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With the Picture Gallery about to re-open there is a definite buzz around Upton at the minute! The group with the most excitement possibly are our tour guides who can’t wait to see our collection back. This month, we thought we would ask a tour guide to write a post on their view of Upton House and Gardens, an insight into their world!

Who are you and why do you like Upton House and Gardens?  

My name is Barbara Purser and I’m one of Upton ‘s tour guides.

It was back in 2005 that I was welcomed to Upton House and Gardens as a new volunteer. I began on the West Stairs as a room guide and quickly noticed that most of our female visitors came to a stop on the half landing to gaze upon the late eighteenth century portrait of William Augustus Bowles dressed, as a native North American Indian Chief – and very handsome he is too. I simply had to learn more about him and was soon telling visitors tales of his legendary adventures – fighting for the British in the American Revolution, leading native Indians to fight the Spanish, his marriage to the daughter of a Creek Indian chief, his piracy in the Gulf of Mexico, his visit to London where it was rumoured he had a love affair with an actress, capture by the Spanish and, after several attempts to escape, his final and fatal incarceration in the dungeons of a Cuban castle.   How many more interesting stories were there to find amongst Upton’s pictures?

The charming William Augustus Bowles

The charming William Augustus Bowles

What is your role here?

When I was asked to become a tour guide, it seemed the next logical step. Here was one of the leading painting collections of the UK right on my doorstep. I would have the privilege of taking visitors to see not only the work of such artists as Canaletto, Breughel, El Greco, van Steen and Bosch, but also important British artists such as Hogarth, Stubbs, Raeburn, Romney and Gainsborough. Add the impressive porcelain collection, the glories of the house and gardens, the colourful and stylish posters in the Shell Room, the fascinating history of the philanthropic millionaire family who owned Upton House and where the money came from and it is easy to see why I was so willing to become part of the Upton House volunteer team.

What have you particularly enjoyed?

One of the special moments in any tour guide’s day is when a visitor says, “I really enjoyed that, you’ve shown me how to see into a painting, not just look at it” or “We’re so glad we came on the tour, we’ve learned so much about the history of the family and Shell we just didn’t know before”. Having begun with taster tours of the picture collection, this kind of encouragement soon had me adding tours on the history of the house and family, conservation, treasures and even porcelain. I have found myself doing more and more research into all sorts of aspects of the Upton collections as well as the collectors themselves. I learn something new every day. Each year brings new opportunities for volunteers to be involved in the presentation of Upton House and Gardens. The introduction of exhibitions in the new Squash Court has allowed a number of us to take part in the research, preparation and launch of shows such as Glenn Brown, Lowry to Piper and now the forthcoming Shell exhibition of 2014. It’s not only interesting and stimulating, it’s fun too,and this is what I really enjoy.

The Bosch triptych

The Bosch triptych

What are you next looking forward to?

The Shell exhibition of course but there’s going to be so much more going on at Upton in 2014.   New presentations are on show in the House, the Gardens are always a big draw, especially if the sun shines, and the doors of the Picture Gallery, formerly the original squash court, will be open once again to display some of Upton’s most precious early paintings. 2013’s New Light on Old Masters exhibition has become literally true with their return to the new light of the Picture Gallery!  

Barbara in the Picture Gallery - looking forward to paintings being hung again

Barbara in the Picture Gallery – looking forward to paintings being hung again