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Scott House: Behind the scenes

Posted on 22 Feb 2019

Scott House’s transformation from unconventional but legendary home into a must-see museum is well underway.

Our volunteer curating team has been patiently waiting to return to the 1950’s red-bricked house as builders have made repairs and carried out renovations over the winter. For the past four months, they have been converting the upper floors into luxury guest accommodation, fitting new windows, repairing the roof and making the dated electrics and plumbing safe.

This is no ordinary property; with the Rushy Lake bustling with arctic visitors such as the Bewick’s swan which Scott and his family began studying in the sixties, the contractors had to come up with novel ways to avoid spooking these sensitive birds. This included blacking out the windows and gradually turning up the radio each day so that the music would disguise any sudden construction noise. It worked a treat and the swans, apparently pop music fans, have continued to favour the famous Slimbridge wetland.

With the contractor’s stint coming to an end, Scott House Curator Helen McConnell-Simpson is looking forward to regaining the reins to the house interiors. Helen and her team have a lot to get on with, such as repairing the ceiling in Lady Scott’s sitting room, making a replica of a large, hand-woven killim rug from the sixties, and recording all of the items in Scott’s impressive art studio and office. Scott’s personal memorabilia from his conservation work, his life as a professional artist and his international sporting achievements in sailing, gliding and skating will also be on show.

Helen says: “We are very excited to open the doors of Scott House to the general public for the first time ever and share the gems within. Thankfully, we don’t have too much longer to wait so we’ll be busy making sure everything is in place for the opening and beyond.”

The ground floor of the property will be maintained as a snapshot of the Scott family life as it was back then. Most recently, Helen has managed to source the same model as their original American-style Prestcold fridge which Dafila, Scott’s daughter could hear buzzing below from her bedroom. The original only just packed in a few years ago after over fifty years of service.

The Scotts’ filled their home with eclectic treasures. They travelled extensively, taking research trips to the Russian tundra and travelling the globe scuba diving, taking pictures and writing notes along the way. Only recently, Helen discovered photographs of Scott’s father, Robert Falcon Scott, taken during his Discovery Expedition to Antarctica (1901 – 1904). The images are personal snapshots of smiling men on the beaches in Antarctica waiting to start their big adventures.

Another exciting discovery is a notebook called ’Peter’s Boasting Book’ which is a sweet collection of things that made him proud, such as a photo of Dafila in the studio or a picture of a rare bird he’d sighted. There are many photo albums charting the Scotts’ adventures, which the volunteers must sort through once they regain access to the house.

With this extra special home due to open its doors in September, Helen will also be seeking accreditation from the Arts Council so that Scott House can be registered as a museum. With official recognition, Scott House will be able to loan items from other museums. The family donated a model of the Discovery ship to the Scott Polar Institution and the Royal Geographic Society holds his travel diaries – items that may be borrowed in the future.

The potential of Scott House to inspire other generations by showcasing the many pursuits of this fascinating and talented family is huge. Helen and her team have a busy but envious few months ahead as they continue to uncover hidden gems stored within its walls.

To find out more about this story, Scott House will feature on Countryfile on Sunday 24 February at 6pm on BBC1. Presenter Matt Baker helps unveil some of the personal artefacts with Slimbridge 2020 project manager Jackie Harris in Scott’s studio and discuss the life of this extraordinary man and how Slimbridge is turning this former home into a museum. For more information on the programme visit the Countryfile website.

Countryfile at Scott House