TREDEGAR House has long been one of Newport’s top tourist attractions, with droves of visitors each year coming to find out more about the lavish lifestyles of the Morgans, the family that owned the house for more than 500 years.

Taking care of such a grand property is no easy feat and, like the Morgans, the National Trust employs many staff, and volunteers, to keep the place running. There are more than 250 hosts – the people visitors meet as they tour the house – on the trust’s books alone.

Each volunteer and member of staff has their own specific role in preparing Tredegar House each day ahead of opening time.

House and collections manager Emily Price has worked at Tredegar House for 14 years.

“We look after the fabric of the building and its collections,” she said. “It’s been standing for hundreds of years and we want to make sure it’ll stand for hundreds more.” But this long-term goal of preserving the house has to be balanced with the need to bring in a healthy number of visitors each year. Simply putting everything in storage, where it will be safe, is not an option. “It’s always been a colourful and lively house, and we want people to see it as a happy place,” Ms Price said.


“There’s a lot of wear and tear, but we have to make sure it’s presentable and we want it to feel like a home.”

Tredegar House’s past occupants would have had lots of help making their home presentable, she said, with an “army of servants” taking care of the daily chores and menial tasks. These days, keeping tabs on the huge number of items in the Tredegar House collection is the responsibility of a more modest number of people. There are five members of staff and three volunteers in Ms Price’s team.

When the house was sold in 1951, all of its collections were dispersed around the country. The finery went up for auction in London, but everyday items like crockery and cookware ended up for sale on the lawns outside the house in a huge jumble sale.

Recovering the house’s collections wasn’t easy, Ms Price said, but there was a stroke of good fortune when Joanna Yorke (formerly Morgan), the sixth and last Lady Tredegar, sold around 60 or 70 portraits of the Morgan family back to the estate, ensuring the house’s ancestral owners remained on the walls.

“Without them still looking down on us today, we wouldn’t be able to tell their stories,” Ms Price said.

“We’ve got around 8,000 items in our collection now, from an extendable duster on a pole to the [Morgan] family silver and all their portraits. But welcoming new items into this extensive collection takes planning and careful deliberations.

“Whenever we’re offered something, there’ll be costs – to buy it, to restore it, or to store it; and we’re committing somebody in future to those costs, too,” Ms Price said. As a result, the house has a tough collections policy, and the collections team scrutinises each item before deciding to purchase it.

The most important thing, of course, is making sure it came from Tredegar House in the first place. Fortunately, a catalogue of the house’s collections still exists from the 1930s, and the team also uses postcards of the interiors, which were originally produced by then-Lord Tredegar Godfrey Morgan to raise money for the construction of the Royal Gwent Hospital.

These sources help the collections team present the house accurately.

“We want things which help us understand the history of the house and its people, and help us tell those stories to the community,” Ms Price said.

Their job doesn’t end with displaying the objects, however. Each morning, before the first visitors arrive, a whirring sound echoes softly around the halls of Tredegar House.

Wearing their Ghostbusters-style vacuum cleaners on their backs, the team members patrol each room studiously, eliminating any dust they find.

This cleaning has to be done with great care, so the team uses horsehair brushes on the more complex items. In the Gilt Room, one of Tredegar House’s most fragile interiors, conservation assistant Aled Lewis was busy cleaning the ornate golden carvings which decorate the walls. Mr Lewis, a Cardiff University graduate in conservation, has worked at the house for just over a year.

“I clean every day, and sometimes I do all three floors,” he said. “The main priorities are dust and dirt – it’s hard work, physically demanding, and I often fall asleep on the sofa when I go home.”

Mr Lewis, from Blackwood, said he first became interested in conservation when he was a student. Despite the hard work at Tredegar House, he said the job was worth it. “It’s a privilege to work here,” he said. “I strived to get here. It’s not easy to get a job in the museum sector.”

The Gilt Room sparkles as Mr Lewis cleans. Back in the house’s heyday, the ground-floor room would have been used as an entertainment space for parties and dances. Visitors to Tredegar House are encouraged to wander through the historic rooms at their leisure, but a lot of work is done behind the scenes to make this experience as authentic as possible. In her role as visitor experience officer, Emma Wilson is responsible for interpreting the house and its history, and sharing those stories with visitors.

“It’s not just words and information – we want to encourage the feeling that [visitors] are stepping back in time,” she said.

This takes a great deal of research. Historical documents are vital, as are recordings – made in the 1970s – of the reminisces of the house’s former servants.

Ms Wilson said: “We’re very lucky these records survive. There’s so much information about how a house like this was run day-to-day.”

Visitors also have the luxury of meeting the house’s volunteers, who are always on hand with a wealth of information.

“We couldn’t do it without them, really,” Ms Wilson said of the volunteers. “They know everything about everything, and they’re really enthusiastic about it.

“Some of them have family connections – their grandparents might have been in service here.

“There are also a few former pupils here, so they can show what it was like [as a Roman Catholic school after the Morgan family left].” Ms Wilson said it was these personal stories, of the people who kept the house running, which she loved most about working at Tredegar House.

“That side’s sometimes forgotten in a house like this,” she said. “The servants often lived here more than the family who owned the house.” Ms Price said the house was always turning up new surprises, for visitors and staff alike.

“We still don’t fully understand the house – we don’t know why there’s a staircase in the cellar that doesn’t lead anywhere, or why there are doorways behind some of the panelling.

“There’s a description [in old documents] of a ‘galleried room’ but we don’t know where that was.

“I love that there are so many mysteries – it’s like one big jigsaw.”