Last weekend me and my friend Kerry went to do a spot of shopping in Sheffield. While I didn’t get exactly what I was looking for in the shops (the elusive ‘perfect braid’) I did get to explore the city … Continue reading
For the last few weeks we have been settling back into the open season, it’s surprising how much you forget when routines change! Now we are open and back in the swing of things we are cracking on with the Deep Clean.
Whilst Hardwick was closed we managed to get most of the Top Floor deep cleaned. It is really important that we do rooms like the Long Gallery and High Great Chamber while we are closed as we need to use scaffold to reach all areas, and we can’t use this sort of equipment when visitors are in. We also got most of the Ground Floor cleaned as we needed to before we could install the interpretation for this years exhibition prior to opening.
The only rooms we did not clean on the Top Floor while we were closed were Mary Queen of Scotts Room and the Blue Bedroom. We deliberately left these as they are smaller rooms we can clean while we are open. I really enjoy working when we are open, so we can talk to the public about how we care for Hardwick’s collection. My job would hold so much less appeal if I couldn’t share my work the way we do.
People are always so interested and amazed as the amount of work that actually goes into looking after historic properties, and I think it’s really important we do tell people! It gives visitors an opportunity to see what their membership fees do, where the money for that trip to the gift shop goes, or what buying that cheeky slice of cake means to us ( as if people really need another excuse to buy cake!). That is why for the next two months we will be focusing on cleaning the Middle Floor in front of our visitors!
I always seem to notice something new when deep cleaning a room, even though now this is my third time cleaning these rooms! Like these feet peeking out from underneath the Blue Bed!
It was the turn of the Top Floor over-mantles for a Deep Clean this time round, so I cleaned the alabaster over-mantle in the Blue Bedroom by dusting it with a hogs hair paint brush. It depicts the wedding of Tobias and Sarah from the biblical story of Tobit, as story Bess must have been fond of because we also have a table carpet telling the tale.
Whilst I was cleaning it I noticed this masons mark hiding right at the top. I love spotting these marks and it made me think about the person who created this amazing piece of art so many years ago. I wonder what they would think if they could see us still taking care of it today.
I also got to have a close look at this lovely leather studded chest in the Blue Bedroom. I have a soft spot for pretty boxes and would love to have this in my house (if there were room!). The crowns once had blue silk in the spaces, such wonderful attention to detail.
Something most visitors do not get to see is the amazing painted detail on the black wicker chairs in the Mary Queen of Scotts Room. They are covered in painted flowers and gilded decoration. This means they are very delicate and we have to take great care not to damage the detail any more than time already has done. We gently brush the dust off with our softest brushes, with bristles made from pony hair.
Now we’ve finished the Top Floor we are racing through the Middle Floor so if you are visiting in the next few weeks you might get a chance to see us in action!
This week I was drafted in to help cleaning some of the more delicate textiles at Eyam Hall. Eyam is a beautiful house and gardens in the Peaks that the Trust have taken guardianship of nearly two years ago. As they are still quite a small team and in our property portfolio staff from Hardwick offer support in a variety of ways, including looking after some of the more fragile items in the collection.
I last visited Eyam on a beautifully sunny day so being there on a very misty day while there was snow on the ground gave the Hall a different feel. Very mysterious and atmospheric. It was so cold even the pond was still frozen!
While we where there we cleaned the amazing Crewel Work bedspread that Eyam have in the Oak Bedroom. The bedspread was apparently made for Elizabeth Wright around the time that Eyam Hall was being built in the 1680’s. It features amazing colours and wonderful images of exotic birds, beautiful flowers and highly decorated leaves that I just loved!
I was in my element, getting to see this wonderful embroidered work up close. Thinking about skill and hours that must have gone into making this bedspread, and the hangings to match, make me so please we can care for this amazing piece so people can continue to admire it for years to come. And the carved wood of the bed frame complements the elaborate embroidery nicely.
We also took a look at the Tapestry Room, taking a sample of the dust on the tapestry nearest the door to see how the increase in visitor numbers has been affecting it. Since it is a small room even if they have less visitors than Hardwick to dust will build up faster as there is less room for it to disperse. Since there will be many more visitors now the Trust are running Eyam it is something we need to monitor closely. The tapestry room is lovely, it makes me feel very at home!
