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From Old Masters to old underpants – vast collections of the National Trust go online

— December 2011

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Costume decorated with beetle wings for actress Ellen Terry at Smallhythe Place, Kent  [ID 1118839]. Terry (1847-1928) wore this dress for her role as Lady Macbeth at the Lyceum Theatre in London in 1888.

From great works of art by Gainsborough to the ordinary cotton underpants of a Midlands grocer, details of over 700,000 objects in the care of the National Trust go online for the first time today (Friday 16 December).

Now anyone with an interest in historic objects or old curiosities can have virtual access to collections from over 200 historic properties, at

The website also includes details of collections in storage, items that are too fragile to display, or on loan to other museums, making it one of the largest online resources for historic collections in the world.

The National Trust cares for some of the UK’s greatest works of art as well as the personal collections of many famous former owners such as Winston Churchill, Agatha Christie, Rudyard Kipling, Beatrix Potter and George Bernard Shaw.

There are artistic treasures from stately houses but also thousands of everyday items from modest homes, mills, cottages and workplaces. All the paraphernalia of life – with many quirky, unusual, retro and bizarre objects – come together to form ‘time capsules’ of life across the centuries.

Some of the fascinating objects now viewable online are:

·       Laudanum bottle at Castle Ward

·       Costume decorated with beetle wings for actress Ellen Terry at Smallhythe Place (see image above:  the dress was designed to look like soft chain armour and give the appearance of the scales of a serpent.  It has recently gone back on display after painstaking conservation work. )

·       Sewing machine used at the tailor’s shop from the 1970s at the Back to Backs

·       Brueghel the Younger’s masterpiece 'The Procession to Calvary' at Nostell Priory

·       Early anti-ageing ‘Rejuvenating’ machine at Overbeck’s

·       Lavishly furnished Georgian dolls’ house at Uppark

·       Photograph from 1912 of the family’s servants at Erddig

·       Bible reputed to have been used at the execution of King     Charles I at Chastleton House

·       Pair of Aertex underpants at Mr Straw’s House

·       French 18th-century painted sedan chair at Snowshill

The National Trust Collections website is drawn from the Trust’s national inventory – it has taken nearly 15 years and the work of hundreds of Trust staff, volunteers and contractors to research, catalogue and photograph the collectionsand develop the database – and work continues.  

Sarah Staniforth, National Trust Museums and Collections Director, said: ‘This is such an exciting moment and yet another step forward in bringing our places to life. We are now able to share our collections with everyone online –- and offer a fantastic resource for learning more about them. There are various ways to search through the collections and some of our staff and volunteers have selected their favourites as highlights’.

There are plans to continue adding items to the website

Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, says: “This excellent digital resource will bring the National Trust’s important and varied collections to the widest possible public. As a key partner of Montacute House and Beningbrough Hall, and with many of the Gallery’s portraits joining treasures owned by the Trust at other properties, we welcome this initiative which brings free access to these outstanding collections.”     

To view the National Trust Collections online:

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