What a busy week

This week I am on one of my long working weeks, we alternate between working three days with two days off and then even days with two off. My week started on Saturday with an event months in planning taking place at Powis, a grand Indian wedding!! There were lots of high hopes for this event, and not just the bridal couples!! It has been a while since Powis hosted a wedding,and never a wedding of this size and spectacle, everyone was eager for it to g really well. Things were looking worrying when I woke up Saturday morning and could not see from one end of the garden to the other thanks to a thick fog that has descended. Luckily it was not long until this lifted, and gave way to glorious sunshine just in time to glint off the bride gorgeous (first) wedding dress.

The Bride and her Father waiting outside the Ballroom

After the ceremony held in the Ballroom the couple had a traditional Punjabi ceremony in a marquee placed on the croquet lawn, in front of my house. The interior was decorated beautifully with a stage with pillars set on it, and flowers and golden goddess statues placed around the stage and rest of the tent. For this part of the ceremony the bride changes into her second dress, a red one as red provokes good luck. The groom rode into the castle gardens on a white horse, as is tradition, and was accompanied by music and dancing. It was a great spectacle and we had so many positive comments from visitors, they seemed to really enjoy it.

The Groom arrives on a white horse

After this was the reception in the evening, hosted in an even larger marquee on the great lawn. They had a sit down meal of traditional Indian food, and I can tell you the curry was amazing, as we interns were lucky enough to get some leftovers. They also has fantastic entertainment, I was privileged to be able to go and watch two sisters, called Sonash, dance at the reception. They were great, really energetic I have no idea how they managed to dance the way they did for so long! The party carried on into the night, and it sounded like they had a fantastic time, everyone seemed very happy with the way the day went, huge Kudos to the organisers of the day here at the castle.

Sunday was much quieter, and we managed to have time to start our Winter Clean. Winter Clean already when summer is only just over, well yes, we have so much to do, and so little time in which to do it we have started early. The builders have been in cleaning out the chimneys for us. They do this every few years and it will hopefully mean avoiding any more falls like the one in the Library. After the lads had finished cleaning the chimney in the Duke’s Room we started the Winter Clean in there. When they cleaned the chimney the constructed a wooed ‘Wendy House’ around the chimney to keep the worst of the dirt in, but the room still had a layer of soot on it after they had finished. This is why we are following the chimney cleaning around the building, to clean up the soot after the work has been done.

The beautiful Duke’s Room

The Winter Clean involves a deep clean of every part of the castle open to the public. Every item is looked at individually, cleaned, catalogued and condition checked. As we are open longer this year it gives less time for the winter clean, and adds more daily cleaning on on-top, meaning we really have our work cut out. I really enjoy in-depth cleaning of this sort, the morning clean is the same routine everyday but this gives us chance to really work on the items, and using all the different tools and techniques only used annually. It will be a great opportunity to learn how to handle all different types of objects including taxidermy. Even though it is a mammoth task I am really looking forward to getting stuck into it.

Monday saw the end of another mammoth task, the annual store check. Me and Kate spent the entire day in the textile store, heaven, finishing the last of the inventory check. I love this job, seeing all the hidden treasures in the stores, and Kate and Emma are so knowledgeable  telling me the stories behind the different objects, its fantastic! It took us the whole day but we got to the end of our list, found all the missing objects and have now condition checked every item in all four store rooms and noted down their location. All that is left to do is type it up. This was looking to be another huge job, and falls under Kate’s remit, but I offered to held her out so we are going to type up two stores each. I have finished typing up the Picture Store Inventory List, and will start on the Clive Store (the more complex of the two) next week. I felt so accomplished after we had finished in the textile store, it’s amazing to think such a time-consuming job is done annually! It makes me again think about the properties already stretched for time and staff and wondering how they fit all that needs to be done in, and maintain their daily routine. I d worry sometimes that I have been spoilt here at Powis, and wherever I end up next will likely not have such a large house team, and the luxury of time to do other projects that we do.

Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons were devoted to working on our Winter offer in the Old Kitchens. Me and Kate cleared out and cleaned up the Kitchens and will start putting our objects in soon. It is so exciting to see our plans coming to fruition! We have a lot of research still to do however, I have already started looking in to Edwardian Recipes  a leap for me as I am queen of the microwave and not much else in the kitchen, and doing research into the staff that used to work in Powis kitchens. The kitchens are now a blank canvas for us to start bringing our ideas to life, which is so exciting, but also nerve-wracking.  The budget is tight so it is making us be creative, but that is good. Were fortunate that there are a lot of kitchen items in the stores, and it feels nice that we are putting them back where they belong. If we get this right it will be like this for years to come, and I hope it looks as good as it does in my mind’s eye! Not long now until it is unveiled.

The Great Kitchen at Saltram, Devon

The whole house team is working really hard on the winter offer, this is what will be open to the public after 5th November, when the state rooms close. It will be a different experience from visiting in the summer, as the cellars and kitchens will be open instead of the top floor. There will also be the Christmas decorations! We have been thinking about Christmas for about a month now, I’m a bit worried I’ll be sick of it by December, but our plans for the castle are very magical. I won’t spoil the theme for you now, but I will leave a few clues in coming posts as to what our Christmas theme  is going to be! I am already making ornaments and decorations, and it will all go up in November!

This week I have also agreed to help out with the social media sites for the castle, so if you have a Facebook profile or Twitter please do follow us, for information about up coming events and stunning photos of the castle!

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Adventure in Erddig – Part Two

After my behind the scenes look at Erddig and chatting with the house team I was lucky enough to go on the two tours that Erddig offer. The property opens at 12.30 am and they have a ‘taster tour’ at 11.30 am and a ‘servants tour’ at 12.00. They were really good tours, giving background information on the property and the unusual relationship between the staff and their servants. The family had a touching tradition of taking very good care of their staff, even caring for them in their old age. They commissioned oil paintings of the staff done by noted artists, and later took photographs of them. The images were all accompanied by poems written by the family about the character of their staff. This showed affection towards them, as if they were family, and proved they knew their staff well.

An oil painting of one of the servants

A photograph of some of the Erddig servants.

After the two tours I had a quick lunch in the staff room, I spent my lunch chatting to the volunteers. Erddig has a lot more volunteers then Powis does, but they have need for them, having more rooms. I then walked round the property with an audio tour, talking to staff and volunteers as I was going around. It was a really interesting time to visit as the day before the had begun a trial of taking down some of the stanchions and ropes in several of the rooms, including the Saloon below. I picked this room as the chairs here are the same as the chairs here at Powis in the State Bedroom, obviously a popular style!

The Saloon at Erddig.

This is something that was discussed on our visit to Penrhyn and is a very interesting debate, lying close to the areas I studied when writing my dissertation on access Vs conservation. The fact that it was only the second day of the trial so it was still very much in progress. It seems that it will be a case of trial and error. Day two of the trial run and the alteration was to place notices in some of the rooms asking people to keep to the modern drugets, instead of walking across the historic carpets. This seems to be working better. However more adjustments will have to be made in order for the system to work out. Removing the stanchions and allowing increased access is part of the Trust’s policy of ‘bringing places to life’, however it can cause problems for conservation. This could be where the glass walkways come in, in the future, allowing people into the room without the increased wear and dust.

I talked to the volunteers and staff about their view on the changes, but it really seems like there needs to be more time, and more observation. The conflict between conservation and access is always on going, being closely monitored and adjusted if needed. The last room in the property was very interesting, it contained many odd and interesting items the family had collected. They were displayed in a long case in the centre of the room, with other objects in cases around the edge. The centre case was full of skulls, dried fish, shells, shoes, coins and other strange and eclectic items. Alongside were handwritten notes labelling the objects. This case was just like the ‘cabinets of curiosity’ that antiquarians displayed their collections in before they developed into the museum displays that we are familiar with. It was indeed a very curious collection of items!

