We are delighted to announce the winner of the 2023 Historic Houses' Collections Award, in partnership with Dreweatts.
The award was introduced last year to honour the creators, owners, curators, researchers, and conservators who preserve, augment, restore and interpret the beautiful and significant objects on show inside historic houses up and down the country, enabling the public to understand and enjoy them and the stories that they tell.
The winner of this year's award is Ushaw, Durham!
Ushaw, a former Catholic seminary in County Durham, has been operated by a charitable trust as a heritage attraction since 2014. The college’s collection of fine art, religious and secular objects, and books reflects both its two centuries as an educational foundation on this site, and more ancient antecedents. The present complex was created by scholars from the English College at Douai, fleeing the consequences of the French Revolution; while that foundation was itself a product of exile, designed to train Englishmen as Catholic priests during the ban on the public practice of their faith in post-Reformation England.
Dreweatts Managing Director, Jonathan Pratt, said, “Now in its second year, Dreweatts are proud, once again, to be supporting Historic Houses and to be playing a part in recognising the importance of historic collections in our collective history. The judges were hugely impressed with this year’s winner, Ushaw, in particular, with the quality and innovation of their digital resources, interpretation and community outreach – as well as the sheer variety, inherent interest, and beauty of the collection."
We are delighted to present a grant of £4,500 to further improve interpretation and display of this marvellous collection.
In summer 2022, Ushaw launched an outdoor digital trail app. Free to download and use, the app contains animation, text, video, sound and elements of augmented reality. The aim of the Ushaw Trail was to introduce visitors to their heritage and collection objects in a unique and engaging fashion.
The impetus for the Trail took place during the Covid-19 pandemic. In common with other heritage sites, Ushaw’s buildings were closed. At this time, they constructed a suite of display boards in their grounds where they began to show reproductions of collection items within thematic displays. In addition to this initiative and in order to introduce new and existing visitors to more of the collections in a novel and innovative way, the team began working on the digital app.
The app takes users on a treasure hunt through Ushaw’s gardens. This narrative device is rooted in reality and relates to the house’s history. During the French Revolution, students at Ushaw’s predecessor college at Douai in northern France hid the institution’s collection of early eighteenth century silver in order to safeguard it from the revolutionary forces. In the mid-nineteenth century, with permission from Napoleon III, Ushaw students returned to the, by then derelict, site of the college at Douai in order to recover the silver and bring it to England.
Westminster Vestment, 1460-1490
The augmented reality elements of the trail, triggered at ten specific locations, include the appearance of a mid-seventeenth century atlas through the library window. The atlas swoops down to the user and provides a helpful hint to the next location. Other items highlighted include an orrery from 1794, the fifteenth century Westminster Vestment, and a 1732 bronze sundial spinning in mid-air before pointing the way to Trail’s final location. Here, the Douai Silver erupts from the ground in a spectacular finale to the Trail’s quest.
Andrew Heard, Visitor Programmes Manager at Ushaw, said: “We are delighted to have won the Historic Houses 2023 Collections Award for our outdoor digital art trail. The trail was designed to introduce Ushaw's history and collections to new audiences and encourage visitors to our gardens and outdoor spaces to discover more about what is inside our buildings. We find it particularly gratifying that the efforts we are making to introduce people to Ushaw and the treasures it contains have been recognised in this way.”
Special recognition was also given to:
Shaun and Lou Renwick of Cragend Farm - Custodian Special Mention
Cragend Farm in Northumberland, is home to a collection of an eclectic mix of agricultural equipment, historical & engineering artefacts that have been discovered whilst renovating the site to accompany the tours providing a sensory experience. This is enhanced with maps, documents, newspaper articles and photographs. The farm had been completely cleared prior to its sale in 2011 and not even a pitchfork survived above ground. Many interesting items have come to light, such as milk churns, heavy horseshoes, and glass bottles.
Powderham Castle - House Team Special Mention
The collection at Powderham Castle in Devon, covers 600 years including ancient manuscripts and a personal library with over 4,000 volumes. The fine art offers oil paintings, sculptures, and textiles, while furniture includes hundreds of pieces purpose-made for Powderham. Several are of national significance, such as the Axminster Carpet and the Channon Bookcases, owned by the V&A but held at Powderham on long loan. It also includes thousands of personal family treasures each telling unique stories of those that acquired them, curated, and have cared for them ever since. Powderham’s collection is now managed by a full-time collections manager, supported by an archivist and an interning collections assistant plus a small army of collections volunteers.
