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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Textile Heaven

In recent weeks me and the Chaps at Hardwick have had the pleasure of doing an audit of our textile store. I love this store-room, I think it is one of the most interesting rooms on the property and having the opportunity to go through all the boxes and see the treasures inside has been fantastic!

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All our show rooms get audited on an annual basis, usually when we are deep cleaning them. With the store rooms we do this less frequently because they are not often open to the public so likely to be subject to less change.

Auditing the textile store involved going through every box in the room systematically and making sure what should be in there was, and that it was still in good condition,

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Luckily at Hardwick, thanks to many years of hard work before I arrived, the stores in the attics are very organised, including the textile store. Every box had a list of what should be inside, with useful little picture tags attached to it. These come in very handy when we want to find anything, because we can look at the tags first.

As so much work has been done in this room most of the boxes were as they should be, so it was really a case of recording and condition checking. This meant we got to have a good look at ll the beautiful and interesting textile pieces up there.

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Once we have finished the audit we took the list we had written and will be checking it off against our online database. If you want to see some of the collection at Hardwick, or at any Trust property, then look on the National Trust Collections page. This is a great resource for further research, and just having a nosey at what properties have hidden in their collections.

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I’m going to share with you some photos of the pieces I really liked. Some of them I don’t know anything about, I just thought they were really pretty! Others, like the one below, match items we have on display. This piece matched the embroidery we have on the Blue Bed. We know the embroidery taken off the original bed (dated 1629) and places on new, less damaged fabric by the 6th Duke in 1852.

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These columns are all that is left of a 5th great hanging. They once belonged to a piece featuring Cleopatra, part of the set with Penelope, Lucretia, Artemisia and Zenobia that we have begun conserving. They are all that remains because the rest of the piece was used to patch up the first four embroideries!

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Some things we have a large amount of, like these pieces of velvet and metal embroidered borders. We have 21 pieces of this in the textile store. It is believed that this border was purchased in Bess’ time, for a great amount of money, but it does not seem to have been used until the 19th century when it was cut into the lengths we see today.WP_004070

We also have nine of these panels, all featuring a variety of birds on white and blue velvet on a heavy linen base. We were trying to work out what they once had been, as they were only mounted in this way in the 1970’s. Looking at them at first we though they could have all been one piece, however the circles in the corner do contain complete images and don’t line up with one another, so we decided that probably wasn’t the case.

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Here we have sections from what would have been cushion covers. We have two of these, but neither is complete. The embroidery on them is fantastic, the time and patience that must have gone into these.IMAG0539

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The piece below matches the hanging we have on the Entrance Hall Gallery. It contains fabric very similar to the flossy silks (in the Cut Velvet Dressing Room) as well as patterned velvet. I think these fabrics were placed together long after they were originally made and purchased. It is just the sort of thing that has happened constantly throughout Hardwick’s history.

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This is possibly a small bed spread. In the same box is another very similar one but in blues. I love this design, the swirly elements and delicate little flowers are just my style.IMAG0550

We also have pieces that I’m not sure we’ll ever know for sure where they came from, including lots of little pieces of metal embroidery. Originally this little bird would have been very gold, but the thread has tarnished over time. It’s possible that these elements were purchased for projects that never got finished. Any one with a bit of a craft stash knows how easily that can happen!WP_004072

The amount of textile items we have in that store is almost unbelievable, and so much of it is contemporary with Bess. We know she purchased textiles and parts of textiles for projects she was working on. She also had a team of embroiderers she worked with and she and Mary Queen of Scotts used to sit and sew together but the amount of items we have that she could have possibly worked on is phenomenal! Another thing to admire Bess for!

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When visitors come into the attics they often ask why these objects are not on display but the truth is a lot of what is in our attics couldn’t be displayed, it’s too sensitive. A lot of the furniture doesn’t date from the period of time we are telling stories about, so wouldn’t fit in Hardwick today. And even if these things weren’t the case where would we put all of the stuff!? The Cavendish family had many properties to furnish, and a huge amount of that collection now resides at Hardwick. We have more tapestries that walls, more bits of textiles than we could ever have room to display, and more things like fire screens, mirrors and jugs than any human could ever possibly need!

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That is why we like to open our attics up from time to time, so these objects can be seen and admired, as they should be. But also so people understand about why we make the decisions about the collection that we do. If you would like a chance to visit the attics we are currently opening them on Wednesdays up until the beginning of the school holidays. Check the Hardwick Hall website for more information.

