For 25 years my parents, Christopher and Lettice Sandford, opened their home, the William and Mary mansion Eye Manor, to the public as a tourist attraction.
Eye Manor is strategically placed on the signposted route between two popular National Trust properties, Croft Castle and Berrington Hall, each of which has over 20,000 visitors per year. Many of these visit both properties on the same day, thus passing Eye Manor.
In the years leading up to its closure in 1980, Eye Manor was attracting 8,000 visitors per year.
The plan or concept is to reopen Eye Manor as a major tourist attraction, to take its place alongside the other themed heritage visitor attractions of North Herefordshire, so that it;
Contributes to the overall quality level of life for local people.
Creates a number of jobs.
Provides a visitor attraction that will bring people to the county.
Will bring money into the area through ticket sales and other retail outlets.
Will significantly contribute to the overall appeal of North Herefordshire.
This project proposal is based on the expectation that Eye Manor will sooner or later be put up for sale by its present owner. Eye Manor would be the ideal venue for this project. However, in the event of Eye Manor not being available, the project could go ahead, in a modified form, in other locations.
Key features of the project will be;
Built by a wealthy restoration courtier and merchant trader, its richly exotic internal decorations were modelled by imported Italian craftsmen and their crowning glory are eight richly modelled plaster ceilings. It is a very innovative house for its date and its four magnificent reception rooms and grand staircase remain almost exactly as they were built by Ferdinando Gorges in 1680.
The overall state of repair of the house is very good, but the colours used are very muted compared to what is believed to have been the original splendour of riotous colour used on the walls and ceilings of the principal rooms, and we will be returning to some of this riot of colour which will be enhanced by subtle, though unobtrusive, state of the art lighting.
These rooms will be furnished with splendid contemporary furniture which was at Eye Manor in Christopher and Lettice’s time, now in the collection of Jeremy Sandford, his children and siblings, and some other furniture bought in.
As in all heritage properties of this sort, a key component will be the personal possessions, signed photographs, etc. etc. of the owner and his family, and a key ingredient is that Jeremy Sandford, the natural heir to Eye Manor, will ‘front’ the operation, designating Eye Manor as his principal residence, and indeed maintain a small flat in an attic floor, and be very visibly in residence of the main rooms and reception areas, especially when the house is open to the public.
Experience has shown that the general public is much more interested in heritage houses when they are clearly still lived in by a family with historic connections to the property, adding that human touch and also an important identification element in that it helps the visitor identify with the building by asking him/herself ‘how would I cope if I lived here?’
Because Jeremy Sandford is already well known to the public as the author of ‘Cathy Come Home’, the most popular television play ever transmitted, and in other ways it will be that much easier to obtain local and national publicity for Eye Manor when it reopens, with him fronting it. He will also be available to sign autographs, lead the occasional guided tour, and present his own personal and vivid account of his childhood and life at Eye Manor, and contribute to musical events and dances.
Two of the four principal reception rooms will be presented as they would have been in 1680, with some personal touches from later ages and from the life of Jeremy Sandford and his family. Visitors will enjoy the mansion and will gain a historical experience of what life was like in such a place 300 years ago.
The main rooms will also probably be enhanced by some fine examples of twentieth century art; the life sized full length portrait of Jeremy and first wife Nell by John Bratby and Augustus Johns, and other works in the family collection and possibly some of the magnificent examples of modern art from the late Lord Croft’s important collection at Croft Castle.
Other of the principal rooms will be as they were when Christopher and Lettice and their children lived in them. Perhaps best described as latter day proponents of the arts and crafts movement, Christopher and Lettice’s productivity was prodigious, and we will be able to see the long table at which Christopher worked with samples of leathers and vellums, type faces, and some of his designs for his books and the actual books.
Lettice’s work will be represented by her corn dolly manufactury, her easel and painting and carving equipment and her designs for church banners and actual examples of them.
As well as their visit to the grand suite, visitors will be able to enjoy a number of other tourist attractions, which can be situated on the second and third floors, in the cellars and in the outhouses and the cottage, and in the grounds.
The five acres that surround the house are already attractively presented as lawns, herbacious borders and orchards. Integral to the ambience of the place are the church and churchyard which adjoin it and these will be included in the experience, subject to approval from the local vicar and congregation. Such approval was readily given when the house was previously open to the public. The church contains two splendid full length crusader tombs.
The orchards will be enhanced with some new planting of rare fruit trees. Gardens and ambience will be presented as a typical old fashioned English country garden experience.
We may well have a kids adventure area, and Eye Pond Cottage, the cottage beyond the herb garden, could make an excellent indoor children’s adventure area.
Lettice Sandford’s walled herb garden, with 25 different herbs surrounded by Restoration brick paths is an attractive feature of the gardens.
A garden centre, probably let out on franchise, may be a welcome addition to the visitor experience.
