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Radical plan to restore Clandon Park rejected by members at National Trust annual meeting

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Members of the National Trust rejected a plan put forward by some members of the campaign group Restore Trust to conserve Clandon Park at the trust’s general meeting held in Swindon at the weekend (11 November). The Clandon Park residence, an early 18th-century Palladian mansion near Guildford in Surrey, was gutted by fire in 2015.

Under a masterplan already conceived by the architects Allies and Morrison, the National Trust plans to conserve “most of the interior … in its fire-damaged state, offering people a unique ‘x-ray view’ of how country houses were made”. The trust says that “suspended walkways and platforms will give visitors new views and dramatic perspectives through the house where floors once were”. The trust also plans to restore the Speakers’ Parlour, including a handcrafted Baroque plaster ceiling, which largely survived the fire.

But the resolution put forward proposed that the “restoration of Clandon House should include not only conservation and roofing of the firegutted shell but also, as an absolute minimum, the restoration and recreation of the [principal room], the Marble Hall with the restoration of other important interiors following as funds allow”.

The resolution was submitted by Cornelia van der Poll and Neil Record, board members of Restore Trust, which previously called on the charity’s members to vote for a much more extensive restoration of Clandon Park, including the preservation of the Marble Hall. The other members who proposed the resolution are Roger White, John Boodle and Timothy Schroder.

They added in a supporting statement that “the proponents of the current scheme claim that the fire-ravaged interior has a ‘remarkable broken raw beauty’. Beauty is notoriously in the eye of the beholder, but it seems probable that most visitors will see Clandon’s endless blackened brick walls as a melancholy mess.”

Restore Trust added in a statement: “It is stated by the trust that an insurance payout of £66m has been made as a result of the fire. It is also stated that the conservation of the shell will cost up to £20m. This leaves at least £46m for any other works.” The National Trust tells The Art Newspaper that the project at Clandon is funded by the full insurance settlement and considerable additional investment.

At the annual general meeting (AGM), members voted against the Clandon Park resolution (49,065 for; 74,298 against). The National Trust had recommended that members voted against it. A spokesperson for the National Trust tells The Art Newspaper: “The vote isn’t binding; the board of trustees now reflects on the outcomes of voting and makes a decision at their next meeting. We will be back in touch with members through our usual channels in the coming weeks to let them know.”

Restore Trust fielded five candidates, including Violet Manners and Andrew Gimson, for the trust’s governing council, all of which failed to secure a seat (the governing body appoints trustees and helps to monitor and support their work). Restore Trust were contacted for comment.

Hilary McGrady, Director-General of the National Trust, says in a statement: “I’m very proud of our democratic traditions at the National Trust. The AGM is not the only way that members can express their views; this week, we concluded the largest ever consultation on our work and direction as part of our ongoing strategy review.”

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