The Palladian mansion was built for Thomas, 2nd Baron Onslow, to replace the Elizabethan house his great-grandfather had acquired in 1641. The Onslows traditionally followed political careers; the three who served as Speakers of the House of Commons were commemorated in portraits in the Speakers’ Parlour, which has survived the fire.
One of Clandon’s most important rooms, the Speakers’ Parlour suffered only minor damage in the blaze and is among a number of principal rooms on the ground floor, including the Marble Hall and Saloon, which the National Trust plans to restore given their architectural and historical significance.
However, the Trust said it was not looking to recreate the rooms as they were the day before the fire: the enduring significance of the architect Leoni’s original designs means it will go back instead to look at the 18th-century decorative schemes and layout of the house.
On the upper floors, as the rooms were less architecturally significant and had been considerably altered over the centuries, the proposal is for these floors to be transformed to create “flexible spaces” to be used for exhibitions, events and performances.
A competition will be held later this year to find the right architect to bring the space alive in a bold and imaginative way. The Trust is also proposing to return the gardens to how they were designed when the house was originally built.
Helen Ghosh, the National Trust’s director general, said: “Given their historic and cultural significance, and the fact so many original features have survived, we believe we should restore the magnificent state rooms on the ground floor – the most architecturally important and beautiful rooms.
“The loss of so many of the contents of the house means that we cannot return it to how it looked the day before the fire. However, we now know more about the original layout and recognise that the enduring significance of the house is its architecture and so we would like to return it to the 18th century design – making it a purer, more faithful version of Clandon as it was when it was first built.”
Major architectural features such as fireplaces, panelling and decorative plasterwork survive in a number of rooms, including the magnificent marble chimney pieces and over mantels by the renowned sculptor John Michael Rysbrack in the Marble Hall.
Over the last nine months, the National Trust reviewed a number of options for Clandon, ranging from leaving it as a ruin to a full restoration. It looked carefully at the architectural significance of what had survived the fire, the items salvaged from the building and what was technically possible within it.
The cost of the project is expected to be met largely through the Trust’s insurance policy – although not in its entirety. Once its plans are at a more advanced stage, the charity said it would be asking supporters for help.