With Eyam Hall being a family home for many, many generations the collection rather eclectic with some really interesting objects. Some of my favorites included this stuffed moose, and these steps in the library, which double as a chair!
The House has real character, we got to sneak up to the top floor and see some of the rooms not open to the public, and there were these curious windows. There are several different types of windows throughout the building, which I thought was rather unusual.
I also love the detailing around the house, like the carved finials up the stair case, with little hearts in the center.
As another perk of being a staff member we got a sneak peek into the a little building in the garden, which will be opening to the public at weekends. The use of this building, situated in the garden, has been debated.
Until recently it was known as the Gardener’s cottage but it has been discovered that is was originally used as a Banqueting House, where dessert would have been eaten after a meal. Although it is only a little room, it is full of character and atmosphere, and curious items.
I really enjoyed my day at Eyam, and we have planned to go back and do some more work there soon. I love my work, and it is really nice to have a little day out and get a chance to do what I love in another beautiful location!
We have been working really hard to get ahead on the Deep Clean so we have plenty of time to install our exciting theme for this year! And thanks to our brilliant team we are doing really well, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t still had time to appreciate the beauty of the objects in the collection we care for.
There are so many instances when I just stop what I am doing, distracted by something I have never noticed before or a view that I want to try to take a photo of, like the chair back above. It is one of the most modern fabric in the Long Gallery but I just thought it looked so interesting looking down the back of the chair, and angle we don’t usually see when we’re open.
I love noticing this that we can’t usually see, like going up the ladder to dust the top of a tall cabinet. Once we had removed the dust we could see that it has a beautifully inlaid design.
Another great thing about the Deep Clean is getting to look inside the furniture we clean. We found this elaborate design on the underside of the lid of a chest in the Needlework passage.
Whilst we were cleaning the same area I spent a bit of time looking at the magnificent wine coolers that sit on the window sills in the passage. They often get a lot of comments from out visitors are they are quite unusual.
They are ceramic pieces with designs that show people drinking and being merry, with gilded are detail over the scenes.
It was only when I was dusting them that I realised what the figures on top of the lid were actually doing – they’re pressing grapes! The lid does remind me a little of the Schoner Brunnen, Beautiful Fountain, that I saw on my travels in Nuremburg.
On Wednesday last week it was museum selfie day and in between snow chaos and running around getting things done I manages to snap a quick pic with Arbella, the lady who will be the center of this years theme! The new interpretation has been arriving and key players have been moving around, it is all shaping up for opening in just over a week. While we have still got a HUGE amount to do I am so excited by what is already in place and can’t wait to see the finished product!
Although I imagine after a week of installing interpretation, uncovering everything we’ve deep cleaned, briefing volunteers and doing the final dust by the time we are ready to open we will all be fit to drop! What we are doing this year is quite different to anything that has been done at Hardwick before so we are all anxious that it goes well, but I have a great belief in the minds behind the plan, and the muscles putting it in place. I’m sure it is going to be fab!
I got to do something else very exciting, and very unusual this week. I was invited back to my university, The University of Worcester, to talk to the current Archaeology students about how I got my job in the heritage industry! I was so pleased to be asked, it is a huge compliment for your lecturers to look at you as an example of someone who has gone on to be successful. There were several of us Worcester graduates there, which made it a really nice little reunion and I got a chance to catch up with my lecturers as well.
For the most part we all had similar advice to give the students; work hard, volunteer and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, seizing opportunities that come your way, or creating your own! If you want to know a little bit more about how I got to where I am today I wrote a blog post about it a while back: link here. Hopefully I will be able to go back next year and for many years after, talking about my career journey, wherever it takes me!
My Christmas was very busy this year, full of all the things I love; work, sweet things, crafts, family, friends and glitter! Here are a few highlights from my festive season! This year we spent even longer getting Hardwick Hall … Continue reading
In December I attended a three-day residential course all about planning and dealing with emergency situations. I had heard about this course when I was a LTV at Powis and it sounded really interesting and quite exciting so I was hoping to be able to attend it. Happily enough this year my wish came true!
