rarely more than 20 or so nuns in the convent, the abbey held significant land in the region, including pastures used for farming and wool production.

The end for the abbey came when it was closed down in 1539. The buildings were bought by William Sharington who converted the abbey to a house and built the octagonal tower – preserving the medieval cloisters.

Arrangements in Black and Grey – an exhibition at the Fox Talbot Museum

Is Black and White photography still relevant today?

Untitled, by Mark Voce, who prefers to work at night capturing empty city scenes.

Untitled, by Mark Voce, who prefers to work at night capturing empty city scenes.

The question is being posed by the National Trust in a new exhibition at the Fox Talbot Museum in Lacock which features six present day photographers who still use black and white.

Continue reading…

Quenching your thirst for Lacock Abbey’s history

A new room has been opened for the first time for visitors to Lacock Abbey along with extra information revealing more of the history of the medieval cloisters through new information panels and discovery maps.

(c) National Trust / SWNS

The National Trust has opened the old wine cellar of Lacock Abbey, a room which was originally part of the medieval cloisters and which still shows traces of earlier history.

The team at Lacock believe that this room was created by partitioning off the adjacent Servant’s Hall in the early 1800s. There is also evidence that this bigger room would have served as accommodation to ‘lower class’ visitors of the abbey, in the more class conscious medieval times, while ‘superior visitors’ would have resided on the upper floor near the Abbess’s suite of rooms.

Sonia Jones, House and Collection Manager of Lacock Abbey: “It’s wonderful to be able to open this room to the public for the first time; not only will it enhance the experience of visitors to the furnished Abbey Rooms, but the wine cellar is also another part of the abbey where it’s possible to see the layers of architectural history that subtly reminds us how the use of the building has changed over the last 800 years.”

(c) National Trust / SWNS

House Manager Sonia Jones putting the final touches to the wine cellar at Lacock Abbey which has just been opened to the public for the first time.

In the early eighteenth century the residents of the abbey decided to turn this room into a wine cellar. The room is partly underground and the lack of natural light makes it humid, cool and dark, ideal conditions to store wine. However, the installation of heating pipes in 1876 meant that the temperature rose in the room – nice and cosy for the occupants but not ideal for wine.

More evidence of the Talbot family and their life has been discovered by the Conservation team last winter as they were cataloguing family heirlooms and an exhibition of children’s toys and clothes has gone on display in the abbey for the first time, bringing visitors closer to the former residents and life in the early twentieth century.

Another new addition for history hungry visitors will was unveiled on Wednesday. New information panels and discovery maps are installed in the medieval cloisters and will help quench their thirst for knowledge as they find out about the life of the nuns and its connection to the local history of Wiltshire.

“Visitors often ask about the day to day life of the nuns at Lacock and want to know where the original abbey once stood. We wanted to come up with a way to make it more interesting for both young and old audiences to find out about the medieval history of our special place. We have created two different maps, one for adults and one for children, which they can take around the cloisters on a discovery walk.” explains Karen Bolger, Visitor Services Manager at Lacock. The maps are available on the entrance to the cloisters, with key facts, and fun and fascinating highlights. But that’s not all; more in-depth information panels are installed in the rooms and near important sites, such as the tombstone of Ela, Countess of Salisbury, who founded Lacock Abbey in 1232, for all those that just can’t get enough of Lacock’s history.

The wine cellar will be open to the public from Saturday 23 March (as per Abbey opening hours) and the new information panels will be on display from Wednesday 20 March 2013.

 For opening times please visit or call 01249 730 459.

Volunteer recruitment weekend at Stourhead

Volunteer recruitment open days are taking place at Stourhead House this weekend.

The main volunteering opportunities this year will be as room guides for Stourhead’s Palladian mansion house, since it is opening its doors to visitors more often this year.

“Anybody with a little spare time is very welcome to drop into Stourhead on 2 or 3 February and discover more about the volunteering opportunities we have on offer this year,” said Jean Nimmo, Volunteer Co-ordinator at Stourhead.

