A selection of objects from Powis Castle

I wanted to upload some more picture of this amazing place, so decided to add some pictures of some of the items from the collection. Some I have cleaned, some I have not but are amongst my favourite things at Powis Castle for various reasons. The collection here at Powis is the best Collection in the Care of the National Trust in Wales, if not the United Kingdom, and the list I have chosen is only a small selection of the thousands of amazing, beautiful and priceless objects housed here.

One of two sundials at Powis Castle

A photo I took on one of my (sunny!) days off of a sundial I cleaned a few days before. They are done annually, cleaned and a protective layer of renaissance wax placed on them. It just shows that the House Team’ remit is not just contained within the walls of the house.

The other sundial out on the east Front

The ceiling in the outer foyer of the East Front

The ceiling here has been recently restored, the paint being added, and I think it’s lovely and somewhat reminds me off the ceiling in the chapel at Hampton Court. I looked up at the ceiling and did not expect to see this so it was a lovely little surprise, a little bit of hidden beauty.

The decorative Fire Screen in the Oak Drawing Room

I think this screen is really interesting, it caught my eye the first time I went into the Oak Drawing Room. I love these cute and colourful little birds, all real. The cases of bigger birds in the Billiard room scare me a bit, with their glass eyes and sharp beaks, but I think these little birds are really sweet. I love pausing a moment to look at them when were doing the morning clean.

Twelve Sevres harlequin coffe cans and saucers

These coffee cups and matching saucers are one of my favourite items in the Clive Museum. They are really lovely and nice and colourful too. Quite different to the rest of the collection but something I would love to have in my house!

St Christopher Book of Hours, 15th Century

This book of hours used to belong to Lady Eleanor Percy, who also brought a wooden rosary that used to belong to Mary Queen of Scots to the family collection. The work put into this book is amazing, the level of detail is stunning! I love medieval illuminated manuscripts and this is a very fine example of one. I also love how this item is interpreted, there is a small electronic photo frame next to the glass case that contains the book. The photo frame shows images from the book and is a really good idea to allow visitors to see different pages in the book, and not just the page it is displayed on.

The Pietre Dure Table

When I walked around the property after my interview for the internship one of the things I paused longest to look at was this amazing table. Having been recently restored the gilding on the legs is shining now and the top is highly polished giving it a real impact. On closer inspection you can see bird and snail motifs in the inlaid marble. As well as being a rare example of such a table it is really beautiful object that stops people and draws their attention, and rightly so.

The Bed in the State Bedroom

Who wouldn’t like to spend a night in a bed like this!?! It is so sumptuous and incredibly grand. The State Bedroom was not used by the family, it was saved for the most important of their quests, and it is a beautiful room, deep red fabrics and gilded wood.

Dress made from the ‘Cloth of Gold’

One of two dresses in the Clive Museum made from the ‘Cloth of Gold’, commissioned by Ella Rathbone, wife of the 5th Earl of Powis. The cloth was part of the Clive collection and Ella decided to make something out of it. This is the gown she is wearing in her portrait hanging in the State Dining Room. I do love a pretty dress!

Close up of the ‘Cloth of Gold’

This is just a small selection of the objects housed here at Powis Castle, and a very biased selection chosen in accordance with my own personal preference, but I hope it shows some of the amazing beauty I am privileged to work amongst.

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Interpretation Work

One area I had very little experience with before starting this internship was interpretation; the signs, notices, labels and even the guidebooks that tell visitors the story of a place. And to be honest it was not an area I was that interested in, prefering the conservation side of things. However already this experience has already changed my mind and ignited my inspiration where interpretation is concerned.

I already have a fair few projects under way, and several more on the horizon. I am working on case by case guides for the Clive museum, picture lists for all the paintings in the castle, information about new paintings the castle has on loan from the British Museum, my object of the month and making new warning signs about the damage touching objects causes. The Trust are trying to promote a friendlier demeanour, whilst still proving the needed protection for all the objects in the collection. This idea fits in with the Trusts move to ‘bring places to life’, ensuring these properties feel like homes. I have been lucky that both the places I have worked with the National Trust have felt very much like homes and not museums.