The course focuses on creating an Emergency Salvage Plan for historic properties and heritage sites should something happen like a fire or a flood. We did a bit of knot tying, which took me back to my Scouting days, learnt about the different roles people would need to play in an emergency situation, had talks from the emergency services.
We were also taken through several practical exercises ,and newsflash, if your property floods you are going to get soggy shoes – at the very least!! The training was based in West Brom at a Fire Services Academy, complete with working ‘hot house’ which can be set to simulate a real fire situation.
On the first day we got to wear the full protective outfit and breathing apparatus that Fire Fighters wear in real situations. Wearing all this we went into the training house when it was full of smoke. It was so disorienting walking through rooms we had never been in before in almost total dark whilst being totally cut off from our surroundings by the protective clothing we were wearing.
I have such a huge respect for Fire Fighters and how they do their jobs under such incredibly difficult conditions! The Fire Fighters that were training us were very helpful, I felt all fingers and thumbs in the protective clothing but they helped us to kit up and made sure all our breathing apparatus was working.
The session I think will come in most useful for me was the objects first aid session. We were taught all about the most effective way to dry out wet items, to clean them if they can covered in soot or ash. It is much more likely that I would have to deal with drying out objects, with flooding potential from burst pipes or leaking roofs. Objects rescued from a fire situation would also most likely be wet from the fire services attempt to put out the fire.
Because of all of these reasons we were shown ways to turn every day objects into drying stations and wind tunnels. In a serious disaster where many objects were damp some could be frozen. This would keep them in stasis until you had the capacity to defrost and deal with drying them out. Space is very quickly taken up when drying out objects so freezing things may be the only option. I could see the situation quickly becoming too enormous a task to handle otherwise.
The practical scenario was a real eye opener, seeing just how quickly 20 people suddenly turned into there being no one around. Everyone got so busy so quickly! I was in charge of communication and welfare and spend the exercise running around making sure everyone was ok, that they had a break, that messages were getting passed on and no one was getting too stressed or cold.
The fire service did an amazing job in listening to what we needed, and getting the priority items out of the building. Then the salvage team were able to go in with the fire fighters after they had checked the building. Very quickly objects were coming out thick and fast and the team doing the first aid had their work cut out for them.
Documenting the objects was particularly challenging, especially as we didn’t know the collection which would obviously be different in our own properties. As the objects were coming out so quickly we often didn’t get chance to ask which rooms they came from, or if we did we lost track. This did cause a bit of an issue, but one that could be solved after the fact when all the objects were in the salvage area.
The exercise worked very well in showing us what the pit falls and challenges of a scenario could be, so we can try to be prepared. The course also made me see how well prepared Hardwick is, we have a very comprehensive Emergency Salvage Plan and carry out regular exercises with the local fire brigade. We are having a salvage exercise at Hardwick next month which I am very grateful for as I will get the opportunity to see Hardwick’s plan in action! Whilst I do now feel quite prepared should the worst happen, but it also makes me pray that I never need to put this particular training course into action!
Happy New Year everyone!
I hope everybody had a lovely December, I was so busy with work and friends and family that I feel like I need another Christmas break to recover!
I had a lovely day out to near by Haddon Hall which was decorated for Christmas, and it was beautiful! The hall dates back to the 11th century and is currently owned and occupied by the Manners family, lucky people!
I had never been to Haddon before, and I really look forward to visiting again. The decorations were lovely and there were real fires throughout (very jealous).
The decorations were mostly traditional greenery that fits with the interior decor of the hall. It looked really nice, still managing to stand out in the rooms and make our visit feel very festive.
I especially loved the Peacock themed decorations in the Long Gallery! It is the sort of room that makes people go ‘Wow’ when they see it, myself included.
The Long Gallery was themed with Peacocks because it features on the Manners family coat of arms. They are beautiful birds anyway, and I am especially fond of them now as they remind me of my time at Powis.
