Newton’s genuine gravity tree

The other week I had a lovely day out with my friends Kerry and Dave and as we like to do, we decided to visit some National Trust properties!

To start our day we went to Woolsthorpe Manor. If you don’t recognise the name you will know what it is famous for. Woolsthorpe Manor is the home to a very important tree, the one that dropped an apple on Isaac Newton’s head and changed history!

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Now my friend Dave, lovely as he is, is a bit of a skeptic and on the drive there he was questioning the validity of this famous tree. I assured him that if the Trust said it was THE tree, then it will of course be THE tree. As soon as we got into the visitor reception we overheard the person in front of us in the que asking the very same question.

The tree is indeed the same tree (told you so!). It was partially destroyed but the roots remained and the tree grew up again, so that is why it’s not as tall as I imagined, but still the genuine article.

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The house its self is fairly small, by Trust house standards (huge compared to my Wendy House!) so it was a bit of a squeeze getting into the smaller rooms. It seems to be a very popular destination! It is a lovely house, very simple in contrast to the very complex thinking that went on there. Newton was born and grew up here, returning from Cambridge in 1665 when the plague hit.

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His return to his childhood home marked the start of his ‘Annus Mirabilis’ or year of miracles. Newton spent his time away from Cambridge working with incredibly complicated maths, light, prisms and rainbows as well as thinking about gravity and its effect on apples. Watching the introductory video made me remember playing with prisms in science class, and learning about Newton’s Laws of Motion. It was very cool to be in the space where these discoveries had actually been made.

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The kitchen had a really nice feel to it, with plenty of food to give the place meaning and life. There is even a furry little visitor hiding in the corner.

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My favorite room however was Newton’s bedroom, known as ‘The Hall Chamber’. It was full of interesting artifacts of his work, where he spent time deep in thought. A simple room where some of the most advanced thinking of the time was happening.

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There is a smaller room in the bedroom, sectioned off by a later resident. Here you can see a wooden shutter with hole in it. It is clearly a new shutter, Newton’s original probably having been removed by someone thinking ‘Why on earth is there a hole in this shutter!?’ but it is nice the Trust have added this touch back in.

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In Newton’s bedroom there is also his death mask hanging over the fireplace. It was quite strange to stand in his room and look at a true likeness of his face, unlike portraits which can be quite variable in their realism. To the left of the fireplace is Newton’s book press, used to keep valuable books safe.

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When his step-father died, in 1653, he left Newton 300 books, which is a large number today and was a huge and valuable inheritance at the time. Maybe his stepfather has already seen eleven year old Newton’s genius and wanted to foster his intelligence.

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One of the other upstairs rooms has been filled with activities and information boards aimed at children. Unfortunately interpretation like this has a nasty habit of ageing quite badly. The games were focused around all the different challenges Newton faced in his life, and it was interesting to realise that the Civil War happened during Newton’s life, although it appears to have affected him little. Despite my reservations about the interpretation panels the children seemed to be enjoying the games, and we had a sneaky little go to!

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The children’s eye spy trail around the house was to spot these lovely little wooden mice, and they were also for sale in the shop (nice work NT business gurus). After making friends with an adorable real life little mouse outside I had to buy one, a really cute souvenir from a delightful day out!

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A Hardwick update

I know it sounds like all I’ve been doing recently is gallivanting round Trust properties and not actually doing any work at my own but that’s not the case, I promise we have been as busy at Hardwick as ever.

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We have totally finished the Deep Clean of the show rooms, with the Below Stairs rooms the last ones we tackled. We moved the huge wooden tree trunk that the mortar stands on in the corner of the kitchen, and found a bit of a mess underneath, mould, dust and a few creepy crawlies.

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This is why it is so important we move objects every year, because who knows what could be happening underneath them! Luckily it wasn’t too difficult to get cleaned up and I kept it laying on its side to dry it out.

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Meanwhile we have had quite a few guests over the past couple of weeks, film crews, authors and even the National Trust Council! While this meant a long day and late night for us it is always nice to get to show our property off, especially as we were stationed in the attics. I met some nice people and had some very interesting conversations.

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We are also starting to get busier, and unfortunately the more visitors we have, the more incidences of wandering hands. One of our objects that gets touched the most is the coral bed in the Paved Room, because we don’t often have enough volunteers to man that room. I guess it’s just too tempting but every time someone does touch anything they leave a trace of oil from their fingers on it.

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This oil builds up and will end up corroding metal, staining textiles and blemishing surfaces. Not to mention the physical damage that can be done to objects when people keep touching them! We try not to have too many notices reminding people not to touch but we decided we needed another one to protect this beautiful bed, especially while we’re busy.

