Team Trip to Ickworth

The other week us Hardwick Chaps went on a research trip all the way down to Ickworth in Suffolk. It was very exciting to get to go on a team outing, and to tick another Trust property off my list. Warning: there are a lot of pictures bellow, it’s not my fault, there were just too many pretty things!



In visitor reception

Walking up the drive towards Ickworth I felt very exited. The building itself is amazing, a huge dome sitting in beautiful green gardens. The scale of the house is almost unbelievable, a real project of ambition and wealth!


Begun in the late 1790s by the 4th Earl of Bristol, a Bishop more concerned with his earthly possessions than his duties in Ireland. He built the house to display his collection of beautiful artifacts from all over the world, in an ‘instructional’ manner. The family maintained this passion for collecting meaning the house today feels more like a gallery than a home, and has some truly fantastic pieces.



Visitors enter the house through the side by the Orangery, and leave through the front doors. This felt quite unusual but it allowed for an introductory area before heading into the house through the servants quarters. I quite liked the introductory interpretation even though it felt a little bit like I was in a museum.


The introduction

One of the reasons we were visiting Ickworth was to see there Below Stairs area, where visitors can handle all the objects there. All the drawers can be opened and there are kitchen items and utensils to be discovers inside them. I would love to do something similar at Hardwick, furnish the whole room with non collection items and make it a really hands on area. You can tell a lot of money has been spent on the project and the servants rooms look really good.IMAG0365


Inside a draw

I particularly liked the Servant’s Hall, where you can try on hats, play games and even play the piano (as demonstrated below by the ever talented Lucie).


Once you go up the stairs and into the main house you are not allowed to touch anything and the rooms feel more like art galleries, rather than a home. They were all big, light rooms, beautifully decorated and furnished with fantastic items.


The servants stairs


The Entrance Hall

There are three magnificent chandeliers on the ground floor, all of which have been cleaned in recent years. The sparkle so beautifully and so Ickworth have set up the library to best be able to view one of these magnificent chandeliers.


The Dining Room

There are bean bags on the floor which visitors can sit on to look up the chandelier in the center of the room. While the bean bags, and rather funky chairs with them, do not suite the room I really like the idea of being able to sit, relax and enjoy the view. Previously there were green settee and armchairs in the center of the room, matching the curtains. The set up does look a bit odd now but it allows visitors to engage with the space more, rather than just being guided through a roped off area.



View from the bean bag

The Drawing Room is beautiful, I love the colours, and it contains another stunning chandelier. There is also a lovely chess set with a board featuring images of Roman ruins, appropriate for a house inspired by classical architecture.



Either side of the main domed area are two long wings. At the end of one of these is the ‘Pompeian Room’ named after its interesting decoration. While I am not a huge fan of the room itself there is a beautiful inlaid marble table. It has all different types of marble and in the middle an image of doves made up of tiny pieces of mosaic. It must have been made by an incredibly skilled craftsman with a lot of patience.



On the other side of the dome was a room with the second reason we had traveled to Ickworth, lighting! Lighting is an issue in most National Trust properties and Ickworth has just done a project experimenting with ways to light their collection. We are looking to do a similar project at Hardwick. Side note: the room also features some really lovely wallpaper!

Ickworth had lit several of their paintings, all recently moved into the same room, including a portrait of Lady Elizabeth Foster. The name may sound familiar to some as she was the mistress of the 5th Duke of Devonshire, who was married to Georgiana Cavendish, another Hardwick connection. In the portrait Elizabeth is wearing a miniature around her neck, though to be a picture of Georgiana.


While it is an incredibly difficult task, to light paintings well, the lights at Ickworth got in the way of viewing the paintings. As is often the way with spotlights, from certain angles the light shone on the painting, obscuring the image. it also meant it was very difficult to take photos of the paintings without getting the glare of the lights on them. However saying that I haven’t got a better solution to offer, and it’s very possible we will never find a brilliant way of lighting everything in our collection.


