As the glamorous Cliveden Estate in Buckinghamshire celebrates its 350th anniversary, an historic chamber located below the South Terrace is opening for the first time in 30 years, inviting visitors to help the National Trust solve the mystery of its past.
From the notorious 2nd Duke of Buckingham who built the first house for his mistress before fatally wounding her husband, to the focus of the Profumo affair in the 1960s, Cliveden has long been a place of scandal and intrigue.
In 2012, the National Trust began a five year, £6 million restoration project on the Grade 1 listed South Terrace to ensure its future.
As part of this project, the conservation charity removed damaged and peeling rendering from the walls of the chamber.
The discovery of hidden funnels in the ceiling, and intricate brickwork that had evidently been adapted over time, furthered the mysteries surrounding the chamber’s past.
However, the impressive acoustics of the domed space support the theory that the room was used for musical performances.
Now, contemporary sound artist Robin Rimbaud, alias Scanner, has been commissioned to create a musical installation that will encourage visitors to reflect on Cliveden’s stories and the unique chamber, which continues to baffle National Trust experts.
Scanner said of his piece titled Ghosts: “I wanted to create a work that draws people in, using music and sounds to paint an image of how Cliveden might have sounded over the last 350 years.
“Music clearly played a key part in the sonic makeup of the building so I created a hypnotic background loop based on a piece of music by Vivaldi. This acts like a glue, holding the piece together, whilst elsewhere you hear elements of opera, Music Hall and even the audience awaiting a concert, chatting away, as the orchestra tunes up. I want people to feel as if at any moment a performance is about to start but is never quite revealed. I want them to see with their ears.
“Ghosts is an ode to history, and to an astonishing building. It attempts to capture the grandeur, scale and character of the architecture in a captivating and moving manner.”
Before the chamber is re-rendered, visitors will be given a unique opportunity to see it in its rawest state and explore their own theories about how the room was originally intended to be used.
Mark Bradshaw, Cliveden’s General Manager, said: “The 2nd Duke of Buckingham built Cliveden at a time when lavish masques and balls were held. It would be tempting to imagine therefore that this room was always intended to be used for musical recitals, although we can’t say for certain. What we do know is that an inventory from 1849 refers to it as the ‘sounding room’, suggesting that at this time at least it was used for music.
“The two funnels located in one half of the chamber are most intriguing. They were clearly built with a distinct purpose in mind, but whether this was to direct music up into another room of the house or to let light in is unknown.
“We’re also fascinated by the marble floor with its inlaid star. Such impressive marble would have likely been cut on site, requiring a huge amount of effort which no doubt the Duke would have wanted to show off. We’re beginning to explore the significance of the star to see if it reveals anything further about the room.
“We hope our visitors will enjoy listening to Scanner’s atmospheric recording in such an intriguing historic space. There’s much more research for us to do to find out about the chamber’s history, but in the meantime we welcome any ideas from our visitors who will draw their own conclusions.”
Visitors to Cliveden will be able to hear Scanner’s recordings and visit the sounding chamber from Friday 20 May until restoration work begins on the section of terrace above the sounding chamber in September.
You can have a 360 degree view of the chamber and hear some of the sound piece here