A tour by the Earl himself!

On Wednesday I was privileged enough to go on one of the Earl’s tours. These happen every so often and are ticketed but this particular tour was just for the staff and volunteers of Powis Castle. It was a really exciting opportunity to hear more personal stories from the Earl about how his family used the Castle as a home.

The Earl told us an amusing anecdote of his children putting a top hat on Julius Caesar’s bust, something I though would be quite fun to re-instate however I’m not sure old Julius himself would find it too funny. He looks quite severe.

Julius Caesar in the Long Gallery at Powis

The Earl also told us a ghost story about the castle. It is one I’ve heard before with a slight twist, and I think I prefer the Earl’s version to the first one I heard. He did admit there is no way to know if it’s true or not, but it makes for a very good tale!

The ceiling painting in the Library

The ceiling painting in the Library features the four daughters of the 2nd Marquis and the story centers around the second eldest of the four. Her name was Theresa, Lady Throckmorton and her husband, Sir Robert Throckmorton. In the ceiling painting she is depicted seated as Truth, holding a mirror.

The story goes that when her husband was jailed in the Tower of London, for being Catholic under a Protestant King, Teresa hatched an escape plan. In the planning process Teresa sent a servant of hers to her family home, Powis Castle, to discuss plans. Her servant was invited to stay the night at the Castle and was put in a room known to be haunted. (This room in the other version of the story is the Duke’s Room). The ghost appeared to the servant woman in the night several times until she followed the ghost. He pointed to the floor and she lifted the floor board, revealing a lost family treasure. The servant took this treasure and it was used to pay for Robert’s daring rescue from the Tower. The story goes that it was arranged for Robert to be snuck out of the Tower, in disguise as a washer woman. It was thought that this servant was Grace Evans, and that in recognition of her help in the escape she was rewarded with a cottage in Welshpool, which still stands today. However it is now thought that it was not Grace who helped in the escape plot.

I think this is a really intriguing tale with some certain truth mixed with fantasy that fits quite nicely together.

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Postcards from Powis

Familiarizing myself with the shared drive on the work computer I found some really lovely old pictures of the property, from several old postcards of the Castle. I thought I would share them as they are too nice not to be seen! The postcards have been collected by one of our volunteers, Colin, who has done a lot of research into the castle and the surrounding area.

Powis Castle viewed from the Wilderness

Castle and Terraces

The Castle from the East Front

The Castle in colour from the East Front

The Castle Courtyard

The Castle Courtyard looking busy

And finally a slightly new picture of the Castle taken only a couple of weeks ago, by one of our volunteers on a beautiful day. I was amazed when I asked Neil if I could use his photo to find he had taken it on his phone! The quality is brilliant and it shows off the castle wonderfully!

A panoramic view of Powis Castle

Here is a link to the web page so you can have a look at the interactive version of the image: http://360.io/2mYqQR

I have to say a huge Thank you to our wonderful volunteers, not only for the pictures in today’s post, but as they also work so hard not only giving their time to help us out but going the extra mile and showing real dedication. We could not do what we do without them!

 

 

 

 

 

A Conservation Assistants work is never done!

Well today was shaping up to be a fairly relaxed day at work; the usual morning clean and then the afternoon spent discussing the House Team’s proposal for the winter offer. However the castle had some other ideas for me today.

I was just doing the morning vacuum, the same as every morning, when I went and switched on the lights in the Library and saw something I was not expecting to see. Precariously balanced on top of the fire basket and the fire guard was a huge pile a debris, made up of twigs and soil. It looked like the material of several birds nests had fallen down the chimney. There had been a chicken wire and fabric hammock wedged in the chimney shaft to stop detritus falling down into the fireplace in the room, however the nests had obviously gotten too much for it to hold and had given way.

I hurried down the stairs and called on the assistance of Carol, A Conservation Assistant that has worked at the Castle for years. I knew I was going to need some assistance clearing up the mess. We scooped up the twigs and some of the soil and put them into black bins bags, three bags full in all. Then I hoovered the rest of the soil up and me and Will put the chicken wire hammock back into the chimney. Hopefully it will hold this time!

Then I hoovered inside the fireplace thoroughly, moving out the fire guard and the metal plate on the floor. I had to move some of the chairs that sit in the middle of the library to clean the rug underneath them. I hoovered the rug and flipped it back to hoover the underside and the floor underneath it. Then I finished the morning clean and it was decided the rest of the mess would be cleaned up in the afternoon.

The Library, and the culprit fire-place.

From 12 until lunch at 1 we had a meeting about what we wanted to offer visitors during the winter. This is the first year Powis has been open 364 days of the year and the offer we present this year will define what happens in the years to come, so it has to be successful. We are all working together but we have also been assigned areas in pairs; me and Kate have been assigned the kitchens, and also the Medieval Tour. This is good for us as we are both medieval re-enactors and have some big plans for the tour! Will has assigned the areas in the castle according to our own areas of interest. Naomi is particularly interested in Indian furniture and artefacts so she has been given the Ballroom and Clive Museum.

