Clare Holway visits Tyntesfield
Tyntesfield, just outside Bristol, is a spectacular Victorian Gothic Revival house with extensive gardens and parkland. Over the festive period, the National Trust pulled out all the stops to embrace the spirit of Christmas and transport visitors back in time to experience a very Victorian version of a country Christmas. We went along to see for ourselves.
Lining the extensive driveway approaching the estate, were neatly kept bushes tastefully decorated with festive red ribbons tied amongst the branches. We arrived just as it was opening, at 10am, but only had to queue for a moment or two. We booked our tickets for the house (you are given a pre-booked time and a one hour slot) and went on our way to start exploring the grounds.
We first made our way to the bottom of the estate to the Pavilion café, which has outdoor seating and some indoor tables. The children enjoyed The Orchard play area, which is next to the café and has a sort of obstacle course of wooden carved creatures and crates to jump and climb on, as well as a vintage tractor to pretend to drive. The café was serving hot drinks, cakes and pastries, a few hot lunch options such as soup and chilli con carne, plus cold drinks and other snacks.
Having enjoyed a coffee and a wander through the Orangery, we then made our way back up the long hill (there was a minibus which offers lifts to visitors who would rather not walk) to the grand, picturesque former Gibbs family residence in the heart of the grounds. The house had been brought to life, with staff dressed in period costume and taking on roles as butler, maids, servants and Gibbs family members, to mention but a few. They were welcoming and wonderfully committed to remaining in character. Visitors were being taught to dance in the ballroom, fitted for coats and hats by the tailor in the billiards room and directed about the house by the butler.
The grand rooms were decadently decorated for the family festivities, giving an insight into a Victorian country Christmas. It was fun to interact with the staff and many visitors were enjoying the jollity of activities, such as the dancing. For children, there was an opportunity to make paper gingerbread men or try on Victorian hats.
We were we free to explore and wander in and out of the rooms downstairs before venturing up the majestic staircase to follow the roped route through some of the upstairs bedrooms. The tour ended in the Gothic chapel, which was added between 1872 and 1877 after Gibbs commissioned Arthur Blomfield as architect and builder.
Tyntesfield was wonderful to visit at Christmas, but has a huge amount to offer 364 days of the year, both in terms of its fascinating history and beautiful grounds.
The estate was owned by the Gibbs family, who, in 1863, rebuilt what was then Tyntes Place, and transformed it into a vast family home. This was at a cost of £70,000 – the profit that the family company made in just one year! William Gibbs made his fortune importing guano from Peru; guano was used to manufacture fertiliser in Europe and North America, and the trade made the Gibbs’ company immensely wealthy.
Tyntesfield has an extravagant exterior, but what makes it even more of a treasure is that it still houses an impressive collection of 50,000 beautiful things, collected by four generations of the Gibbs family, making it the largest single collection in the hands of the National Trust today.
Tyntesfield was purchased by the National Trust in June 2002, allowing it to be opened to the public. Since then, the visitor experience has grown as the grounds have been developed and more rooms in the house have been restored; now, much of the house, with its original interior intact, is accessible to view all year round. In addition, there is the retreat of the Rose Garden, a Kitchen Garden, the Orangery, the arboretum, the restaurant, the Woodland Adventure play area and Sculpture Trail and the Home Farm Visitor Centre.
Upcoming events at the estate include the opportunity to see behind the scenes as Tyntesfield begin work on a major conservation project to replace the fire alarm system in the house. Throughout the year, different aspects of the project will be on show. In February, there is the winter trail and the chance to have a go at welly wanging!
For more information about Tyntesfield, visit: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/tyntesfield