Sunday, 15 June 2014

Room Closures at Avebury Manor

You can’t expect to reach the grand old age of 450 without a few aches and pains; the Manor is no exception. It has been necessary to temporarily close the Tudor Parlour and the room above; the Tudor Bedchamber to allow for conservation work to be carried out on the upper floor. It’s no secret that many old buildings suffer from movement and it was ‘movement’ that originally played a part when floorboards were raised in the Tudor Bedchamber some time ago revealing a shift of 2 inches to a supporting baton by the West window. Deathwatch beetle also contributed to much of the damaged timbers, as they happily munched their way through supporting beams. The Trust assured me the beetle infestation has long since be eradicated.

So work is underway with much haste to correct the problem…well not exactly, for outwardly it would seem little has been done other than conservation work
involving feeding small wires through the ceiling to secure rotting lathes which form part of the ceiling’s support. Much more work is needed to ascertain the full extent of the damage.
Both rooms remain closed, as they have done for many, many weeks. Prompting the question, what’s the hold-up? I don’t know. Surely it can’t be down to allocations of funds by the National Trust, after all is not the Trust currently spending 11 million on refurbishing Castle Drogo; so money is clearly not the issue?

Many volunteers have queried why the hold up but answers a not forthcoming. Similarly, many have queried should the Trust still be charging the full entry ticket price when a quarter of the house is closed.

Let us hope that the Trust see fit to channel funds to Avebury without delay so visitors can once again enjoy the house as the BBC intended.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Haunted Wiltshire by Keith Wills

Hauntings, legends and folklore are explored by Keith Wills in this captivating, chilling collection of true ghost stories from this most enigmatic of counties. Many of the locations in the book have been selected for their public access.

Paranormal manifestations of the White Lady at Avebury Manor, who taps the shoulders of unwary visitors, presumably searching for her lover killed during the Civil War. A hideous dwarf is said to haunt Lacock Abbey scaring the pants of anybody who encounters him; a menacing white cat stalks walkers on the ancient 5000 year old Ridgeway passage; The Blue Lady pops up all too often in the ladies toilets at the Cross Guns Inn Avoncliff; thought to be the most haunted pub in Wiltshire. These real-life stories have been collected and researched using a variety of sources and interviews with people who claim to have witnessed ghosts.

The dark side of Wiltshire's ancient history has left its mark on the counties inns, hotels, stately homes and burial barrows. This spine-tingling collection of supernatural tales is sure to appeal to anyone interested in Wiltshire's haunted heritage.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Avebury Manor - New Beginnings

I was surprised to discover just how few people were blissfully unaware of Avebury Manors‘ existence, prior that is to the BBC makeover and the subsequent television program that followed - “The Manor Reborn.” Strange when you consider the Manor lies within a stones-throw of a magnificent World Heritage site which attracts some 300,000 visitors annually. It was almost as if the National Trust (who acquired the Manor in 1991 from the official receivers following the bankruptcy of entrepreneur - Kenneth King) wanted to keep this little jewel in the Wiltshire countryside a secret.

Following the departure of the last tenant in 2009, which effectively left the Manor pretty much devoid of furniture and fittings, is was quite clear that something had to be done. Avebury Manor was making little money and the cost of maintaining it had to be addressed PDQ. It was decided to open it fully to the public 2009/10 and theme each room as if an imaginary family were in the throws of “moving out.” To achieve this scenario, a few pieces of furniture and several packing-cases were placed in empty rooms and a selection of objects (crockery and the like) were positioned in such a way as to give the impression of...well, moving out.  Did it work? well apparently not, for in 2010 the BBC contacted the National Trust with a proposal. They were looking for an empty country house, the plan was to historically style, redecorate and furnish several rooms relevant to whichever property was chosen. In the running were Barrington Court, Somerset and Seaton Delaval, Northumberland, both worthy contenders. Avebury Manor was eventually selected by BBC series producer - Kate Shiers, who wanted, ‘somewhere where people could imagine living’. Well the Manor is certainly that now, but I do wonder whether the proximity to a World Heritage site may possibly have influenced Kate's final decision, after all, where better to showcase such a splendid project.

So, nine rooms were selected which when completed would ‘reflect’ periods and key people in the Manor’s 450 year history.  Tudor, Georgian, Queen Anne, Edwardian and early 20th century styles were magnificently recreated.  Also earmarked for a Ground Force type makeover, was the neglected Victorian Wall Kitchen Garden. All this had to be completed in just six short months and on a budget of just £225,000 - phew! The final details were agreed by both parties and work commenced in April 2011.

