Dyrham Park is sparkling with 17th-century life once more thanks to a massive project to revitalise, restore and reimagine the baroque house. Following the roof replacement in 2016, plans have been underway to re-present the house as created by owner William Blathwayt in the late 1600s by telling its stories, showcasing its collection and highlighting its historic features. Here, Dyrham Park’s Property Curator, Eilidh Auckland, takes us inside…
Tell us about some of the main features that have been restored and conserved at the 17th-century baroque house, including the trompe-l’oeil screen that has been created to represent Blathwayt’s ornate long-lost Japan Closet… The historic interiors have been transformed, with the removal of the 1930s and 1970s wallpapers and paint, and the reintroduction of beautifully painted walnut and oak panelling. The Japan Closet, which was created in the 1690s, but removed by the Victorian owners, has been re-imagined with a large-scale installation of a partition decorated to evoke the long lost interior. This small room was the inner sanctum of William Blathwayt, owner and creator of Dyrham Park in the late 17th century. The Japanese and Chinese influenced décor was highly fashionable and expensive to achieve. The room would have been furnished with Chinese porcelain, lacquered cabinets and silk wall hangings.
Experiencing the house now appears to be multi-sensory. What can visitors expect to see/feel/hear/smell when they visit the house? A visit to the house will involve all the senses. From bird song and harpsichord music to viewfinders, buttons to press and objects to pick up from newly installed information stands. Visitors will have the chance to follow their own self-led trails, speak to volunteers, read the room information, or just wander and enjoy the fascinating rooms.
Following the restoration, how has the history of the house been brought to life, and the artefacts within it properly represented, shared and interpreted? The most significant period in the history of the house is the late 17th century, during which time the country was experiencing turmoil, both at home and abroad. Events such as the Glorious Revolution in 1688 leading to a new form of monarchy and parliament; the growth of overseas colonies and trading routes; wars being funded by the newly formed Bank of England; and the development of the stock exchange in Britain are all stories that can be told in the house. Through objects, exhibitions and tours, the events of this pivotal period of history are brought to life. The National Trust is researching the history of William Blathwayt and his role as a senior colonial administrator, Secretary to War and acting Secretary of State, to understand the connections between Dyrham Park in the late 17th century and how those events led to the Britain we know today.
What does the new adjoining exhibition include and what are some of the must-see collections and items? The exhibition focuses on the life and career of William Blathwayt and can be found in a suite of rooms on the ground floor, accessible from the garden. In the display, visitors can see Blathwayt’s pistols, the architect’s drawings of his house and some of his finest Delftware ceramics. Within the house you can see the paintings and furniture of the late 17th century, along with later paintings of the Blathwayt family.
What activities are now available for visitors? In one room, visitors are invited to try on a selection of wigs and pose behind an opaque screen to have a silhouette photograph of their profile. This was a popular art in the 18th century, just beginning to take hold at the time Dyrham Park was completed. We also welcome visitors to leave their comments in the form of a note to William Blathwayt. What would you like to say to the owner of Dyrham Park?
What changes have been made to the gardens, play areas and the café at Old Lodge? The Old Lodge farm buildings are midway between the car park and the house in the middle of the 270 acres of parkland. Now visitors can spend time relaxing in the new café, which sells sandwiches, snacks, cakes and drinks whilst their children burn off some energy in the play area. An ice-cream kiosk provides extra refreshment to visitors before they head out to the park to enjoy the far-reaching views over to Wales. The renovations included the introduction of toilet facilities so there is no need to rush back to the car park after your coffee.
What work is taking place on the secret passage that links the house to the village church and to the walls in the house’s Gilt Leather Parlour? The Gilt Leather Parlour is the largest of the parlours in the house and is the home of the library collection. Blathwayt once owned over 2,000 books, many of which have been sold over the years. In 2022, we re-acquired some of those books and these will be on display along with copies of the Blathwayt atlas and replicas of books from his collection. There are also two new globes which are replicas of globes from 1688s, made for King Louis XIV. These show the world as William Blathwayt knew it, when vast tracts of Australia and America had yet to be mapped. Beyond the Gilt Leather Parlour is a passage that connects the house to the parish church of St Peter. The passage has recently had the roof repaired and re-plastered and it is hoped that in future we will be able to open the space up to enable visitors to enjoy the lovely views of the garden.
What are some of Dyrham Park’s best autumn walks? Dyrham Park in autumn is a must see, with hundreds of mature trees, newly planted avenues and misty vistas across the fields. You can enjoy the autumn colours and get some fresh air on the circular walks. The best walk features views over to Wales, a topographic point on a hilltop to identify the distant hills, as well as the handy café at Old Lodge in the parkland. There are set walks to follow, downloadable from the website or set out in a leaflet which you can pick up on arrival. Alternatively, you can wander at leisure or join a guided walk through the parkland, around the garden or around the village of Dyrham. Please check the website for details and times.
The work in the house is part of a site-wide project called Dyrham Park Rework’d, which aims to create an engaging and meaningful journey into the 17th century. Next on the list is the laying of a 17th-century parterre, topiary and paving on the West Terrace, creating a striking approach to the house. Dyrham Park is open daily from 10am to 5pm, with the last entry at 4pm. The house is open from 11.30am. Visit: nationaltrust.org.uk; Dyrham Park, Dyrham, South Gloucestershire, SN14 8HY.