The story of the unique restoration of the interior of Avebury’s historic manor is coming to a screen near you very soon – very near you. In fact it’s a prime time television series on BBC1.
The Manor Reborn is a four-part programme made by the BBC in collaboration with the National Trust. It starts on November 24 and stars Penelope Keith (of the iconic series To the Manor Born) and Paul Martin (presenter of the antiques show Flog It!) – and, of course, the historic rooms of Avebury Manor itself.
The four sixty-minute programmes will chart the ambitious renovation of nine of the manor’s main rooms to reflect the lives of people who lived in the five hundred year-old manor during six periods of British history: the Tudors, Queen Anne, Georgian, Victorian and the early twentieth century. For the most recent period they’ve created an art deco room.
The series illustrates the story of British design across five centuries. It draws on a wide range of craft and furniture-making skills and reveals how ‘the home’ was invented. And it’s not just about the manor’s interior – a kitchen garden has also been restored.
Presenter Paul Martin is no stranger to this area. He used to own The Table Gallery antique shop in Marlborough and now lives in Seend. He and Penelope Keith are joined for the series by experts including the architectural historian Dan Cruickshank, gardener David Howard, interior designer Russell Sage and historian Anna Whitelock.
Sarah Staniforth, the National Trust’s museums and collections director, explained the ideas behind the renovation and the series: “An empty house is like a blank canvas, so this was an exciting opportunity to interpret the interiors in an authentic but imaginative way. The Manor Reborn has broken new ground in how we bring our places to life and we hope that Avebury Manor will be an inspiring experience for our visitors.”
One of the great advantages of the scheme is that it provides what is called ‘an immersive experience’ for visitors. It will be one of the few National Trust houses where people are invited to touch, handle, sit on and enjoy every element of the house.
During filming – which began in April – two young visitors were encouraged to climb into a Queen Anne bed and see what satin sheets feel like. Watch the programmes and see whether their experience made it into the edited programmes.
The presenters and the experts were joined by volunteers, apprentices and a whole team of talented craftsmen and designers. Local villagers were also invited in during the restoration process.
Jan Brunning lives in nearby Beckhampton and serves on the committee of the Avebury Society. She was invited in to see the work that’s been done: “It is a wonderful attempt to recreate the settings of the lives of people who lived in and enjoyed Avebury Manor through its five hundred year history.”
Jane was especially impressed by the carpets which have been individually designed and woven to fit the period of each room. Another room she mentions is the dining room which is fitted out as it would have been in the eighteenth century when the manor was owned by the trader Sir Adam Williamson who became governor general of Jamaica. That room features quite a collection of antique tea caddies.
If you want to see the rooms for yourself, the Manor will be open – in the first instance – from November 19 to December 19, from 11.00 am to 3.30 pm with last entry at 2.30 pm. Entry will be by timed tickets available from Avebury’s Barn Gallery – fifteen people will be allowed in every fifteen minutes.
It’s planned to re-open the Manor during February 2012’s half-term week. Beyond that plans have not been finalised. Having had a preview of the rooms, Jane Brunning is certain it will be very popular attraction.
And if you’re short of Christmas present ideas, there’s a book to go with the series: The Manor Reborn – The Transformation of Avebury Manor by Siân Evans. On sale at the recommended retail price of £20.00.