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Spirit of place: HS2 and the power of space at Hardwick Hall

Samuel Weaver is an intern working on the National Trust’s project to minimise the impact of High Speed Railway 2 (HS2). In this post he will be looking at the potential impact it will have on Hardwick Hall. Check out last week’s post on another property at risk from HS2 here.

As I make my way through the winding drive-way of Hardwick’s estate, the dominating presence of the Hall comes into view. Its raised position on the plateau of the hill means it demands the respect and attention from any onlooker.


However, I am not here for a nice day out, but for the purpose of preserving this priceless asset.

Sadly, the proposed route for HS2 will pass in close proximity to the property. HS2 have said the track would be ‘sitting low in the landscape past the hall’

Although, this is not strictly true.

The M1 is already lying in the valley close to the property and by HS2’s logic, the railway track could be similarly hidden by keeping it in the same corridor. However, the M1 is largely hidden from the estate, whilst the proposed HS2 track would have to be cut deep into the other side of the valley, becoming very much visible from the building and grounds.

HS2's route will cut into the oppostie valley

HS2′s route will cut into the opposite side of the valley

Also, Hardwick’s attraction comes from its dominance of the surrounding landscape. So if HS2 were to become a prominent feature within the landscape, it would undermine the experience for thousands of visitors that it attracts each year.

More of Hardwick's stunning landscape

More of Hardwick’s stunning landscape

National Trust’s HS2 project leader for the Midlands Keith Challis had this to say:

‘A large part of the significance of great houses like Hardwick comes from how we view them within the landscape. Protecting key views to and from Hardwick Hall is an essential part of our work to minimise the impact of HS2. This requires careful assessment of the extent to which HS2 will encroach on the experience of visitors both as they approach the Hall and as they explore the house and grounds.’

Everything about the property was created as a statement of power. This came from the building’s simple symmetry and pioneering large glass windows, which earned the saying ‘Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall’.

Inside is no different. On the third floor, just walking through the High Great Chamber and one of the longest galleries in the UK makes the visitor feel humble to its powerful ancestral owners.

Hardwick's famous tapestries

Hardwick’s famous tapestries

Hardwick Hall is not only a great display of Elizabethan skill and workmanship, but it also perfectly reflects its original owner’s character. During the Elizabethan times, Bess Shrewsbury made a name for herself as a formidable and authoritative woman. As well as being the second richest person in England after the Queen, she boasted an impressive amount of political power.

Therefore, keeping HS2 hidden away is integral to maintaining the visitor’s experience and ‘spirit’ of the place.

It is worth clarifying, whilst the National Trust is neither for nor against the principle of high speed railway, it is arguing the project should not impact on heritage and ecology.

Samuel Weaver is a Media and Communications intern at the National Trust.

He is a recent History graduate from the University of the West of England. When not selling sausages in a deli, he usually occupies himself by researching and blogging on our nation’s more overlooked heritage.


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Spirit of place: HS2 and the seclusion of Hartwell

Sam Weaver is a Media and Communications intern at the National Trust. Over the next few months he will be following the politics of preserving our heritage. Check out last week’s post here

Past an idyllic public house, a small patch of woodland and over a picturesque stone bridge, sits the historically important Hartwell House.


Considering the property’s wonderfully preserved nature and seclusion, it isn’t surprising it now functions as a hotel and a spa. However, this might all change as the proposed High Speed Rail (HS2) route plans to steamroll straight past the building.

Hartwell has had an impressive history. It was the home to many prominent individuals, including the exiled Louis XVIII of France during the early 19th Century. It was in the library where he signed the reinstatement of his rule once Napoleon had been defeated.

The grounds also have served as a retreat from the urban sprawl of Aylesbury. Its lake is perfectly landscaped across the length of the land, which is home to a plethora of ducks and swans. Additionally, two lines of trees and a fence hidden in a neat ditch (known as a ‘ha ha’) create a far reaching ‘avenue’, which adds a certain tranquillity to the landscape beyond explanation.

Hartwell's avenue

Hartwell’s avenue

Hidden fence or 'ha ha'

Hidden fence or ‘ha ha’

The fact that parts of the estate will be destroyed for the railway, the undervalued ‘spirit’ of the building and surrounding landscape is likely to be at risk.

Not only will the route cut into the important screen of trees already in place to ensure the properties seclusion, it would also run across the end of the avenue, which will mean it will be in sight of the property.

The noise from the high speed railway is also a worry. As it stands, HS2 have calculated the noise could be kept to an acceptable level.

Consulting sound engineer on the National Trust’s HS2 project Alan Nethersole has said that: ‘with current plans, it will be impossible to not hear the railway from the building. If Hartwell House benefits from being a quite retreat, then the sound from the trains every few minutes will be a problem.’

