Mapperton, near Beaminster, is well known for its spectacular Italianate valley garden, Jacobean manor house, and for being the family home of the Earl and Countess of Sandwich. Voted ‘the nation’s finest manor house’ by Country Life magazine, the principal buildings are Grade I listed and the park and gardens are Grade II* listed. The gardens at Mapperton have been enjoyed by the public since the 1960s and last summer was the first time that the house was opened to the public for the whole season.
Mapperton appears as a timeless jewel, unchanged for generations. However this is, of course, an illusion as it has changed subtly but substantially over the past thirty years under the management of the current earl and countess. Their son, Viscount Hinchingbrooke, now wants to implement a number of changes to enable the estate to welcome larger numbers of visitors.
Finding ways to keep historic places in use is the key to securing their future. At Mapperton, this will require some things to change and the way in which that change is handled has raised some difficult questions.
For Mapperton to succeed, it will need to make full use of all of the existing buildings. Providing the facilities for increased visitor numbers and adapting estate buildings has required much careful planning over recent years. The first stages of those plans are just starting to be implemented with the installation of a new district heating system powered by a wood chip biomass boiler.
In the spring, the next phase of the plan will commence, which will include the construction of a new shop building, access drive and parking area. Also included in this phase of the plan will be the conversion of the stables to create a new cafe, event space and catering kitchen as well as an upgrade to the family accommodation in the main house.
So, what’s it like to be an architect involved in projects like these? And what difficult issues have arisen?
Well, first of all it’s a privilege. To be a small part of the family-led team hoping to safe-guard Mapperton’s future is incredibly rewarding, and to be honest, a project like this appeals to both sides of the architect’s ego. On the one hand, the works include some new buildings where none have existed before, and to be making a mark in such an important place is really exciting. On the other, the challenges posed by working with such sensitive existing buildings necessitates some well-researched and considered interventions to ensure a positive impact on the buildings and their setting.
Providing for modern expectations of functionality and comfort in heritage buildings inevitably presents some significant challenges The implications of the new layouts and the provision of daylight, heating and ventilation all present difficulties in buildings that were built for other purposes. In addition, unlike other estates where there might be an adjacent utilitarian home farm or estate yard, at Mapperton even the outbuildings were built to impress. Everything is on show and there is nowhere to hide the ‘back-of-house’ facilities that nobody wants to see.
Our role as architects is to strike the balance between maximising the potential of the place and ensuring that its much loved character is retained. Mapperton is relatively informal and it is also a family home; maintaining its sense of place while increasing the visitor numbers in order to sustain it, is a big challenge. Starting now, and in the off-season periods over the next couple of years, Mapperton will be undergoing change. We hope that the experience for visitors will be enhanced as a result. But only you can be the judge of that…….
Mapperton Gardens are open from 1st March 2017
Mapperton House and cafe are open from 2nd April 2017
This article was written by Andy Foster for the March 2017 edition of The Sherborne Times.
Title image: Adam Richardson
Other Images: Katharine Davies