Let there be light!

As we are getting towards the end of our Winter Clean we had to undertake one of the biggest tasks of the Clean, lowering the chandelier on the Grand Staircase! It was one of those moments where everyone was holding their breath! And it was not even the first time this week we were lowing a large, priceless item from the ceiling to the ground at the castle!

From National Trust Images

The Ballroom Tapestry

Monday morning we had to bring down the large tapestry that hangs above the bookcases in the Ballroom. It is believed the tapestry was commissioned to celebrate the French trading treaty with the East in 1545. We have received some funding for the tapestry to be conserved, so this week we had the conservators come to take a look at the tapestry and do a preliminary condition report. This allows them to see what state the tapestry is in and asses how much work is needed, and therefore how long it will take and how much it may cost to do.

Detail of the Ballroom Tapestry

Detail of the Ballroom Tapestry

Taking other tapestries in the property down is fairly simple, but this tapestry is on winches and above a bookcase. This means we can’t just lower it straight down, so when it came down last the team came up with a very innovative idea of turning ladders into slide to get the tapestry over the bookcase. It works really well and the tapestry came down fairly speedily!

Ready to be taken down

Ready to be taken down

The gardeners came to help us, they worked the winches while we guided the tapestry, folding it as it reached the bottom, then lifting it and laying it out flat on dust sheets on the Ballroom floor. It was much bigger than I expected, and looking at it up close you can really see it is in need of some TLC. The craftsmanship of the piece is amazing, there is so much going on in the scene. I am very envious of the team that get to work on such a fab object!

On its way down

On its way down

The tapestry laid out on the Ballroom floor

The tapestry laid out on the Ballroom floor

Days later we were lowering the chandelier from the ceiling of the Entrance Hall down two floors to the marble floor below. We have lowered the chandelier half that before, to change the light bulbs  but I have never seen it come this far down. It is lowered all the way once a year and there is a wooden from to hang it off while we clean it.

The chandelier coming down

The chandelier coming down

On its frame

On its frame

This year was a bit different however as we were also changing all the light bulbs for brand new LED light bulbs. Hopefully these bulbs will last for two years, so we wont have the problem off having bulbs constantly being out. The news bulbs are also much better for the environment, and therefore our electric bills too! Good news all round.

Me dusting the chandelier

Me dusting the chandelier

The new bulbs

The new bulbs

Ben putting in the new bulbs

Ben putting in the new bulbs

When the light was coming down I was on the ground ready to help get it in position. Them me and Ben dusted it and replaced all the bulbs and it was time to winch it back up. This time, I got to do the winching!! Will took me up onto the roof, which I had been on before, but this time we walked all the way across the rooftop to the other side! Then I lowered myself down into a little hatch in the roof and was in the roof-space. It was only slightly disconcerting, as when I was about to go in Will said, just make sure you step right, not left, if you step left you’ll fall through the ceiling!

Powis Castle Roof

Powis Castle Roof

The Hatch

The Hatch

This is where the winch for the chandelier is, so we winched it back up, plugged it and turned it on! It was a good work out, and seemed to take an awfully long time, and I felt very relieved when the chandelier was back in place and secured! The new bulbs look brilliant, really bright, and hopefully we wont have any off them going out any time soon! LED bulbs are something that is being tried out at a few different Trust properties, and with all the advantages over regular bulbs I think it is a great idea to replace regular bulbs with LEDs where possible! Hopefully it is something that will be put in place around the rest of the property over the next few years.

The hole for the chandelier cable

The hole for the chandelier cable

The winch

The winch

We are drawing very close to the end of our Winter Clean now, and the property is in full swing getting ready for opening again on the 1st March! I have really enjoyed doing the Winter Clean, and am looking forward to the ting we’ve got going on over the next couple of weeks, including uncovering all the cleaned furniture and putting the rooms back to rights. Change is very much in the air at the moment, but I’ll say more about that in another post!

Looking shiny!

Looking shiny!

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Wonderful wallpaper and a busy week

So I was logging on to start writing this post when what popped up on my reader but this post by the National Trust Press Office. Very coincidental as in this post I am going to tell you all about the Wallpaper Training day I attended on Tuesday!