Occasionally we have enthusiastic experts come to Hardwick to take a closer look at items in our collection. Sometimes this is very easily done, and sometimes accessing them is a little trickier. Recently we were asked for two pictures, and they just happened to be the ones at the top in the corner of the alcove.

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Getting them down with a ladder was not as simple as we first though, so we took a different route and built our small scaffolding to get them back up again. Now we just have to wait to hear what conclusions the experts have come too.

The next visitors we had were a film crew from America filming a documentary about Arbella. They were very efficient to work with, getting all the filming done in one day. This included an interview with our resident Arbella expert, House and Collections Manager Nigel Wright. I’m looking forward to watching the DVD they promised to send. It’s quite a buzz to look at footage or photos and know that you were stood just out of shot observing and assisting with the whole process.

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We had to change a light-bulb the other week, something that should not be a big deal, but in a big room really is! So we got out the big ladder and I went up to see if I could reach, but I couldn’t. Luckily for us we have a very tall colleague who was willing to come up and help us, and so the lights are back on in the High Great Chamber.

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We have also have mirrors installed in the gardens to tie in with the Arbella exhibition we are running this year. The mirrors are in pretty ‘gilded’ frames and have quotes on them relating to Arbella’s life.

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They work really well, sitting in the borders glinting in the sunlight and drawing people over to discover them. On a sunny day they look so lovely!

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We also did a little spring cleaning of the Arbella exhibition inside; we cleaned the paintings currently on display in the High Great Chamber. Because these paintings are now displayed on a slight angle they gather a lot more dust than they did hanging on the walls of the Long Gallery.

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We were just going to clean the frames, but while we were doing so noticed how dusty the canvases were, so we decided to clean them too. To do this we use a very soft, wide brush and gently brush the dust off the canvas into our hoovers.

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Getting to the top of queen Elizabeth’s frame was a little tricky, we couldn’t get close enough on a ladder so Claire came up with the ingenious method up sneaking up behind her with a brush, while I directed her disembodied hand from the front.

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I love that there are always new things to discover at Hardwick, and one beautifully sunny day one of our volunteers mentioned something about the Elizabethan drains. Me and Claire got very excited about this, we had never heard about these drains before, let alone that you can go in them! So we went on a little team trip to the building in the corner of the gardens to see them.

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Hidden under a very heavy trap door is the entrance to the old drains, with one tunnel heading under the house, and the other down the hill towards the motorway. For this visit we just had a sneaky peek into the drains, which are brick-built and tall enough to walk in. We’ll save the actual exploration for another day perhaps. So many things still to be discovered!

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Hope you’ve enjoyed this little update, proof that I am still working hard and not just swanning about the country visiting one Trust property after the other. Having said that the next few post are going to be about my visits to another few NT houses!

Re-Visiting Dunham Massey

A little while ago, when we were at our most northern Re-enactment event, me, mum and Kerry decided to pop over to Dunham Massey. I had already been but mum and Kerry wanted to visit while it was still displayed as Stamford Military Hospital.

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If you have been following my blog for a little while you will know what I thought of my last visit. If you haven’t then here are the links to the two post about it:

Post One & Post Two.

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I had a lot of opinions about the visit, as is deserving of such a huge and ambitious project. I had heard a lot of great things about the WWI theme and unfortunately was a little disappointed in my visit. I didn’t feel I saw the best that was on offer, missing the very emotional vignettes performed by the actors, and finding the exhibition petered out part way round the house. It was a very good example of how important managing expectations can be, give something a lot to live up to and it will be hard pushed to achieve.

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However the Stamford Military Hospital theme is now in its second year, tweaks have been made, I knew what to expect and I really enjoyed my visit second time around.

The main change I though was a great improvement was the way they now end the WWI theme. Before it was confusing where the WWI story ended and the ‘Treasures’ exhibition began.

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The beautiful bed is in a room just off the Gallery, which starts the treasures exhibition, however there is still on room left talking about what happened to the patients and staff of the hospital. This is still the case, but now the live of the people on your entry ticket are concluded in the Gallery, giving it a more final feel.

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At the end of the gallery there are stack of crates, bags and photo frames. Here you are told what happened to all the people on your entry ticket, and it is a really nicely displayed pieces of interpretation. I likes this touch a lot, it was in-keeping with the theme and provided enough information that you felt satisfied.

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They have also removed the nods to the war from the bedrooms further along the visitor route. It’s only a small thing but helps visitors know where they are, and I like things neat and tidy so having a more definitive end appeals to me.

I understood the stories a lot more second time around. I tend to visit a property, then read the guide-book at home (usually as I’m writing the blog post). This means I often understand the property more after I have left than while I am there. Writing the first posts about Dunham meant I got more of a feel for the people talked about in the property, so I had more of a vested interest going around the second time.