Adam Toole of Temple Newsam - Custodian Special Mention
Temple Newsam, in Yorkshire, is a 500-year-old stately home. It was birthplace to Lord Darnley in 1545, prior to being bought by the financier Sir Arthur Ingram in 1622. His descendants owned the house until 1922, when it was sold to the City of Leeds. Most of the contents were dispersed at this time, leaving the house denuded. However, in 1938 under Director Philip Hendy, Temple Newsam became a museum of decorative arts with two key strands of collecting established: firstly, repatriation of objects to the house; and secondly, the acquisition of the finest examples of British decorative arts up to c. 1840. Furthermore, Temple Newsam became home to Leeds’ Old Masters paintings. Consequently, the house now possesses one of the most outstanding collections of decorative arts in Britain – including ceramics, furniture, metalwork, textiles, and wallpaper – displayed in a spectacular country house.
The Judging Panel
We drew upon five leading experts in the worlds of curation, collection and creation to judge the award. They were on the look-out, not for the ‘best’ collection, but rather for the most compelling story of custodianship. A special thanks goes to:
With an MA in History of Art from Cambridge University, Rufus enjoyed a 13-year career in the Decorative Arts department at Christie’s where he became a Senior Director. He was appointed Deputy Surveyor of the Queen’s Works of Art in 2010 and served as Surveyor of the Queen’s Works of Art from 2018 to 2021. As the Senior Curator of Decorative Arts in the Royal Collection, he was responsible for the care of 500,000 objects in 15 residences, including Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
Rufus joined the Gurr Johns Group in September 2022 as Director of Decorative Arts and Heritage Collections, Europe and acts as the principal specialist for Heritage Collections and Decorative Art, providing leading expertise to international clients across the group, and advising on acquisitions, valuations, conservation, and museum relations.
Alice Minter joined the V&A as Curator of the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection in July 2018. Prior to that, she worked for 10 years at Sotheby’s London as specialist in ceramics, silver and gold boxes. Alice has co-curated a ground-breaking display: Concealed Histories: Uncovering the story of Nazi Looting Art (6 December – 10 January 2021) and curated the exhibition Masterpieces in Miniatures: Treasures from the Rosalinde & Arthur Gilbert Collection which has been touring in China since Summer 2021. She is now leading a complete refurbishment and expansion of the Gilbert Galleries, due to open in late 2025. Alongside these projects, Alice is a member of the vetting committee at TEFAF, a member of the Silver Society committee and a trustee of the Strawberry Hill Collection Trust.
Giles Kime is Country Life's Executive and Interiors Editor, an expert in interior design with decades of experience since starting his career at The World of Interiors magazine. Giles joined Country Life in 2016, introducing new weekly interiors features, bridging the gap between coverage of architecture and gardening. He previously launched a design section in The Telegraph and spent over a decade at Homes & Gardens magazine (launched by Country Life's founder Edward Hudson in 1919). A regular host of events at London Craft Week, Focus, Decorex and the V&A, he has interviewed leading design figures, including Kit Kemp, Tricia Guild, Mary Fox Linton, Chester Jones, Barbara Barry and Lord Snowdon. He has written a number of books on interior design, property and wine, the most recent of which is on the legendary interior designer Nina Campbell who last year celebrated her fiftieth year in business. Last Autumn saw the publication of his book on the work of the interior designer, Emma Sims-Hilditch. He has also written widely on wine and at 26, was the youngest ever editor of Decanter Magazine. Having spent ten years restoring an Arts & Crafts house on the banks of the Itchen, he and his wife, Kate, are breathing life into a 16th-century cottage near Alresford that has remained untouched for almost half a century.
Alice had a varied earlier career working for Andrew Edmunds in his printshop specialising in 18th century cartoons, three British opera companies, diploma in building conservation with a thesis on British bath houses. She had an early passion for art and architectural history, patrons, collectors and their collections which resulted in becoming a curator of a private collection for the last 33 years as well as working with other collectors and collections. Her current role has been very wide ranging from managing a collection to working on building projects and follies, decorative schemes and producing books on the collection and architectural schemes.
After reading History of Art at Cambridge, Hamish apprenticed for 5 years in conservation of paintings under Richard Maelzer at Edward Speelman Ltd between 1978-1983. He became a leading picture conservator after setting up his own practice, Hamish Dewar Conservation Ltd, in 1983.
Recognising, responding, reimagining
All the collections in Historic Houses member places are unique, priceless, and inseparable from the individuals and families who have brought and kept them together. Each year our judges will choose a collection that best exemplifies the way that those who care for our independent heritage:
- Recognise and research the significance and stories of their artefacts;
- Respond to new imperatives and challenges, both social and technical;
- Reimagine the composition or presentation of the collection for a new generation.
We look forward to working with Historic Houses in 2024, exploring and recognising more collections!
Film shown by permission of Historic Houses