Visiting Tyntesfield (Part 1)

Wednesday 16th December 2015

Tyntesfield would be the other local property that I’d been driving past for many years without having stopped off to pay the estate a visit. I’d only previously stopped here once to pick someone up and, long before I became a National Trust member, I used to drive past the entrance almost daily on my commute to or from work.

Knowing where the car park was and, with a day off work last week; I made an effort to ensure I could tick this one off my list. From what I’d read online, there was somewhat of a Christmas theme overtaking the house to look out for as well.

It isn’t only a long drive from the road down to the visitors’ car park but one that consists of many twists and turns. Once you’re in the right place and out of the car though, it’s not too much of a walk to reach the shop and main entrance. There’s even a café, right next door, which must be great for social occasions as you’re not asked or expected to handover any entrance fee by this point.

Some National Trust properties will stop you before you’ve pulled the handbrake; others will be set up and waiting at the only conceivable entry point. It was welcome and refreshing here, to see and feel the physical distance, even though I had my membership card on me.

From inside the shop, I followed signs towards the house that led me strangely up a flight of stairs, still within the same building… At the top, I passed through another very small gift shop and out in to the courtyard – my eyes locked on to the wood ahead of me, straight away!

There was a poster about chair bodgers but I more distinctly noticed they do green woodworking course, here – some of which are hosted by Paul Hayden, who is nationally renown in this field.

This is something I might consider in 2016, being only a twenty-minute drive from home. I’ve never previously given any thought to working ‘unplugged’ with green wood but in my ongoing days without a workshop and a day job that is stifling, it appears to be an option.

I’ve already got two stools in my home and could probably use another ‘less traditional’!

Continuing the reindeer theme of National Trust properties.

I also noticed a sign stating that the estate sells green wood – as in, locally-grown timber – from time to time. No prices or even a list of species were given but it was suggested that some (but not all) of the timber is sourced from the estate. I remember seeing green wood for sale at the Festival of the Tree up at Westonbirt Arboretum a few years ago (2008?!) and my main reaction was that it was expensive.

Outside the building containing the biomass boiler, there was a wooden sheep – I’m not sure why they put a sheep there when the building was formerly the piggery…. Are pigs more difficult to carve?

This was after I’d made my way through another area, bypassing the second-hand book store, to hand over my membership card in exchange for a paper map of the estate and a curious sheet, inviting me to Tyntesfield’s Victorian Christmas.

It’s a good ten-minute walk before you reach the house from here and, where I followed a route known as Paradise, another option is to veer left and pass through the rose garden.

I noticed a small group of volunteers or workers “burning stuff” amidst the woodland to my left – I realise there’s a name for this practice; it’s just departed my mind.

As on my visit to Dunster Castle back in June, I noticed some rather ‘unusual’ and possibly non-native trees:

I want to call them palm trees but the leaves don’t look right.

A long straight driveway leads you to the astounding house. Note the chapel attached to the left-hand end.

There was also this small structure that I realise I have forgotten to investigate. I imagine it was related to the garden though.

Despite the mansion being only metres ahead of me, there was no apparent ‘way in’, let alone a front door.

A sign points left, leading through a rather anti-climatic entrance befitting rear entrance to many less characterised properties… But I still found this exciting.

Passing through the Servants’ Courtyard, with the chapel high up to my left…

I made a right turn towards the undeniable entrance to the house.

I spent some time admiring the exterior and taking lots of photographs before heading in, where I was greeted by another volunteer/staff member who informed me of the Victorian Christmas theme and how many characters from the estate’s history were alive inside, ready to meet and greet the visitors.

Historically, Tyntesfield belonged to the Gibbs family and, although I now forget all the various names, I’m sure that a ‘Mr. Gibbs‘ did indeed introduce himself.

Heading in after handing over my ticket (of which, only a limited number are allocated per hour and they are also timed, even for members), I caught up with a couple ahead of me who had been greeted by the jolly and cheerful doorman. He even spoke of a ‘special guest’ who would be arriving in the evening, to solve the case of a suspected jewel thief within the property…

Servants were everywhere and perhaps only outnumbered by the volume of visitors at the time. At the foot of the staircase in the main hall, members of the Gibbs family had gathered to sing the Twelve Days of Christmas, encouraging each and every visitor to sing along as well.

(There’s a piano, just out of shot and to the right.)

Although the big day is almost upon us as I write this, I’ve not felt at all ‘festive’ or seasonal this year. Yet somehow, being in that room, making a choice to stay and immerse myself within the atmosphere (without singing), it suddenly felt like Christmas again.

But I did only stay for one carol before moving on to explore the rest of the ground floor.

There appeared to be a Christmas tree in just about every room; each one as heavily decorated as the last:

Some of the furniture was interesting and, in particular the chairs:

We were clearly told, before entering the house, not to sit on any of them and the staff had placed leaves of holly on each seat, just in case anyone required a sharp reminder.

I came across a ladder-chair, which took me back to 2006 and one of the first projects I ever made in my home workshop… My chair (made from southern yellow pine) still exists today, even though it’s not in my personal care. It inspired me to get going and taught me a lot about the challenges of making furniture along the way.

Also, some of the details and construction of the doors were worthy of a close examination.

Then, it was time to head upstairs…

My first move was to follow the landing around to the right, where I came to a dead-end with closed doors. Turning back, I then entered the second door on the left, as you’ll see it in the photo below:

As I approached, I saw two women in conversation with another woman inside. As I moved closer to the doorway, the unseen women and I locked eye contact and maintained this, while she continued to speak eloquently to her guests and I stepped gradually in to the room…

It was a bedroom and there wasn’t as much to see as I might’ve found in other rooms downstairs. As the two women ahead of me shuffled on through the next door, I attempted to do the same, only to be halted in my tracks by the words of the young woman in the red dress:

“Sir! Might you be an eligible bachelor?”

Pausing in hesitance for a moment that, while expecting she was about to pair me with one of the two (much older) women, I offered a dry response as a follow up to my nervous laughter:

“…Actually, I am.”

“Oh, good! Meet me at the ball later. You can have my spare ticket.”

My laugh was more audible this time and, avoiding eye contact, I was almost hurrying those two women on with their tour, just so I could escape my own awkwardness and lack of self-confidence.

Don’t get me wrong… This woman was beautiful and probably about my age. But she was clearly in character and drama is a subject I’ve been happily avoiding for over sixteen years now! Looking back, as I entered each of the proceeding rooms, I wished with regret, that I could’ve been more confident and played the scenario out a little longer… At least, to have asked what time the ball and to exclaim how sincerely flattered I was.

It’s a personal shame that I haven’t met as many women in the twenty-first century who have been as confident and ‘forward’ as the Victorian woman in the red dress.

I don’t remember much about any of the other rooms up on the first floor. Perhaps the majority were closed off, as it seemed to distinctly small in comparison to the scale and architecture of the house. Before reaching the exit, I was in the chapel, where you were welcome to sit down and join the service (someone suggested that each one lasts for two-and-a-half hours…) but they’re true to the Victorian age.

Stepping back outside, there’s a lot to explore around the estate in general, which I’ll have to share with you in Part 2.

Thanks for reading.

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