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!!