Sunset behind the castle

Sunset behind the castle

Last week was very varied (not unusual in my job) and I have been thoroughly enjoying all the different activities! Monday we were continuing with the Winter Clean in the Smoking Room. I am loving the Winter Clean so much, I said to everyone the other day once we’re finished we should just start going again! I was working on the left-had side of the Smoking Room, which included some very interesting furniture; a beautiful inlaid wooden desk and two fold-out regency card tables. The Winter Clean allows us to spend time on different objects getting to know them and discover new things. For example to open the card tables you have to swivel the top as you open it and open the legs, a really beautiful mechanism.

The mahogany card tables are made of wood and have green felt on top, I like objects like this that take some time to clean and have a couple of different materials to work on. They are lovely pieces of furniture. The Inlaid desk is absolutely gorgeous, it is made of walnut and has floral motifs inlaid in wood and bone. Furniture like this is fun because often there are objects hiding in the drawers. In one of the desk drawers was a lovely oriental style writing set, with many tiny little pieces and boxes inside boxes. It was so nice to take is out and make it shine again. It is a shame to think it probably won’t be seen again until the next winter clean but I also loved that I got to see it, I felt very special. Some of the drawers and a cupboard in the centre were locked with no keys, make you wonder what could be hiding inside!

One of the wallpapers we looked at at Sunnycroft

One of the wallpapers we looked at, at Sunnycroft

Tuesday was a brilliant day because I got to go on another training course!! I’ve done floors and this time I was doing Wallpaper! It may not sound that interesting but it really was. We were taught all about the history of wallpaper, the different types and how the are manufactures. Then we had a tour of the host property’s papers and a session on monitoring wallpaper and how to identify problems. The National Trust has the largest collection of wallpapers still in situ in the world.

Powis does not have that many wallpapers in the rooms open to the public, but we have two amazing hand-painted Chinese wallpapers in the Earl’s Apartments. For some reasons even though they are the Earl’s rooms the Trust owns that wallpaper. One room is pink and features branches, flowers and birds. The other is green and features scenes of village life, and birds too. Both are satin effect paper, as much wallpaper was designed to imitate other materials; textiles, wood, leather. Wallpaper was a cheaper way of creating the same effect, especially after it began to be machine printed and mass-produced in the late 1800’s.

The Chinese wallpaper in the Earl's Music Room

The Chinese wallpaper in the Earl’s Music Room

A secondary perk of going on training courses, other than learning so much interesting new information, is getting to go to another Trust property. The wallpaper training was hosted at Sunnycroft, a Victorian house very small in size compared to Powis. Not only did the have a fab collection of wallpapers but also a very interesting collection of objects. The Billiard Room for example, featured a fantastic faux-linen wallpaper, a tiger-skin rug under the Billiard table, and a grenade and small bomb in the fireplace (disarmed of course, I am reassured). The property is so cute, and I loved the staircase and foyer. I will definitely have to go back again when there open because it was just so lovely, and the staff were really friendly too!

Sunnycroft

Recently I have been given the responsibility of being in charge of the team of volunteer Pat testers; Peter and David. They are lovely gents who come in every year and undertake the mammoth task of testing ‘anything with a plug’ in the castle. I love that I’ve been given the lead on this, and we are flying along with our testing. On our first day we tested every item on the top floor show rooms, a record so I am told. At the end of the day both Peter and David said what a help I had been to Will, which was lovely. So I have learnt to PAT test items, and have been dredging up feint memories of high school science lessons too! Having volunteers to do this for us saves the property so much money! We found an old invoice that said they charged £4.50 for each item tested, so with our first days work we had saved the Trust over £250!!

The legs of the Pietre Dure Table

The legs of the Pietre Dure Table

Friday was so busy! I was meant to be doing marketing work all day but there was so much going on that meant I was running around the castle most of the day. We had someone in taking UV photographs of the Pietre Dure Table. These photos will show us which areas of the table have had repair work undertaken on them. It will be really interesting to see the results. While that was going on the BBC were here to record an interview that will be used to promote the upcoming Baroque Concert were having in the Ballroom in March. The interview was focusing on the Baroque items in our collection. Baroque is  a style of architecture and decoration popular in Europe in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Some of the ‘star’ Baroque items in our collection include the State Bedroom, and a cabinet in the Gateway Room that holds a very mysterious item; learn more here.

