Major conservation work is under way at Exmouth’s A la Ronde after funding became available to protect the house for future generations.

The famous Shell Gallery and Grotto Staircase will be restored and visitors will be able to view additional parts of the house, grounds and estate, learning about the latest research into the history of the property.

The National Trust, which looks after A la Ronde, has already restored a fragile feather frieze, more than 200 years old, which decorates the drawing room’s doorways, walls and fireplace.

Exmouth Journal: Restoration of the feather frieze at A la Ronde

The work took more than 150 hours to complete and has brought out intricate symmetrical patterns created by the placing of hundreds of individual feathers by hand.

Kate Berlewen, Conservator at A la Ronde for the National Trust, said: “Over hundreds of years the intricate surfaces of the feather friezes had gathered dust particles and other matter such as spiders’ webs. They had also attracted pests which feed on the protein in feathers, and the glue used on the feathers had deteriorated too, leading to increased fragility.

“The friezes therefore needed both cleaning and consolidation, using small paintbrushes and specialist sponges, to improve the visibility of the intended colours and patterns and to prevent future losses. We’re really pleased to see it fully conserved.”  

Exmouth Journal: Part of the feather frieze at A la Ronde before restoration

Work will start soon on the Shell Gallery and Grotto Staircase which is made up of shells, coral, lichen, moss, mica, feathers, fossils, fir cones and artwork. The gallery was always intended to be viewed from the Octagon below, and this will be possible later in the year, but visitors will not be able to go up close to the intricate shellwork.

Salli Carr-Griffin, Property Operations Manager at A la Ronde, said: “Due to many years of deterioration caused by inside and outside forces, the Shell Gallery is now extremely fragile and physical access is not possible, in order to ensure its survival for the future. However, we're really pleased to have the opportunity to make the gallery more accessible digitally, so we can share its unique features with as many people as possible.” 

The conservation work at A la Ronde has been made possible by funding from the Wolfson Foundation, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the National Trust, along with donations from visitors.  The project will continue throughout the spring and summer of this year, and visitors will be able to see the work in action.