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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.



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!


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!

Textile Heaven

In recent weeks me and the Chaps at Hardwick have had the pleasure of doing an audit of our textile store. I love this store-room, I think it is one of the most interesting rooms on the property and having the opportunity to go through all the boxes and see the treasures inside has been fantastic!


All our show rooms get audited on an annual basis, usually when we are deep cleaning them. With the store rooms we do this less frequently because they are not often open to the public so likely to be subject to less change.

Auditing the textile store involved going through every box in the room systematically and making sure what should be in there was, and that it was still in good condition,


Luckily at Hardwick, thanks to many years of hard work before I arrived, the stores in the attics are very organised, including the textile store. Every box had a list of what should be inside, with useful little picture tags attached to it. These come in very handy when we want to find anything, because we can look at the tags first.

As so much work has been done in this room most of the boxes were as they should be, so it was really a case of recording and condition checking. This meant we got to have a good look at ll the beautiful and interesting textile pieces up there.


Once we have finished the audit we took the list we had written and will be checking it off against our online database. If you want to see some of the collection at Hardwick, or at any Trust property, then look on the National Trust Collections page. This is a great resource for further research, and just having a nosey at what properties have hidden in their collections.


I’m going to share with you some photos of the pieces I really liked. Some of them I don’t know anything about, I just thought they were really pretty! Others, like the one below, match items we have on display. This piece matched the embroidery we have on the Blue Bed. We know the embroidery taken off the original bed (dated 1629) and places on new, less damaged fabric by the 6th Duke in 1852.


These columns are all that is left of a 5th great hanging. They once belonged to a piece featuring Cleopatra, part of the set with Penelope, Lucretia, Artemisia and Zenobia that we have begun conserving. They are all that remains because the rest of the piece was used to patch up the first four embroideries!



Some things we have a large amount of, like these pieces of velvet and metal embroidered borders. We have 21 pieces of this in the textile store. It is believed that this border was purchased in Bess’ time, for a great amount of money, but it does not seem to have been used until the 19th century when it was cut into the lengths we see today.WP_004070

We also have nine of these panels, all featuring a variety of birds on white and blue velvet on a heavy linen base. We were trying to work out what they once had been, as they were only mounted in this way in the 1970’s. Looking at them at first we though they could have all been one piece, however the circles in the corner do contain complete images and don’t line up with one another, so we decided that probably wasn’t the case.


Here we have sections from what would have been cushion covers. We have two of these, but neither is complete. The embroidery on them is fantastic, the time and patience that must have gone into these.IMAG0539


The piece below matches the hanging we have on the Entrance Hall Gallery. It contains fabric very similar to the flossy silks (in the Cut Velvet Dressing Room) as well as patterned velvet. I think these fabrics were placed together long after they were originally made and purchased. It is just the sort of thing that has happened constantly throughout Hardwick’s history.


This is possibly a small bed spread. In the same box is another very similar one but in blues. I love this design, the swirly elements and delicate little flowers are just my style.IMAG0550

We also have pieces that I’m not sure we’ll ever know for sure where they came from, including lots of little pieces of metal embroidery. Originally this little bird would have been very gold, but the thread has tarnished over time. It’s possible that these elements were purchased for projects that never got finished. Any one with a bit of a craft stash knows how easily that can happen!WP_004072

The amount of textile items we have in that store is almost unbelievable, and so much of it is contemporary with Bess. We know she purchased textiles and parts of textiles for projects she was working on. She also had a team of embroiderers she worked with and she and Mary Queen of Scotts used to sit and sew together but the amount of items we have that she could have possibly worked on is phenomenal! Another thing to admire Bess for!


When visitors come into the attics they often ask why these objects are not on display but the truth is a lot of what is in our attics couldn’t be displayed, it’s too sensitive. A lot of the furniture doesn’t date from the period of time we are telling stories about, so wouldn’t fit in Hardwick today. And even if these things weren’t the case where would we put all of the stuff!? The Cavendish family had many properties to furnish, and a huge amount of that collection now resides at Hardwick. We have more tapestries that walls, more bits of textiles than we could ever have room to display, and more things like fire screens, mirrors and jugs than any human could ever possibly need!


That is why we like to open our attics up from time to time, so these objects can be seen and admired, as they should be. But also so people understand about why we make the decisions about the collection that we do. If you would like a chance to visit the attics we are currently opening them on Wednesdays up until the beginning of the school holidays. Check the Hardwick Hall website for more information.

A trusty holiday

Last week I was away on a much anticipated holiday, and how else would this National Trust employee spend her annual leave than visiting other Trust properties! The holiday started with a re-enactment event way down south, which was why me … Continue reading

Christmas Highlights!

