The little things

With all the huge projects we have had happening at Hardwick this summer it is easy for the little things to get glossed over, however the little things are so important as well. Our weekly clean on a Monday, daily cleans on Wednesdays to Sundays, checking for pests, monitoring environmental conditions, managing volunteers, talking to visitors and millions more tasks still have to happen even when we are preoccupied by opening exhibitions or installing art work!

We have achieved an amazing amount this season aside from all the bigger things I have been blogging about. So hear are some of the smaller tasks I have been doing recently.

We finished the Annual Deep Clean!

A big deal that unfortunately we were too busy to really celebrate. In contrast, we didn’t get our Deep Clean finished last year before we closed at the end of the season so this is an¬†amazing achievement for the team. Thanks to good planning and our wonderful team of staff and volunteers we got a huge amount of the Deep Clean finished over the closed season, and we have kept up the momentum until we had checked everything on our list off!

Cleaning the Over-mantle in Miss Webb's Room

Cleaning the Over-mantle in Miss Webb’s Room

We’re half way through our summer works program!

The ‘summer works’ are the conservation cleaning tasks that happen several times a year, not just once in the Deep Clean. Things like cleaning bed flats and chairs that get too much dust landing on them for us to leave them. We split all our summer works into the things that need to happen at the start of summer, and those which we won’t do until the summer ends and our visitors numbers drop. Thanks to the fact that we had already finished our Deep Clean it meant we could focus our effort on these task, and last week we finished the first half of our list.

Cleaning the velvet cushions in the Long Gallery

Cleaning the velvet cushions in the Long Gallery

Bits Boxes.

One of my personal projects has been to revitalise the Hardwick Bits Box. I did a similar project at Powis, however this was a much bigger undertaking! Where Powis’ Bits were already in organised boxes, the Hardwick’s Bits Boxes were two huge crates full of years of bits! So my job involved going through the bits, cataloging every one, writing labels for each and putting them in a bag, putting these bags into location specific boxes. Believe me when I say, there are only so many ways you can describe a broken piece of wood!

Before . . .

Before . . .

The new and improved bits box system allows the bits to be easily identified if ever there comes a time when we have a conservator in who could re-attach some for us. As a result of my work several bits have already been returned when we had our furniture conservator here for one of our big projects. Now I have overhauled the system hopefully it shouldn’t get in that state again, so I have helped out the future Conservation Assistants of Hardwick Hall (you’re welcome! ūüėõ )The final part of this task is for me to just finish typing up all the bits records, all 340-odd of them!

. . . and After!

. . . and After!

Felting the Still Room.

A small task that has needed doing for a while was to put pieces of felt underneath the objects that have been added to the still room. If you have even noticed when you go around Trust properties, often objects that sit on pieces of furniture have a layer of something between the two. This protects not only the surface an objects sits on, but also the base of the object.

A felt pad for a pot

A felt pad for a pot

The protective layer can be several things, felt or cork pieces, and type of foam called plasterzote or a thin type of clear plastic like laminate. I chose to use beige felt for the Still Room as it blends nicely with the paint colour of the surfaces. For most of the objects it was just a case of cutting circles that fit the base closely so the visual effect is not spoiled. The only tricky part was when it came to cutting the felt for the fish shaped mould!

The Fish

The Fish

More 50 things!

Last summer we decided to adapt the ’50 things to do before you’re 11 and 3/4′ so that we could bring some of the activities into the Hall. This year we decided to do the same, but not to make things easy for ourselves we wanted to chose different activities so any children visiting us again would get a new experience. I love this idea, and anything that gets us to look at how people interact with the Hall differently! We have barefoot walks on our lovely new matting in the High Great Chamber (something I love to do), caves to explore, dens to be built, birds to be spotted, and my personal favourite ‘catch a falling leaf’. Each leaf has an interesting Hardwick fact written on to be discovered, which I really enjoyed writing as I learnt something new as well! This particular ‘thing’ was a real team effort with the original idea coming from Sadie, me researching the facts, Jen practicallising the idea and writing the facts onto the leaves and Claire going over the words in black pen. The finished product almost looks like a work of art!

Our leafy installation

Our leafy installation

So there we go, just some of the other wonderful things that have been keeping me occupied. But don’t think that just because these are all now finished I shall be sitting on my bottom eating cake (that only happens at tea break, honest!) we have so many other projects in various staged of fruition at Hardwick, getting these done just frees up my time for me to get stuck into the next task! Nothing beats the satisfaction of getting thing done!

Dunham Massey – Part Two

Hello again. As I was getting towards the end of writing my last post I realised how long it had turned out so I decided to try and avoid boring anyone too much I would split it into two parts. So here is the second part of my thoughts on my recent trip to Dunham Massey. Really long post are just what happens I guess when you have so much to say about something!

