Wednesday, May 29, 2013

All This From Poop

William Gibbs made his dibs
 Selling the turds of foreign birds”

I just love visiting country houses in England where you can step out of the pages of Evelyn Waugh or Jane Austen and into the lives- and stuff – of others. Most houses have a great story.  Tyntesfield, a Victorian Gothic revival estate 8 miles from the centre of Bristol may be one of the best stories of all.

Because the spectacular house, the extensive gardens and parkland and the room after room of stuff that was owned by William Gibbs (1790-1875), the richest commoner in the country, all came from bird shit. Guano to be exact, the poop from seabirds that has been harvested from islands off the coast of Peru since the time of the Aztecs.

At Tyntesfield, I learned that guano is great stuff. It’s got lots of phosphorus and nitrogen and doesn’t stink like manure. But I also learned that guano can buy you the most amazing things from a seriously great chapel (Gibbs was very religious) to a 43 bedroom house and 2,000 acres of countryside not to mention the fabulous clutter that was so fashionable at the time: the porcelain, the books, the Moose head, a walk in safe in the kitchen for the silver, a wooden sink for the glassware. It’s extraordinary what they packed in there.

And it is extraordinary that it still exists, saved in 2002 by a massive fund raising effort that prevented the sale of the house, contents and land after the death of Lord Wraxall, a reclusive bachelor, in 2001.

So all in all, it’s a place with lots of great stories – built from the proceeds of poop and saved for all of us by a national concern for conservation and the generosity of the British people. If you are ever heading southbound on the M5 near Bristol, be sure to stop and see it.

The food in the on-site restaurant is not bad either.

For visitor information for Tynsfield, click here

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