Another tree I really liked was the on where visitors were invited to write their Christmas wishes on tags and hang them on the tree. It had a really good effect and I thought it looked very classical against the tapestry backdrop.
It was an amazingly beautiful day, really sunny (yet still freezing!) and that just added to the beauty of Haddon’s lovely grounds. The rooms were light and the sun made some really interesting effects where it was streaming in through the windows.
I was also really taken with the interesting windows at Haddon. They are all wibbly (technical term) and reflected the light so delightfully.
The Chapel was especially atmospheric, decorated with greenery, music playing, candles burning and full of smoke from the incense burning. We spend a lot of time in there, absorbing the atmosphere and admiring the paintings on the walls.
Across the courtyard from the main hall is a little museum displaying objects found in the hall. It has a really interesting, eclectic collection, with pretty pieces of glass, nice keys and even a piece of Hardwick matting!
I would really recommend a visit to Haddon, it is a stunning property with real charm, especially on a nice sunny day when you can fully appreciate not only the beautiful interiors and manicured garden but also the building itself within its amazing location.
November has been a very busy month, and when we have not been decorating for Christmas we have been getting stuck back in to our Deep Annual Clean! As with last year we have lots of other projects scheduled over the winter so getting all we need to done will be an interesting challenge. But in the mean time I have been enjoying having some time with the objects.
We start our Deep Clean on the top floor in the High Great Chamber where I have been cleaning the Farthingale Chairs. These chairs were supposedly designed so that ladies wearing Farthingale Petticoats, with large hoops underneath their skirts, could perch on them to rest between dances.
These chairs have stunning 16th Century embroidery on them, featuring flowers and insects. They match the Canopy I had the opportunity to clean last year.
As well as chairs we have stools and two throne chairs, which have really interesting scenes on them in beautiful gold-work.
To remove the dust I used a mixture of techniques. We use an adjustable suction ‘Museum-Vac’ with crevice tool attachment through bridal netting and using artists brushes as we were trained by the Textile Conservators last year. The brushes work better on certain areas because the can remove strands of clothing fibers that have landed on the velvet which would otherwise be left underneath the bridal netting.
I also used the brushes near the metallic embroidery, this removed the risk of the metal threads getting hooked on the bridal netting and pulled. However the bridal netting method is better for the rest embroidery, it is so delicate that the brushes could cause damage by removing any loose pieces.
I love the Deep Clean because we get a chance to really look at the objects we care for, and they are such amazing and beautiful objects. It is one of my favorite things about this job!
A few weeks ago I had a good friend to stay so we decided to have a heritage day out in Nottingham. I haven’t been to Nottingham since I was 18, it was a birthday treat which I really enjoyed it so I thought it was high time to spend another day there.
To start the day, after I had found the car park, we went to Nottingham Castle. To my surprise and delight there was a medieval re-enactment taking place! Robin Hood even put in an appearance. Walking around the Living History encampment felt like home. There was also an archery tournament, but with a twist. The teams of archers were aiming for a moving target stuck on top of a knight’s helm. It was very entertaining to watch, and the Robin Hood and his Merry Men crashed the party!
After the show we went for a wander around the castle, which is now a museum. I loved the idea behind their first exhibition, that every object tells a story. This is so true and I often find myself thinking about how the object I am working with got to that point. I love the story of Bess going on a shopping spree in London to buy furniture, and picking out these items for her new home. I would love to know just what she though about each one, what attracted her to them and why she placed there where she did.
The second exhibition we saw at the Castle was a temporary exhibition about the First World War. I found this fascinating as I have an interest in the subject anyway. I never knew that the metal helmets we are so used to seeing weren’t introduced until nearly half way through the war. I cannot believe they sent soldiers into war without head protection, it seems crazy. There was a case featuring some ‘Trench Art’ made from shelling casing and other materials that would have been found in the trenches. I had seen some of this before and the creativity they showcase is amazing, especially given that what the soldiers were going through was unimaginably horrific.
After the castle we stopped for a bite to eat, and then went to jail!
Just kidding, we went to visit the Galleries of Justice at the old court-house. I have visited before and really enjoyed myself so was excited to go again.
