Franklin D. Roosevelt once said “happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort”. If this quote is anything to go by, Jane and Mary Parminter must have been extremely happy!
A la Ronde was built for the two spinster cousins on their return from a grand tour of Europe, in the late 18th century. The building is odd in character, boasting 16 sides and intricately decorated throughout with memoirs of the cousin’s trip across Europe.
This unique building house was once described by Lucinda Lambton as having ‘a magical strangeness that one might dream of only as a child’. The wonderful interior includes an intricate feather frieze and a shell-encrusted gallery. Due to the fragile nature of this gallery, guests are only able to view it in its entirety using a touch screen 360-degree virtual tour.
The house is now under the care of the National Trust…so who better to tell us more about this beautiful building than Nicola Perryman, the House Steward at A la Ronde.
The quirky, stunning house – A la Ronde
Historical Honey: Hello Nicola, thank you for taking the time to talk to us about A la Ronde. Can you explain what your role as House Steward involves?
Nicola Perryman: Certainly! I am responsible for welcoming our visitors, working with our volunteers and of course looking after the curious collection, which includes over 250,000 shells!
Last year I worked with local photographer, Colin Searle, to photograph the entire contents of the ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’. This break-fronted cabinet had been filled with objects collected by Jane and Mary. This involved moving around 1,000 objects and replacing them back into the cabinet. We allowed 4 straight days and worked logically together to complete task. The results were certainly worth it.
The intricate shell gallery which can only be viewed digitally nowadays.
HH: Jane & Mary Parminter were exceptionally creative…what part of the house seems to attract the most comment from visitors?
NP: The Drawing Room contains most of the ladies creative works. These range from a decorative frieze made entirely from feathers, intricate paper-cuts, sand and seaweed pictures and decorative mosaic works.
The handmade feather friezes made by the two ladies.
HH: Are there any hidden treasures that visitors seem to miss?
NP: The tiny scissors used by Jane and Mary are very easy to miss being only a few centimetres in size. The wonderful volunteer Room Guide’s are on hand to help point these out. These were used to create the intricate paper cuts that Jane and Mary became expert in creating.
HH: I can imagine the upkeep of A la Ronde can be difficult at times, as the attention to detail is so intricate. What is the most challenging part of your preservation remit?
NP: It has been tricky to complete the deeper clean during the winter months, as we are now open throughout this time. But, the opportunity to engage with our visitors has meant that the winters here are no longer a lonely time.
HH: A la Ronde recently featured on ITV1’s ‘Britain’s Secret Homes’…are you pleased with the number you placed on the Top 50 (22), and what does this mean for A la Ronde?
NP: What a fabulous programme. We were not informed as to which number we would be, so we eagerly watched the programme to find out. The number 22 has a special significance to A la Ronde being the number of years the property has been owned by the National Trust following purchase from the last family owner with money raised from public funds and donations.
HH: We would love to ask you a couple of questions about yourself. What is your heritage background?
NP: I started as a volunteer in my local museum and continued to work through museums and heritage sites from there. I started working for the National Trust in 1997 at Killerton House near Exeter. I am now in my 16th year. I also represent the National Trust on the training committee of the South West Federation of Museums and Galleries. We create and promote free training to all museums professionals and volunteers across the South West area.
National Trust Killerton, where Nicola used to work.
HH: You will be moving jobs soon…what will your new role involve?
NP: My new role is based at the National Trust central office, which we call Heelis, in recognition of Mrs Heelis (Beatrix Potter) in Swindon. I will be working for the Head of Collections as Conservation Collections Records Assistant. I will be helping to unite all the conservation reports completed by external conservators. The role involves liaising with conservators and potentially all properties that have recently completed conservation works.
HH: And lastly, Nicola, do you have any tips for young people looking to get into the heritage industry?
NP: Do start off by volunteering. You will gain a wealth of knowledge not only from the task you perform but also from all the people you will meet along the way.
What is the most peculiar property you have ever visited? Answer in the comments box below…