Doing interpretation work is a great way to get to know information about the property. My first projects was writing information about a case in the Clive museum containing miniatures members of the Herbert family. Through doing the research for this I started to get to grips with the history of the family and how they impacted on the property and it’s connection with India. I am really enjoying doing the research for all the projects I am helping with. I especially enjoy searching for information about objects in the National Trust Collections Management Systems. This is an on-line database listing all the objects under Trust ownership, at every property. It also shows a photograph and gives a brief description of the object.

I have also been able to carry out some of my conservation work in-front of the public and help out the visitor services team when they are short on volunteers. It is essential that we have volunteers to be able to open all the rooms we have available in the castle. If we do not have enough volunteers then certain rooms have to remain closed, which is such a shame. To combat this we have been carrying out some conservation work on the Long Gallery so as to be able to open a further two bedrooms and a bathroom of the Gallery.

The work we have been doing is updating the ‘bits boxes’. We have a box for each room in the castle and if something is chipped off, broken or removed then it is stored in the box for that room. Nothing is ever thrown away. We have been replacing these items from the envelopes they were in and putting them into airtight selable bags, which are much better for the conservation of the objects. Then a small label written in pencil on acid free paper, to adhere to Trust conservation standards, is also placed in the bag. The information recorded includes where the object was found, a description of the object, which room it belongs in and the date it was found. There is an inventory list for each box and these must be checked to keep them up to date. Ideally all the items in these boxes would be repatriated at some point. However some of these bits are so small, flakes of paint or chippings of plaster, that they will not be restored. Others have to wait for specialist conservationists, or funding. Trust policy states very conservation action taken must be reversible.

The Long Gallery

I have really been enjoying this project, getting a further in-depth look at the collections in the castle and being able to talk to members of the public. It is really nice to see how interested people are, and to be able to give the visitors a glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes. It will hopefully give them a better understanding of the amount of work that goes into maintaining these historic properties. I really enjoy interacting with visitors and telling them something they may not have know or found out otherwise. helping them to enjoy their day and maybe even inspiring them to take an interest in the heritage industry and benefit its future. Questions asked about the conservation side are my comfort zone, and I feel very confident in what I’m talking about in this area. However people have also been asking me questions about the property and the Long Gallery specifically. Most of these questions I have been able to answer but it has pushed me to read up on the history and specifically the items in the Long Gallery. I was much more prepare for my second afternoon on the Gallery after hearing the questions asked during my first day. People will always ask obscure questions but I shall do my best to learn all I can about the property and answer all the questions I can.

Hopefully I will be able to carry on this type of work in wherever I go next as I am really enjoying it here at Powis! And it is so fascinating and is quite exciting to think of people reading my work and it being a little bit of a mark I leave behind when I move on from Powis.

Reinforcements!

This week has been very busy! Even more that a usual week at Powis. On Sunday the other new Long Term Volunteer, Naomi, moved into the house, making three of us now with me and Ben. Then monday was are usual day to have all the House Team in, and on top of the we had a lad doing work experience at the castle for the week. On Tuesday and Wednesday we had two members of staff from Chirk Castle joining us for the day to see how we work at Powis. Tuesday also saw a new temporary house mate as a Horticulture student came over from France for two weeks to work in the gardens. It made the buzzing atmosphere even more hectic! It keeps you on your toes working in such a busy property but also ensures there is never a dull day, and all these extra hands meant we got along a lot quicker, which is good as there is always more to do!

