I have just been lucky enough to go on a little holiday full of a lot of learning; the National Trust Housekeeping Study Day. This four-day course covers all the basics about conservation and care of collections to give us the knowledge we need to look after all the National Trust’s fantastic properties and their collections.
As I have been working for the Trust for a few years now I know most off the basic principles so this course was a really good chance for me to test my knowledge and check we’re doing the right thing at Hardwick (which it seems we are). It was also a brilliant chance for me to meet new people from the Trust, and to ask any questions I had about Hardwick’s collections, from the Trust’s experts in each subject area. The Study Days happen at the perfect time of year as during the Deep Clean is when we get to have a really good look at all the object in our collection and notice any problems, so I had a few queries for the different tutors.
Each day we had several sessions, covering different topics. The topics were split between the 10 Agents of Decay (yes, there are now 10) and the different types of objects we have in our collections; Textiles, Ceramics, Wooden Floors, Stone & Plasterwork etc. Some of it was ground I had already well covered, we had a session on having and hanging paintings, and since I have moved about 20 paintings whilst at Hardwick I have a little bit of experience in that area. However the tutors made each session really interesting! They all had lots of examples of objects affected by the issues they were talking about, which was good as there are some things otherwise I may never have had a chance to see in the flesh (interesting things like the way dyes can corrode fabrics or the damage improper handling can do to books). We also had talks about engagement in our properties, and different ways in which we can ‘bring them to life’.
This years Study Days took place at Nostell Priory, so on top of everything else I got to experience yet another lovely Trust property. Nostell has some of the most amazing painted and plasterwork ceilings, they are so beautiful!I sort of miss decorated ceilings as Powis had some really nice ceilings but the Elizabethan fashion was for plain ones to show off the room. An odd thing to miss I know! One of the scenes even had a real violin dipped in plaster and put into the ceiling to give it authenticity.
Everyone attending the course was staying in the hotel so that meant we got time to socialise in the evenings, and since our dinners were 3 course we also had plenty of time to chat over our meals. We had some really interesting conversations on our table! Meeting people from different properties is always a good opportunity as talk usually turns to the vast differences between where we all work. We had lots of conversation about how we were all doing with our deep cleans, especially as some people were from ‘363’ properties. When I was at Powis Castle last year we were a ‘364’ property, meaning the only day we were closed was Christmas day. Other properties, like Hardwick and Nostell use their outside spaces as their 364 offer, so our estate, shop and restaurant.
It is difficult enough to get the deep clean done when properties close, but when you are open practically all year round it creates real complications as a lot of the clean cannot be done when the property is open. Talking to other people about how they are doing not only helps as we can try to share solutions and ideas, but also its nice to know others are facing the same challenges.
It always intrigues me how many difference there are between Trust properties even though we are all one organisation. And now I have even more properties added onto my wish list of places to visit! There is also a lot of diversity in the responsibilities different roles have in each property. In a lot of properties Conservation Assistants only have part-time hours so they do not get the opportunity to do the other projects I have always had chance to do. I also realised that many teams do not have the open dialogue with their line managers that we Chaps do, we are always kept in the loop and our opinions are asked for on loads of different matters. Again, this talking to others in the Trust made me realise I really am very lucky! I can’t wait to get back to Hardwick and try out some of the things I have picked up!
10 Agents of Decay sounds like a title for an intriguing Novel. I am imagining what the visual would be for the front cover. What a huge job conservators have, but tackled methodically it seems to work.
What an excellent way to spend a few days – always good to get another perspective and I’m sure you’ll have learned a lot of interesting things too.
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I don’t suppose there are days like this for people outside the trust hoping to work in this area after university?
Unfortunately places on these courses are limited and usually allocated to people already working for the National Trust or other heritage organisations. The best thing to do to get some experience is volunteering with your local National Trust property where I’m sure they would be more than happy to have an extra pair of hand helping with the conservation work and you can learn as you go!
I’m currently volunteering at Bath Spa University Archives and I’m hopefully going back to volunteer at Attingham Park in Shropshire so I’ve got that bit covered already. Thank you for the advice though.