£20m Gothic treasure house is saved for the nation

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The Independent Online

A striking Gothic mansion, almost unchanged since the days of Queen Victoria, has been bought for the nation by the National Trust. In its first purchase of a country house for more than a decade, the trust is said to have paid at least £20m for Tyntesfield, its original contents and furnishings and estate seven miles from Bristol.

The spectacular mansion with 43 bedrooms went on sale last summer after the death of its owner, Lord Wraxall, a reclusive bachelor, because the 19 beneficiaries of his will could not afford to keep it in the family. A fund-raising campaign was launched by heritage bodies anxious to preserve the house and estate.

The historian David Starkey said: "Tyntesfield is not just a Victorian Gothic country house, but an estate with a story that includes gardens, furniture, books and a multitude of bits and pieces. It is a time capsule on an extraordinary scale."

Tyntesfield was created on the site of a more modest house in the 1870s by William Gibbs, a strongly religious industrialist who made a fortune importing guano and nitrate from South America for use as an agricultural fertiliser. He and his wife, Mathilda Blanche Gibbs, proved discerning collectors.

A team of nearly 50 staff from the auctioneer Christie's has spent more than three months this year assessing the house's collection of 6,000 objects, including Old Master paintings and furniture by the best craftsmen of the period. The library contains 15,000 volumes and the house, with original wallpaper and stencils, has a chapel as large as many village churches. Even the medicine chest contains Victorian bottles.

The rarity of the estate encouraged the National Heritage Memorial Fund to take the rare step of dipping into its core endowment fund to offer £17.4m, its largest grant, to pay the bulk of the unspecified purchase price. Two anonymous donors provided gifts of £4m and £1m each, with a further £1.5m raised from more than 50,000 individual donations, including some from American servicemen cared for in hospital on the estate during the Second World War.

The National Trust intends to open at least part of Tyntesfield to the public as soon as possible but admits the house needs £7m of initial repairs with a further endowment fund of "tens of millions" required for development and preservation. Charles Nunneley, the chairman, said: "It is an absolutely incredible example of Victorian Gothic architecture. The house, the backdrop and the trees have a sort of magic that is impossible to describe unless you go there."

Tyntesfield, a fairytale property complete with turrets and shuttered windows, had been rumoured to have attracted the attention of the pop singer Kylie Minogue.

The purchase includes the house and a majority of the contents, its garden and park, estate buildings, such as stables, lodges and gasworks, and a farm and woodland. Other parts of the estate not regarded as core will now be sold.

Only intense negotiations between the vendors and the heritage organisations saved the house for the nation with the help of a deal with the Government over tax duties due on the inheritance.

The last country house purchased by the National Trust was Chastleton, Oxford, in 1991.