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Phase two of the project also included new scenes that the actors would be acting out during the second year. We caught two scenes downstairs, in the ward and the Great Hall. They were quite entertaining but sad at the same time, featuring a well-to-do visitor who lacked understanding about the harsh realities of the war, as so many not directly involved would have done.

Just as we were about to leave the Great Gallery, upstairs, a soldier walked past us, drawing me back in. I got to see a scene between nurse Lady Jane Grey and her brother Rodger, the soldier. It made more sense to me than it would have done, had I not know the history and situations of the two people, but it still drew everyone in. It was a lovely scene and I was really pleased to have seen something a bit more emotive and personal.

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I was also aware of what to expect, so not disappointed when we left WWI and entered the ‘Treasures’ exhibition. This exhibition was set up to appease visitors who might be put out that a lot of the collection has been moved to re-instate the hospital, and I think it’s a wonderful idea.

There are some very lovely pieces on display in this exhibition, and even thought these rooms don’t feel like you’re in a Trust property, they are really interesting.

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The one thing I really did not like however was the new sculpture in the garden, commissioned to remember the patients treated at Stamford Military Hospital. They have chosen to do this with . . . concrete cubes. Visible from the Great Gallery the blocks all have numbers on, representing each of the nearly 300 men treated here. I’m not a huge fan of modern art and while I think it is lovely they have created a permanent memorial couldn’t they have chosen something a bit prettier? Or even just more in keeping with the surroundings?

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Another new feature are more characters, but ones that visitors can interact with. The actors portraying actual people in the house move like ghosts, only talking to one another. However in the kitchens we met two maids, knitting for the war effort, who were quite happy to talk to us, in character. The more characters in a property the better in my opinion.

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Dunham have decided to stick to their original plan and only keep the ‘Sanctuary’ WWI theme for two years, meaning you only have until November this year to see it. Personally I think this is madness, they have successfully enhanced the theme for its second year and I feel they are missing an opportunity by not building on it further, especially as it took so much time and money to achieve. Stamford Military Hospital wasn’t actually established until 1917 and it seems crazy not to have the theme still running for its own centenary, but I suppose there must be reasons for it and those decisions are way above my pay grade.

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I recommend anyone with an interest in Military History or the First World War to make a real effort to see Stamford Military Hospital before it disappears. It is a fascinating, in-depth and unique look into the past, not to be missed.

Glitz and glamour on the road home.

The final property of mine and Mum’s Trusty holiday was Kedleston Hall, juts south of home for me. I had never been to Kedleston before this visit and am so pleased I have finally been, it is stunning!

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The house that stands today was built by Sir Nathaniel Curzon on his ancestors lands in the mid 1700’s and he employed Robert Adam to design the interiors, giving him a very generous budget to work with. I love Robert Adam’s design work, the symmetry and swirly designs are full of grand classical influences, it’s really striking and beautiful.

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The Curzon family still live in part of Kedleston today (lucky things) and link me back to Montacute House, where I had been days earlier. The famous Lord Curzon had rented Montacute with his mistress before he inherited Kedleston in 1916.

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We went about our visit slightly alternative to the visitor route because I got drawn into the Eastern Museum, usually visited last, by something sparkly. The beautiful object by which I had been led astray by was Lady Curzon’s peacock dress that she wore to a ball during Lord Curzon’s time as Viceroy of India.

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The dress is stunning, hand embroidered by a team of Indian craftsmen, it is covered in beads laid out like golden peacock’s feathers with flowers created around the bottom edge of the dress.

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In the house there is also a portrait of Lady Curzon in the dress, as well as a photograph. It is really interesting to see these three items in one house, to compare the three. The portrait is lovely but it doesn’t do the dress justice. You just can’t capture the sparkle of the item in real life.

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As well as the dress there are hundreds of other fascinating and beautiful items in the Eastern Museum. I really enjoyed peering in all the cases to see the collection, and it reminded me of the Clive of India collection at Powis Castle, which I loved working with.

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In the Entrance Hall there is a portrait  standing to one side, as if greeting you when you walk in. The portrait is of Mrs Garnett who was Housekeeper at Kedleston after it was built. She took visitors on tours of the house, Kedleston was enjoyed as a destination right from its beginnings.

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From the Entrance Hall we headed up the main stairs into the Marble Hall, which is a truly amazing room. I think I stood with my mouth open, just gawking at the sheer scale and design of the room, which is exactly what it was designed to do. The room is so grand, so over the top, you must have to have a large personality to commission something like this in your home.