The main staircase at Ickworth is stunning, and as you go up the stairs you pass shelves and shelves of books, all beautifully bound and lined up. It looks fab!IMAG0431


Upstairs there are displays of some of the fine things the family had collected on their travels. There was a collection of beautiful, delicate fans and an odd collection of fish I particularly liked. The fish all had different uses, scent bottles etc and both these and the fans were collected by Geraldine, 3rd Marchioness of Bristol, clearly a woman with great tastes.





After we had walked around the house we went and found a sunny spot and had a picnic in the gardens, which was lovely.

IMAG0445Back in the car park most of the lamp-posts are decorated in a rather unusual fashion. Visitors have stuck their entry stickers all over the lamp-posts. I know these stickers can be a bit of a pain for House Teams, at Hardwick they tend to fall off and stick to the matting. I’m not sure what the staff at Ickworth think of this but I think it looks lovely and colourful, making an otherwise dull and mundane metal pole quite bright and cheerful!


Oh, and Ickworth also have a brill second-hand book shop! I didn’t spend too much money, and besides it all goes to charity so that makes it ok. All in all it was a lovely day out with my fellow Chaps, and really good fun to go around a Trust property with my team, and discuss it with other ‘insiders’.

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.


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!





A Stunning Spanish Sight

Apologies for the lack of posting recently; after my mad month in June I was lucky enough to go on holiday to Spain with my mother, for some well-earned R&R.

The street in Novelda  that houses the Casa-Museo Modernista

The street in Novelda that houses the Casa-Museo Modernista

The one active day of our holiday we went to visit a beautiful house in the town of Novelda, called Casa-Museo Modernistsica. Mum had visited before but I had never been and had heard how beautiful it was.

Casa-Museo Modernista

Casa-Museo Modernista

The house was built by Antonia Navarro Mira after she inherited a significant sum of money from her father when she was 40. She bought up six houses next to one another, knocked them down to build her mansion.

The central staircase

The Central Staircase

A close up of the Stair Case

A close up of the Stair Case

She employed the architect Pedro Cerdan Martinez Murcia to design her dream home in a modern style, with a stylish exterior and interior that had all the mod’ cons!

The Internal Balconies

The Internal Balconies

The house was finished in 1903 and held the wedding of Antonia’s youngest daughter Louise for its first big event.

The Outside Courtyard

The Outside Courtyard

The house was occupied up until the Spanish Civil War in 1936 when the family left for Madrid, taking with them their furniture which was of significant value.

The Beautiful Interior Decor

The Beautiful Interior Decor

After the war the house was used as a school for girls run by nuns, who painted the walls white. In doing this, they preserved the original decoration of the house. The house was opened as a museum in 1980.

The Ceiling in the Center of the House

The Ceiling above the Staircase

Whilst we were visiting the house and admiring its beauty a group of children came into the house and started singing in the Entrance Hall, which filled the central foyer with wonderful sounds. I think it was to do with a festival taking place and everyone stood round in a circle joining in by clapping along to the rhythm of the song.

One of the Bed Rooms

One of the Bed Rooms

This little impromptu act really brought the house to life, and it made me really want to bring more music to Hardwick. When we had a flash-mob singing the Eglantine Lamentation in the High Great Chamber it was beautiful and i would love to do some more similar thing, especially when we have our Living the History group in the Hall!

The Glass in the Center of the Ceiling

The Glass in the Center of the Ceiling

The Casa-Museo Modernista is such a stunning building, amazing interior decoration, and beautifully maintained still. Antonia’s story reminds me so much of Bess and Hardwick’s story too, I love imagining these visionary women taking their passion, going out into the world and leaving their mark on it! I would recommend it to anyone in the area! I hope I can visit it again, and that the atmosphere is just as alive the next time I go.

