Makeover Manor in Wiltshire

PUBLISHED: 13:14 23 January 2012 | UPDATED: 20:56 20 February 2013

Makeover Manor in Wiltshire

Makeover Manor in Wiltshire

A new TV"series spotlights a Wiltshire manor house

Avebury Manor has had a colourful history since its creation in the 1500s. Located on the edge of the largest stone circle in Europe and on the site of a former priory, the life of this house has just taken a fresh twist as it plays the leading role in a new BBC One programme. The mellow stone walls, large rooms, beautiful garden and typically English garden at Avebury Manor are the setting of The Manor Reborn an innovative new BBC programme (starting Thursday 24 November, BBC One at 9pm).

The National Trust house, inhabited by a series of fascinating families since Elizabethan times, was selected for the show after the programme makers visited and found it to be a building on a scale that people could relate to.

Presented by Penelope Keith and Paul Martin, The Manor Reborn follows the exciting design process behind bringing an historic property back to life, in 4 x 60 minute episodes.

The programme sees a lively team of historians, designers and volunteers refurbish nine of the 500-year old manor's rooms and its kitchen garden. They scoured the country for craftspeople, whose skills were employed to create fabric, fixtures and fittings for the five chosen historical periods: Tudor, Queen Anne, Georgian, Victorian and early 20th century.

Sarah Staniforth, Museums and Collections Director for the National Trust said it had been an incredibly exciting project. 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.

From politicians to horticulturalists, Avebury Manor has been home to a string of interesting families, each of whom made the house their own. The team used their own expertise, historical research and inventories from other houses of the same periods to help inspire the imaginative process of recreating interiors for the rooms.

The conservators ranging from stone and plasterwork specialists to painting experts were on call and other Trust houses, Erddig, Polesden Lacey and Dyrham Park make cameo appearances to demonstrate interior design across different chapters of history.

Furniture and objects were either recreated by modern craftsmen or genuine antique furniture was restored. All the 'new' furniture had to be made strong enough to be used, sat on and touched.

The earliest historical period they looked at was Tudor, when William Dunch, an auditor of the London Mint, bought the house for 2,200 in 1551. After the death of William's son, Walter, his widow, Debora, married the High Sheriff of Wiltshire. A Tudor marriage room has been recreated, inspired by this marriage. Look out for the wonderful Tudor bedframe and canopy and the painted frieze.

During the Queen Anne period, a Master in Chancery, Sir Richard Holford, bought Avebury for 7,500 from the Stawell family in 1696. By tradition Queen Anne was supposed to have dined with Sir Richard at the Manor, possibly on her way to Bath.

A Queen Anne bedroom has been imaginatively recreated using brightly coloured panels representing different marbles. Visitors are even allowed to try out the bed for themselves and imagine being monarch for the day.

The well-travelled Governor of Jamaica, Adam Williamson, took over the house in the late 18th-century, during the Georgian period. He died after suffering a violent fall (probably a stroke) in the Dining Room. Williamson's travels have been used to inspire the dcor of the large, light Palladian room think lush golden gilding and bold paint colours. There is also a fascinating Georgian exercise chair.

Restoration enthusiasts Lieutenant Colonel Leopold and Mrs Nora Jenner lived at Avebury for more than twenty years at the start of the 20th century. They lovingly restored much of the house, including the library, and created the topiary garden on show today. Vita Sackville-West visited the Jenners at Avebury Manor in the 1920s then wrote to her husband about how much she wished she could have the house.

The Library, which the Jenners created out of a service room, has been furnished with cosy armchairs. Now, visitors to Avebury Manor can read or play a game of billiards, just as the Jenners' guests could have done in the early 20th century.

In the 1930s, Alexander Keiller, marmalade millionaire and archaeologist, lived in the Manor. He made valuable contributions to the archaeology and preservation of the megalithic circle, and converted the Manor stables into a museum in which many of his finds are still housed. He held cocktail parties for his friends and field staff and lived a glamorous life. He sold the stone circle and museum to the National Trust in the 1940s.

The Little Parlour at the back of the house has been decorated to evoke the time of archaeologist Alexander Keiller. It is set for an evening in the 1930s during which Keiller hosts a cocktail party for his field staff.

Along with the house, part of the garden has been transformed into a Victorian kitchen garden. Overgrown until a few months ago, it has been given a new lease of life. Transformed by modern means but sympathetic to traditional garden design, Prince Charles' former gardener at Highgrove, David Howard, has overseen the planting of an interesting range of both modern and heritage varieties of fruit and vegetables.

This project has been a unique opportunity for both the National Trust and the BBC to try something different and to experiment with presenting historical material and interior design in an imaginative new way. The result is a house which evokes the spirit of each family and the atmosphere of the eras in which they lived.

For all interior design and history lovers out there, this project has made Avebury Manor unique and added yet another great story to this grand house's rich past. TARA"BURKE

For details of the craftspeople involved, opening times and more information about Avebury Manor and the BBC series, visit

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