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The Music Room and Drawing Room have to most amazing set of spangly gold and blue chairs and arm chairs, which have been restored to their former glory. In the Drawing Room the walls are decorated to match the upholstery on the chairs, and a similar blue theme appears later in the house.

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However the lighting in the Drawing Room lets them down somewhat, making it particularly difficult to take a photo of the room that reflects how lovely the furniture and wallpaper actually looks.

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On display in the Library is this rather unusual looking chair. It’s a Reading Chair that you can either sit in conventionally or sit on ‘backwards’ resting you book on the table to be able to read hands free. As someone who tries to read a lot, but is also quite fidgety I think it’s a fab piece of furniture, which I could pick one up from Ikea!

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The Saloon is another awe-inspiring room whose style is inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. While I was in there I thought, this would be prefect for holding dances, and the guidebook tells me this was the case. It must have been wonderful to attend a ball at Kedleston, dancing in grand rooms like this. I really liked the chairs in the room too.

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The State Apartment is decorated beautifully, in another lovely blue fabric. As with the Music and Drawing Room the fabric here has also been restored since its original conception, with the National Trust beginning another round of restoration in 2008. As a result the colours are really vibrant, making the rooms feel bright and exciting. A little touch I really liked and hadn’t seen in other properties is the gilt edging where the wall covering ends.

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Currently the State Bed is away for restoration so there is a mock bed in its place (made by the brilliant SetWorks). The bed invites you into it and has a secret video showing different aspects of the bed up close. For some reason even though the room was full of people I was the only one to try the bed out. It was a shame not to see the actual bed, but what they had in place went a long way to making up for it, so well done to them. I look forward to going back again when the bed returns.

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I really like the shiny look of the restored areas at Kedleston. Most Trust properties have a policy to conserve rather than restore, but at Kedleston there is a history of restoring their pieces so in doing so the Trust is staying true to their traditions. The last time the fabric of the State Bed was replaced was in the 1970’s, before the Trust took the property on.

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While the bed is not currently at Kedleston some of the hanging still are, awaiting their turn at the conservators. There is also a huge mirror, and really interesting set of lacquered shelves. I love how coordinated this suite of rooms is, and all the gilded furniture really appeals to my inner magpie!

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There is some more beautiful plaster work in an alcove in the Dining Room, which still looks today very much like the plans drawn up by Adams, but in a more muted colour palette.

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Just outside the gift shop is a table selling an assortment of hand-made textile goods. These items are all made from the fabric removed from the State Bed and have been made by Kedleston volunteers to raise money for the project. What a genius idea, and a lovely gift for someone passionate about Kedleston.

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I really really enjoyed my Trusty holiday and a visit to lovely, shiny Kedleston Hall was the perfect last stop. I’m so glad I’ve finally visited and will be sure to try and go back when the State Bed returns. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my holidays, and don’t worry I’ve been doing some more visiting since then so have plenty more properties to share!

Chaotic collections at Calke

On the finally day of our Trusty holiday we were getting closer to home, for me at least, visiting some local properties that I had not been to visit before. So the next property on our trip was Calke Abbey.IMAG0880

I had been to Calke before for a meeting but not got the chance to have a look around the house, and it is a very unusual Trust property. Calke’s tagline is ‘The un-stately home’ and for a very good reason, the House is a collectors dream, and an obsessive organiser’s nightmare!

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In my line of work it usually helps to be very organised, liking things in their proper place, set out straight, clean and tidy, and I do tend to be rather fond of clean and tidy. However I feel like if I went to work at Calke it might just drive me mad.

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To start with we were allowed in to the ground floor before free-flow opening. I’m still not sure whether this was a tour or sneak peek. We were allowed to wander about the Entrance Hall, then we were chaperoned from there to the second room, lectured at and the moved on into the last room downstairs where we were again allowed to look at our leisure.

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This final room was brilliant, full of items that had been moved down from the collections store so visitors can see them. There was the front skirt of an amazing ball gown, decorated with iridescent beetle wings, which you could get a closer look at with a magnifying glass. There was also this beautifully detailed jacket, really fine embroidery.

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There was also a lot of information about conservation in this room, which I thoroughly approve of. They have a brilliant example of pest damage, a jar a fluff that used to be a duck! Poor thing.

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After our taster we had a walk around the gardens. These are much more orderly than inside the house, with lovely colourful flowers and a secret tunnel leading back toward the house and out near this amazing grotto in the gardens.

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There is also a church in the grounds. Some days they have Gravediggers in the church yard, unfortunately there weren’t any there when we went, but it was lovely weather so the stained glass looked fab.