She added “A volunteer with the National Trust will not only be part of an enthusiastic, friendly team but will get the chance to work alongside some real experts and pick up all sorts of knowledge from them. Many find that the practical skills learnt are of use in future careers.”

The recruitment weekend is on Saturday 2 February and Sunday 3 February from 11am to 2.30 pm at Stourhead House, Stourton, Wiltshire. Anybody interested is welcome to drop in, meet some of the staff and volunteers who work at Stourhead and find out more about what they can get involved in.

Other volunteering roles include garden guides, fundraising and restaurant assistants.

For further information on this volunteer recruitment weekend or volunteering generally at Stourhead please contact Jean Nimmo, Volunteer Co-ordinator at the Stourhead estate office on 01747 841152

‘Tis the season to be jolly…

This year, for the first time, we are giving you a very special Christmas present in the form of an on-line advent calendar. Behind the doors you will find a range of exciting Christmas recipes, gift ideas, films, stories, special offers, things to make and lots of suggestions for activities for all the family over the festive period.

 There will also be a daily free prize draw to win a special gift to help you get in the festive spirit. Each day there will be the chance to win something different – from rugs and jigsaws to tins of biscuits and Christmas decorations. 

 Visit Christmas advent calendar and get opening those doors.

More National Trust places staying open into the winter during 2012

The traditional image of National Trust properties closed up for winter is being shaken up with more open than ever before in the run up to Christmas.

Many National Trust places will be choosing to spend the winter welcoming visitors rather than hiding behind closed shutters and under dustsheets. The grand houses will be open at weekends until Christmas while shops, restaurants and countryside places have extended opening hours. 

In Somerset, the house at Barrington Court is open five days a week, Montacute is running special tours to see conservation work being done and Lacock Abbey cloisters and the museum are open seven days a week.

“Some still think that Trust places are still closed from October to Easter but that image is far from the truth with more each year being brought to life to celebrate Christmas. People looking for something different to do at this time of year really enjoy the weekend opening which is now common – with thanks to our army of volunteers who have rallied round to help,” said Shona Owen, National Trust Marketing Manager.

“For some places, Christmas can be as busy as August, and in recent years, this encouraged us to look at winter as a whole. Many National Trust places open fully from February or March – the days when Easter marked the start of the season are only a dim memory for us now!”

In Somerset several opening times have been extended for this year. At Montacute House, for the first time, visitors will be able to book onto special behind the scenes tours to see the work that is done in the house over winter by conservators.  There are guided tours between noon and 2pm every Saturday and Sunday, led by volunteers. The tours are in addition to a range of events including “Hug a husky” on 1 December and of course a chance to visit Santa in his grotto.

Because Barrington Courtis not furnished, it is not subject to the same limitations on the number of hours of light allowed as Montacute and is staying open for five days a week until the 23rd December. The estate, shop and catering will open from 10am until 4pm and Court House from 11am until 3.30pm.

Tyntesfield is open every day for visitors with two legs and four to explore the gardens, estate walks and the shop and restaurant at Home Farm. The house at Tyntesfield is open Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 3 to 19 December for a Victorian Christmas. Although only the ground floor and the chapel will be open, the house will be decorated in a Victorian Christmas theme.

Dunster Castle is open on the weekends until Christmas

 At Stourhead in Wiltshire, for the rest of 2012, the garden is open everyday from 9-5 except on Christmas day. The house re-opens, decorated for Christmas, on the long weekends from 30Nov to 3 Dec and 7 – 10 Dec and then from 14 to 22 Dec – all from 11am- 3pm.

 In the North Cotswolds, Hidcote will be open at weekends from 11am until 4pm right up until 16 December while near Cirencester, Chedworth Roman Villa has its last day of opening on Sunday 2nd December

In Dorset, for the first time ever, Kingston Lacy opens its doors this winter.  The entrance and servants halls decorated for Christmas with the opportunity to meet Father Christmas on the first three weekends of December from 11am to 3pm

More information is available on which has its own virtual advent calendar launching on 1 December