On my last trip to England, I made my second visit to Tyntesfield, the glorious Victorian country home rescued by the National Trust of Great Britain in 2002. My first visit was just a couple of years after it opened to the public. It is now one of my very favorite National Trust properties in all of Great Britain.
Succeeding generations of the Gibbs family lived in it since it was built. As the family declined in numbers and in fortune, they simply closed up areas and lived in smaller and smaller parts of the mansion. The result is a time capsule. Tyntesfield and its entire contents were on the market by Sotheby’s when the National Trust managed to purchase it lock, stock and barrel. All the contents had already been tagged for separate auction.
National Trust Curators have carefully catalogued, cleaned and replaced thousands of items into their original places in the gorgeous home. They’ve left a few rooms as they found them with groups of housewares and furniture tagged and ready for the auction block.
By the time the 2nd Lord Wraxall, known as Richard, died in 2001, he was the only person living in the house. The house had been hit by bombs several times during the Bristol Blitz of World War II, and had never been properly repaired. Birds and bats took up residence in whole wings of the house. Tyntesfield was the last High Victorian house available for purchase in all of England.
The market value was about 20 million pounds, or about $31 million. In addition, double or triple the purchase amount was needed for repairs. Various gazillionaires were interested. (The press reported that Madonna, Kylie Minogue, and Andrew Lloyd Webber were looking). But the National Trust of Britain, one of the two main preservation societies, managed to raise the purchase money within a period of 50 days. (Controversy arose when a semi-secret deal with the National Lottery provided some of the money for this project that many considered “elitist”). The Trust took possession in July of 2002. This was the first new acquisition by the National Trust in many years, and the largest in its history. Today, over 800 paid and volunteer staff work on the estate, 3 times the number at any other National Trust property.
Tyntesfield is a breathtakingly beautiful place to spend a day.
It is also a unique window into the glory days of the British Empire, when a businessman with no aristocratic background could amass a huge fortune and build a home to rival many royal palaces. I’ll be writing about how the Gibbs family managed to amass such a fortune. The large family gathered with their servants for prayers twice a day, had their own private chapel, and funded churches and charities all over England. However, their business and shipping interests were very likely tied up with the slave trade, a fact which must have caused this generous and devout family some feelings of remorse even as they spent their money.