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After our walk around the ground we headed back to the house, and it is huge, there just seemed to be room after room and there was just so much stuff! The first room of the Entrance Hall was full of taxidermy, which I did not like. I cannot understand why anyone would want to fill their home full of angry-looking dead things. * shudder *

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The room we were dragged into by the eager volunteer earlier is called the ‘Caricature Room’ because the walls are covered in caricatures from newspapers. The walls are bright blue, not a colour you expect to find in your typical Trust property. Honestly, I think the room is quite hideous, but it did have a rather lovely clock tucked at the back.

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All the rooms in the house seem to have their own style, the Dining Room is almost Robert Adams-esque, which I love.

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The Saloon is very impressive, stuffed full of interesting items in museum cases. I liked the geological artifacts, the gems and shells, but again there were more stuffed dead things which I do not like.

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The gorgeous golden wall paper of the Drawing Room manages to shine out even amongst more chairs than any one family could ever possibly need. The chairs had very fine embroidery on the seats though so i can understand the reason for collection them.

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I really enjoyed walking through the attics, this is where I felt Calke’s character the most. The rooms were really dilapidated and pile high with random pieces of furniture. In some ways they were quite creepy, but definitely atmospheric.

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There is a lovely large doll’s house in the school room.

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The house just seems to go on and on, it is huge! Near the end of the tour there is a lovely surprise, a beautiful bed. I remember reading about the bed but forgot it was at Calke. It was found in a trunk never having been a gift never put on display.

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The bed is stunning, Chinese silk and gold work and silk embroidery decorating. It is so pretty, birds fly through trees and flowers. The colours are still so vivid because it had never been exposed to light or dirt. When the Trust erected the bed they put it in a darkened room, behind glass to preserve it as is. It is so nice to see such a fantastic piece of furniture in such great condition.

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At the end of tour, once we were through the abandoned looking kitchens, we got the chance to go through a tunnel where beer would have been delivered to the house. The tunnel was very cool, and they even have their own skeleton, found in the Courtyard and laid back to rest there.

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Calke is a very unique property, they didn’t even get electricity until 1962! The Harper Crewe family were a family of collectors, so that is how the house came to be so full of such an amazing and varied collection. When Calke came to the Trust in 1985 they decided to treat it in a way the respects its individual nature.

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It was decided that the house would be preserved in the state it was left in. While most of the collection didn’t really appeal to me I do love the fact the Calke is so different to other Trust properties. I can’t say that I liked everything about the house, or even most things, but I did really enjoy my day out there. I liked the atmosphere of the attics and how interesting the house and its collection are, I would go back and take friends to visit with me, I bet you would see more and more every time you visit.

A bit of a disappointment at Dyrham

So this post I’m afraid might be a bit negative. When planning our Trusty holiday me and mum decided we’d really like to go to Dyrham Park because currently visitors have the opportunity to be able to go on the roof! I was very excited when I heard about this so we planned Dyrham in, instead of another property that I would also very much like to visit. However Dyrham did not live up to the excitement I felt whilst planning our holiday.

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Getting to Dyrham we were told that if we wanted to go on the roof we had better head straight there as the weather was getting worse and they might be closing the roof. So we waited for the minibus to pick us up and take us to the house. While we were waiting I took a #antlerselfie with a very cool hat the Dyrham staff has made.

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I was very glad we got the minibus, it would have been a long walk but not just because of that. There were some calves in the estate, very cute but new to the area and they were rather jumpy. They were all across the path and getting quite close to the minibus so I was glad not to be walking down in the middle of them.

When we did get to the house they were just closing the roof tours. Even though I had seen on the website that it was weather dependent I was very disappointed. While the work to repair the roof is happening only the ground floor is open to the public and the collection from the upper floors has been moved into store. There were collections tours running to show the public how this large-scale operation was being carried out.

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However when we were inquiring about the roof tours they told us that the next collection tour would not be for a while. So we decided to do the tour of the house first thing. The rooms currently open to the public are those of ‘Mr Blathwayt’s Apartments’, set out to transport you back to the 17th Century.

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Now if anyone says Hardwick is dark I invite them to visit Dyrham. The tour was designed to be sensory, touch, taste, sound, smell to compensate for the reduced sight, there was not a curtain open in the whole property! I’m assuming this was because no light would have got in past the scaffolding that was wrapped around the whole building anyway.

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You now enter under the scaffolding, through a tunnel that felt like I might have been unwillingly entering a ‘fun house’, complete with funky blue over shoes. We were also given a booklet which I found very frustrating, full of obscure contemporary 17th Century quotes but not a lot of actual information about the rooms themselves.

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In the first room there was a volunteer playing the piano. To the left there was a further room with a stair case and after that in a room beyond a rope a painting that all the volunteers are very proud of. It was a shame I couldn’t get closer too it, but it is a very unusual life size painting called ‘A view through a house’, making it look as if the house extends further than it actually does.

