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New hope for fire-hit stately home

The National Trust is hoping to rebuild the 18th-century mansion Clandon Park after a devastating fire reduced it to a charred shell.

The roof and floors collapsed during the blaze at the grand property, regarded as one of Britain's finest Palladian mansions which housed a stunning collection of furniture, porcelain and textiles.

Thousands of items were feared to have been lost following the inferno on April 29 at Clandon Park, a Grade-I listed stately home near Guildford, Surrey.

But its external walls remain largely intact and a specialist team is planning an archaeological salvage operation to retrieve further items from the building.

The National Trust said the full extent of the damage still remains unclear as structural engineers and insurers continue to assess the site.

Despite the uncertainty, the charity said it was "hopeful" that "one day" Clandon Park could be rebuilt and would have a long-term future.

The trust's chief executive Helen Ghosh said: "We're hopeful that one day we can rebuild Clandon but quite how, when and in what form is far from certain at this early stage.

"The house has been left a shell, with the inside of the building almost completely destroyed. We're still awaiting guidance from the structural engineers on the safety of the house.

"As we get more information on the extent of the damage, we will be able to take a clearer view on the potential options for Clandon.

"Despite the uncertainty, we would like to reassure all those people who love Clandon as much as we do that it will continue in some shape or form in the future."

Work to erect scaffolding will start shortly. Once that has been completed and the building given the all-clear to enter, the salvage operation will restart.

A significant amount of the collection was rescued from the fire during the initial salvage operation, including paintings, furniture and silver.

Among the items saved was a metal prisoner-of-war identity badge worn by the 6th Earl of Onslow in a PoW camp in Germany during the Second World War.

Other items retrieved include the 4th Countess of Onslow's dinner book of guests and menus for dinner parties, from 1875 to 1910, and two framed photos of Lady Teresa Onslow as a baby.

Around 80 firefighters tackled the fire at its height, after staff and volunteers had been evacuated. The fire is believed to have started in the basement before spreading through voids to the roof space.

Clandon Park - which featured in the 2008 drama The Duchess starring Keira Knightley - is a popular wedding venue and the fire disrupted the plans of some of those who hoped to hold their big day there.

Sophie Chessum, the curator leading the trust's conservation team at Clandon Park, said: "We are so pleased that so many significant Onslow family portraits and associated historic artefacts were saved.

"Three Onslow men have held the office of Speaker of the House of Commons, a unique achievement, and to have rescued their portraits and the Great Speaker's State Purse is wonderful.

"We are looking forward to re-uniting the three portraits which had to be cut from their frames on the night of the fire with their elaborate gilded frames.

"We were greatly relieved that the Speakers' Parlour has survived the fire and the frames were discovered unharmed several days after the fire.

"Also rescued was the huge carved and gilt chair that stood on the Stone Stairs. This 250-year-old chair might have been a gift to Arthur Onslow, known as the Great Speaker, to commemorate his retirement from the post he held for 33 years."


From Belfast Telegraph