For thirty years Eye Manor was home to the famous Golden Cockerell Press, of which my father was the director.
A suite of rooms will engender the World of the Golden Cockerell which, along with the Nonesuch and Gregynog Presses, was probably the most luxurious and lavish of all private presses this century.
What most people think of first is the nymphs and satyrs and bosky environments depicted in books like Christopher Sandford’s Endymion or Salmacis and Hermaphroditus. So that one room will use blow-ups of the work of artists like John Buckland Wright, seductive music from the past and an audio presentation of passages from the books to evoke the rich and pastoral and mildly erotic world of those books.
Moving on, we may find ourselves in a presentation of the contents of those books which celebrated seafaring and historic voyages, with blow-ups of the wonderful illustrations of artists like Clifford Webb, reconstruction of ancient ships, islands with deserted mariners on them, etc.
Christopher Sandford commissioned the first new translation of the Mabinogion for a hundred years and commissioned the wonderful illustrations by Dorothea Braby which so perfectly capture that celtic world, with other audio visual enhancements.
Another room will take us into the beautiful pastoral/romantic/erotic world of Lettice Sandford’s art, again using blow-ups and audio visual effects so that we literally step into that world.
Lettice Sandford was probably the most important figure in the corn dolly revival of forty years ago and this room will use actual corn dollies constructed by Lettice, some of them quite large, and audio visuals to present the world of corn dollies and their history.
The great families who have owned Eye Manor were the Gorges, courtiers at the Royal Court and merchants; the Harleys, a seafaring family; the Rev Buckle, a ‘squarson’ who ran a school for young ladies at Eye Manor; and the Sandfords.
These will be presented in portraits and memorabilia, probably in the grand reception area. The Gorges will be represented by blow-ups of prints of the family, with small but readable notices on adjacent walls giving details of interest.
The Harleys will, if possible, be represented by oil paintings of the family.
With the Buckles, we enter the era of photography and will illustrate their time at Eye with framed photographs of them and also the girls school doing dramatics on the lawn, etc.
The Sandfords will be represented by extensive memorabilia such as corn dollies made by Lettice Sandford, paper sculpture by Lettice Sandford, extensive photographs from the Sandford photographic archive, including pictures of the historic Castle Freke in which Christopher Sandford grew up, an illustrated geneaology showing Jeremy’s descent from the ‘Prince of Pleasure’ George IV, all of these presented as part of Jeremy Sandford’s personal collection of pictures and memorabilia with which he chooses to decorate his home.
Many of Jeremy Sandford’s own paintings will also hang on the walls, celebrating places where he has lived or visited.
One room may well celebrate the extraordinary dream paintings of Jeremy’s former second wife Philippa, and these will ideally form part of an audio visual show, with original music.
A 45 minute or hour long film in a small comfortable cinema seating, say, 25-30 people, will capture the ‘Eye Manor Experience’ and form an important part of the visit.
It would probably show every hour on the hour, though there might also be showings of other films written or made by Jeremy Sandford or his first wife Nell, such as ‘Edna, the Inebriate Woman’, ‘Up the Junction’, ‘Gypsy Songs Video’, etc.
The film will be specially made by Jeremy Sandford from a very personal angle and will also be on sale in our retail outlet.
Herefordshire has what is virtually the largest per capita population of Romany Gypsies in the UK and close involvement with this, our largest racial minority group, has been a feature of Jeremy Sandford and his grandmother Mary Carbery, who spent the last decade of her life at Eye Manor. The caravan in which she crossed the Alps and travelled extensively in Ireland and England will be on display as will many other Gypsy memorabilia. We might have examples of the five most typical forms of Gypsy dwelling over the last century; bender tent, horse drawn bowtop, horse drawn ‘Reading’, Westmorland Star or other exotic modern Romany Gypsy caravan. We might have a separate circle of New Age Travellers typical dwellings; tipi, yurt, bender, converted lorry. There will be a Romany curator, very likely residential, who will tend the camp fire and explain points of interest.
There will be a first class café selling local produce.
There will be a shop, possibly initially sharing the same premises as the shop which will sell books and audio cassettes by Jeremy Sandford, local keepsakes, memorabilia of Christopher and Lettice Sandford, and other quality products with a strong local significance.
Reflecting Jeremy Sandford’s lifelong passion for music, there will be 45 minute concerts given on weekend evenings at six, featuring traditional and new age folk music, and forming an exciting outlet for local talent.
Entry price to the concerts will be kept to a minimum (ideally £1 or £2 per head) and guides and curators will ideally be chosen for their musical ability so that their afternoon’s work will culminate in the concert. There will be a hidden ‘gain’ from these concerts in that people will linger in the café and thus buy more while waiting for the concert.
A feature of Christopher and Lettice’s time at Eye Manor were their residential courses, similar to those currently run by Jeremy Sandford at Hatfield Court, and this area of activity could be explored in terms of the present development.
