Gendering Saltram House

In Spring 2022, the Gendering the Museum undertook a project entitled ‘Gendering Saltram House’, a remarkable eighteenth-century National Trust property overlooking the banks of the River Plym in Devon. Funded by the University of Plymouth Public Engagement awards, the project undertook a gendered study of the objects and spaces within the house, producing a report containing detailed research and recommendations. As part of the project, we provided trans and LGBTQ+ awareness training for staff at Saltram, as part of making Saltram inclusive for all genders, and developed a number of tours and events working in partnership with Plymouth Pride, Barnardo’s and local LGBTQ+ youth groups.

Saltram House 2008 v2

Staff training

Staff attended trans awareness training delivered by Kit Heyam, which covered concepts and terminology relating to trans identities alongside practical tips for creating a welcoming and trans-inclusive environment, including resolving any potential conflicts. Evaluation indicated that attendees had overwhelmingly found the session 'very helpful', with comments including 'I've learned to lean on our "everyone welcome" aims', and 'Small changes that I hadn't even considered would be so impactful.'


Chinese wallpaper

Research on Saltram's iconic Chinese wallpaper revealed the gendered associations of Chinoiserie in the eighteenth century and the role of women in the manufacture of silk wallpaper, the picking of tea (as depicted on the wallpaper), the epic Romance of the Three Kingdoms (as depicted on the wallpaper), and the introduction of the wallpaper to Saltram. The wallpaper also depicts Daoist Immortals: of the most important, powerful and celebrated Eight Immortals, six are male, one female, and one (Lan Caihe) is sometimes depicted as male, sometimes as female, sometimes androgynous and/or intersex.

Chinese reverse glass painting

Saltram's Chinese mirror paintings emerged in the predominantly male environment of Canton, and depict women as iconographic representations of poetry, youth, or China itself.


Many of Saltram's paintings were acquired as part of the Grand Tour, the eighteenth-century finishing school of masculinity. Several represent gender in interesting ways, including Louis Gabriel Blanchet's 'Sleeping Hermaphrodite' and 'Apollo Belvedere', Angelica Kaufman's 'Ulysses Discovering Achilles', and Joshua Reynolds's 'John Parker, later 1st Earl of Morley (1772-1840), and his Sister Theresa Parker, later the Hon. Mrs George Villiers (1775-1856), as children’ and ‘John Parker, 1st Baron Boringdon (1734/5-1788), with his Gun, leaning on a Gate’. Kaufman was also the first woman to be admitted to the Royal Academy, and moved in the same social circles as the gender-nonconforming spy and diplomat the Chevaliere d'Eon.


The eighteenth century saw the introduction of the idea of separate gendered furniture for men and women. Using furniture designed for men or for women might influence people’s understanding of themselves (as solid and dependable, or as pretty and insubstantial) – but it might also have been a way for people to express their own pre-existing understandings of their gendered identities. Though the furniture firms that supplied Saltram were owned by men, some scholars argue that designs were co-created with (predominantly female) customers .

House, garden and inhabitants

There is substantial evidence of the role of women in both the interior decoration of the house and the landscaping of the estate - both directly and indirectly, since it was often marriage to wealthy women that allowed the Parker family to rise within the ranks of gentry and gain the connections and capital needed for architectural reform. The story of the separation between owner John Parker III and Lady Augusta Fane is also an engaging story of double standards around men’s and women’s fidelity: both John and Augusta were unfaithful, but it was only Augusta who was pilloried in the press. His later wife Fanny kept a diary in which she recorded coming to feel at home in Saltram, and depending on its parkland for her mental health.

Public engagement potential

The report highlighted public engagement potential in relation to:

  • changing ideas of gender and taste
  • thinking about gender differently in different cultures
  • women and war
  • ideology in portraiture
  • resilient women
  • exercise for mental health