For lunch, purely for research purposes, me and Kate went to the old kitchens where the sewing ladies were working and they fed us. They always cook themselves lunch in the working Aga we have in the kitchens. The ladies are lovely and very kind to feed me, especially as dessert today was sticky toffee pudding. These ladies also make up our costumed interpreters that did the cooking on the Stuart Day I posted about.

After my lovely lunch I was posted in the Library to room steward whilst I finished cleaning up for the morning’s adventure. This involved cleaning and polishing the fire irons. There are four steel implements set around the fire basket and these were covered in soil. I brushed and cleaned them with a blue duster, then put autosol onto them with cotton wool. I buffed it off and then re-cleaned the metal with a new blue cloth. Then I put Renaissance wax onto the implements and left it for 20 minutes, and buffed them off. Thankfully buffing these requires less upper body strength than buffing the marble floors after we wax them. This all took a lot longer than I expected, meaning I stayed in the castle after it was closed, but the fire-place looked as good as new once I was finished. I always say I could never be bored here, there is always something for me  to do, even before the Castle decides to throw a new task at us! On the plus side, I got some more experience handling metal which I wanted.

Benthall Hall

On the 1st August me and Naomi, the other Long Term Volunteer here at Powis, had the opportunity to shadow Samantha Taylor, the National Trust regional conservator for our area. She was doing a property visit to Benthall hall, a small house owned by the trust near Iron Bridge. She was doing one of her regular property visit to establish what conservation tasks needed doing in the property, and to prioritize them. This is called a Preventative Conservation Audit and should be done at every property annually. She took me and Naomi with her to help with some other tasks that also needed doing. The property is short-staffed and extra man power for a few days here and there will make all the difference in denting the properties ‘To Do list’.

Benthall Hall

Benthall Hall has been in Trust ownership as long as Powis Castle but the donor family have only recently moved out of permanent residence there, giving the Trust more rooms and more leeway. Therefore the combination of a small team and limited access mean there were aspects of the property’s management that did not align with Trust standards in other properties. This included their Integrated Pest Management system.

Sam tasked me and Naomi with establishing what Pest monitoring they had in place and then to instate a new plan using what we had learned on the IMP training day earlier that week. What I am enjoying so much about working for the Trust is the way we are not babied in any way, we are shown how to do something and then the next time we do it, we are trusted to do it alone. People are always there to ask questions and help out but it is really nice to feel that the team think we are capable enough to do this.

There were pest traps placed around the building but there was usually onely one in each room, and non in the rooms recently acquired by the Trust. It was like a treasure hunt, going into the room not knowing is there would be a trap in there, let alone any idea where it would be located. However most treasure hunts have better prizes than dead bugs at the end! Me and Naomi worked together, recording what pests were in the old traps, and this was a good way to put into practice what we had learnt with Bob on the training day. I enjoy looking at the traps and identifying the pests there, it really makes me feel like I have learnt a useful  skill! Then we were deciding where to place the new traps.

An example of a pest trap used by the Trust

We decided to place the traps after the training day had raised our awareness of the reasons pests come inside a building (heat/ dark/ damp/ to breed/ to eat) and how they enter a property (gaps/ windows/ chimneys). Taking these factors into account we placed two or three pest traps in each room and recorded their locations on a map. The we wrote the traps onto a   paper copy of the new Trust standard record forms. This should hopefully set up the system in a simple way that allows the property staff to look at what we have done and be able to pick up recording from where we have left off.

This was a really good experience, something amazing to put on the CV and talk about in interview ect, which is really what this experience is about, gaining skills to increase my employability. It was also really interesting to do. It did however make me want to go back to the property and help them out with some of the pest problems we identified on our visit, I don’t like starting something and not seeing it through to the end.

Sam was also really good at the end of the day, asking us what we were particularly interested in ( a difficult decision to narrow it down) and telling us about upcoming projects she can hopefully get us involved in and other properties with small house teams that could use help now and then. This is very exciting and fantastic of her, to help us hopefully gain more experience and visit even more Trust owned properties. It is all very exciting, and really rewarding to know that while we get an amazing experience out of it we are also helping the Trust!

The link to the National Trust Webpages for the Property: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/benthall-hall/

A misty morning and historic afternoon.

Today was a beautiful morning and I left early to capture some photos of it on my walk to work. I just cannot get over the beauty of this place and how lucky I am to be here!

The view from my attic this morning

Rolling mists

The ‘warm’ flowerbeds

The Orangery

View from the top terrace

The lower terraces

The second terrace down

A stand pump in one of the flowerbeds

Today was also one of our Stuart themed days, the first one I have actually been working for. This really was in my comfort zone as I am a medieval re-enactor and I enjoyed being surrounded by people in period costume, even if I was running around working all day! There were three sets of re-enactors involved, a group based at near-by Trust property, Chirk Castle, called The Cheshire Militia were based in the Orangery in the gardens. They were lovely and I really enjoyed my brief chat with them.