The house viewed from the Garden

After my (long) walk around the property I visited their second hand book shop. Most Trust propertied have these now, selling donated books to raise funds for the property. I do not spend much time browsing our own as I am usually dusting it, or opening or closing the area. This is probably a good thing as I love books, and got slightly carried away at Erddig, buying three books from the second hand book shop and two more from the gift shop, thank god for volunteer discount!

The beautiful gardens at Erddig

I could not stop smiling all day, everyone at Erddig was so welcoming and friendly. They were willing to chat and answer my questions about their routine, the property and the changes, and were very helpful when I may have got a little lost in the property. I feel so privileged to be able to go to these properties, and see behind the scenes like I have been doing so far on my internship. What I love about the Trust is their amazing range of properties, I have visited many but would love to visit them all. There are so many Trust properties I want to visit, and at the moment I am in a fantastic position to do so, and am learning so much with each visit!

Adventure in Erddig – Part One

When writing this post it turned into a rather long one so I have split it in half. Here is the first part.

On Wednesday I was lucky enough to visit Erddig, and it was counted as a work day! Some of my colleagues were going on a training day being held at the property so I took the opportunity to travel with them and spend the day there. After my visit to Penrhyn and the day I spent at Benthall Hall I am eager to visit as many properties and see how all the different House Teams operate. The Trust has a company wide standard but there are distinct variations between properties, due to size, number of employees, funding and other factors.

The East Front of Erddig

My day started with joining the house team on their tea break – timing, I know – and talking with them about their daily routine. Erddig is bigger that Powis, with 30 rooms and a series of out buildings, mostly all open to the public. They have two interns, it is the first year Erddig have run such a scheme so it was interesting to compare what they are doing to what we are, as Powis have had interns for many years. It seems their daily routine is much the same as ours, but a little less in depth due to having to cover a larger area with a smaller team than we have too.

I was taken around the property to see the store rooms and behind the scenes space. They have an amazing collection of items as the donor family never threw anything away, and have now died out so the Trust own the whole collection. I got rather jealous of their collection as they can move thing around and put new things out without having to get permission from anyone, which makes things simpler. They also have a large collection of toys, there were never really any children at Powis and I do miss the ‘nursery’ scene when visiting other properties that have that. I especially loved to Doll’s House in a cupboard!

The Nursery

My favourite room in the property, not an easy decision in such a spectacular place, was the State Bedroom. This was not only because of the beautiful furniture in the room but also because of the way the room is displayed. The room was badly damaged after a fire and the bed was especially damaged. It is a really stunning bed and was restored at the V&A. It stayed there for two years and was returned under one condition, it be placed behind glass in order to keep the conservation work sound. Instead of placing the bed inside a glass case it was decided to create a glass walkway for the visitors to enter the room inside.

The State Bedroom

I think this is a really good idea, as it keeps the environment in the room constant, preventing harmful fluctuation. It also means less dusting has to be done, only the visitor route has to be vacuumed and the glass cleaned. This not only saves time but means the objects are touched less often, which lowers the effects of cumulative wear. This also allows the visitor into the room without causing damage, a nice alternative to a rope across the door. To me this seems like a tidy solution to improving access into room without increasing risk, wear and tear, and dirt. However it would be a very radical step and I could see that it would be disagreeable to many.

The Cars house in one of the Outbuildings

Talking to one of the two interns based at Erddig was very interesting. They started off their internship learning with the conservation assistants inside the house and were then given the outside areas as their responsibility. At Powis we have the coach house and stables, but Erddig have a large range of different vehicles house in the out houses. Due to lack of staff time these areas had been neglected in the past so the interns have their work cut out, cleaning, condition checking and deciding what to do with them in the future, regarding interpretation. Similarly to here at Powis they have been shown the ropes and then allowed to carry on under their own steam. We both agreed this is a great way to learn, it encourages us to be self-reliant and the strive to do our very best, relying on ourselves. I really enjoy the sense of responsibility I get from my work at Powis.

