Culture | Museums & Galleries

Beyond Bespoke explores the vital work of World Monuments Fund Britain

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Posted by , 20th December, 2016

You may not have heard of World Monuments Fund Britain, but we can guarantee you have heard of many of the places they have helped save

Anthony Wenyon meets John Darlington, Executive Director of World Monuments Fund Britain to hear about the extraordinary – and vital – work they are doing to preserve Britain’s architectural and cultural heritage.

You may not have heard of World Monuments Fund Britain (WMFB), but we can guarantee you have heard of many of the places they have helped save.

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Places that have influence well beyond the shores of this country… Westminster Abbey, the traditional place of coronation and burial for English monarchs
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Tomb of queen Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII, at Westminster Abbey

WMFB is a small charity, connected to a big one – World Monuments Fund in New York.  Together they have carried out over 600 initiatives in 100 countries across the globe.  Here in the UK WMFB concentrate on restoring British cultural and architectural icons.  Buildings and monuments that have a crucial place in the story of architecture, ideas and craftsmanship (really, the key themes that Beyond Bespoke is championing in Britain). These are places that have influence well beyond the shores of this country, for example restoration works at Westminster Abbey, the traditional place of coronation and burial for English and later British monarchs.

Providing a ‘before-its-too-late’ shot of adrenaline to historic places in danger of decay

What exactly is it that WMFB do?  They provide a ‘before its too late’ shot of adrenaline to historic places which are in danger of decay or neglect.  By providing conservation advice, expert restorers and resources, WMFB works alongside the building’s owner to breathe new life into these threatened places of monumental importance.

A fantasy Villa-Castle in London

Take three examples: 10 years ago, Strawberry Hill House, Horace Walpole’s fantasy villa-castle at Strawberry Hill, near Twickenham in SW London, was a neglected, drab and threatened shell.  This is one of the country’s finest examples of gothic revival architecture (from the latter half of the eighteenth century).  WMFB worked with the Strawberry Hill Trust, commissioning essential research and providing funding which kick-started a £9m restoration programme. Now, the Trust and house are thriving.

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Strawberry Hill House, Twickenham after World Monuments Fund Britain’s 2012 restoration
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The resorted pinnacles at Strawberry Hill house (left); During restoration of the hall (centre); Gilding the intricate ceiling in The Long Gallery (right)
One of the finest examples of neoclassical architecture in Britain

Stowe House in Buckinghamshire, one of the finest examples of neoclassical architecture in Britain, has seen almost every great architect and garden designer walk through its magnificent doors: Robert Adam, John Vanbrugh, William Kent, ‘Capability’ Brown, John Soane and more… But, like Strawberry Hill, 20 years ago the main house was in need of attention.  This year, with the help of WMFB, the Stowe House Preservation Trust have completed the restoration of the over half of the principle chambers of the great piano nobile, and have opened a visitor centre so that people can explore the history of Stowe in more detail.

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Stowe House, a Georgian ducal palace in Buckinghamshire, renowned for its Robert Adam (adapted by others) south façade and beautiful ‘Capability’ Brown landscape architecture. Subject of a £10 million restoration of the facade and principal rooms of the house involving World Monuments Fund Britain
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A replacement ashlar block is eased into place at Stowe House (left); Carved sections of Corinthian plaster to replace failing stonework (centre); The Eastern Pavilion prepared for restoration work (right)
some of the finest 17th century carved fireplaces, ornamental plasterwork and wood carving in the country

And, recently, WMFB have just started to work with the Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust on Charlton House, in SE London. This relatively unknown Jacobean mansion has some of the finest 17th century carved fireplaces, ornamental plasterwork and wood carving in the country.

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Charlton House, Greenwich, built between 1607 and 1612 for Sir Adam Newton, Dean of Durham and tutor to King James I’s eldest son Prince Henry. An outstanding survival of an early seventeenth-century Jacobean gentry mansion, features a great hall, chapel, state dining room, saloon and long gallery
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Detail of carved fireplace in the White Dining Room at Charlton house (left); The Long Gallery (centre); Plaster work of the Long Gallery

And WMFB are not just about ‘high’ architecture – Grimsby’s wonderful ‘Kasbah’ and ice factory, the Edwardian baths at Moseley Road in Birmingham and Strata Florida in mid Wales, a Cistercian monastery and centre for early Welsh cultural creativity, are some of the many initiatives WMFB are helping.

For more information please visit WMFB’s new website, and support the wonderful organisation to bring more cherished British buildings back to life http://wmf.org.uk/support/

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