The Cheshire Militia

The second group was a group of musicians called ‘Blast from the Past’ filling the courtyard with lovely sounds. They were also doing dancing with the kids which seemed to be going really well, and the kids really looked to be enjoying it. It was a shame the weather was not better for them to have been able to do more dancing!

Blast from the past

The third group was our own lovely volunteers from the castle, who were cooking in the old kitchens. I do love these ladies as they have fed me lunch in the past, and today allowed me several samples of their cooking. They had made Shropshire cakes (a kind of shortbread), cinnamon toast soaked in ale, marzipan, and my favourite, apple fritters. The food was so delicious I had to resist going back again and again. They all looked so fab in their handmade costumes and really brought the kitchens to life. The whole castle smelt amazing!! I think re-enactments and costumed interpreters are amazing and I would love to see them used more often. I know I am a bit biased but I think they always give an extra dynamic to properties, and engage visitors helping them absorb information in a different way.

Our costumed interpreters in the old kitchen

The fantastic freshly made food

Carrying bread fresh out of the oven

The day was fantastic, I really enjoyed myself and got to talk to loads of visitors and re-enactors while doing the light readings, which I love doing. The volunteers all seemed to enjoy the day and so did all the visitors I talked to, which is always good to hear! Tomorrow is a Jazz day, we have a band performing in the Courtyard and were serving Pimms, which sounds lovely if I was not working. However hopefully it will mean plenty of visitors to talk to again, and my mum is coming to visit! It will be her first trip to the castle and I know she is looking forward to it, I’m really looking forward to introducing her to my world!!

Integrated Pest Management

One thing I really never thought I would enjoy doing before entering into the world of preventative conservation was getting anywhere near bugs, however I have come to find it really fascinating, maybe even . . . enjoyable . . .

On the 30th July Powis hosted the Integrated Pest Management Training, a course designed to teach house staff about potential pest problems, how to monitor, how to avoid them and if anything should happen how to treat it.

A Woolly Bear – Carpet Beetle larvae

The day began with a practical session led by Bob Child, the founder of Historyonics a company that supplies the National Trust and other historic companies with tools to combat pest problems. He invented Constrain, a solution used to stop pest infestations. It is sprayed on infected objects and is lethal to insects. Throughout the morning’s talk it seemed that Bob has worked at every major museum in Britain and he is the pest specialist of the National Trust as well, that makes him a little bit of a rock star in my book, I would love to have such an in-depth knowledge of one area, like pests, and use that information to take me to all these different, amazing, interesting locations. It would be amazing to be the person the National Trust went to for advice on a specific subject area.

The morning talk was about the different types of pests, how they get into properties, why they come in, what to look out for and the different ways to monitor and tackle pest activity. We were shown various different types of pest traps used to monitor activity. Bob was a really good speaker, making the topic interesting and even, in some places, funny. The cases he told us about were interesting too, if a little horrifying listening to the damage that can be done.

Wood Worm Larvae and the damage they do

The afternoon consisted of a session with Bob looking at examples of pests so we could get our eye in for the second part of the afternoon. He also told us about each species, what they look like, what they eat and how to tackle them. This was interesting to see clear examples of all the different pests and they damage they could do. I have never really seen examples of any serious damage done by pests, so this was very interesting to see, and much better seeing it like this than in an actual infestation. He also showed us different insecticides and talked us through when and how to use them.

Next we were walked around the castle looking at the pest traps and identifying what was in each. Catherine Harris and Sam Taylor led this part of the day. We were given maps so I led the group around the castle and stood back from the identifying, as I had already seen all the traps when I have been recording them. This was a really good exercise because as Catherine said, pests will not always be as clear to identify as Bob’s nicely preserved specimens.

Furniture Beetle – Adult Wood Worm

Then we went back to the Old Kitchens and were talked through the spread sheets used to record the pests. Now that most of the Trust properties are using the same format of recording it makes it easier for central office to keep an eye on what problems are occurring where, and keep a detailed record of pest activity. The day was really interesting and it was enjoyable to meet many other Trust employes from different properties in the surrounding areas.

I do find this area fascinating, and enjoy identifying the different species in the traps. Though I will admit, I’m more likely to run a mile from a spider than try to catch it, thought that’s ok as they’re not technically pests.

(Pictures included throughout from nationaltrustimages.org.uk)

Pretty Pictures of Powis

Yesterday was such a lovely sunny day after I had finished work I just had to go and some photos, especially after I walked right past this little fella just posing for me!

 

Found just resting on one of the hedge in the gardens

The Pond just by my house

A mushroom I found on the estate

The Powis Estate

A tree on the estate

A photo taken on my phone a few days ago

The view from the Ballroom, again taken on my phone

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos of Powis

I had an amazing day today shadowing our regional conservator while she did the Preventative Conservation Audit at Benthall Hall. I will tell you all about it in another post, for now here is the link to the National Trust page for the property: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/benthall-hall/

Here are a few photos I took on one of my days off when it was rather nice weather. I was wondering what to do with myself to make the most of the sun, but when you have the estate and fabulous Castle gardens right on you doorstep, you don’t really need to go much further.