National Trust collections in their South Somerset houses
The Society’s February meeting featured an illustrated talk from Sonja Rogers, Collections Manager for the National Trust in South Somerset. Her experience and in-depth knowledge of the National Trust properties in South Somerset filled her talk with interest and background detail.
Sonja’s talk covered Montacute, Barrington Court, Lytes Cary, Tintinhull, the Priest’s House and the Treasurer’s House. She began by outlining the origins of the National Trust’s commitment to saving country houses, noting that Barrington Court was the first property acquired by the Trust after it was put on a statutory footing by the National Trust Act of 1907.
As Collections Manager for many years she had acquired a unique and intimate knowledge of the items kept in the National Trust’s South Somerset properties, and indeed of the buildings themselves. Montacute has over 2,000 items, more than half of all the items in South Somerset. Lytes Cary has under 1,000 and Barrington Court, which is empty, has fixtures and fittings amounting to only just under 250 items. Collections reflect their collectors’ lives and interests, though the houses are not intended to be museums to the families who lived in them.
A quick run-down of the National Trust’s policies on what they do and do not collect revealed some surprising offers, such as a set of baby-feeding bottles and a National Trust member offering to let them store his furniture – both of which were declined.
Sonja described the houses in order of their age, pointing out their most important or unusual features. In the Treasurer’s House, for example, not everyone may have known that the 13th century wall painting in the solar was discovered as recently as 1995. She explained in detail the process for restoring Montacute’s valuable 15th century millefleurs tapestry at specialist workshops in Belgium. She also recounted how delighted they were that the owners of the unique 16th century Lyte’s Herbal, which had been on long term loan, had offered to donate the volume for permanent display at Lyte’s Cary.
Sonja’s enthusiasm for her work and her detailed knowledge engaged the large audience, who were inspired to visit these properties armed with greater insights, even if they were already frequent visitors.