Behind the scenes at the museum: Tyntesfield

Rachel Nott speaks to Miranda Garrett, curator of Tyntesfield, the National Trust’s Victorian Gothic Revival house in Somerset, about her favourite piece in the collection

Tyntesfield

What is your role at Tyntesfield?

I’ve only been in this post for three months. The last role I had was at the Bank of England Museum, but I’ve also worked at the Tower of London and Society of Antiquaries. My academic background is in Victorian interior design and culture, so being curator at Tyntesfield is my absolute dream job.

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Tyntesfield

What can be found at Tyntesfield?

Four generations of the Gibbs family have lived at Tyntesfield and every family member has put their stamp on it. Bring to mind anything and we’ve probably got 12 of them. Oil paintings, decorative art, marble sculptures, incredible textiles, and lots of mundane objects too, like cooking pots and hair pins – there’s something new everywhere you look, and I’m still exploring.

There’s a cupboard right outside my office, which is crammed with loads of items, but what I love are the toiletries. It’s a snapshot of how personal grooming has changed over 150 years, from Victorian false teeth to 21st-century plastic toothbrushes. It’s full of bars of soap so has this amazing smell.

One of the biggest challenges in my role is storage. Tyntesfield is a huge house and at the last count we had 72,000 objects. It’s the biggest collection in the Trust. Many of the rooms on the upper floors have issues with loading, so we can’t store heavy things in them. Something we’ve been experimenting with is open storage.

For example, the Morning Room is one of the grander spaces on the main visitor route and you might expect it to be laid out how the family would have used it, but we’re using it as storage for over 1,000 objects. It’s been beautifully organised so the pretty things are at the front and it’s well-lit. It gives visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the scale of the collection. I’m keen to do more things like that.

At the moment, my team are busy clearing out the crypt. It was originally intended for family burials but it was never consecrated, thanks to a power struggle with the local parish, so it was just used for storage. It has been catalogued before but not for a good 10 years, so we are making sure everything is photographed and checking it against our records so we know exactly what’s in there.

What is your favourite part of Tyntesfield?

My favourite room is the Library. There’s a beautiful inscription in Latin on the door hinges which translates as: ‘Written words remain, spoken words fly away’. One of the things we don’t have is an archive – it’s still with the family – and so the Library is key to finding out a little bit more about the family’s interests through all the books they read, which are all here in this amazing collection.

The library at Tyntesfield
The Library is one of the largest in the National Trust and Miranda’s favourite room in the house.
Bob Fowler; ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

What is your favourite object?

My favourite object is a huge mid-Victorian Collier and Plucknett hall stand. It’s the first piece people see when they come through the front door and it really sets the tone for the rest of the house. It was either commissioned by or given to Matilda Blanche Gibbs in 1878, a few years after the death of her husband William (it has her initials and the date carved into it). I like to think that by commissioning this piece and putting it in such a prominent position she’s really asserting herself as owner and caretaker of Tyntesfield.

The hallstand and Tyntesfield
The ornately carved hall stand in the Vestibule sets the tone for the rest of the collection.
Bob Fowler; ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The hall stand is very practical, with lots of coat and hat hooks, places to put your umbrella, a cupboard and a couple of mirrors. The shape is also fascinating – it’s like an altarpiece – and it’s covered in beautiful, fine carvings of mistletoe, hops, ivy, clover and roses, all of which grew on the estate. The Gibbs family saw Tyntesfield as an earthly paradise and a real escape from the city, which is something I hope visitors will feel too.

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This winter Tyntesfield is hosting A Very Victorian Christmas. nationaltrust.org.uk/tyntesfield