Being next to the church and with its large reception rooms, Eye Manor could be the ideal wedding venue out of season when the staterooms are not open to the public.
Ownership of the Manor
Ownership of the manor will most probably be in the hands of a charitable trust.
Trustees would be chosen from some of the following. They are local people with experience of the heritage industry and with useful connections in the area. Many will remember Eye as it was and will be sympathetic to what we hope to achieve. Some may be the owners of objets d‘art that they might be prepared to loan.
Ivor Windsor (see Midlands branch Historic Houses Association)
Nick or Ann Crickhowell
Martin Wilkinson (The Cwm)
Catherine Mansell-Lewis (Straddey Castle)
Robin or Joanne David (The Callow)
Nick or Ari Ashley
Stephen Weakes (Penhow Castle)
John or Jan Skudamore (Kentchurch Court)
George Williams (Ludlow)
Richard Booth (Hay Castle)
Frank Harlech (Oswestry)
Diana Uhlman (Croft Castle)
Sir Thomas Dunn (Gatley Park)
John Knapper (artist: Bromfield Estate)
Hon Regina Cawley (Berrington Estate)
Day to day decisions will be in the hands of a paid general administrator, full time or part time, answerable to the trustees, who would probably be granted a flat including an office as part of their increment.
This general administrator, who would also be responsible for publicity, will work closely with Jeremy, Jeremy’s role being more inspirational and the administrator being more practical.
Jeremy (and the trustees) will not be paid any wage but may well be reimbursed for their general expenses. Jeremy may be paid for the equivalent of half a year’s work in the set-up period. Jeremy may be paid the equivalent of one month’s work during the up and running period.
Guides / Security Attendants will probably work free but will most likely receive travel expenses plus a number of other perks such as first option on and reduced price for concerts, shop or café items, wedding bookings, etc.
While remuneration for staff will be relatively low, the bonus in terms of job satisfaction will be high for the right people.
While being extremely rough, some of the figures used in what follows are extrapolations from 1980, the last year the manor was open to the public.
The attractions will probably be open for four months per year – June, July, August, September, and by arrangement during the rest of the year.
Some Very Rough Costings
Acquisition of Eye Manor 200,000 500,000
Kids Adventure Area 1,000 10,000
World of Golden Cockerell Press
(2 rooms initially, growing to 4 rooms) 2,000 20,000
Other themed rooms: Lettice Sandford Art Room,
Corn Dolly Room, Owners of Eye Room,
J. Sandford Room, Dream Painting Room,
(£1,000 to £5,000 per room, 2 rooms initially,
growing to 5 rooms) 2,000 25,000
Cinema seating 35 4,000 20,000
Specially commissioned video
film – the Eye Manor Experience 10,000 50,000
Car Park for 10-20 cars or 2 coaches 5,000 20,000
Café 5,000 10,000
Shop 2,500 5,000
Initial stock for shop 1,000 1,000
Garden Centre premises 1,000 25,000
Redecoration of Grand Suite 1,000 20,000
Furnishings and art objects for Grand Suite:
Transport of items already owned or loaned 1,000 5,000
New items bought in 1,000 20,000
Creation of Sandford flat in attic 1,000 10,000
Creation of administrators flat in attic 1,000 10,000
Total: 238,000 761,000
Running Costs - Year Prior to ‘Blast Off’
Administration 5,000 20,000
Pre-opening publicity and promotion 2,000 10,000
Heat and Light 1,000 2,000
Insurance 1,000 2,500
Expenses, Jeremy Sandford and other helpers 500 2,500
Jeremy wage for equivalent of six months 0 5,000
Security cameras, etc. 0 2,500
Guide books 0 10,000
Total: 9,500 54,500
Running Costs – Typical Annual
NOTE: The attractions will probably be open for a season of four months – June, July, August and September.
Administrator 5,000 5,000
Publicity and Promotion 2,000 10,000
Heat and Light 1,000 2,000
Insurance 1,000 2,500
Jeremy Sandford – equivalent one month 1,000 1,000
Jeremy Sandford expenses 250 500
Security cameras, etc. 500 2,500
Expenses for guides / security 500 2,500
Heritage signposts on local roads 500 2,500
Gardener (Note: it is possible that the garden
can be attended free as part of the deal struck
with the garden centre) 0 21,000
Cleaning, polishing, etc. 500 1,000
Guide Books, Postcards 500 1,000
Total: 12,750 50,000
Income – Typical Annual
8,000 entrances @ average £3 24,000 24,000
Franchise from garden centre 0 10,000
Franchise for weddings
(4 – 12 @ £500 - £1,000) 2,000 12,000
Shop (includes sale of video) 0 10,000
Café 0 5,000
Concert entrance @ £1 - £2 x 2 – 10 persons
(average per 160 day season) 320 3,200
Total: 26,320 64,200
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