What do you do if you have a major project to replace your fire systems, which will cause disruption and potential damage across your country house, but you want to avoid closing the house, while also maintaining a quality visitor experience. If you are the National Trust at Tyntesfield near Bristol, you turn necessity into a virtue and curate the tours with a focus on conservation, fire precautions and management, in addition to the history of the house and the family who built it, allowing many of the major rooms to stay open, while also allowing visitors to see artworks that they might not otherwise see in conservation storage.
Tyntesfield is the amazing Victorian Gothic Revival house which was created in the 1860’s and 70’s by the businessman William Gibbs, whose fortune came from importing guano, used as fertilizer, from South America. The previous Georgian House was enveloped, expanded and remodelled by the architects John Gregory Grace and John Norton in the 1860’s with the chapel in the 1870s designed by that master of the High Gothic, Arthur Blomfield, and modelled on Saint Chapelle in Paris.
The Gibbs family continued to own and use the house until the death of Richard Gibbs in 2001 after which it was acquired by the National Trust for £25 million following a major-fundraising campaign. The house was considered high priority for the Trust because of the quality of the architecture, its furnishings and art collections which remained substantially intact; it is a complete jewel of a late 19th century High Gothic country house. It was also innovative in its day, being the second major house in Britain to have electricity, which of course was powered from its own generator. There were also large underground water tanks which still supply water for the garden today.
There is also a splendid light and airy conversion of the old farm buildings into a visitor centre, with cafe, shop and other facilities, connecting from the car park level up to that of the gardens, opened in 2011 with funding support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, adding minimal new contemporary features while retaining much of the old to give it a unique character.
It feels that another visit will be required when the fire precaution works are complete, possibly when it is decorated for Christmas.