George Clarke at Cliveden airs on TV this weekend

PUBLISHED: 10:38 04 September 2020 | UPDATED: 11:03 06 September 2020

George Clark in Cliveden's Long Garden

Photo: David Ferguson

George Clark in Cliveden's Long Garden Photo: David Ferguson

David Ferguson

The team at our local National Trust property share the details of the TV presenter’s visit

George Clark at Cliveden's Water Garden

Photo: David FergusonGeorge Clark at Cliveden's Water Garden Photo: David Ferguson

National Trust’s beautiful Cliveden will once again be coming to our television screens, starring in a new series on Channel 4. George Clarke’s National Trust Unlocked sees the presenter and architect discover some of the UK’s most impressive historic homes; finding out more about the fascinating architecture and stories behind each property.

Every year, around 27 million visits are made to the National Trust’s 300 houses and gardens, but this all came to a halt in March as tourism sites across the country closed due to the pandemic. 
Sophie Clarke, Cliveden’s senior house and collections officer, says: “As with most places, everything moved so fast to shut down, many of our staff were furloughed and we couldn’t have our volunteers on site. We went from being a team of over 400, to being 12 on a rota with two people on site per day to do the essential tasks needed to maintain the Estate. We really pulled together as a team and were often helping with areas that weren’t related to our usual roles. Our general manager, Mark, deadheaded around 30,000 daffodils and our visitor experience manager, Rosie, was pea sticking in the herbaceous borders to help the gardeners. Rosie made us ‘how-to’ videos so we could muck in with the gardening. We wanted to make sure that the Estate was kept looking as good as we could with the reduced staff, so we were ready to reopen as soon as we got the green light.

“I think the hardest part was that the Estate looked wonderful, but we couldn’t share that with our supporters. We turned to social media as a way for people to see the changes through the months and to share the increased wildlife activity we found as there was less traffic on the roads and in the sky.”

George Clarke was granted special access to some of the extraordinary places at Cliveden and met some of the people keeping the Estate in working order until it was ready to be re-opened. Cliveden’s Grade I listed gardens and its mosaic-embellished Chapel feature on the programme and George was also given a chance to see the view from the top of the Clock Tower.

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Sophie says: “It was a great opportunity to be able to show George Cliveden and to share what was happening behind the gates. George and the crew were really lovely, and it was a fun day showing them the lesser seen parts of the Estate. He’d said how much he loves the National Trust, and it was so evident in his enthusiasm for the places we were able to share. I think that’s something which really comes across in the programme.

“The Grade I listed estate that you see today is a product of its owners over the past 354 years. Each of Cliveden’s residents has made alterations, for example, the South Terrace and Sounding Chamber date from 1666 and were part of the first house built here by the 2nd Duke of Buckingham, however the house you see today was built in 1851 by the 2nd Duke and Duchess of Sutherland.

“The Chapel is one of these stories too, originally built in 1735 as an Octagon Temple for the 1st Earl of Orkney [1666-1737]. Designed by Giacomo Leoni, it was built as a place to enjoy the commanding views up and down the Thames. After William Waldorf Astor [1848-1919] bought Cliveden in 1893, he commissioned the architectural firm of John Loughborough Pearson to convert the building into the Chapel we see today. The work was completed in 1901 and the first service held on the 12 May that year.

“The Clock Tower, although beautiful, has a much more practical use as a water tower. The Estate sits high above the Thames, and to ensure the house had a constant supply of water the Clock Tower was built in the early 1860s to hold 17,000 gallons of water. The view from the top takes in Windsor Castle and on a clear day you can see into Central London.”

As lockdown eases, the National Trust is re-opening gardens, parks and some houses on a pre-booking basis. “As an organisation, we’ve been sticking to government guidelines like glue, and have had to make some changes in order to keep our visitors, our volunteers and our staff safe,” says Sophie. “The pre-booking system caps our capacity and staggers entry to ease pressure on the facilities and allow people to start exploring the Estate before another timeslot enters. There’s a lot of extra cleaning and the whole team have been helping. There are some areas that we haven’t been able to re-open yet, like the maze and play area. The Long Garden and the Rose Garden have become one-way systems to help our visitors’ social distance. We’ve also put capacity limits on our internal spaces, like the shop and the conservatory café.

“We’re constantly working on re-opening other elements of the estate and are hoping to re-open our second-hand bookshop in mid-September. We have more availability for tickets on weekdays now and in the coming months the whole Estate starts to take on the autumnal hues. It’s a perfect place to wrap up and come for a crisp walk among the falling leaves.”

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