The last part of the tour downstairs was the ‘Operating Theater’ at the bottom of the main stairs. It was a really interesting scene, where surgical suits that seemed to be filled with talking ghosts stood, and oral histories played. The ‘ghosts’ told us about an operation that had taken place in the very spot, and featured a recording from Lady Jane Grey herself. This element had been done in such an interesting way, I found it fascinating! There was just enough to keep your attention, without too much to make it what could have been a really gruesome element (which I was very pleased about¬†as I have been known to faint at the sight of blood!).

The operating theater at the bottom of the stairs

The operating theater at the bottom of the stairs

Unfortunately for me as soon as I got upstairs the absorbing atmosphere from the ground floor was lost. The two rooms had very little to indicate whether we were still supposed to be in WWI. The background noises ceased and it all suddenly felt very flat. I had hoped to see more vignettes upstairs as well but we didn’t see any more of these. Once we got into the Gallery I felt the atmosphere return a bit more but only briefly, and there our visit to the hospital was over and we moved into an exhibition of the collection for the rest of the visit. Because I had been expecting more of the safe to continue upstairs I was a bit confused, which seems unfair considering how well the ground floor had been done!

The gallery upstairs

The Gallery upstairs

The exhibition that followed on after the hospital story had ended was very interesting. It was called ‘Treasures from the Collection’ and had been though up to appease any visitors who had come the Dunham to see a stately home and all it’s fine furnishings. Admittedly I didn’t get this until it was explained to be, but the information and items on display were really interesting and beautiful.

The Treasures Exhibition

The Treasures Exhibition

The library was beautiful. Libraries full of old books really are some of the most amazing locations and the one at Dunham has shelves that tower above your head filled with hundreds of matching leather-bound books. Dunham also has a huge kitchen complex which was full of shiny copper, I do love seeing rows of gleaming copper!

In the Kitchens

In the Kitchens

Over all I had a really nice day at Dunham, the downstairs rooms had been really well interpreted and it made for a very absorbing visit. It was just a same that the upstairs rooms did not have the same depth which sort of spoiled the visit, unfortunately. I am hopefully going back to Dunham again soon, and am looking forward to it, I will make sure to spend some more time in the downstairs rooms fully exploring them, especially as I already know what is upstairs.

The Library

The Library

I would recommend anyone with an interest in WWI history to visit Sanctuary as it has been really well done, but I would also tell people in advance about the difference in the atmospheres between the floors. I think I rushed my first visit as I was too curious to see what else there was to see, so I will take my time and absorb it all if I go again, and try to follow the individual stories throughout the tour more closely.

It will be interesting to see what the property choose to do after Sanctuary is over. It has been billed as lasting for two years and I’m not sure if a property can just go back after something so completely different, but also, what can you do as a follow up act. Properties rarely have several stories as powerful as this, or the timing on a national scale that brings the story into a much bigger picture, let alone the time and money to do this every two years. Part of me wonders if this was too much work for only two years, so maybe they will extend Sanctuary until the end of the centenary. I would be thinking about it but I suppose it depends if their visitor numbers trail off next season after all their press coverage has died down.

More interpretation in the Bagdad Ward

More interpretation in the Bagdad Ward

Talking to the team behind the project made me confident that if Hardwick had the same funding we could do something just as trans-formative and powerful. The thing the manager at Dunham said was that he felt he had the right team and the right timing to undertake such an extreme project. I feel like we have such a good team at Hardwick now that we could achieve anything we set our minds too given the right resources! Although with all the projects we’ve got in the pipeline maybe not for a good few years!

Dunham Massey is Stamford Military Hospital

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to visit Dunham Massey with a National Trust group. Dunham has done something pretty amazing and transformed what was a very standard Trust Stately Home into the military Hospital it actually was during the First World War. I had read quite a bit about ‘Sanctuary’ as the theme is called so when my line manager asked if I wanted to go and see it I jumped at the chance!

Dunham Massey

Dunham Massey

The best bit about going to see it with work (other than getting to go on a jolly and it being called ‘work’) was that after we had been round the house we had the opportunity to talk to the team behind sanctuary. It was really inspiring to see what could be done with a good idea, a fascinating story, and a lot of money!

The new Visitor Reception Building

The new Visitor Reception Building

During the First World War Dunham Massey, like many stately homes, was turned into a military hospital to help ease the burden that the War had placed on the under-prepared British health care system. At the beginning of the war Britain had only 7000 hospital bed, by the end there were 364000 thanks to Dunham Massey and other places like it.

From 1917, when it opened as a hospital, Dunham Massey was known as Stamford Military Hospital. The hospital was established and run by The Countess of Stamford, Penelope Grey. The ground floor became the hospital but the upper floors remained the family home, where all the furniture that had been in the rooms below rooms was also stored for the duration of the war.

The Bagdad Ward

The Bagdad Ward

The Countess took a personal interest in all the soldiers under her roof, and her daughter Lady Jane Grey became a VAD Nurse working at the hospital, and bringing great comfort to the wounded soldiers. Penelope’s son, Roger Grey, the 10th Earl of Stamford, was based in London for most of the war and used his position to help get supplies the hospital needed.