Alan also noted that guests will notice the sounds much more than someone who is used to the noise. Considering this, the sound would have disastrous effects on the experience of the inhabitants of the hotel.

Although the English Heritage listing system can protect historic properties from destruction, project leaders for HS2 are still yet to recognise the railway could harm the visitors’ experience of buildings like Hartwell.

Whilst the National Trust is neither for nor against the idea of HS2, it feels that it should be built so that ecology and heritage are protected.

Watch this short video explaining National Trust’s plan to reduce the impact of HS2 on Hartwell.

Samuel Weaver is a Media and Communications intern at the National Trust.

He is a recent History graduate from the University of the West of England. When not selling sausages in a deli, he usually occupies himself by researching and blogging on our nation’s more overlooked heritage.

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Hardwick Hall’s tapestries: Gideon’s story continues

 In this post Gina Richards looks into what is being done with some of Britian’s most treasured tapestries… 

The National Trust own the largest collection of tapestries in Britain, with Hardwick Hall having over 100 in its impressive collection.

Within the property resides the internationally significant Gideon collection, which tells the biblical story of Gideon’s victory over the Midianites. Due to its historically unique nature, its conservation is essential. The collection is now in this long and delicate process right now.

In 1996, the collection was surveyed and discovered that an estimated £1.7 million was needed to conserve and repair this stunning collection for future generations to enjoy.

The Long Gallery at Hardwick Hall

The Long Gallery at Hardwick Hall

Originally woven in 1578, the tapestries are now looking grey and weathered. Due to the architecture of Harwick Hall, ‘more glass then wall’ as the jingle goes, it has meant the once vibrant colours of the tapestries have suffered significant light bleaching.  Other factors for their deterioration include the air pollution caused by nearby coal mines, which has absorbed into the threads.

Despite this, 436 years later they’re still hanging, even if it’s by velcro.  The long gallery, which was designed specifically to house these intricate tapestries, still doesn’t fail to impress the thousands of visitors each year.

Erecting a scaffold tower in the Long Gallery in preparation for conservation work at Hardwick Hall.

Erecting a scaffold tower in the Long Gallery in preparation for conservation work at Hardwick Hall.

Last week, the 11th tapestry of the collection was delicately taken down by a large team of experts and taken to The National Trust textile conservation studio in Norfolk. From there, the tapestry is sent to De Wit Royal Manufacture in Belgium to be wet cleaned and then carefully taken back to the studio to be thoroughly examined. After an intense analysis of the damage, it is lovingly mended by hand to restore quality.

Unfortunately, the tapestries original vibrant and lively colour pallet cannot be restored from prior damage. Nevertheless, by taking a closer look at the back of the tapestries, it gives you a unique insight into the exciting colours which once would of adorned the front. This skilful process of restoration takes about two years to complete, with the Trust looking to finish the collection in 2020.

The whole collection of thirteen were purchased as a bargain from the Heirs of Sir Christopher  Hatton for £326.6s. Bess of Harwick used her persuasive negotiation skills to further bargain an impressive £5 discount. Her justification was the great expense she would have to pay for editing out the orignal owner’s crest and having her’s embodied in. However, being the savvy businesswoman woman she was, Bess simply added antlers to the does on the existing crest, avoiding the tedious process of getting it re-embodied.

What can I do to help?

The National Trust is so thankful for the generous donations towards this essential work here at Harwick House. Thanks to you, there is only two tapestries left to restore. However, we still need your generosity to help complete the collection. The work is vital in saving these rare tapestries from disrepair. 

 To help the essential work that is taking place please donate to :


Gina, is a Media and Communications intern focusing on producing video to support the many upcoming National Trust projects. As a Graphic Design graduate, she is passionate about communicating inspiring ideaGina Richards blog images and important issues.

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The A303: Safeguarding Stonehenge’s future

In this series of blog posts Ellie Dewdney will be keeping you up to date with current issues that could affect Britain’s most special places and what the National Trust are doing to preserve these national treasures.

 It will come as no surprise that here at the National Trust we are great fans of Stonehenge; not only does the landscape hold huge archaeological significance but it’s one of Britain’s most admired and iconic places.

The beautiful Stonehenge

The beautiful Stonehenge

So naturally the Government’s next Autumn Statement, which may contain an announcement about improving Britain’s road network – including a strategy for the A303 road running alongside the Stonehenge monument – will be of much interest to the Trust.

This area has already been the source of considerable debate over the years. Just last June, by closing and grassing over almost a kilometre section of the A344, which ran within touching distance of Stonehenge, English Heritage and ourselves were finally able to put into action plans that were suggested as early as 1927.

Grassed over A344

Grassed over A344

The A344's old route by the Heel Stone

The A344′s old route by the Heel Stone

 Although there remain some local road issues to resolve, this change has been widely welcomed, as it has significantly improved the visitors’ experience and the authenticity of the site. The road closure has helped restore much tranquillity to the Stonehenge monument and has also had a positive archaeological impact; Stonehenge and its processional avenue have finally been reunited.

