Clandon Park is one of those landmark places on my doorstep that is part of the fabric of living, as I do, on the edges of the North Downs. It is a place that I know well, I can in my memory walk through doors into rooms that both give an instant sense of familiarity, continuity, reaching back almost 300 years and rooms where I seek out much loved or pondered paintings, ceramics, furnishings.
It is a place I have been able to call in on, for brief forays, to let my curiosity be stimulated or satisfied. Researching an environmental piece on the Merrow landscape last October, I wanted another look at Leonard Knyff’s 1708 bird’s-eye view of Clandon Park which together with the tapestries and paintings of the Hunting Room locate the former Racecourse and grandstand. Traces of these are still etched into the landscape and retained in local place names: the Horse and Groom, the Paddocks, Warren Road.
That same day tours of the attic were available. This had all the flavour of the forbidden: the National Trust house stewards walking us through private doors, along sloping corridors, but above all, letting us into the secret spaces, not only of the house but of our imaginations too. Here, the workings of the National Trust could be revealed, the humidifiers, the temperature regulators that work away bringing minute changes to attention. Here is to see the accumulations of time: walls in need of repair, glimpsed through their layerings of wallpaper; the conservation of the unwanted, or can’t-quite-decide-what-to-do-with-it bequests; the by-products of centuries. And of course, the entry to spaces previously inhabited by family members, the places of escape for the children and young adults of this family. For a while I was in my toy version of this huge interior, the attic bedroom of childhood with its deeply sloping walls, and pull-out panels into the roof-space; my own place of solitary imaginings. I could have sat here for hours.
There is much interest in the locus of the imagination, the physicality and topography of the inner world, how it carries within us and finds expression, see for instance Sarah Rhys’s work at http://land2.leedsac.uk/projects, and her Re-emergence project 2012. Poetry Review is running an occasional series based on omphalos – the navel, the centre of the world, and is asking poets to identify places central to their imaginative processes. Attics, as Bachelard reminds us in his Poetics of Space, offer a place of clarity, the structure, the framework for imagination. Here at Clandon, I have been able to make links, can catch glimpses of the past in the present, the unconscious rising into my mental awareness – it gives me a ‘topoanalytic’ space.
As fire raged through Clandon Park in April, then my mind raced through its corridors too; did they get the portraits from the morning room, the oriental birds from the Gubbay collection, the cartoons drawn by patients when this was a temporary hospital in WW1? I cannot suppose that they did, although it will be a while before the exact nature of what has been salvaged will be known. There is a hugeness to this loss, of a place that I have no claim to, but yet is felt as both private and public. Where will I go to now when I want to choose the very particular impress of this building, and let it work upon me?
I’m aware that National Trust employees and their armies of volunteers grow deep attachments to their properties, there is a sense of pride and personal ownership which can sometimes be at variance with the conditions of legacies they are left, and the needs of a public that fund their restoration and conservation. As a visitor, I let myself be caught up in conversations with staff and volunteers whose livelihoods reside in these properties, and in the stories they have to tell about the place. We are weaving our own narratives into the place, creating the fabric.
The fire at Clandon Park is devastating, and has destroyed not only its cherished collections, but homes for some of its staff and repositories for belongings and memories. It has shocked. In June I read that a decision has been reached that enough of the building has survived; some kind of restoration and re-building will be possible. National Trust and their specialists know how to work with fire and did so over many years at Uppark; they are restorers, they can weave threads. Clandon Park is though of a different magnitude and will pose its unique questions. Theirs is a task not only of the hands and the materials of the restorers, but of the imagination and landscape of the inner world – the private and the public.
Karen Izod, August 2015
Karen Izod is a consultant, coaching practitioner, and academic working in the field of organisational change, and has designed programmes with and for the Tavistock Institute and the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. She is the co-author of Resource-ful Consulting: Working with your Presence and Identity in Consulting to Change (Karnac, 2014), and co-editor of Mind-ful Consulting (Karnac, 2009). Her poetry has appeared in Agenda ‘Requiem: the Great War’ and Attachment magazine and she has written evocatively about the correlation between inner and outer landscapes. Her writing on relatedness to the environment has been long-listed in the 2015 New Welsh Review Competition: ‘People, Place and Planet’.
Clandon House has just announced that it’s gardens will re-open to the public for six Saturdays in September and October 2015. As their website poignantly notes:
In the next few months scaffolding will be erected, shrouding the exterior of the building from view for several years. It is the last chance to see the house before it embarks on this transformation. Our house is currently the focus of a major salvage operation and remains inaccessible to visitors, but we think that this is a unique opportunity to see Clandon as never before. Largely clear of high level debris following our ongoing work, when viewed from the garden the shell of the house is a haunting but beautiful sight.
For more information, and to book tickets, please visit their website.