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After that rooms had herbs to smell and another had a trunk full of fabric that you could handle. In total there are eight rooms still open to the public. One of the rooms has these fantastic tulip vases in it.

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Once we had walked through those rooms and out the other side we were offered a taste of hot chocolate to an authentic 17th Century recipe. It was very bitter and heavily spiced, I think a mouthful would be very warming on a cold night but much more than that would make a modern person feel quite sick.

I thought giving authentic tasters was quite a nice idea, however for very good reason it has to be done outside the house, which means it sorts of looses its flow.

After the tour of the house we went to check if there were any collection store tours, which there weren’t so we went for lunch. After lunch we went back to the area where the tours were, and still there was no tour due. We had a look around the exhibition, which is comprised of two rooms.

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The first room talked about how Dyrham was originally built and the second about the work that was now going on on the roof. I have to admit I was not particularly interested in the first room, but the second brought home the scale of the project Dyrham is undertaking.

The project involves removing the whole of Dyrham’s roof and replacing the lead with new, but don’t worry, all the old materials is being recycled, all 46 tonnes of lead and 8000 slate tiles! The scale of the project is astounding, and trying to keep the property open whilst the work is going on is very ambitious.

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After looking at the exhibitions we went again to see if there was a collections store tour leaving, but there wasn’t one for another 30 mins! We had a long drive to our next hotel, so we decided not to wait. We had done all we could and by this point had been on site for nearly three hours but there hadn’t been a single tour! So we caught the minibus back to the car and headed off, disappointed.

I really do admire Dyrham for trying alternate things to keep the property open while the roof is coming off, and by all account the roof tour is amazing, if you actually get up there, but more need to be done for visitors when they cannot access the roof. For there not to have been one tour of the collections store in nearly three hours is pretty poor.

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They could not help that the tour of the house was not to my taste, and the idea of making it a ‘sensory’ experience of 17th Century Dyrham was a really good one, but I felt the execution was just too little to really make an impact. I feel bad for saying it, but all in all my day at Dyrham was very disappointing, and it’s a shame because I know a lot of though and effort will have gone into planning for this frighteningly large-scale project.

Maybe I will visit again, if I’m in the area but I supposed I shouldn’t really complain as I really enjoyed visiting all the other properties I saw on my Trusty holiday. Good luck to everyone at Dyrham, and hope the new roof is much less leaky that the last!

Flossy silk at Hardwick Hall

Originally posted on Treasure Hunt:

Detail of the flossy silk hangings in the Cut-Velvet Dressing Room at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel Detail of the flossy silk hangings in the Cut-Velvet Dressing Room at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

One of the meanings of the word ‘floss’ is fine silk in spun strands not twisted together. I was looking this up because apparently the hangings in the Cut-Velvet Dressing Room at Hardwick Hall are made of ‘flossy silk’ – and they look rather good.

The Cut-Velvet Dressing Room. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel The Cut-Velvet Dressing Room. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Another meaning of ‘flossy’ is ‘showy or overdressed’. I suppose these hangings are quite showy, but in the context of Hardwick, which was all about show when it was built in the late sixteenth century, they don’t look out of place.

In fact much in this room, including the silk hangings, dates from the late seventeenth century, when the 1st Duke of Devonshire created two new apartments on the first floor at Hardwick, one for his wife…

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Gorgeous Gothic Tyntesfield

Day two of my Trusty holiday started with a visit to the amazing Tyntesfield, a stunning property acquired by the National Trust in 2002.

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The house is huge, with its very own church attached too so on wet days (like when we visited) you don’t even have to step outside.

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The house was redesigned and expanded in 1863 by William Gibbs and his architect John Norton. Done in High Victorian Gothic style the exterior lets you know you are in for a treat. Even the roof tiles have pretty patterns in them, a theme that runs right through the house.

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There are lost of lovely buildings on the site, some now visitor buildings, but several are now Holiday Cottages, another location added to my dream destination list.

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The house is open by timed tickets, each of which features a member of the family for you to learn about before visiting their house. I though this was a lovely touch. Upon entering the house (after a bit of gawking at the gorgeous exterior) you are given a floor plan. I do like a good floor plan and you get a sense of the size and complexity from the leaflet.

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On the ground floor there is a real sense that you can explore the property. The highly decorated floors are protected with Eyemats (a brilliant invention for the heritage industry of which I am rather jealous, we’d love some at Hardwick).

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The ground floor rooms are large and you can get some way in, making them feel more accessible and not like you are confined to one little strip. The library has a nice cosy feel to it, even though it was a large room you could picture a family spending time there together (William Gibbs and his wife Matilda had seven children).