Monday morning involved replacing some bulbs in the chandelier over the grand stair case. At Greyfriars changing a lightbulb anywhere was no more complicated than going up on a ladder, taking out the old bulb and popping in the new one. At Powis, changing the bulbs in the chandelier was a lot more complicated! To start two members of the team had to go on the roof to lower the light down to the rest of us waiting on the stairs. Then we had to take out the dead bulbs. We turned the lights on before it was lowered so that the working bulbs were warm and we could remove the cold ones. Then we placed the new bulbs in a had to winch the chandelier up to plug it back in, to check they were working. Then we had to lower it again as we had missed one, and winch it back up. Luckily second time round we had got all the bulbs and the chandelier look beautiful again! So much better than when almost half the bulbs were out.

The Grand Staircase

I really enjoyed Monday as I got to pass on what I have been learning to the new LTV. This is very useful for me to test and concrete what I have learnt, and I really enjoyed passing the information on and  making a new friend. Monday afternoon was store work again. I really do enjoy this work, discovering what is inside each box, and feeling very privileged to get to see these amazing objects. It was also good as talking to Naomi and made me realise how much I have absorbed about the place since being here, but also how much there is still to learn! I feel very pleased with my progress. Monday’s work in the stores showed the need for annual checks as we were getting to the end of the inventory list now and the objects are not listed in order, so it involves flicking through the lists to find the objects.

Tuesday is a deep dust day, so this involves picking items up to dust beneath them and dusting a lot of the items themselves with a duster or soft pony hair brush. I will do a post about all the different equipment we use soon, and a post with some more information about the castle itself. At lunch I went to see what the sewing volunteers had been working on. They come in every Tuesday and work in the kitchens where there is a long table with enough room for them to work. This also means they have access to the working Aga oven, so they cook lunch in there. I was lucky enough that they had cooked spare jacket potatoes and they offered me lunch, including a pudding of apple, rhubarb and pear crumble with custard!! They are such lovely ladies, like all the volunteers and staff in the castle! I feel so happy here and felt so welcome here from the moment I arrived.

The afternoon involved cleaning the dining room job, a winter clean and then mid-season job. First we had to take everything off the table. Once we had removed everything it was clear that the table needed cleaning, the plates and glasses had left clean circle amidst the dust. The dust was removed with a brush and back pack hoover, and once it was dusted it looked brilliant. I was in charge of cleaning the silverware. This was something I particularly wanted to do as I have no experience with metals and it was the one question I struggled most with in my interview for the Internship. The cutlery was cleaned with a blue duster, then wiped over with a ‘silver cloth’, a special cloth imbedded with the mixture needed to treat the silver, remove any corrosion and bring back its shine. Then they were wiped over with the blue duster again, to remove any excess chemical.

The knives were slightly more difficult, they had silver handles but steel blades, which had to be treated differently.

Tents and Floors

Tuesday brought the return of the Sultan Tipu’s tent. Some of the panels are on permanent display in a room off the Ballroom at Powis Castle, but other panels had been on loan for a temporarty exhibition called Cotton – Global Threads in Manchester. Here is a link to the website: http://cottonglobalthreads.com/cotton/

Late Tuesday evening my Line Manager offered me the chance to go on a training course the next day. The course was on floor care at Tredegar House. I had been lucky enough to go on a trip to Tredegar my first week at Powis and the property is lovely! The ground floor was open to view independently but due to the property not having been long open the top floor was open only as part of a tour. The tour was fantastic! The characters of the family that used to live in the house, you could not make those stories up! There were tales of parties, pets and eccentricity, very interesting.  And the tour guide, Chris, was brilliant, so entertaining and he look very dashing in his tux, A huge thanks to him for making it a very enjoyable tour. I really recommend a visit to Tredegar if you are ever in the area, and so of course I jumped at the opportunity to go back and take part in my first Trust training course there.

Photo: House & Collections Manager, Emily and Visitor Experience Assistant, Chris are preparing for the Housewarming Party on the 24th.

