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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.