A trusty holiday

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Last week I was away on a much anticipated holiday, and how else would this National Trust employee spend her annual leave than visiting other Trust properties! The holiday started with a re-enactment event way down south, which was why me … Continue reading

The tragic Arbella Stuart at Hardwick Hall

Originally posted on Treasure Hunt:

Lady Arbella Stuart as a child, 1577, at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation Lady Arbella Stuart as a child, 1577, at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

2015 marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Lady Arbella Stuart, granddaughter of the redoubtable Bess of Hardwick and at one time a candidate to succeed Queen Elizabeth I.

Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, by Rowland Lockey, 1590s, at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Bethell Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, by Rowland Lockey, 1590s, at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Bethell

To mark the anniversary, the colleagues at Hardwick Hall have put on an exhibition about Arbella’s privileged but tragic life.

The south front of Hardwick Hall seen from the Orchard. ©National Trust Images/John Millar The south front of Hardwick Hall seen from the Orchard. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

Orphaned at the age of seven, she was brought up by her grandmother, Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury – known as Bess of Hardwick – at Hardwick Hall. She received a princely education, studying several languages and learning to play the lute, the viol and the virginals.

Lady Arbella Stuart aged 13, by Rowland Lockey after an unknown artist, 1589, at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond Lady Arbella Stuart aged…

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Middle Floor done and dusted!

Throughout spring the House Team have been busy Deep Cleaning the Middle Floor, and many of our visitors have been able to see just exactly what it takes to care for a collection like ours!

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The Deep Clean begins in November and is carried out over most of the year, with a few other projects and distractions in between, but this year we have got through it in record time!

A ‘Deep Clean’ as opposed to a daily or weekly clean, means almost every item in the rooms will get some TLC, starting at the top and working our way down to the floor. This is a really good opportunity for staff and volunteers to check the condition of all of our objects, making sure nothing has deteriorated over the year.

View from my ladder

View from my ladder

We also get the opportunity to clean items that can only be cleaned once a year, like fragile textiles or gilded furniture. These are the items on which we can really see the year’s dust build up!

On the top floor our Deep Clean requires a scaffold tower, but on the Middle Floor as it’s not so tall we can get away with just using our tall ladder.

Tall Ladder, Small Room

Tall Ladder, Small Room

It was a little tricky in some of the smaller rooms to fit us and our equipment in and move the furniture around us, but we managed. One of the smallest rooms we have to clean is the Cut Velvet Dressing Room. Going up the ladder in here means we get up close with the painting that hang at the top of the room, which are seldom spotted from the visitor route. We also see the little details, like the ‘ES’ monogram on the carving over the window.

The Cut Velvet Dressing Room

The Cut Velvet Dressing Room

Not Bess' period, but still her house

Not Bess’ period, but still her house

The ceramics in the Cut Velvet Bedroom were particularly dirty this year, so we decided to wash them as well as dust them. However this requires a little more delicacy that I would use to wash the dishes at home.

Ready for pot washing

Ready for pot washing

In need of a good clean

In need of a good clean

When we wash ceramics we use only a very tiny amount of water, with one small drop of sensitive washing up liquid in. We apply the water with a cotton bud, working in tiny circles to remove the grime. It is a very effective method and the results afterwards were sparkling!

Much better

Much better

Carefully does it

Carefully does it

It’s always great to get a closer look at the objects in the collections, not just to give them a through condition check but also because we often notice things we have never seen before. This year when I uncovered one of the chairs in the Drawing Room to clean underneath it we noticed that the chair itself actually reclines!

Evelynn's favorite chair

Evelyn’s favorite chair

We have been told by one of our Oral History interviewees that this was Duchess Evelyn’s favourite chair to sit and sew in, and maybe that was why.

The mechanism

The mechanism

Another thing I had never noticed before in the Drawing Room was the Cavendish serpents on the lead windows. I’ve not spotted these in any other rooms yet, but I could just be looking straight through them to the lovely view outside!

The Cavendish Serpent

The Cavendish Serpent

The frame of Duchess Evelyn’s portrait was also particularly dusty, with a lovely arrangement of cobwebs on. Because the frame is gilded we can only clean it once a year, any more and we would risk wearing away the fine top layer of gold. Because of this, when we do get to clean it, it is always a very satisfying job!

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I also got the opportunity this year to dust all the objects stored inside our beautiful Dutch Marquetry Cabinet. Most of the ceramics in this cabinet are Chinese including even a Ming dynasty piece, so I was very, very carefully when moving them.

The cabinet of ceramics

The cabinet of ceramics

In order to have both hands to work with while cleaning the ceramics I fashioned a ‘hoover holder’ out of a plastic box. It was not quite as neat as I hoped but it did the job and meant I had one hand to hold the brush, and the other to support the ceramic. Then I dusted the pieces with a pony hair paint brush, flicking the dust into the nozzle of the hoover.