 As Loraine Knowles, Stonehenge Director, English Heritage said

when all the works are complete, people will be able to experience this complex and extraordinary monument in a more tranquil, natural setting.”

 However, the A303 is still a real blot on the Stonehenge landscape, as well as being a traffic black spot for those heading to the South West.

Stonehenge and the A303

Stonehenge and the A303


Like many we recognise there are real problems at Stonehenge and we have for many years supported the principle of improving the road network in order to improve the road and the quality of the environment across the Stonehenge Landscape. Some people are insisting change is needed to ease congestion levels no matter what the impact on the landscape. At the Trust we believe that the current round of road improvements might provide an opportunity to finally give Stonehenge the scheme it deserves and that means a world class solution for a world class place. We will be engaging very closely with the Government and our key partners over the next year to ensure we help to protect this very special place.


Ellie is the current Land and Landscape Intern at the National Trust. She read Classical Archaeology and


Ancient History at Oriel College, Oxford and graduated last summer. She’s loves writing and is enthusiastic

about making sure people are up to date on issues affecting some of Britain’s most loved places.



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Three reasons why old buildings are good for business

Sam Weaver is a Media and Communications intern at the National Trust. Over the next few months he will be following the politics of preserving our heritage. Check out last weeks post here

It is a common misconception that listed buildings or properties with a historic nature can be a barrier to development.

In fact, property development and preservation can go beautifully hand-in-hand. These are the following economic benefits that we can reap from preserving our old buildings.


  1. Business thrives in older buildings


To start, preserving an existing property can be cheaper and more efficient than building from scratch.

More importantly, certain businesses thrive within premises of historic value. In an English Heritage report, they have considered converted industry buildings ‘can provide occupiers with large, quirky, open spaces that are valued for their uniqueness and creative ambiance’.

In another example, Hartwell House which is owned by the National Trust has reinvented itself as a hotel. The grade 1 listed building has a long and colourful past, which includes becoming a refuge of King Louis XVIII of France during the Napoleonic Wars. Its relationship with international politics remains alive with it hosting several international summits and meetings.

These conversions can sometimes achieve a novelty value for the business. Oxford Castle, which was used as prison until 1996, was converted into a hotel. Its prison-esque interior is still apparent.

More importantly, businesses provide protection for historic buildings. Essentially they finance the conservation work that ensures they live and long and happy life.


Oxford Castle

Oxford Castle

  1. Older buildings have indirect economic benefits to the local economy


It isn’t just the businesses within the properties that prosper from heritage conservation, it is evident the wider community also feel the benefits. If development is done properly and the building’s original ascetic is maintained, it increases the quality and value of the local surrounding. This has the following effects:

  • It increases nearby property prices
  • Invites more business into the area
  • Invites more people and tourists which therefore increases the income for surrounding business

One sucesseful example is Gloucester Docks. The once stagnant and dormant industrial hub has gone through a remarkable regeneration thanks to clever planning. In its heyday, these warehouses used to be filled with industrial activity, now they host a range of shops, restaurants and apartments.



  1. Provides employment and supports skills/trades


Besides the cultural benefits from the historic buildings, providing conservation projects injects a huge amount into the local economy. In the case of the National Trust alone, it employs thousands of people around the country to preserve and maintain its heritage.

In some cases old skills are being revived. When old buildings are involved, old skills are needed. These days there is a shortage of these traditional skills, which include carpentry and masonry.

One venture the National Trust partakes in, is the Traditional Building Skills Bursary Scheme. With the support from other heritage organisations such as English Heritage and the National Heritage Training Group, this scheme offers apprenticeships in these traditional trades.

Not only are people paid, which injects money into the economy, they also learn valuable skills and trades.


Samuel Weaver is a Media and Communications intern at the National Trust.

He is a recent History graduate from the University of the West of England. When not selling sausages in a deli, he usually occupies himself by researching and blogging on our nation’s more overlooked heritage.

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Mysteries Cloaked in Mist: Invisible Innovation at a Welsh Country House

In this series of posts, Sophie McGovern explores debate and innovation around renewable energy and sustainability

Plas Newydd
was shrouded in mist when we arrived at 8.30 on a chilly spring morning. As well as obscuring views of Snowdonia National Park it was also concealing other mysteries. I’d travelled to the property on the Isle of Anglesey to find out all about them.

If you were asked to guess at the unlikely innovation hidden within the historic house and grounds you’d be excused for drawing a blank. Gazing at grand portraits in the Gothic Hall and strolling past Rex Whistler’s murals it seems that conservation, not innovation is at the core of things.