The Erddig Prayer

All picture from the National Trust Picture Library.

When i’m cleaning windows

As you may have gathered here at Powis there are always jobs to be done, and a vast range of them too! This past week we have been on the top floor of the castle cleaning the windows and applying pesticides to them. The top floor is not open to the public and therefore is not often used. This means the top floor is the area with most pest activity in the castle and it has to be treated for this problem.

The view from the window of the ‘loo with a view’

The beautiful scenery!

This week’s task involved vacuuming the window spaces, washing the windows down with warm, soapy water and then spraying the window frames and sills with Constrain, a pesticide developed by Bob Child. Cleaning the windows means there is less fodder for pests to attract them inside the building. The Constrain ensures that if pests do get in through the gaps around the windows they are poisoned and will die, rather than cause damage or breed in the building. It is an important job to be done every few months, and it has fantastic views! I really can’t complain about this task while looking out at the beautiful castle gardens and surrounding scenery. It was also a nice job in that we were working as a team; one person vacuuming while the others took turns to wash and spray the windows, going up the ladder and doing the bottom ones in turn as well. I really enjoy it when our tasks give us the opportunity to work together as a team, we really get along well, have a good chat and a laugh, and the day seems to fly by!

Here are some photos I took from the roof of the castle today, accessible from the ‘loo with a view’ at the very top of the castle! (and it’s still a working toilet!)

The Courtyard from on top the roof

The ‘cold’ side of the garden

The maze on the Great Lawn

The roof of Powis Castle

 

 

 

Internship with the National Trust: a year as a conservation assistant

I thought I would share a blog post written by one of the other interns, Naomi, about her first few month here at Powis. She has a background in furniture conservation and so it is interesting to see her thoughts on the internship, coming at it from a slightly different angle than I have come from.

Current Projects

The last month has been a whirlwind! On passing my Graduate Diploma in Conservation of Furniture and Related Objects, give or take a week, I had moved to Wales to start an internship with the National Trust at Powis Castle, in Welshpool. Powis is a magnificent medieval castle in mid/north Wales, just over the boarder from Shrewsbury. It was built circa 1200, by Welsh princes, and in 1587 Powis was sold to Sir Edward Herbert, the second son of William Herbert, the 1st Earl of Pembroke. The descendants of the family, 500 years on, still possess private apartments in the castle to this very day.

So you can imagine the family history that encompasses the castle and its collection. From the extensive family portraits, to a very rare Pietra Dure table with its top and wooden base (a great rarity) still united, to the magnificent collection of Eastern artifacts that are…

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Penrhyn Castle

On Wednesday I was lucky enough to go on a visit to another Welsh National Trust property, Penrhyn Castle. The drive to Penrhyn was about two hours long, but the scenery was amazing. We had a little stop on the way to take photos.

The scenery on the drive

The view from the road

We (me and the other two Interns at Powis) arrived at the castle in time for the House Team’s tea break, so we had  cup of tea and a natter about the differences between Penrhyn and Powis. Naomi and Ben were very impressed tat they had a proper coffee maker, but I am quite content because at Powis we get biscuits and cake!

My photo of Powis Castle

A beautiful Moc-Medieval Castle

The gate to the main entrance

Talking to the Penrhyn House Team illustrates how different the situations can be between different properties. We were talking to the Property’s two Conservation Assistants and their Assistant House Steward and we later met the House Steward. These four people comprise their House; and here at Powis we have another Assistant House Steward, us three Interns who all work full-time, and our two Conservation Assistant work longer hours, and we still find ourselves regularly pushed for time to complete our morning clean! I feel for the Penrhyn house team, they work so hard and must find it really frustrating not being able to clean and thoroughly as they would like on a daily basis.

