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13 November 2014

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You are in: Berkshire > Places > Places features > Basildon Park in £1 million face-lift

Basildon Park in £1 million face-lift

Basildon Park in Berkshire is undergoing a £1 million face-lift thanks to its revenue as a film location. Find out what the 12-month restoration project involves and which films the mansion can thank.

Basildon Park

Basildon Park

Basildon Park is undergoing a £1 million face-lift thanks to its starring roles on the silver screen.

The exterior of this handsome house made it the perfect choice for one of the locations in the film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley and Matthew McFadyen.

Basildon Park transformed into Netherfield House, owned by Charles Bingley in the novel.

During filming in 2005 the Palladian mansion's driveway was buzzing with horses, carriages, and ladies in elegant gowns when the ball scenes were being filmed.

Property Manager Amanda Beard with crumbling stone

Property Manager Amanda Beard with crumbling stone

One of the rooms was completely re-dressed and used as the ballroom in the film.

But close up, Basildon Park is in less than perfect condition, with crumbling masonry and stone facades in various stages of deterioration and staining. 

Film revenue proves vital

Thankfully, all Basildon's filming profits are ploughed directly back into the property.

So with the film revenue (for which the figures are confidential) and the visitor figures soaring by 76 per cent off the back of Pride & Prejudice, the mansion can afford the £1 million refurbishment.

The Wolfson Foundation, a charitable organisation, also donated £140,000 towards the stonemasonry project.

Basildon Park

This room was turned into Netherfield's ballroom

"Three out of four Trust houses operate at a loss," says Basildon Park's (acting) Visitor Services Manager Michelle Collins, "so film revenue and donations from organistions such as the Wolfson Foundation play a very significant supporting role in maintaining Basildon Park's film star looks!"

Basildon Park has also been used as a filming location for Marie Antoinette in 2006, starring Kirsten Dunst.

Most recently the mansion was used in A Picture Of Dorian Gray starring Colin Firth.

"Surprisingly enough we didn't have any shortage of female volunteers wanting to come in and help that day," says Basildon Park house steward Neil Shaw.

The refurbishment

The revamp starts on Monday 13 July 2009. Scaffolding will be carefully erected so that conservators can begin the process of cleaning the areas to be treated.

Stonemasons will then embark on the immense task of repairing the damage over 12 months, using traditional skills and tools to restore the mellow Bath stone, originally brought to Basildon Park by boat over 230 years ago.

Basildon Park

Basildon Park's stained stonework

"The building is beginning to look a bit sorry for itself," says Mr Shaw, also Basildon Park's historian. "The frost over the winter hasn't helped. It's caused the limestone to split away from the main part of the building, so it really is in need of a spruce up."

Andrew Harris, building surveyor, says: "The majority of the work will be conserving the stone work, and we're also using the opportunity to do some delicate cleansing - some of the areas of the building have black sooty deposits."

Basildon Park was nearly demolished

This year Basildon Park celebrates its 30th anniversary in the care of the National Trust, though the house almost never made it into the 21st century.

Built between 1776 and 1783 for Francis Sykes, the house passed to a number of owners before being sold to a Mr Ferdinando in 1929.

"Mr Ferdinando's intention was to demolish the house and to ship it America brick by brick," says Mr Shaw, "rather like they did with London Bridge."

WWII soldiers stationed at Basildon Park

WWII soldiers stationed at Basildon Park

By the 1950s it was in a wretched state after Basildon was requisitioned during WW II as a military base soldiers, until rescued by Lord and Lady Iliffe, who were horrified by its state of decay.

Lady Iliffe wrote: "To say it was derelict is hardly good enough: no window was left intact and most were repaired with cardboard or plywood ... It was appallingly cold and damp, and yet, there was still an atmosphere of former elegance."

Conservation

Years of passionate conservation followed and the rooms were filled with fine collections of furniture, historic textiles and paintings, which can still be enjoyed today. 

By the mid 20th century, over 250 country houses had been destroyed, but the story of Basildon Park's resurrection encouraged others concerned with the plight of the nation’s heritage. 

In 1978 the Iliffes gave the house and park to the National Trust. By the following year, it had opened to the public, and its place in our heritage was secured.

last updated: 10/07/2009 at 16:53
created: 10/07/2009

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