My Christmas was very busy this year, full of all the things I love; work, sweet things, crafts, family, friends and glitter! Here are a few highlights from my festive season! This year we spent even longer getting Hardwick Hall … Continue reading

Penelope Returns, and Lucretia Leaves

It has been a very exciting (and busy!) couple of weeks at Hardwick as we have been getting ready to open a new exhibition highlighting our ‘Great Hanging’ embroideries. Many, many months ago (three years actually) the first of the Great Hangings went away to Blickling Conservation Studios for conservation work. This is the start of a long-term conservation project for Hardwick. The Blickling Textile Conservation Studio Blog has lots of interesting info and nice pics of the conservation work they did on Penelope.



Eventually all four beautiful works of this set will be displayed in the Hall in a new exhibition that is being created specifically for this project. They are going to be displayed in the Butler’s Pantry, that used to house an introductory exhibition about Hardwick Estate. The past couple of weeks we have been focusing in installing Penelope in this space and getting it ready to open to the public.

The Empty Exhibition Space

The Empty Exhibition Space

I was not working at Hardwick when Penelope went away for conservation, but remember seeing the hanging on display in their screens in the Entrance Hall. Duchess Evelyn placed the embroideries in these screens, where previously they had been displayed on giant A-Frames, and prior to that hung on walls. Now it has reached the point where these virtuous ladies really need some TLC.

Taking Penelope out of her packaging

Taking Penelope out of her packaging

Penelope returned to Hardwick at the beginning of the month, and we brought her into the newly refurbished Butler’s Pantry to await the arrival of her custom-made display case. The vision for the Butler’s Pantry has been to turn it into a really absorbing gallery space where your attention is focused solely in Penelope and eventually the rest of the Great Hangings.



The Great Hangings were created by Bess out of clerical vestments her husbands collected from their involvement in the dissolution of the monasteries. Originally there were five hangings, each featuring a strong woman from history or mythology that Bess admired. The five women originally featured in the five hangings were Penelope, Lucretia, Artemisia, Zenobia and Cleopatra. I love that Bess herself has now joined the ranks of these women, and is a role model to others as these five were to her!

Lining the embroidery up with the frame

Lining the embroidery up with the frame

Penelope was the wife of Odysseus (also knows as Ulysses). It took Odysseus 10 years to return from the Trojan War, all the while Penelope waited for his return, not knowing if he was alive or dead. During this time she was harangued by many suitors wanting her hand in marriage. She told the suitors that she would marry once she had finished weaving a shroud for her father-in-law. So every day Penelope sat at her loom and carried on her weaving, and every night when she was alone she un-wove the work she has just done so the task would never be completed. Eventually Odysseus did return and rid his home of the suitors that had been taking advantage of his lands and possessions for too long, and he and Penelope were joyfully reunited!

Going up!

Going up!

Penelope is depicted alongside Patients and Perseverance on our hanging, two virtues she definitely displayed and that Bess must have admired. The tapestries hanging in the High Great Chamber also depict Penelope as the follow the story of Odysseus (Ulysses) returning from Troy. I studied the Odyssey at A-Level and think it is a really interesting story full of myth and magic, fantastic creatures and plenty of danger! Worth a read if you enjoy mythology and adventure.

Penelope gets a final spruce

Penelope gets a final spruce

Her display case has been fitted with perspex panes as large as we could get them, so as to interfere with the piece as little as possible. It has also been chosen to reduce and reflections so visitors can see Penelope clearly. It works really well and you barely notice it is there, I just hope we don’t get sticky fingers touching it as removing fingerprints off our display cases seems to be an endless job already (I don’t know how people in museums cope!).

Un covering the perspex

Un-covering the perspex

As well as her custom-made display case Penelope has had state of the are LED lighting fitted overhead, set specially to pick out the wonderful colour that still remains in the piece. Each embroidery is made a church vestments, this mean each piece of the image is made from the most fantastic fabrics, velvet and brocades covered in gold and silver threads and spangles! I have been doing a detailed condition check of the piece and keep getting distracted by the way the detail had been created, there is so much to see!

The detail on the eagle held by Perseverance

The detail on the eagle held by Perseverance

I am so pleased to have been involved with this project, in the small way I have been, and so proud of the team for creating a stunning exhibition fitting for such a work of art, and I am in no doubt that Penelope and Bess would have been very pleased with the result! The exhibition officially opened 18th June so if you can come and have a look for yourselves!

Bess' coat of arms

Bess’ coat of arms

The next Great Hanging to head to Norfolk is Lucretia. Lucretia’s story does not have the happy ending Penelope’s does, but luckily the embroidery will have a happy ending and return to us as beautiful as the first now looks! Having seen Penelope’s transformation I cannot wait to see the four virtuous ladies on display, conserved and looking fab. However that is some way off yet so I will have to follow Penelope’s example and be patient.

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: http://www.gardenvisit.com/garden/wollaton_hall_garden

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!