The cabinet in the Gateway Room

The cabinet in the Gateway Room

On top of all this our lovely Costumed Interpretation Volunteers were in to have a meeting about the new tours were going to be giving in March. When We open again fully in March we will be focusing on the 4th Earl of Powis and the restoration he and the architect G. F. Bodley did to the castle in the early 1900’s. The castle we see today is largely result of their work, and the Gardens the work of the 4th Earl’s wife, Violet. Each day at noon we will be offering an introductory tour around the castle focusing on the 4th Earl and Violet’s changes and use of the castle. The volunteers were taking a walk around the castle to test run the tours, so I was accompanying them, opening and closing rooms. The tour seems really interesting, and I learnt even more new information about Powis!

Luckily I have taken this week off to recover from last weeks business, and to prepare for taking more tours the weekend!

Cradling Books and Taking Tours

Now it is the new year the castle is open weekends only and we are giving guided tours! Well we should be, however the snow has been playing havoc with our plans slightly and the castle was closed for a few days. While it was snowy I stopped taking my usual route to work through the gardens and started going up the East Front. I say this is to avoid making footprints in the pretty, unspoilt snow, but really I’m trying to avoid getting snowballed by the gardeners!

Perfect snow in the Formal Gardens

Perfect snow in the Formal Gardens

All this snow has meant we have been checking all the rooms in the castle for leaks everyday (for some reason I keep getting sent to the spooky top floor!). We have to be vigilant and check the windows when there is bad weather anyway. We check for leaks, windows blowing open or wind causing detritus to fall down the chimneys. As it has been snowing we are also now looking out for snow piling up on window ledges. If the snow starts to melt on a window ledge with a gap then it could drip inside. Luckily the windows at Powis aren’t too bad and a few well placed towels seem to be doing the trick and keeping everything dry!

My weekend duty I had been preparing and psyching myself up for giving tours it seems it was not to be on Saturday, the roads had turned to ice so the property was closed again. Since me and Emma were the only people in the whole castle we were wondering what to do with ourselves (not that my to do list is anything like short!). In the end we decided to get crafty! We are preparing a new display to go out in the Ballroom and we were going to commission some new book cradles to be made for the books that we will be putting out on display. However after an e-mail back from the man who would have been making the cradles said we could have a go at making them ourselves we decided to rise to the challenge. We had the acid free card, and now the time, why not give it a go.

First steps

First steps

And it turned out ok, we have made seven book cradles over the weekend, and once I got my head around the tricky mathematical part of the process it was easy enough. Book cradles are used when books are put out on display open at a page. You can get generic sized cradles but ones specific to the book gives the pages better support, spreads the pressure out and minimise any damage being open for a length of time could do. When a book is laid out on a flat surface open it puts a lot of pressure on the spine. It is better for the book to be supported in a V shape, to prevent the spine from cracking or the pages coming loose. This is especially the case in the books we are putting out on display, as they are one-of-a-kind accounts personal to Powis, and are all around a hundred years old! I was really eager to attempt the cradles, not only to save the property a bit of money, but also to add a new skill to my repertoire!

The finished product

The finished product

Sunday was not as quiet as Saturday we had a huge amount of rain that washed away all the snow. I went to bed in a world of white and woke up in colour! It was a shame to see the snow go but I’m glad that the property could open fully again! However the rapid thaw meant there is some quite bad flooding in the fields beyond the castle grounds. I have seen them flood before, with the heavy rain we have been having this winter, but I had never seen it this bad! The ponds in the castle grounds were overflowing too, and flooding into the meadow next to the Great Lawn. This did reveal something of interest to the Archaeologist in me however. The flood waters pooled around a small mound in the centre of the field, and Emma told me this was where a fountain used to stand!

So with the property open the tours could commence and all my preparation would pay off. I was excited to get back into giving tours, something I used to do a lot of as a Student Ambassador at uni. The first tours we agreed that Emma would do the most part, and I would talk about the family history in the State Dining Room and about the Kitchens (since they’re my baby). Then as the second tour was running a little behind I told Emma I would go and start the last tour while she finished the second one up. I was feeling very confident after listening to Emma and taking mental notes, and I was eager to do a bit more talking, and showing off just how much I have learnt since coming to Powis.