When you arrive at the Galleries and buy a ticket you are given a criminal number to take with you on your tour. The first half of the tour is led by characters, and the second half is self led. We were first taken by a judge into the court, for our fates to be determined. The court room was beautiful, all carved wooden benches and a very impressive judges chair so you couldn’t forget who was in charge.
The court-house was very well designed in that if found guilty, as we unfortunately were, you could be led straight from the court room down into the jail. There we were told to look at our criminal numbers and find out our crimes, and more importantly our punishments. Mine said I was to be tied to a cart and flogged. This part of the tour went down really well with the group, and had us all chatting and giggling with one another about our crimes.
After this we met with the executioner. He was quite sinister and talked us through his job, life (and death) in the jail, and even let us sample some of the cells. From here we were let loose to explore the jail and learn about the reforms made to the system. We finally made it outside to the yard to be greeted by a hangman who had made a science out of execution. He was a real gent and clearly very passionate about his job, each to their own I suppose.
Next, narrowly escaping the noose we were sent for transportation, and then on to learn about prison breaks and finally the modern prison system. At the end of the tour was a temporary exhibition about crime and punishment during the First World War, and all the extra duties police men had to keep the country safe from spies. There was also an exhibition about a man who had drowned his three wives in a bath tub, who we had heard about in the court room. The galleries even had the murderous bathtub on display.
We really enjoyed our day out in Nottingham and I can’t wait to go back and discover more, as there seems to be so much to do there. I love having exciting new places to discover so close to home!
Just after I had returned from my visit to Packwood and Baddesley I was off to another Trust property, this time for a training day!
As part of a large project taking place at Hardwick which I seem to have taken on a large part of the responsibility for me and Sadie have been going on several training courses. The latest of which was hosted at Moseley Old Hall, a lovely property in the Midlands with a very exciting story to tell.
The project we are taking part in looks at how to tell our properties stories in a different way, through active engagement and conversation. I got involved in this project thanks to my background as a re-enactor and am really enjoying it so far, even if it is going to be a lot of hard work!
We were having our meeting at Moseley as they have already been through the project that Hardwick is now undertaking. Recently Moseley decided to open Mondays and Tuesdays, when traditionally they had always been closed. The team saw this as an opportunity and decided to have these days manned by volunteer costumed interpreters.
Every so often they also have a special event where the volunteer team stage the day to be the most dramatic day in Moseley’s history, the day they harbored King Charles II after the battle of Worcester in 1651. I really want to go and visit on this day, it sounds fantastic! It is a really bold move that the team have made but so far it seems to be working for them.
In the afternoon we had the opportunity to wander around the hall, meet the volunteers and see what activities they were doing. We started on the middle floor and so we went through several rooms before we encountered a volunteer, which left us with a strange sense of almost naughty freedom that you don’t usually find yourself with in a National Trust property (unless of course you work there!).
As we were exploring we found the Priest Hole King Charles had hidden in. It was nice to just discover the hall for ourselves but it worries me that if I had not had someone with me who knew the property I would have missed the significance of this unassuming hole in the floor.
At one point I get distracted by their brilliant fake fires! This is what happens when you work in the heritage industry, you get excited by the most random things and are always looking for good ideas to inspire you. The fake fire in this grate even ‘smoked’!
The volunteers were doing things like making Reed Tapers in front of the real fire and explaining period board games, which kept us all amused for quite a while! Several of the games where ones I play when I am my Medieval alter-ego. It was nice that Moseley has the freedom to light fires in the grate and space for these interactive activities.
I also spotted a really beautiful clock in the Entrance Hall. I quite like clocks because they are such a practical object that is regularly so beautifully made and ornately decorated! I always enjoyed being responsible for winding all the clock at Greyfriars.
The outdoors at Moseley is just as beautiful as the indoors, and there is just as much to discover. At the end of our meeting we were told about Moseley’s new Tree House! Me and Sadie decided we just had to go and have a look for ourselves, and we were not disappointed! With a special pot of money Moseley had created an outdoor adventure area including a mammoth Tree House, with steps, ladders, scramble path and rope! Here are some pics of me ‘testing’ the Tree House out.