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The Drawing Room had a piece of modern art at the far end. meaning there is now a route all the way to the back of the room. Although I didn’t ‘get’ the art I did enjoy going right through the room and getting closer than I would have to some of the really interesting looking objects there, and fab wallpaper!

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There is a wonderful example of Victorian Gothic furniture in the Organ Room in the form of the most over-the-top desk I have ever seen, I loved it!

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The Billiard Room was interesting as here they talked about the family connection with the slave trade, and I really admired that they did not shy away from this difficult part of the house’s history. The Gibbs family made their money trading in Guano (bird poop) from South Africa and while they did not have any slaves the trade itself relied heavily on indentured Chinese workers and conditions were poor.

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One room I had to say I disliked however was the Boudoir on the ground floor. all the furniture in the room was covered in dust sheets and there was a photo of the rooms as it had been. The interpretation in the room tells us that none of the furniture in the photo is still in the collection today and this is why the furniture is covered. The beautiful wooden paneling still remains and this appears to be the intended focus.

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What I don’t understand is why cover the furniture? Either remove it from the space if it doesn’t fit the story you are trying to tell, or just tell me the furniture wasn’t here, but let me look at it anyway. Walking into a room of completely covered furniture all shoved to one side is really un-interesting, in my opinion.

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Before heading upstairs we went into the Butler’s Pantry where Mum has a go at polishing some silver.

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The Hall is an amazing space, you can imagine it being the center of the house, busy with people to-ing and fro-ing. There were albums of reproduced family photos out on one of the tables for visitors to flick through.

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The staircase is very grand, and has beautiful paintings hug around all the way up. The Trust replaced the Victorian chenille carpet that was in tatters when they were readying the house, having an identical one commissioned to replace it.

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The Carlton Room upstairs had this fantastic Jewelry Closet, such a beautiful piece of furniture and very opulent, not only having such an ornate piece for your jewelry but having enough jewelry to warrant it! The same room also boasted this little turret in the corner, perfect for snuggling up with a book in.

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There was more beautiful furniture in the further rooms, like this lovely chair in the Failand Room and this child’s bed in one of the corridors.

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As we passed the bedrooms we came to store rooms! I love how they were included as part of the visitor route, giving us a glimpse into the rest of the collection on display. I love going into other properties store rooms so it was a real treat for me. As we were there the House Team were bringing more items in from another room.

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It says on the map that some rooms may be closed at various times for ongoing conservation, and there was a different between what we saw and the guidebook. It must be such an undertaking to take care of such a large property with so many rooms! And the smaller the room the more difficult it is to deep clean while it is open so I completely understand why they have to close some. It means that next time I go back I might see something different.

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The final stop of our tour was the Chapel full of fantastic stained glass and beautiful crosses commemorating 14 members of the Gibbs family. Behind the altar at the far end is an amazing series of mosaics with really stunning colour drawing your eye in.

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I love the architecture of the exterior of the church too, ornate and dramatic in the grounds. I would definitely go back to Tyntesfield, it is such an amazing property and I would love to explore the gardens and estate some more.

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A sneaky peak at Barrington Court

So after a little interruption I’m back to blogging about my trusty holiday, and I’ve still got five properties to tell you about!

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After Montacute House we popped across to Barrington Court, another lovely property very close by. In contrast to a lot of Trust properties Barrington does not have a collection of objects inside, but this gives visitors room to focus on the stunning collection they do have. The Trust actually took Barrington on in 1907 when they were still a very young charity, and were ultimately rescued from a property with an upkeep cost they could not meet by renting the property out.

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The Lyle family were tenants between 1920 and 1991 and, with the help of his architect James Edwin Forbes, renovated Barrington. Colonel Arthur Lyle was an avid collector of salvaged carved wood. After he leased the house he seems to have found the perfect place to display his fab collection, and it remains there today.

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We were given a floor plan and allowed to roam on each floor. The floor plan has more information about the rooms that guide book, which focuses more on the gardens of the property.

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The main staircase is absolutely stunning, with a huge chandelier hanging over the beautiful, wide stairs. It was rebuilt by Lyle but includes 17th century banisters and modern oak aged to fit the atmosphere of the house.

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I loved the painted detail in the Great Hall. The room was re-designed for entertaining with a sprung floor installed in 1920 too. I would love to have been invited to some of the parties the Lyle’s held in this house!

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The only things left in the house were the fitted bathrooms, featuring a lovely selection of Delft tiles. All of the toilets have little notices on them letting people know that they are not working toilets and therefore, not to be used. The friends I was visiting with asked if all these signs were really necessary, and I assured her that they are, and that you do not want to know how I know that! It was quite odd walking from one empty room into a fully fitted bathroom and back into another empty room.