Today the Manor can be enjoyed by all but with a new twist, well, new for the National Trust that is. For at Avebury Manor, unlike the majority of other Trust properties, you’re positively encouraged to interact with all of the furniture and objects, the only exception being the exquisite Chinese wallpaper in the Dining Room which has been beautifully hand painted using water-based paints, a “no touching” policy exists here.

You will find no prickly deterrents on chairs, no ropes and no antiques, unless you class the beautifully restored (by Hubble Sports) late 19th century three-quarter size mahogany billiard table and the marvellous 1904 Wellstood range, the latter saved by Neville Griffiths from a house in the Wirral earmarked for demolition. What you will find are carefully researched period replicas of furnishings and fittings which have been lovingly created by a team of expert craftsmen commissioned for the project by interior designer Russell Sage. Presenters Dan Cruickshank and Dr. Anne Whitelock contributed their extensive knowledge of architecture and historic design respectively and worked closely with the National Trust‘s curatorial staff to ensure historic accuracy. Finally, Wessex Archaeology were appointed to carry out a historic buildings survey. Dendrochronology analyses were undertaken to determin the date of the oldest part of the house. Results from examining a lintel beam in the kitchen, revealed a felling date of around 1555 - 1580, confirmation that the kitchen was part of the original build.

Avebury Manor opened its doors in 2012 and has been enthusiastically received by over 70,000 visitors at the time of this post, some of whom are still a little unsure whether they are permitted to touch this or sit on that. Quite often volunteer room guides are approached and tentatively asked, “is it okay to…?”

The “Avebury Manor Experience” is like no other, it is a break from tradition for the National Trust and who knows, in view of its growing success, it may open the door for similar projects in the future, I do hope so.

The BBC Team

Dan Cruikshank, well known as an architectural historian, on television and radio as well as the author of many books

Dr Anna Whitelock, historian, author, broadcaster and academic from University of London.

Russell Sage, is a successful interior designer with many prestigious projects to his name including. The Goring Hotel, Clerkenwell’s Zetter Townhouse and numerous Gordon Ramsay restaurants.

National Trust volunteers, who’s tireless dedication and hard work were invaluable, both in the Manor and the Victorian kitchen garden.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Avebury Manor Timeline

1114 - Benedictine priory founded on the site.

1378 - Priory is dissolved, a succession of chaplains take charge.

1411 - Priory passes into the hands of Fotherinhay College.

1545 - Fotheringhay College relinquishes ownership of the estate for other lands. The estate passes to the Crown.

1547 - The Crown grants Sir William Sharington of Lacock Abbey, ownership of the estate.

1551 - William Dunch, Auditor of the Royal Mint, buys the estate for £2000. The existing house is newly rebuilt between 1555-1580.

1581 - The Manor passes to William Dunch’s son, Walter.

1594 - Walter predeceased his father.

1595 - William Dunch’s widowed daughter-in-law, Debora and her second husband, Sir James Mervyn - High Sheriff of Wiltshire, become outright owners of Avebury Manor. Dovecot dispute saw Richard Truslowe defeated.

1640 - Sir John Stawell of Cothelstone buys Avebury Manor for £8,500 from Debora’s son William, named after his grandfather. Stawell is imprisoned at the end of the Civil War. Avebury is sequestered by Parliament.

1652 - Avebury sold to George Long but later reverts back to Sir John Stawell on the restoration of King Charles II in 1660. Sir John’s son, then grandson inherit.

1694 - Sir Richard Holford, Master in Chancery, buys Avebury for £7,500.

1718 - Sir Richard Holford dies and leaves Avebury Manor to his widow Suzanna.

1722-1742 - Various sons of the Holford’s inherit Avebury: Samuel, Richard, Staynor and finally half-brother Arthur Jones.

1789 - Arthur Jones dies, passing the Manor to his chosen successor, Ann (Nanny) Williamson. Her husband, Colonel Adam Williamson, who was made Governor of Jamaica.

1798 - 'Sir' Adam Williamson dies suddenly at Avebury. The Manor passes to Richard Jones, Arthur Jones’s nephew from the 1742 era.

1816 - The Kemm family move in as tenant farmers.

1873 - The Jones family sell the Manor to brewer and politician Sir Henry Meux.

1883 - Ownership passes to Sir Henry’s son, also Henry. The Kemms’ remain as tenants till 1902.

1889 - Thomas Kemm dies at 83 leaving his two unmarried daughters, Everdell and Marian as tenants of the estate.

1900 - Sir Henry Meux junior dies.

1902 - The Kemm daughters move to Yorkshire, relinquishing their tenancy.

1902 - Sir Henry Meux’s widow lets the estate to Lt-Colonel Leopold and Nora Jenner.

1907 - The Jenners’ buy the estate from Sir Henry Meux’s widow. They lovingly restore the Manor adding the West Library c1920.