 In fact, Plas Newydd is one of several National Trust properties that are leading the way when it comes to renewable energy innovation.   I was there to attend a Fit for the Future Network event along with representatives from RSPB, Bangor University, Ashden, Anglesey Sea Zoo and local authorities. The Network is for not-for-profits and public sector organisations that want to share best practise around sustainability and cut carbon emissions, which is exactly what the day was all about.

National Trust Fit for the Future Network event, Wales

Fit for the Future Network event at Plas Newydd

The hundred-odd visitors were introduced to two systems that are being installed at Plas Newydd to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. You’d think that a field-scale solar installation and the UK’s largest marine source heat pump would be pretty obvious, but we needed National Trust’s energy experts Keith Jones and Paul Southall to help us find them.

Field-scale solar

Set in a field away from the mansion, the ground-elevated solar panels can’t be seen from the main visitor area and have been well placed for minimum visual impact. Keith explains that site selection is essential when it comes to installing renewables at heritage properties.  He also points out that field-scale solar doesn’t stop land from being functional; the panels are at optimum grazing height to accommodate the local Welsh mountain sheep. Solar can be a good fit for our precious places if we get the planning right, as I explored in my last post.

Field-scale solar PV at National Trust property

Field-scale solar PV at Plas Newydd

The UK’s largest marine source heat pump

On the misty shore of the Menai Strait Paul introduced us to the brand new housing for what will be one of the first, and certainly the largest marine source heat pump in the UK. By extracting heat from the sea it will create enough energy to heat the entire mansion. For a property that is currently the Trust’s biggest oil guzzler this means serious transformation. The pump is one of five innovative projects being piloted by the National Trust’s renewable energy programme in partnership with Good Energy.

Why invisible innovation?

So why is invisible innovation so important to the National Trust? We want the places we look after to stay special, and by installing renewable energy systems we’re helping to safeguard them for the future. The ‘invisible’ aspect is about ensuring that we also safeguard their beauty and heritage. By carefully considering the right renewable and the best location we can install innovation that works with the landscape.

The field-scale  solar and heat pump at Plas Newydd are part of our pledge to produce fifty per cent of our energy using renewables by 2020. Find out where else we’re installing examples of invisible innovation and why the Fit for Future network is attracting the UK’s largest organisations to its ranks.


Sophie blogSophie-Ann McGovern is a media and communications intern at National Trust with a focus on energy and sustainability. She has a BA English Literature from Leeds University and an MA Creative writing from Bath Spa. When not working at the Trust she can generally be found scampering around the countryside, cruising along the Kennet and Avon in her solar powered narrow boat, playing accordion, foraging for wild food or making up stories and writing them down. Over the next six month you can follow her adventures and insights relating to sustainable energy and ideas sharing on the National Trust Places blog.

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Good news for Britain’s heritage- Magna Carta

Sam Weaver is a Media and Communications intern at the National Trust. Over the next few months he will be following the politics of preserving our heritage. 

Finally there is some good news for Britain’s heritage as George Osbourne unveiled the new government budget yesterday. It specifically designates £1 million for the Magna Carta Trust, as in 2015 it will be 800 years since good ol’ King John issued this globally influential piece of our constitution. 

This is especially welcoming since the National Trust owns the land where it was first sealed (near Runnymede). See anniversary events here.

The budget had even squeezed a cool £20 million for Cathedral renovation in anticipation of the First World War Centenary.

This is particularly good considering these recent times have not been so beneficial for British heritage. Last June, the government announced further cuts to its investment into the heritage sector.

These cuts were not the first. When the Coalition government first came to power in 2010, heritage took an initial battering of cuts from the Comprehensive Spending Review.

Ironically, last year had also been the centenary of the landmark 1913 Ancient Monuments Act. This legislation had revolutionised the way this country protected it’s heritage sites. It had been the first time in which the government was directly stepping in to protect these sites. Terms of the act included:

  • Compulsory ‘Preservation Order’ on monuments at risk of demolition by a private owner. 
  • ‘Scheduling’ of monuments- once a site was on the list and the owner informed, it became a crime to damage it.
  • Under the Act, the Office of Works could give free advice to an owner regarding the treatment of an ancient monument on their land and could oversee any works free of charge

Prior to this act, England had a notoriously bad record with its heritage sites.

For example, the biggest loss included the demolition of Shakespeare’s final house. Reverend Francis Gastrell, who bought the house in 1753, became irritated with tourists wanting to see it and pulled the house down. Find more information here.

Considering our nation’s poor track record with heritage over the last few centuries, it is good to see the government honouring important anniversaries like the Magna Carta and WWI.

Follow my blog over the next few months where I will be exploring the politics and challenges facing our heritage today.  @weaversamuel2

Samuel Weaver is a Media and Communications intern at the National Trust. Samuel Weaver Blog

He is a recent History graduate from the University of the West of England. When not selling sausages in a deli, he usually occupies himself by researching and blogging on our nation’s more overlooked heritage.


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