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January 2016

One of the most impressive things about Tyntesfield, the spectacular Victorian mansion just south of Bristol, is the dedication and enthusiasm of its volunteers. Starting with just 30 in 2002 there are now 30 times that number, helping the National Trust with the restoration project. Terry and Jenny Stevens are 2 of the original 30, and treated us to an interesting and entertaining talk on the ongoing Tyntesfield developments at the January gathering of Thornbury History and Archaeological Society.

The Tynte family had been prominent landowners in the area for centuries and in the 1500s built a hunting lodge which was then replaced with a Georgian house (Tyntes Place) in 1820. Relatives of William Gibbs also lived in the area, and William had admired its beauty on his visits from London. When William became spectacularly rich by selling bird droppings (Guano) for fertiliser (where there’s muck....) he was able to buy the house as a country retreat in 1843. When the building of the Great Western Railway allowed him to commute easily to London he set about enlarging and updating the renamed Tyntesfield as his main house in the 1860s.

The house was transformed into a gothic extravaganza with turrets and pinnacles and a tall, fairytale clock-tower illuminated by gas light. (Steam-powered electricity was installed only in the 1880s). Although spectacular from the outside, the true glory of Tyntesfield lies inside in the intricate iron-work, stone-work, wood-work and decoration of the huge library, hall, dining room and beautiful chapel. This last is based on the glorious gothic St. Chappelle in Paris. All through the house the attention to detail is astonishing and is only enhanced by the furniture and collections added by the Gibbs family.

After 13 years the National Trust is still working on the house inventory (its largest). It includes a Madonna and child by Giovanni Bellini, a 14c ivory casket, a 16c illuminated manuscript, a gothic bronze throne, gilt peacocks from Peru and countless other treasures ( including a huge number of hats and shoes – they never threw anything away). One item not on the inventory is the organ from the original house chapel. This was donated by the family to a local church (one of the first organ transplants).

Perhaps the biggest transformation since the National Trust took it on is in the garden. Overgrown and dilapidated in 2002 (the walled garden was turfed over by the auctioneers to make it appear manageable) it is now an appropriate setting for the jewel of the house. Many features from the 1860s have been restored, including gazebos in the rose garden, the summerhouse, the aviary, and carved stone garden benches. The beautiful orangery, a ruin in 2002, has been perfectly restored by architecture students from Bath, and the enormous walled garden is in bountiful production again.

In 2002 the younger brother of Richard Gibbs (the last owner) couldn’t face trying to maintain the house and it was put up for auction. It has cost the National Trust millions to restore, but millions have visited this Victorian gem, and large numbers have been enthused by bringing it back to life. Young offenders who had helped with restoration begged on their knees to continue working full time on the project. Thanks to the National trust and its army of volunteers (especially Terry and Jenny) Tyntesfield now is for ever, for everyone.

The Thornbury Local History and Archaeology Society always welcomes new and occasional members. Details of our programme can be found on this website, the library or the Town Hall. Our meetings are on the second Tuesday of the month, held at St Mary's Church Hall beginning at 7.30pm. Visitors are always welcome at the society for the small charge of £2.50.

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