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England: Bristol's Tyntesfield

Tyntesfield, a circa-1810 villa in the town of Wraxall that is open to the public for the first time, started out as modest Tyntes Place. The property was bought early on by William Gibbs, a fertilizer tycoon and devout Anglican who believed that residential architecture, like ecclesiastical structures, should be uplifting and imposing. So in the 1860's, using stone quarried nearby, he refurbished and expanded it into a 25-bedroom Gothic Revival palace, with a zigzagging roofline of turrets and gables. The airy, vaulted rooms are lined in carved oak and gilt. Fireplaces and desks are crowned with flowery pinnacles. One wing contains an 80-seat chapel, modeled after Paris's Ste.-Chapelle.

Gibbs's heirs kept the place much as he intended, even as their fortune dwindled; they hung on to the ancestral portraits and monogrammed carpets. Tyntesfield had long been regarded as England's finest privately held Victorian estate, but after the reclusive last lord of the manor died in 2001, auctioneers catalogued the furnishings for a vast sale while developers prepared to subdivide. The National Trust hurriedly organized a "Save Tyntesfield" campaign; within seven weeks—aided by a wave of publicity when it was reported that singer Kylie Minogue coveted the house—75,000 donors worldwide sent in $13.8 million. Conservation work will continue for many months: some visitors might even get to wear hard hats, just like the steeplejacks above. Wraxall, England; 44-870/241-4500; www.nationaltrust.org.uk.

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