The stone-by-stone project to rescue the cloisters at Iford Manor: ‘We’ve saved it from collapse’

One of Wiltshire's prettiest houses, Iford Manor, has been recognised by Historic Houses for its fabulous restoration of the medieval-style cloisters. Annunciata Elwes tells the tale.

For six months last year, judges were unable to access properties to choose the winner of the 2020 Historic Houses Restoration Award, run with Sotheby’s, but they are now, at last, able to name Iford Manor in Wiltshire the recipient.

This Tudor house with a Classical 1720s front is famous for its Grade I-registered gardens, lovingly restored by the incumbent Cartwright-Hignett family and originally designed by Harold Peto, who lived at Iford between 1899 and 1933. The gardens are set to re-open on April 1 and visitors may recognise them from the 2020 film The Secret Garden.

The winning project there is the restoration of the 13th-century-Romanesque-style cloisters, designed by Peto, who filled them with statues and marbles from his travels.

Credit: Marianne Cartwright-Hignett

The cloisters were built without sunk foundations and, during a dry summer in 2018, cracks appeared and the marble columns came close to shattering due to subsidence. Each piece of stone, column and limestone flag was methodically numbered, removed and used to entirely rebuild the structure atop new foundations.

‘We’ve saved it from collapse,’ says owner William Cartwright-Hignett, ‘but it still feels like that “haunt of ancient peace” that Peto intended [a Tennyson quote inscribed above the entrance]. Now it’s safe to use, it can be appreciated on visits to the garden, as a very special venue for events and as a private chapel, for generations to come.’

Historic Houses, which represents some 1,500 independently owned properties, has a backlog of repairs worth £1.4 billion, £400 million of which is urgent. More than 800 of its properties hope to open to visitors again this year — you can see more details about which will throw the gates open at www.historichouses.org