It look so different without the snow

It look so different without the snow

I really enjoyed delivering the tour, throwing a few jokes in and engaging the visitors by asking questions. I love talking to visitors, and until I started preparing for the tours I didn’t realise how much I had learnt about Powis’ collection and history. Emma says you absorb the information by osmosis the longer you’re here but I know it’s spending time with our House Team. They are so knowledgeable and willing to share (and be bugged with endless questions!).  Especially at the moment doing the winter clean; me and Emma have spent days sat on the scaffold cleaning items while I ask questions about the room, a particular objects or the family, and she seems to know every answer! I guess that happens after ten years at a property!

Snowdrops!

Snowdrops!

The history here is so long and complicated but so varied and interesting! I’m glad I know enough that I can fill an hour-long tour around the castle, but I’m still a long way off feeling confident about the whole of Powis’ timeline! Again it reminds me how lucky I am to be in this industry, and especially here at Powis, where it seems everything has a story to tell! I’m looking forward to giving my next tour, the weekend after next!

The Clean continues

I absolutely love this job, but find it difficult to sum up what exactly I do on a day to day basis – its so varied, especially during the Winter Clean!

Cleaning the alcoves in the Blue was interesting, as I got to have a good luck at a clock I had not really paid much attention to before. Getting to spend time cleaning such intricate and beautiful items is the best part of the winter clean! This clock is absolutely gorgeous,and it was really satisfying to clean as it only gets done once a year so you can really see the difference your making! The same can be said for areas behind other furniture or the ornate woodwork over the doorways on the landing. Cleaning these areas makes you realise how much dust does get into the property over a way, and what good we are doing by cleaning regularly.

The clock in the Blue Drawing Room

The clock in the Blue Drawing Room

Another thing I really noticed was the damage done to the curtains in the Blue by sunlight  over the years. After we had finished cleaning the alcoves we pulled the curtains too, to give them a rest from being tied back constantly. Seeing the two sides of the curtains hanging there really shows the damage light does to textiles, the difference is amazing! In the middle you can see the areas exposed to the sunlight, and to the side the more protected part of the fabric. Even them Emma said this is not a patch on what the curtains used to look like, there is a scrap of the fabric in the textile store and she says the difference is really significant!

The curtains in the Blue Drawing Room

The curtains in the Blue Drawing Room

Working on the winter clean is a brilliant opportunity to really get to grips with the different methods used for cleaning different types of items, and the scale of the operation means you get plenty of practice! I had a good basic knowledge from working at Greyfriars’ but the vastness of Powis’ collection has been incredibly beneficial! I have cleaned every type of objects in the collection now!

Me on the scaffold tower in the Ballroom

Me on the scaffold tower in the Ballroom

I feel confident enough in my knowledge now that yesterday I was happy being in charge when we moved the winter clean over to the ballroom, directing one of the lads who comes in to help us out, and the two of us managed to clean over half the bookcases in the Ballroom in a day! Then me and Emma did all the scaffolding work in two days. I got to dust the Tiger, checking taxidermy off my to do list. I really enjoyed looking at the fabulous paintings in the Ballroom up close  and seeing the details you can’t see from the ground. What was not so nice however was removing all the dead insects from the Imari vases on top of the bookcases.

Dusting the Tiger

Dusting the Tiger

Moving the palanquin out of the case

Moving the palanquin out of the case

Then we moved into the Clive Museum, and we got to go inside all the cases! We took most of the objects out of each case to give both the items and the interiors of the cases a through clean. I absolutely loved this, getting to handle theme amazing, priceless objects, having a close look learning more about them. I really do love this job! I had to laugh when Megan was inside the case where we keep the cloth of gold clothes, she was cleaning the inside of the glass pane and tried to talk to Emma, but we couldn’t hear her through the glass. It made me think of the second Pirates of the Caribbean; part of the team, part of the museum!! I got my chance to go inside a display case when we took the palanquin out and I cleaned inside it’s case. We were practically finished in the museum in two days, as there were more of us working on the clean at once than I think I’ve seen so far!

Part of the Museum

Part of the Museum

At this rate we should be finished in no time! Which will be a brilliant sense of achievement but I will miss the detailed cleaning and spending time on one objects or one area really getting it looking its best! It is such a good way to get to grips not only with new skills, but also with the individual objects that make up this amazing collection! It has been really nice getting to know the collection, especially as the other members of the House Team are so knowledgeable and I’ve learnt a lot about the history behind the individual objects.