My work space

My work space

It was an absolute pleasure to get to see the objects so up close because they are all so beautiful. They were made with such attention to detail by what must have been some very talented craftspeople.

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So now the Middle Floor is finished!! And we only have one more room to Deep Clean and we will be finished until November. However, no rest for the wicked, we still have plenty of other jobs to be getting on with, Deep Cleaning store rooms, cleaning tapestries and getting through our Summer Works program as well, not to mention helping the house survive the summer holidays!

A walk in the Park

Lyme Park to be precise.

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A few weeks ago, when we were having a spell of lovely weather, I took a drive through the peaks and up to Lyme Park to enjoy the sunshine! Now I have to be honest, I’m usually all about the houses when I go Trust visiting but I am so glad I took the time to wonder around the amazing gardens.

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There is a lovely Orangery in the gardens where I sat for a while listening to the fountain, so calming. It has a lovely tiled floor and when I was there it smelled divine thanks to whichever plants they had flowering in there.

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Outside the Orangery the tulips were out in bloom and they looked brilliant! Tulips are my favorite flowers, they are simple yet come in such a variety of lovely bold colours. We have had a lot at Hardwick at the moment and they’re such cheerful flowers.

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I used to visit Lyme occasionally when I was younger and my brother and I used to run through rhododendrons, it was one of our favorite adventures, exploring and finding dens in the trees and bushes. It was nice to tread these paths again, around every corner there was something else to discover.

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The whole park is so scenic, and the house looks great from every angle.

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The house and gardens were built in an Italianate style, and the house has a strange design where there is a courtyard in the middle and the four sides tower above you. To top of the theme there are several Roman gods perched on the roof of the South Front.

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The Italian gardens are beautiful, ever so neat and symmetrical, which really appeals to me. I don’t think I have even been so impressed by gardens as I was by Lyme’s (the beaming sunshine helped a huge amount I’m sure). They were blooming lovely! (I’m so sorry, I couldn’t resist).

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Of course I did also venture in the house. Unfortunately due to a lot of their collection being loaned items you cannot take photos inside the house, which is a shame because there are some really lovely rooms and pieces I wanted to share with you.

The front door stands above a grand double staircase that leads into the Entrance Hall, where when we visited a volunteer was playing the piano. This added a layer of atmosphere to the room, but it was somehow stifled by walking almost straight from the front door into a rope sectioning off most of the room.

©National Trust Images/Stephen Robson

©National Trust Images/Stephen Robson

I think the Drawing Room was my favorite room, ornate but cosy looking furniture, a lovely ceiling and the most amazing stained glass window that would not have looked out-of-place in a cathedral. The library was nice as they had made replica furniture that people could sit on, and read a book if they wanted. These were made only a few years ago and yet already one of the armchair seats has worn through, a good example of why we can’t let everyone touch our collections! The images below shows the Drawing Room not quite how I saw it, but you can see the lovely features it has.

The Drawing Room

©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

However Lyme’s story did not really come across on my visit, which was a shame because from the snippets I saw it should have been a really emotive and interesting story of how the wars affected the Legh family and their estate. The tag line is ‘Lyme – the end of a golden era’ but there is very little information about this era on the tour of the house, and I didn’t get a sense of the people at all.

Edwardian me

The absolute highlight of the house had to be the Edwardian costume that visitors get the opportunity to dress up in. You can borrow and Edwardian outfit and wander around the house and gardens in it, which was of course right up my street! I really enjoyed my stroll as an Edwardian lady, I felt ever so glamorous. This is a fantastic feature for visitor engagement and well done to the team at Lyme for having such an ambitious idea and seeing it though!

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I think a lot of work must have been done at Lyme in the last few years because the house I saw is very different to the one in the guide-book, which was last revised in 2012. The guide-book only touches on the fall of the estate and again does not tell the story that Lyme are aiming to share. The house was really lovely, I was just frustrated by seeing hints of a story I didn’t then get to find out any more about. I hope this projects is just at the beginning, and that over time this story will be more obvious in the house.

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At the end of the day it was the stunning beauty of the house and park land that made an impression on me, and there is so much beauty to be found at Lyme Park.

Team Trip to Ickworth

The other week us Hardwick Chaps went on a research trip all the way down to Ickworth in Suffolk. It was very exciting to get to go on a team outing, and to tick another Trust property off my list. Warning: there are a lot of pictures bellow, it’s not my fault, there were just too many pretty things!

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In visitor reception

Walking up the drive towards Ickworth I felt very exited. The building itself is amazing, a huge dome sitting in beautiful green gardens. The scale of the house is almost unbelievable, a real project of ambition and wealth!

