Clandon Park, an elegant 18th-century mansion that burned out in a fire in 2015, is to be preserved mainly as a ruin rather than restored to its former Palladian glory.
Plans by the National Trust, which has owned the listed house since 1956, will allow visitors to see the building’s “brute strength and poetic beauty” after the flames tore away paneling and plasterwork and knocked down floors, said Kent Rawlinson, the project leader .
The building’s exterior walls and windows near Guildford, Surrey, are being restored by historic craftsmen, but the interior is largely preserved in its fire-damaged condition.
When work is complete, approximately five years from now, a series of interior walkways and skylights will allow visitors to see the shell of the house up close and from new angles.
“Despite the fire, Clandon remains a magnificent house, but one that has been physically stripped and restored to its architectural skeleton, with its own visual power and significance,” Rawlinson said.
The interiors “reveal the otherwise hidden stories of the many hundreds of people who collectively created the house and its furnishings: from brickmakers excavating local clay, to the pen of Italian architect Giaciomo Leoni, to traveling master craftsmen from Switzerland who created the ornate create stucco ceilings”.
The property was purchased in 1641 by then local MP Sir Richard Onslow. In the 1720s members of the Onslow family remodeled the original Elizabethan house in the Palladian style. After being given to the National Trust, it became a popular wedding venue.
The fire, which started in a defective electrical panel in the basement, swept through the four-story house, collapsing the roof, ceilings and floors and destroying valuable architectural elements.
The baroque ceiling of the magnificent two-story marble hall has been destroyed, leaving the servants’ quarters visible in the attic and a striking contrast between the 20ft high ornate chimneys of Clandon Park’s grand entrance and the modest, utilitarian chimneys two floors above.
Fire damage has revealed metal brackets used to fasten wooden sticks to the brickwork, which were then built up with battens before a final layer of plaster or wood paneling. Intricately hand-carved decorative plaster cornices were also built up layer by layer of brick walls.
“It’s not quite an 18th-century building site, but it’s as close as you can get,” Rawlinson said. “It’s an x-ray vision of what lies behind the beautiful, detailed veneer.”
Only one room, the Speakers’ Salon, survived the fire relatively unscathed, although its wood paneling was removed to dry after being soaked by firefighters, and its hand-made Baroque stucco ceiling is being repaired after parts fell.
Named after the three members of the Onslow family who became Speaker of the House of Commons, the former dining room will provide a counterpoint to the inferno-ravaged neighboring rooms.
Immediately after the fire, National Trust staff and volunteers rescued around 600 valuable items from 3,000 items in the Clandon Collection. The rest were burned or badly damaged.
Salvaged items, including paintings, furniture, ceramics, and textiles, are displayed in the house. In some cases, artworks are hung on bare brick walls.
Its new roof will be open to visitors, with spectacular views across Surrey as well as a bird’s-eye view through skylights into the shell of the home.
“We have lost beautiful interiors and fascinating collections that we mourn. But the fire revealed a remarkable and fascinating story about how a country house is built, from the skeleton to the exterior. Since the fire, we’ve understood how to make it a unique experience,” said Rawlinson.
The National Trust declined to disclose how much the work would cost, but said it would be covered by an insurance settlement plus funding from the Trust’s reserves. The work is expected to be completed by winter 2027/28.