The floor training was really interesting, I will never look at floors the same way! The training had been meant for Regional Conservators of the Trust so I was really lucky to be able to go along. It was a great opportunity to meet other Trust staff and learn valuable new information. The training was split into two parts. The first was a taught morning learning the basics about conserving and repairing stone and wooden flooring. They talked about the basics and then case studies given about specific problems and their solutions. The second part of the day was practical.

After lunch, which I spent talking to the different people on the course, we went on a tour of the house. Here we looked at the floors in Tredegar and their state of repair was assessed and advice given on treatments. I really enjoyed this part of the day as I got another look around the property, going into rooms that were not open on my previous visit. The knowledge gained from this part of the day illustrated what we had been taught in the morning, making it clearer and making the information more transferable. I find myself looking at the floor at Powis now and thinking about what we were taught at the training. Luckily it seems that Powis has no real problems when it comes to flooring, and what we are doing in order to keep it in a good state of repair is what was advised.

I have already put my floor training to good use as I was tasked with cleaning the Black and White marble floor in the Entrance Hall. I had done this once before, on my first day at Powis but today I was charged with leading the group of four of us. We had two members of staff from Chirk Castle with us and one lad on work experience so I taught them what I had been taught and we started polishing the floor. To protect the marble floor we clean it and put on a layer of Renaissance wax which will limit the wear and give it a beautiful shine. It is very rewarding as you can really see the difference once you have cleaned it. The shine the polishing gives the floor helps create a real ‘wow’ when people walk into the property, and creates a good first impression which is very important. I do find floor polishing very challenging and hard work! I am quite a perfectionist and buffing the polish off to a perfect shine is near impossible due to the wear on the tiles, especially as I do not have as much arm strength as would be helpful. I often feel like I could really do with a bit more muscle and to be a couple of inches taller for this job!

It was nice to work in this team as I was the one with the previous experience of this type of activity. I was flattered to be asked to show the others what to de here. One thing I really love about working at Powis is no one holds your hand, I have been shown how to do things correctly and then left to do it. This is flattering and keeps me working at the top of my game, and I really enjoyed passing on what I had learnt to others. I think I am still getting used to the fact that others are confident in my abilities to allow me to do this work with no worries. And my confidence is growing day by day, I am enjoying working hard, gaining new skill and knowledge and I feel very fulfilled when looking at the work I have been doing and seeing the difference it is making. I have had lots of very positive feedback and it is the best feeling to work hard and then have people appreciate it!

Settling in

There is always something happening at Powis Castle. Rarely does a morning go by when we just get on with the normal routine without there being deliveries, tours, specific tasks needing doing or items needing special attention. My first day filling in paperwork in the morning, which should have been fairly quick and simple took most of the morning before tea break due to so many other things going on. It was a brilliant way to start, getting thrown right into the buzzing atmosphere of the place, a real departure from  quiet Greyfriars. This past week was no exception.

On monday we put up some scaffolding for new sun blinds due to be installed in the Oak Drawing room. One of my six objective for my time here at Powis is to go up scaffolding so I was excited to see how it is built even if I wasn’t going on it this time (and it gave me more chance to get my head around the height!). It amazed me how well the team worked together here and the scaffolding went up quickly in a way similar to flat pack furniture. The part of the process that took the longest was brining the pieces down to the Oak from the top floor. The metal poles clip onto one another and screw to secure, I never thought it was so quick!

After the scaffold was up I was doing the morning clean downstairs. The morning clean is a set routine split into different areas of the castle; the Coach House, Clive Museum and Ballroom, the upstairs rooms, the downstairs rooms and if there are enough of the team the very downstairs floor rooms including the staff area. This allows us to be able to allocate an area to one person each morning, so we will know where we are going and we are to do with little explanation. I still haven’t decided which is my favourite area to clean (yes I enjoy cleaning! however cleaning my own home is not quite as satisfying).