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Begun in the late 1790s by the 4th Earl of Bristol, a Bishop more concerned with his earthly possessions than his duties in Ireland. He built the house to display his collection of beautiful artifacts from all over the world, in an ‘instructional’ manner. The family maintained this passion for collecting meaning the house today feels more like a gallery than a home, and has some truly fantastic pieces.

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Visitors enter the house through the side by the Orangery, and leave through the front doors. This felt quite unusual but it allowed for an introductory area before heading into the house through the servants quarters. I quite liked the introductory interpretation even though it felt a little bit like I was in a museum.

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The introduction

One of the reasons we were visiting Ickworth was to see there Below Stairs area, where visitors can handle all the objects there. All the drawers can be opened and there are kitchen items and utensils to be discovers inside them. I would love to do something similar at Hardwick, furnish the whole room with non collection items and make it a really hands on area. You can tell a lot of money has been spent on the project and the servants rooms look really good.IMAG0365

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Inside a draw

I particularly liked the Servant’s Hall, where you can try on hats, play games and even play the piano (as demonstrated below by the ever talented Lucie).

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Once you go up the stairs and into the main house you are not allowed to touch anything and the rooms feel more like art galleries, rather than a home. They were all big, light rooms, beautifully decorated and furnished with fantastic items.

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The servants stairs

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The Entrance Hall

There are three magnificent chandeliers on the ground floor, all of which have been cleaned in recent years. The sparkle so beautifully and so Ickworth have set up the library to best be able to view one of these magnificent chandeliers.

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The Dining Room

There are bean bags on the floor which visitors can sit on to look up the chandelier in the center of the room. While the bean bags, and rather funky chairs with them, do not suite the room I really like the idea of being able to sit, relax and enjoy the view. Previously there were green settee and armchairs in the center of the room, matching the curtains. The set up does look a bit odd now but it allows visitors to engage with the space more, rather than just being guided through a roped off area.

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View from the bean bag

The Drawing Room is beautiful, I love the colours, and it contains another stunning chandelier. There is also a lovely chess set with a board featuring images of Roman ruins, appropriate for a house inspired by classical architecture.

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Either side of the main domed area are two long wings. At the end of one of these is the ‘Pompeian Room’ named after its interesting decoration. While I am not a huge fan of the room itself there is a beautiful inlaid marble table. It has all different types of marble and in the middle an image of doves made up of tiny pieces of mosaic. It must have been made by an incredibly skilled craftsman with a lot of patience.

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On the other side of the dome was a room with the second reason we had traveled to Ickworth, lighting! Lighting is an issue in most National Trust properties and Ickworth has just done a project experimenting with ways to light their collection. We are looking to do a similar project at Hardwick. Side note: the room also features some really lovely wallpaper!

Ickworth had lit several of their paintings, all recently moved into the same room, including a portrait of Lady Elizabeth Foster. The name may sound familiar to some as she was the mistress of the 5th Duke of Devonshire, who was married to Georgiana Cavendish, another Hardwick connection. In the portrait Elizabeth is wearing a miniature around her neck, though to be a picture of Georgiana.

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While it is an incredibly difficult task, to light paintings well, the lights at Ickworth got in the way of viewing the paintings. As is often the way with spotlights, from certain angles the light shone on the painting, obscuring the image. it also meant it was very difficult to take photos of the paintings without getting the glare of the lights on them. However saying that I haven’t got a better solution to offer, and it’s very possible we will never find a brilliant way of lighting everything in our collection.

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The main staircase at Ickworth is stunning, and as you go up the stairs you pass shelves and shelves of books, all beautifully bound and lined up. It looks fab!IMAG0431

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Upstairs there are displays of some of the fine things the family had collected on their travels. There was a collection of beautiful, delicate fans and an odd collection of fish I particularly liked. The fish all had different uses, scent bottles etc and both these and the fans were collected by Geraldine, 3rd Marchioness of Bristol, clearly a woman with great tastes.

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After we had walked around the house we went and found a sunny spot and had a picnic in the gardens, which was lovely.

IMAG0445Back in the car park most of the lamp-posts are decorated in a rather unusual fashion. Visitors have stuck their entry stickers all over the lamp-posts. I know these stickers can be a bit of a pain for House Teams, at Hardwick they tend to fall off and stick to the matting. I’m not sure what the staff at Ickworth think of this but I think it looks lovely and colourful, making an otherwise dull and mundane metal pole quite bright and cheerful!

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Oh, and Ickworth also have a brill second-hand book shop! I didn’t spend too much money, and besides it all goes to charity so that makes it ok. All in all it was a lovely day out with my fellow Chaps, and really good fun to go around a Trust property with my team, and discuss it with other ‘insiders’.