Symthson’s Year

2014 marks the 400th anniversary of Robert Smythson’s death, the architect who Bess of Hardwick commissioned to design her grand new home, Hardwick New Hall. Bess wanted her new home to be a celebration of all she had accomplished in her life, and this was also very symbolic in its placement right next to the house where she was born. This meant the it had to be the biggest, the best, a real show stopper that would make people gaze in awe as they pulled up to visit, somewhere that would be instantly recognisable and that people would remember long after they had visited for its grandeur and magnificence.

Harwick Hall

Harwick Hall

Smythson had started as a stone mason, working on properties such as Longleat, before graduating to architect. Hardwick was not the first property he designed, but bore his signature symmetrical lines, and fondness of windows.

When it was designed Hardwick Hall was a really innovative design, at the cutting edge of modern architecture. When many people think of ‘modern architecture’ they think of vast amounts glass as being one of its main features, I know I do. Strange to think that Hardwick too was know for its glass when it was the epitome of modern architecture 400 years ago. We’ve obviously not changed that much in all this time!

Image from:

Wollaton Hall

Smythson was not only responsible for drawing the plans of Hardwick Hall but for several other stately homes as well. His other properties include Wollaton Hall (one time Wayne Manor) as well as Burton Agnes Hall. Each property has a very unique feel but you can see some similar stylistic elements that show the link between the three. As with most prominent architects Smythson’s style lived on after his career as he helped set a trend for symmetry and inspired other architects.

Burton Agnes Hall

Burton Agnes Hall

To celebrate Smythson’s year we have written a new tour and set up two new trails highlighting some of the important and interesting architectural elements of Hardwick Hall. The indoor trail comprises of a set of columns placed around the hall highlighting where you can see the different architectural decisions Smythson and Bess made. There is also a new exhibition in the Duke’s Room highlighting some of the most innovative architecture since Hardwick was built until the modern day.

The new exhibition

The new exhibition

The outdoor trail offers visitors a chance to look at the Hall’s exterior from different angles, seeing it in a new light. Personally I know it looks amazing from every angle (ok, so I may be biased) and I think its such a good idea to draw peoples eye to these different architectural elements that one might not notice without a bit of guidance. In front of the Hall we also have our ‘pop-up’ Masons shop, where on certain days visitors can try their hand at being a Hardwick Mason.

Visitors have a go at being a Mason

Visitors have a go at being a Mason

We are hoping having a slightly different focus this year will give returning visitors a new experience here, as well as encourage visitors who have never been before by talking about a different part of Hardwick’s history. I have found it really interesting already, as architecture is something I know very little about, so I’ve enjoyed expanding my knowledge of Hardwick even more, into a rather unknown area for me.

We are very lucky to have our own team of Masons

We are very lucky to have our own team of Masons

Although Smythson drew the plans for the house he did not oversee the building project, so our new tour of the Hall tells the stories of some of the masons and crafts men that where involved in building Hardwick.

More Mason's Marks

Mason’s Marks inside the Hall

Evidence of the people that built Hardwick can be seen all around the Hall in the extensive collection of masons marks visible on most stones in the walls. Getting to see Hardwick from all the different vantage points that I do I have always made an effort to take photos of the different Mason’s marks that I see. Some of the ones I find, like when we are up the scaffolding, of moving furniture, may seldom get a chance to be photographed so I have been trying to build as complete a collection as I can. Several of our volunteers are interested in Masons marks also, and we are hoping to one day to be able to match the masons marks with the name of the person behind them.

One of many marks inside the Hall

Another Mason’s Mark

It is obvious why Hardwick was so dear to Bess, it is such a impressive house! She designed it to make an impact and it definitely does that. I can’t count the amount of times I have stopped on my way in or out just to admire the building, and the way it changes if the different seasons but always looks majestic and beautiful. Visitors are always impressed by the house, and it is so recognisable to so many, sitting proudly on top of its hill. I hope Smythson would have been very please to be remembered in such a way 400 years after his death, and with such a beautiful legacy! I know I can only hope to have such an impact on the world!