Tredegar House in Newport is where the National Trust are experimenting with allowing visitors to touch and feel history, rather than pointing from behind a rope. As it stands, I would wager that Tredegar House is the only place in Britain where in a single morning one can be tutored in the art of brushing up a top-hat, put on a shadow puppet show, dress up as a 1920’s housemaid, enjoy Elizabethan portraiture and sit down to dinner with a Russian princess.
For over three hundred years Tredegar House was the family seat of the aristocratic Morgan family. The Morgans made their money stealing from Spanish galleons (“buccaneer” Henry Morgan), establishing slavery in the West Indies, and exploiting the mineral wealth discovered under their vast land-holdings in south Wales by sending children as young as six down the mines. Nice people. The family fortune was finally squandered by Evan Morgan in the 1920s and ’30s, via a vast round of parties and investment in a menagerie of household pets that included a boxing kangaroo, a baboon called Bimbo, and an alligator.
After the Second World War the Morgans dispersed to France and beyond and my Mum and Dad remember Tredegar House being a convent school when they were growing up in Newport in the 1950s. In the 1970s the house and grounds, including a lovely lake, passed to Newport Council and more recently to the National Trust.
Much of the original furniture was sold off, which perhaps explains why the National Trust has felt able to experiment with allowing visitors to experience a little of how it would have been to actually live and work in the house. It’s a great idea and it makes for much more engaging visit, not least because of the enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers on hand in every room. Based on a quick visit with the markontour nieces this weekend it’s a concept that should be widely replicated. The Morgans may have been a bad lot, but it least they inadvertently left a legacy for the rest of us to now enjoy.