1920 - The Jenners’ sell Avebury Manor ‘farm’ to J Peake-Garland but retain the Manor.

1929 - Having lost money in overseas investments the Jenners’ are forced to lease Avebury Manor to the Benson family. The Jenners’ move to Bath, never to return other than to be buried side-by-side in St.James church Avebury.

1935 - The Jenners’ lease the Manor to Alexander Keiller.

1937 - Alexander Keiller buys Avebury Manor from the Jenners’ and establishes the Morven Institute of Archaeological Research.

1942 - The Morven Institute is disbanded and much of Keiller’s property, including the stone circle is sold to the National Trust for £12,000; the Trust declines to buy the Manor deeming it too expensive.

1955 - The Manor is sold to Sir Francis Knowles, a research biologist. Keiller dies at his home in Kingston Surrey. His widow Gabrielle, donates the Avebury museum and his collection to the nation in 1966.

1974 - Sir Francis Knowles dies.

1976 - Sir Francis Knowles widow, Lady Knowles, sells the Manor to Michael Brudenell-Bruce, 8th Marquess of Ailesbury.

1981 - The Brudenell-Bruces’ return to their ancestral home in Savernake Forest selling the Manor to Mr and Mrs Nevill-Glidden.

1988 - Entrepreneur, Kenneth King buys the Manor for £1 million with plans to turn it into an ‘Elizabethan Experience’ causing much local controversy.

1991 - The National Trust buys the Manor from the Official Receivers after Kenneth King is declared bankrupt. The Manor is leased to a private tenant on the understanding it must remain open to the public for a limited time.

2009 - Tenants lease expires and is not renewed. Manor is left empty but open to the public.

2010 - The BBC approaches The National Trust.

2011 - The BBC and The National Trust agree to an extensive themed makeover for the Manor and kitchen garden.

2012 - The Avebury Manor Project opens.


Avebury Manor Archives
British History Online
The Manor Reborn by Siân Evans, a The National Trust publication
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Wessex Archaeology

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Wiltshire Landscape Walk

Volunteers and staff stop off at Silbury Hill

An informative and enjoyable evening was had by volunteers and staff for Chris Penny’s Wiltshire Landscape Walk on 10th July. Stopping off at Silbury Hill, Wadden Hill and the West Kennet Avenue, culminated in a well deserved pint at The Red Lion pub. Could not have wished for a better evening; very warm.

Thanks to Chris Penny - Volunteers Coordinator. Very interesting mate.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Avebury: All in a Year’s Work

Avebury and the National Trust,

For ever, for everyone is a must.

Look at all the tasks we do,

Some of them may surprise you.

In the car park, help find a gap,

Sell a ticket, offer a map.

“What’s there to see? We have time to kill.”

A common question, “What’s Silbury Hill?”

In the Museum there are tickets to sell,

Guide books, maps and tours as well.

This is the place for directions too.

The first question often is “Where’s the loo?!”

Down to the farmyard, and into the Barn,

Everyone enjoys a really good yarn.

Family activities, bug hunts and trails,

Gather the kids for poems and tales.

In the Stables, directions they need.

Hunger for knowledge we love to feed,

Explain the objects in their cases.

Brighten their day, bring smiles to their faces.

Tours of the stone circles take an hour,

Surrounded by the bank, the height does tower.

Tales of destruction, masonry they pillage,

Used to construct buildings of the village.

During the summer season, on the garden gate,

We sit and admire flowers while we wait,

To greet the visitors to the Manor Reborn,

Through the gate and across the lawn.

Within the Manor, tales we tell,

Of Keiller and Jenner, Dunch as well.

Tours, room guides or conservation clean.

Decorate for Christmas, we’re all extra keen.

In the Tea Room and café, dishes to take,

Back to the kitchen, cakes to bake.

Laying the tables, posh china looks nice,

Cut the cake, mine’s a large slice!

In the garden, pulling weeds,

Taking cuttings and sewing seeds.

Topiary trimmed, then the yew hedge,

Mow the lawns and harvest the veg.

Come wind, rain or shine, we show the way,

Ensuring visitors enjoy their day.

All this work needs blood, sweat and tears.

And all freely given by our volunteers.

So if you have enjoyed this little rhyme,

And you could spare some regular time,

Please come and see us, email or phone,

Our staff cannot do it all on their own!

A poem by Michele

Curatorial and House Assistant

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Avebury Manor Tearoom

Image credit Richard Bradshaw

Voted best National Trust tearoom 2012; The Manor tearoom, originally the West Library,was built for Lt. Col. & Mrs. Nora Jenner in the early 20th century. It offers a relaxing atmosphere, table service, teas, coffee and a wide selection of cakes.