The beautiful castle

This also leaves them with little time to do the extra things we are always doing here; conservation projects and interpretation and research work. They must really struggle if something unexpected come up during the day, like my experience with the bird’s nest the other week. As we are now in full swing planning and preparing for Christmas at the Castle, me and Naomi have had a couple of conversations about how much we are able to help the team, and how pushed they would be without the three of us.  They would not be bale to take on as much responsibility within the property as they have without the extra bodies. I am amazed that the team at Penrhyn do as much as they do, they make as much as possible from the time they have. But it also worries me that they do not have the time or the man power to do the extra, and this could cause problems in the future.

A Gilt-Bronze Candelabra

After tea break we offered to help the House Team with the dusting, but they insisted we go and have a look around the property, which we were very grateful for. I was very excited as I had visit the property many moons ago on a family holiday (We did a lot of Welsh Heritage Tourism in my youth, which nurtured my love for the industry and desire to live in a Welsh Castle myself!). When we went around the visitors were not yet in and most of the ropes were yet to be put up, so we had access inside the rooms, a real V.I.P visit!!

The Drawing Room

The brass bed in the Keeps bedroom

The bedrooms in the property were stunning; me and Naomi loved a gorgeous brass bed in one of the child’s rooms, and the Lower Indian Room made us think of the collection at Powis. The drawing room was mt favorite room, I could see my self sitting in their blogging away! We had some trouble locating the famed slate bed, but asked and found we had seen it on our tour. The Grand Staircase was amazing, with so many different patterns carved into it, I wanted to take photos of them all and use them as inspiration for some textile project! The Grand Hall was very impressive, as is the castle when you walk up to it. I really like mock-Medieval architecture (my favorite castle is a Victorian Representation of a Medieval Castle) so I was very impressed by Penrhyn.

The Slate Bed

The Grand Staircase

Then we went for our lunch break, sitting out on a picnic bench in the sunshine eating chocolate ice cream and not believing our luck! This was a work day! After our lunch break we met the House Steward, Clare Turgoose, and she took us on a behind the scenes tour! Clare has been at Penrhyn for around ten years in different roles, starting their temporarily and never having left! Not a bad place to find yourself however! She took up to some of the castle stores, in the roof space above the Grand Hall and onto the roof! It was an amazing privileged to get to see these places that most visitors do not get to see.

The Grand Hall

The view from the rooftop

After our behind the scenes tour we met with Regional Curator, Liz Green and Sam Taylor was also there, to talk about what should be done with a large quantity of taxidermy gifted to the property that had been in storage for two decades since. Liz explained to us about the changes in the National Trust Acquisitions Policy over the last few years. When the taxidermy was gifted properties could not refuse them, whereas now gifts can be refused if they do not match the property’s acquisitions policy. The Trust has a system where if you have unwanted items you can advertise them within the trust to see if other properties would like them, it’s a bit like freecycle but only within the company. This way nothing is ever wasted.

One of the widows at the castle

The problem with the taxidermy is that much of it has just been dumped in wooden crates and not sorted, and there is a possibility it has been treated with harmful chemicals in the past. So the plan of action for the collection is to have a day to sort it out, taking it out if the small store-room and moving it to a large, well ventilated room. There they will be condition checked and photograph, so the castle staff can decide what will fit within their collections and what to offer to other properties. We offered to return and help them out with this project, as it is better we handle these items than volunteers who have not had the same training we have.

The library

At the end of the day we had a walk talking about the visitor route around the property. Penrhyn is much bigger than Powis, around 300 rooms! and the visitor route takes about and hour and a half. They are going 364 this season also and were talking about different ways they could open up the property in the shoulder months, such as guided tours where all the ropes were removed.

