Work to start on historic home project

By James MortlockLIFE at a palatial wing of one of East Anglia's finest country homes has never gone quite according to plan.The West Wing at Ickworth House, near Bury St Edmunds, known the world over for its magnificent rotunda, was conceived as one of the great treasure houses of Europe by the 4th Earl of Bristol.

By James Mortlock

LIFE at a palatial wing of one of East Anglia's finest country homes has never gone quite according to plan.

The West Wing at Ickworth House, near Bury St Edmunds, known the world over for its magnificent rotunda, was conceived as one of the great treasure houses of Europe by the 4th Earl of Bristol.

He spent much of the latter part of the 18th century travelling throughout the continent, buying paintings and sculpture on the grandest scale, and the cavernous West Wing was to showcase the fabulous collection.


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But the aristocrat died before the wing, and even the rotunda, was complete and most of the treasures collected for the house were seized in 1798 by Napoleon's forces in Rome.

Earl Bristol's son, who became the 1st Marques of Bristol, then considered demolishing the house, but he eventually had the building completed, although the West Wing was left a shell and went unadorned.

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Since then, it has been used as a squash court and was even mooted as an ideal location for a real tennis venue.

When a fresh plan was raised to transform the West Wing into a “much-needed” visitor centre for the National Trust property, campaigners fighting to save the squash court effectively put the brakes on the scheme for almost a decade.

A public inquiry finally ruled the squash court had little historic significance and the £4.5million project will now get under way at the end of the month.

Bosses at the house, one of the most unusual and eccentric 18th century buildings owned by the National Trust, said the development would provide “fantastic visitor facilities and be a really stunning venue for functions, conferences and special events”.

Funding for the £4.5m project will come from the National Trust's central resources and from a business partner, Sodexho Prestige, which will be operating the restaurant, functions and events business.

Richard Hill, project manager for the National Trust, said: “We have been waiting since 1995 to get the project off the ground and it is really exciting that we have at last been given the go-ahead.

“We know that Ickworth has been a 'sleeping giant' and we believe that this project will now enable us to provide our visitors with the first-class facilities that have been sadly lacking.

“The income generated from the project will mean the trust can continue to invest in the property, principally in an extensive programme of building conservation repairs, but also in nature conservation and in further improvements to visitor facilities right across the estate.”

Almost £400,000 is currently being spent on a conservation project to safeguard the future of a 180-year-old lantern that tops the impressive 120ft rotunda at Ickworth House.

james.mortlock@eadt.co.uk

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