A New Year full of Old Objects

As soon as we were back at work we were straight back into our Deep Clean, finishing the top floor and moving into the Entrance Hall. However we’re not just thinking about the closed season, we have already begun preparing … Continue reading

Arbella Stuart Spotted?

A bit of fun for you today with an article that a college found and showed me. A recent photo taken at Rufford Abbey show a ghostly figure standing in the doorway, and it seems this figure has been attributed to none other than Hardwick’s own Arbella Stuart. Arbella was Bess’ granddaughter, and she had a claim to the English throne. Unfortunately her life, which she seemed to seldom have much control over, turned out rather tragically and she died in the Tower in 1615 (Read more about her here).

Arabella Stuart

Arbella Stuart

Arbella was raised by Bess and seems to have been a bit of a handful, there are reports of them having screaming rows in the long Gallery at Hardwick! She is another character from the past that it would be amazing to have a conversation with, find out what she really thought of her lot in life. This article was doubly interesting for me as in April this year my re-enactment group did a show at Rufford Abbey (Link to my mum’s post about the show). It’s a really lovely site and although I didn’t spot anything but if we go back next year I will be sure to keep an eye out for her!

Read the article here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2518153/White-Lady-Rufford-Abbey-ghost-photo-captured-using-iPod-Touch.html and see what you think!

A trip to the Big City

Last weekend a couple of our lovely volunteers organised a coach trip down to London to see the ‘Elizabeth I & Her People‘ exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, and I went along to see it too. The exhibition gives a glimpse into the people in Elizabethan England and features several pieces from Hardwick’s own collection. I was really hoping to see the exhibition before it closed, given all the hard work we Chaps had put into getting our two lovely portraits ready for the loan. (Read more about that here)

The two portraits we loaned to the NPG

The two portraits we loaned to the NPG

The exhibition was only small but we managed to spend nearly two hours in there, looking at all the fabulous treasures there and admiring how wonderful our objects looked on display. It was such a different setting to see these familiar objects in. We were particularly looking at the lighting in the exhibition, it highlighted every detail on our newly conserved paintings.


It would be so nice to be able to do something similar at Hardwick but we are restricted with not having anywhere near enough electric points, and not being able to attach light to the walls or ceilings. We have been starting to look into different way of highlighting objects in our collection to show them off to their full potential. It’s a tricky thing to try to do but after seeing how good they look we want to try to do something. A project to be mulling over for the future!

I felt oddly proud of how Hardwick’s objects held their own alongside objects from all over the world, from collections like the Ashmolean’s and Private Collections. Our portrait of Queen Elizabeth was the main feature of the exhibit, the biggest, and in my opinion the best portrait of Queen Elizabeth there! Not only could you see her in the section with all the paintings of the Queen, but you could spot her from most points in the exhibition, and through an archway perfectly places to show our portrait off, with a seat in for people to sit and admire!

Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I

It was fascinating to get a glimpse into the lives of so many different Elizabethan people, so many stories that I had never heard before. The people featured were such a cross-section, and lead such interesting lives! The portraits artifacts that accompanied them were of such good quality, I did have quite a few ‘Wow!’ moments.

Along with our two portraits, one of Elizabeth and one of our Bess, we also had some embroideries on display. These were two figures of men on a hunt embroidered on a backing of black velvet, and one of the lovely red velvet panel we have from a bed the Bess commissioned. This piece had the honor of being made into a pin cushion on sale ion the gift shop (I was very tempted but went with the from tree ornament instead). We were also included in a large part in the video that accompanied. I helped out the crew while they were filming the pieces and Hardwick looked amazing! It came off really nicely and hopefully will peak a lot of interest and inspire a few people to come and visit us.

The Embroidered Panel

The Embroidered Panel

A couple of my favorite objects (other than our portraits and embroideries of course!) included a beautiful sword, and a beautiful purse! The sword had engraved decoration on every part; I love it when weapons are both pretty and deadly! The purse also appealed to another thing I like, frogs. It was a really sweet little embroidered purse in the shape of a frog. Still can’t decide which one I would have taken home given the chance! There was a few pieces of really skilled embroidery on display that you can see some examples of here.

The Frog Purse

The Frog Purse

My Souvenir from the Exhibition

My Souvenir from the Exhibition

There was also a really lovely  pencil sketch of Queen Elizabeth, supposedly drawn from life, that really captured my imagination. There were several different paintings and portraits of Elizabeth looked like a different person in each so it made me wonder what she really looked like. I wonder what she was really like, and what her and Bess’ friendship was like too, if only Dr Who and his Tardis could come and help me find out!

I am so pleased to have been able to go down and see our ladies on display at such a prestigious London gallery. It fills me with pride and reminds me again how lucky I am to work somewhere with such a stunning collection of nationally important treasures! And as well as giving me a lot of food for thought (mainly about Elizabethan life) it has given us things to think about at work too. The exhibition is on until January and well worth a visit if you get a chance!