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National Trust to restore fire-devastated Clandon Park

Original owners say shell should be demolished after 95% of the English Palladian mansion’s interior was destroyed

The National Trust has announced plans to restore Clandon Park, a Palladian mansion in Surrey, which was devastated by fire on 29 April 2015. It has resisted calls from the Onslow family, the original owners of the house, to demolish the shell and use the insurance proceeds for other properties. (Clandon Park was given to the National Trust in 1956.)

Helen Ghosh, the director general of the National Trust, says that any insurance money would need to be spent on Clandon and could not be used elsewh ere. But more importantly, salvage work has shown that more of the contents survived than had originally been thought. “Our plans involve returning parts of the house to its 18th-century glory, whilst at the same time creating a building of beauty and relevance for the 21st century,” she says.

The fast-spreading fire, caused by an electrical fault, burnt the roof and swept through virtually all the rooms, destroying 95% of the interior; the exterior survived relatively well. The insurance payout, mainly for the building, may be around £65m; works of art and furnishings were insured against theft and damage only, not total loss. Losses include much of the porcelain and furniture bequeathed in 1968 by the collector Hannah Gubbay, Onslow family portraits and a set of 1640s Mortlake tapestries. Of the 2,000 items in the inventory, 400 were evacuated. Around half the “starred” items, listed as particularly important for rescuing in an emergency, are believed to have been saved.

The plan now is to restore the rooms on the main floor, bringing them back to the original 1720s design of the Venetian architect Giacomo Leoni. Some of the Marble Hall (one of the most dramatic entrance halls in an English country house) was saved, including two magnificent chimneypieces by John Rysbrack. One room, the Speakers’ Parlour, survived the fire relatively unscathed. The upper floor, which had much less of its original decoration, is to be converted into modern rooms for exhibitions and events. Salvaged items from the Surrey Infantry Museum, which had been located in the basement, has moved its base to Woking.

A temporary roof and scaffolding were erected in early January. Archaeologists are now sifting through the rubble inside the rooms to recover objects buried in the debris and conservation work has begun on what is being found. A competition will be launched shortly to appoint a restoration architect. Clandon will be the biggest building conservation project in the UK since the fires at the National Trust’s Uppark House in 1989 and Windsor Castle in 1992.