The interpretation of Dunham’s amazing story has been really well done, with the ‘Bagdad Ward’ in the Saloon being the highlight of the tour in my opinion. The room has been recreated according to contemporary photographs of the hospital. There are snippets of information all over the room, so many that you have to really explore the space to find it all.

Some of the hidden interpretation

Some of the hidden interpretation

The Visitor Reception Building had several panels of information about Dunham’s role in the First World War, and background information about the major changes that the national hospital system underwent during the War. There was also an introductory exhibition in one of the first rooms of the house, giving basic information about life in the Trenches and some of the injuries and illnesses that could send fighting men ‘back to Blighty’.

The introductory information

The introductory information

We were the first people in that day (eager beavers us Trust lot) so we have a chance to be in the room before the actors came in. There are sound effects of breathing, whistling, ringing phones and even music in the downstairs rooms which help create the atmosphere of the place.¬†Being in that space was really absorbing. When the actors came in the room at first I wasn’t sure what to do. We had already been warned that they would not interact with us (thank goodness, audience participation terrifies me!) and I wanted to read all the information, which meant venturing near one of the actors who was lying in a bed.

The actor portraying Lady Jane Grey

The actor portraying Lady Jane Grey

However once I got past the slight awkwardness and just carried on looking it was fine, and then the actors started one of their vignettes. There are several different scripts and I have heard really good things about them. The two I saw were very good, you had to have a bit of background knowledge to fully understand the meaning of the conversation the two soldiers were having. If you did have this knowledge it was very though provoking.

Actors doing a scene

Actors doing a scene

However after hearing so many good things about how powerful and moving the acting was I came out of the property a little disappointed, knowing that there were elements I had not seen. We even went in the first couple of rooms again at the end of the day to try to catch some more acting, but again did not see the really emotive¬†scenes we had heard about. I guess this is where ‘managing expectations’ really becomes important. I was a little bitter that Sanctuary was getting so much press but have now decided maybe it’s not a bad thing Hardwick it not in the public focus in such a big way. It is a lot to live up to, especially when the icing on the cake is something like Sanctuary’s acting, where it is very time dependent on the experience you will get.

This has turned into a really long post so I will leave it there for now and talk more about my visit to Dunham in the next post. Thanks for reading!

Another Nostell Visit

Last week I went to stay with mother in Marsden for a bit of R&R which was lovely, and while I was there we did a bit of Trust visiting too. I decided I really wanted visit Nostell Priory again, I had been there in January for the Housekeeping Study Days but I hadn’t seen it open and ready for the public.

Nostell Priory

Nostell Priory

We managed to drive there without getting too lost and when we got there were loads of ’50 Things’ activities taking place in the Estate, and hundreds of cows! It was lovely to see the Estate in use, and full of people. Nostell Priory, the house that stands today, was built by the Winn family in the 1700’s.

WP_002795

The 18th Century Saloon

The thing I was most taken with in January were the amazing plaster and painted ceilings, they are so beautiful, with really intricate details and colors including gilded parts.Rowland Winn, the 5th Baronet took over the building and decorating of the house from his father, and he hired Robert Adam to do much of the work on the interiors, including many of the ceilings.

The Dining Room

The  State Dining Room

The collection of objects and furniture at Nostell is amazing, they have so many beautiful things! Much of the furniture was made by Thomas Chippendale specially for Rowland and this house.

A Leather Chair

An embossed Leather Chair

Seeing all the rooms properly the whole effect was stunning! I can’t decided which was my favorite room, but it could very possibly be the State Bedroom, which has beautiful hand painted wallpaper, installed in 1771 and matching furniture, as well as this stunning hand embroidered bed spread! The guide said it was believed to have all been worked by one person. The bed itself was installed in the room in the 19th Century and designed to match the existing Chippendale furniture.

The bed spread from the Chinese Bedroom

The bed spread from the State Bedroom

I love being able to just get in the car and drive to different places, and working for the Trust means as a reward we get in for free so it makes for a brilliant day out! I have been to quite a few different properties lately and plan to go to a lot more when the re-enactment season is over (not that I’m wishing it away of course!).

Designed by Robert Adam

The Tapestry Room

The last room on the tour of the house was a mini exhibition on how the House Team look after Nostell, and it was really well done. It talked about the agents of decay, and had examples of each, as well as a mini room set out to show what a Deep Clean of a stately home looks like. This was all in the room which also house an amazing Doll’s House, decorated inside to match the rooms of the main house!

A lovely Doll's House at Nostell Priory

The lovely Doll’s House at Nostell Priory

The Doll’s House was made for the Winn family in 1735 by Thomas Chippendale. I can imagine the hours of fun the Winn family children must have had playing with such a beautiful thing!

Nostell has a very different feel from Hardwick, but it too is really beautiful, with an amazing collection. I bet there House Team feel just as lucky to work there as I do to be at Hardwick!