NT Stoneywell

National Trust Stoneywell, Leicestershire

A unique property, a unique project
Developing new ways of telling Stoneywell’s stories

“Stoneywell is a window into a particular period that sought to define Englishness and embrace craftsmanship.”

Mike Foster
(Partner – The Maltings Heritage Interpretation)

The brief was to develop a Stylebook for Stoneywell Cottage which would perfectly suit what is a genuinely unique National trust property. An ‘Arts and Crafts’ style cottage designed and built at the turn of the 20th century, it has not been subject to the upgrading and modernisation that such homes would typically undergo – mainly due to the fact it has remained with the family throughout. Instead, Stoneywell is rooted firmly in it’s time, original, magical and with extensive landscaped gardens. Only recently acquired by the National Trust, the relatively small and intimate proportions of the cottage presented certain challenges with regard to opening it up to the public. It was decided that visitors would book timed guided tours, touring the site in small groups and learning of it’s history as they went. There was a clear need for additional orientation and interpretation, but the client team was keen to ensure that nothing added created a ‘barrier’ between the visiting public and their ability to step back in time. The integrity of Stoneywell and it’s place in time had to be preserved.

Following consultation with the Interpretation Manager and Curator we developed an approach which we have come to describe as ‘Quiet Interpretation’. Our idea was to preserve and present Stoneywell as a family home. Visitors were treated as ‘guests’, chauffeured in small parties to the property from an off-site car park. Upon arrival each were given a formal invitation which would convey essential information and a small map of the site. All aspects of orientation and interpretation would be developed to look appropriate in a fine, period, domestic setting. Direction signs would be carved into stone flags or routed into gates and fences. Interpretation would be applied in any number of imaginative ways – browsing books masquerading as photo albums, handwritten letters on desks, mock-up magazines and newspapers, framed pictures on the walls, hanging textiles, books on shelves. Guests would be encouraged to explore and make themselves at home, and in so doing learn more about the property and it’s past.

Stylistically our inspiration was already established – the Arts and Crafts movement. We conducted a site visit, taking reference photographs of any interesting design features which we may draw on for inspiration. We were keen that all signage, marketing and literature were designed to suit the spirit of place. Quality was key, across design, approach and materials. Where possible we proposed that crafts-people should be employed to reflect and respect the celebration of the artisan that first inspired the property itself. The journey through time began at the stables, set at the entrance to the property. AV and digital interpretation were present here, along with a small shop and café. Once out of the stables and through the gate, guests would be escorted down the winding path into the landscaped gardens, losing themselves in the heritage and magic of this wonderful place.

The National Trust truly embraced our concepts and ideas, and Stoneywell remains a unique offer in their portfolio. For our part we believe that many similar heritage sites would benefit from ‘Quiet interpretation’, To engage the public by helping them to transport themselves back into the past – to spark wonder and imagination as well as to inform and educate – must surely be a worthwhile approach to interpretive design.

National Trust Stoneywell, Leicestershire
National Trust Stoneywell, Leicestershire
National Trust Stoneywell, Leicestershire
National Trust Stoneywell, Leicestershire
National Trust Stoneywell, Leicestershire
National Trust Stoneywell, Leicestershire
National Trust Stoneywell, Leicestershire