A Hardwick update

I know it sounds like all I’ve been doing recently is gallivanting round Trust properties and not actually doing any work at my own but that’s not the case, I promise we have been as busy at Hardwick as ever.

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We have totally finished the Deep Clean of the show rooms, with the Below Stairs rooms the last ones we tackled. We moved the huge wooden tree trunk that the mortar stands on in the corner of the kitchen, and found a bit of a mess underneath, mould, dust and a few creepy crawlies.

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This is why it is so important we move objects every year, because who knows what could be happening underneath them! Luckily it wasn’t too difficult to get cleaned up and I kept it laying on its side to dry it out.

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Meanwhile we have had quite a few guests over the past couple of weeks, film crews, authors and even the National Trust Council! While this meant a long day and late night for us it is always nice to get to show our property off, especially as we were stationed in the attics. I met some nice people and had some very interesting conversations.

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We are also starting to get busier, and unfortunately the more visitors we have, the more incidences of wandering hands. One of our objects that gets touched the most is the coral bed in the Paved Room, because we don’t often have enough volunteers to man that room. I guess it’s just too tempting but every time someone does touch anything they leave a trace of oil from their fingers on it.

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This oil builds up and will end up corroding metal, staining textiles and blemishing surfaces. Not to mention the physical damage that can be done to objects when people keep touching them! We try not to have too many notices reminding people not to touch but we decided we needed another one to protect this beautiful bed, especially while we’re busy.

Occasionally we have enthusiastic experts come to Hardwick to take a closer look at items in our collection. Sometimes this is very easily done, and sometimes accessing them is a little trickier. Recently we were asked for two pictures, and they just happened to be the ones at the top in the corner of the alcove.

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Getting them down with a ladder was not as simple as we first though, so we took a different route and built our small scaffolding to get them back up again. Now we just have to wait to hear what conclusions the experts have come too.

The next visitors we had were a film crew from America filming a documentary about Arbella. They were very efficient to work with, getting all the filming done in one day. This included an interview with our resident Arbella expert, House and Collections Manager Nigel Wright. I’m looking forward to watching the DVD they promised to send. It’s quite a buzz to look at footage or photos and know that you were stood just out of shot observing and assisting with the whole process.

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We had to change a light-bulb the other week, something that should not be a big deal, but in a big room really is! So we got out the big ladder and I went up to see if I could reach, but I couldn’t. Luckily for us we have a very tall colleague who was willing to come up and help us, and so the lights are back on in the High Great Chamber.

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We have also have mirrors installed in the gardens to tie in with the Arbella exhibition we are running this year. The mirrors are in pretty ‘gilded’ frames and have quotes on them relating to Arbella’s life.

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They work really well, sitting in the borders glinting in the sunlight and drawing people over to discover them. On a sunny day they look so lovely!

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We also did a little spring cleaning of the Arbella exhibition inside; we cleaned the paintings currently on display in the High Great Chamber. Because these paintings are now displayed on a slight angle they gather a lot more dust than they did hanging on the walls of the Long Gallery.

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We were just going to clean the frames, but while we were doing so noticed how dusty the canvases were, so we decided to clean them too. To do this we use a very soft, wide brush and gently brush the dust off the canvas into our hoovers.

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Getting to the top of queen Elizabeth’s frame was a little tricky, we couldn’t get close enough on a ladder so Claire came up with the ingenious method up sneaking up behind her with a brush, while I directed her disembodied hand from the front.

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I love that there are always new things to discover at Hardwick, and one beautifully sunny day one of our volunteers mentioned something about the Elizabethan drains. Me and Claire got very excited about this, we had never heard about these drains before, let alone that you can go in them! So we went on a little team trip to the building in the corner of the gardens to see them.

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Hidden under a very heavy trap door is the entrance to the old drains, with one tunnel heading under the house, and the other down the hill towards the motorway. For this visit we just had a sneaky peek into the drains, which are brick-built and tall enough to walk in. We’ll save the actual exploration for another day perhaps. So many things still to be discovered!

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Hope you’ve enjoyed this little update, proof that I am still working hard and not just swanning about the country visiting one Trust property after the other. Having said that the next few post are going to be about my visits to another few NT houses!

Random January

We have been working really hard to get ahead on the Deep Clean so we have plenty of time to install our exciting theme for this year! And thanks to our brilliant team we are doing really well, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t still had time to appreciate the beauty of the objects in the collection we care for.

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There are so many instances when I just stop what I am doing, distracted by something I have never noticed before or a view that I want to try to take a photo of, like the chair back above. It is one of the most modern fabric in the Long Gallery but I just thought it looked so interesting looking down the back of the chair, and angle we don’t usually see when we’re open.

I love noticing this that we can’t usually see, like going up the ladder to dust the top of a tall cabinet. Once we had removed the dust we could see that it has a beautifully inlaid design.

The top of one of the cabinets in the State Withdrawing Room.

The top of one of the cabinets in the State Withdrawing Room.

Another great thing about the Deep Clean is getting to look inside the furniture we clean. We found this elaborate design on the underside of the lid of a chest in the Needlework passage.

The inside lid of one of Hardwick's chest.

The inside lid of one of Hardwick’s chest.

Whilst we were cleaning the same area I spent a bit of time looking at the magnificent wine coolers that sit on the window sills in the passage. They often get a lot of comments from out visitors are they are quite unusual.

One of our 2 German wine coolers

One of our two German wine coolers.

They are ceramic pieces with designs that show people drinking and being merry, with gilded are detail over the scenes.

These figures appear to be having a jolly time

These figures appear to be having a jolly time.

It was only when I was dusting them that I realised what the figures on top of the lid were actually doing – they’re pressing grapes! The lid does remind me a little of the Schoner Brunnen, Beautiful Fountain, that I saw on my travels in Nuremburg.

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On Wednesday last week it was museum selfie day and in between snow chaos and running around getting things done I manages to snap a quick pic with Arbella, the lady who will be the center of this years theme! The new interpretation has been arriving and key players have been moving around, it is all shaping up for opening in just over a week. While we have still got a HUGE amount to do I am so excited by what is already in place and can’t wait to see the finished product!

My museum selfie

My museum selfie

Although I imagine after a week of installing interpretation, uncovering everything we’ve deep cleaned, briefing volunteers and doing the final dust by the time we are ready to open we will all be fit to drop! What we are doing this year is quite different to anything that has been done at Hardwick before so we are all anxious that it goes well, but I have a great belief in the minds behind the plan, and the muscles putting it in place. I’m sure it is going to be fab!

I got to do something else very exciting, and very unusual this week. I was invited back to my university, The University of Worcester, to talk to the current Archaeology students about how I got my job in the heritage industry! I was so pleased to be asked, it is a huge compliment for your lecturers to look at you as an example of someone who has gone on to be successful. There were several of us Worcester graduates there, which made it a really nice little reunion and I got a chance to catch up with my lecturers as well.

Beautiful Worcester.

Beautiful Worcester.

For the most part we all had similar advice to give the students; work hard, volunteer and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, seizing opportunities that come your way, or creating your own! If you want to know a little bit more about how I got to where I am today I wrote a blog post about it a while back: link here. Hopefully I will be able to go back next year and for many years after, talking about my career journey, wherever it takes me!