The scaffold came down after tea break, so that was my first quick foray into scaffold construction and de-construction. It is amazing the amount of new things I have learnt already having been here only just over a month. Them me and a colleague took the light levels and relative humidity readings. Light levels are taking twice a day every day (more on that in another post) and the relative humidity readings were being taken twice a day for two weeks to check the calibration of the automated system that controls the heating. The environmental side of conservation really interests me, the way the environment and the way it changes and affects the collections. There are set limits for all environmental factors but the biggest danger to collections is fluctuation in the environment.

That afternoon I was working in the stores as is the usual activity scheduled for monday afternoons. This is a fantastic opportunity to go behind the scenes and see the amazing collection not on display in the property. National Trust policy is to check store rooms annually for environmental damage, pest activity and that all the items are still where they should be. I was sorting through a box of Ivory Ganjifa Cards condition checking them and ensuring they were all still accounted for. Working for the Trust here feels like having VIP access to this amazing building, it is such an amazing position to be in.

Here is a link to the National Trust Images web page with an image and information about the Ganjifa Cards in the Clive collection: http://www.nationaltrustimages.org.uk/image.aspx?id=29737&loggedIn=False

I finished the day by applying wax to the Library and Gateway floors. Even though I have done this several times before at Greyfriars there are differences between how the two properties operate even within the same organisation. At Greyfriars wax is applied by hand with a folded cloth but here at Powis it is applied with a soft headed flat mop. I must say this is quicker as the mop has a larger surface area, and involves less kneeling down, so is slightly better from my knees point of view! It is no surprise that methods differ from property to property, due to difference staff training and the size of the properties. Powis is much larger than Greyfriars, so it makes sense they have developed a quicker method of applying wax to the vast amounts of wooden floors!

Tuesday also brought another new experience, and Wednesday my first National Trust training course! but that is a story for another post! I’m going to have an early night to prepare for day 4 out of my first 7day-in-a-row stint. I will leave with a photo of my shorter route to work (the longer one being through the castle gardens):

My walk to work.

Welcome to Welshpool

Three weeks after my final deadline for my undergraduate degree in Archaeology and Heritage I moved to Wales to take up the amazing opportunity of a Conservation Internship with the National Trust at Powis Castle. This experience will provide me with the skills I need to go and achieve my dreams of working in the heritage industry to preserve our Nation’s physical history for the future, not to mention being a really interesting period of my life and great fun!

So I packed up my student room in Worcester and with the help of my Aunt and her camper-van made the journey the Welsh Marches. The following day was my first day on the job; meet the new long term volunteer at Powis Castle!

Having some experience working for the National Trust did not prepare me for life at Powis Castle. I previously worked and volunteered at a much smaller Trust property in Worcester; The Greyfriars House and Garden. This property and Powis are very different. Greyfriars is a small Tudor building in the centre of Worcester, with one full time member of staff. The collection was brought in to the property by the last owners, Elsie and Matley Moore and was sourced from auctions and jumble sales and junk yards all over the country. The Greyfriars is a beautiful little oasis in the middle of the historic city, as a posed to Powis Castle, a striking red brick building sitting atop a hill overlooking Welshpool and the surrounding area.

The Greyfriars House and Gardens

Powis Castle is the ancestral home of the Earls of Powis, who still have a residence there today. It was started in the Medieval period and has been through many phases of change between than and now. The collection is the finest in Wales, if not the UK and is incredibly varied. Due to its much larger size the Castle gets a much higher volume of traffic than The Greyfriars, which creates different challenges. The team charged with caring for the property is well into double figures, with different departments and specialisms. The Castle is always buzzing with activity. It is great to go from one end of the spectrum to the other, a real learning curve. The Greyfriars was the perfect property to start my journey with the Trust, and Powis provides the opportunity for lots of new experiences to be had.

Powis Castle viewed from the gardens

So here I am at this amazing property in a stunning part of the world having a wonderful little adventure, and this is my log of my uniquely privileged year at Powis Castle.