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The Long Gallery was beautiful in its simplicity and scale. It runs across the entire top floor of the E shaped property, and is empty except for facts on little A frames. I thought this was a really nice touch, allowing you to enjoy the space. There was a little fact about children riding bicycles in the room on rainy days, which must have been so much fun for them! A little (large) part of me did want to slide along the floor, or roller skate around.

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Currently Barrington has a display of costume used in ‘Wolf Hall’, which was filmed at both Montacute and Barrington. You can find out more about the Trust’s involvement in the TV series by following this link. However when we visited the costumed were not yet on display, and we were really disappointed not to be able to see them. It seems though, it was our lucky day!

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One of the members of staff that welcomed us to the house actually took us up to see the costumes in store when we told them we wouldn’t be able to come back and see them. And I didn’t even mention that I worked for the Trust too, just a brilliant example of someone fulfilling their Service Promise.

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All the costumes have such amazing attention to detail. They are really beautiful and it was amazing to get up close to these garments we had seen on TV. All of them are hand finished and I just love that the BBC put so much into creating these costumes. It shows a real respect for the story and the period, and having really good quality clothing in such amazing locations makes for amazing looking TV.

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We were so grateful to have been allowed a sneak preview at the display. Anyone who enjoyed Wolf Hall or has an interest in the Tudor period should definitely try to visit and have a look! The costumes will be on display until the end of October.

The gardens had the charm of a little country cottage garden even though the scale was much larger. They had been designed as several outdoor rooms, which gave them a cosy intimate feel.

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The ‘Bustalls’ (used to rear Veal Calves) has now taken on a very quaint quality with roses and vines growing around the arches.

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The more modern stable block, Strode House, was built in 1674 by William Strode to show off his wealth were adapted for human habitation in 1920 and now house the restaurant. There were lots of nice little touches here down to the cut glass beaker which really reflected the style of the room.

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Barrington also has a huge second-hand book shop which we spent a long time browsing in. There are also several artisan shops by the book shop, one of which being the most amazing quilting shop I have ever been in, called simply ‘Barrington Patchwork‘. I have never seem such a range of pretty fabrics, and I have been in a lot of fabric shops! I’m very sad it’s not closer to home but my bank account will be breathing a sigh of relief.

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I could imagine myself living in a house like Barrington, maybe it doesn’t have to be quite as big. The woodwork is beautiful and maybe the house being empty of furniture helped my imagination. And I could fill it full of furniture from Andy Thornton’s! Well, a girl can dream.

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A hidden treasure trove near home

This weekend I was re-enacting again (Tatton Park, near Manchester, this time) and the Monday after me and mum went to an amazing architectural salvage place close to where I grew up. I took some photos of the pieces that I really liked, which I will share below.

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The place, in Elland, is a stones throw from where I grew up but I had never heard of it. Mum had wanted to visit for a while and so we decided to make a day of it.

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The shop, called Andy Thornton’s, is in a converted Mill. Big old mills like these are a familiar sight growing up in Yorkshire, but even though the building is huge, it is packed full of interesting and amazing pieces. Check out the website here: www.andythornton.com but beware it may damage your bank account!

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As well as architectural salvage and antiques the shop has a further floor of items you can order from their catalogue. They seem to specialise in kiting out trendy ‘urban vintage’ bars and restaurants with the most beautiful furniture and decor!

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The showroom is a treasure trove of items and must be perfect for film crews looking to set dress historical sets. I would love a job that meant I spent most of my time exploring places like Andy Thorntons, and the rest creating atmospheres and rooms from distant or fictional places. I was just looking for an excuse to but something.

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One day, when I’m rich and live in something bigger than a Wendy House I would love to fill my house with items found in shops like this, spending time restoring and personalising them for my home.

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The floors were set out in little ‘rooms’ and seemed to stretch for miles back. Furniture was sort of organised to have like with like, and around every corner and behind every pile was something else fabulous and interesting. It was a real Aladdin’s cave!

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It was a shame there was no information about where these pieces had come from (that could just be the historian in me). There were some elements with stories just begging to be discovered, like a basket full of Bibles, many with dedications in the front.

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Items on the floor ranged from HUGE fireplaces to vintage style replicas to retro glass coke bottles. There was even a collection of chairs that used to be in Westminster Abbey.

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In fact there was enough ecclesiastical items for mum to be able to kit out an entire church, with lots of fab stained glass and beautifully carved woodwork.

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I will bear this place in mind for future projects with work too as it seems like the place many National Trust properties could make good use off.

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There are so many beautiful and unique items in that old mill in Elland, if you are ever in the area, or in need of furniture or even inspiration, pop in and have a browse. Even if you come out empty-handed it will have been really be worth your while.

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