One of the castle’s towers

Visitor routes are a contentious issue, they are there to guide visitors but also to protect the property and its collection, not only from theft but also from damage cause by increases exposure to agents of decay. It would be lovely to allow all visitors that sort of access we had on our visit to Penrhyn however increase access also increases damage, and work for the House Team. The two issues; access and conservation, must be carefully looked at the ideal balance for each property attempted. It may not ever be achieved but the Trust do their best within an ever-changing set of parameters.

The East Front of the castle

This day trip was great, an eye opener to how another property operates, and has inspired us to look at going to spend days with other house teams in the Trust to see how they do things too, not to mention a chance for a day out to discover exciting new places.

Light monitoring (or measuring the bear’s forehead)

A large part of our work here at the Castle is monitoring the environment to keep those factors which can damage the collection within certain, less harmful, parameters. There are several environmental factors which are monitored at least daily, if not constantly; Temperature, Relative Humidity and Light.

We record the lights levels in the castle twice daily. Ultra Violet levels in certain areas are also monitored constantly on our automated system and the records stored on the office computer with the temperature and relative humidity, which is recorded by the same system. Ultra Violet cancelling film has been installed on all the windows in the property and cuts out most of the UV, making a vast difference to the light levels in the castle. Other than the morning clean the light readings are the only regular part of routine done daily. Afternoons are used to complete conservation tasks, do admin, research, or work on our interpretation projects.

I really enjoy reading the light levels, especially in the afternoons. I am very interested in the environmental monitoring side of conservation. It is especially rewarding in the afternoons as the castle is open and it gives us an opportunity to interact with the public, which I very much enjoy!

There are set points in all the rooms in the castle that have natural light entering them. Often these points are not on the visitor route, they are located behind the ropes. One of the points is on the forehead of our taxidermy bear, Balu, which amused my mother, hence the title. This results in a lot of curious looks about what I am doing and hopefully curious questions too. I really enjoy explaining to the public what I am doing, especially as it helps make them aware how much work the House team do in order to care for the castle. When I say we do this twice daily people often can not believe it. Doing the readings and conservation work in front of the public helps show them how much work it is looking after the physical history of the country and hopefully inspire them to support us, or keep supporting us.

The effects of light damage on wallpaper

I was privileged enough to shadow the regional conservator when she came to Powis for the annual review of the light levels and this gave me a good understanding to how they are worked out, and why they are set as they are. We have an annual budget, worked out by taking into consideration how often we are open, how long our days are, what objects we have in the rooms, and their vulnerability to light and location with regards to the window. The light levels are set from readings taken with blue wool dosimeters. These dosimeters are left in vulnerable positions in Trust houses and degrade at a known rate. They are set out for 12 months and then sent to a lab for analysis. From this we can tell how much light is affecting that point in the room and work out a safe light level which will hopefully preserve the objects in that area well into the future.

Light is very damaging to objects, and when it fades them it is also damaging them structurally. It damages textiles most quickly but will damage most objects given time, fading dark wood but also lightening dark woods. Something I have learnt is that oil paintings are surprisingly more resilient to light damage than I would have thought. Some of the curtains at the castle are fraying on the edges most often in the light, and the curtains in the Oak Drawing Room have been sent away for conservation to repair the effects of the damage done by the light. These are the most obvious effects of light damage at the Castle.

The annual light allowance establish by the information from the dosimeters and other factors mentioned above is divided up by the number of days the property is open, giving us a daily budget. This daily budget is printed onto our record sheet, which has room to record AM and PM readings for each location. When we go on our rounds, once while opening up and once after we come back from lunch, we adjust the blinds to get the light reading below our set points.

The Megatron

We used to record the light levels using a device called a Meagtron (unfortunately it does not transform into a robot, it just measure light levels). Now however we have a ne Elsec that can not only record Lux but also Ultra Violet, Relative Humidity and Temperature. This new bit of tech’ is very handy for spot reading of the other factors, rather than having to take two different implements round with us. When we were doing the two-week spot check of temperature and relative humidity to check our automated system was calibrated correctly I could have done with another pair of hands for the clipboard and the two different instruments!

The Elsec