A hidden treasure trove near home

This weekend I was re-enacting again (Tatton Park, near Manchester, this time) and the Monday after me and mum went to an amazing architectural salvage place close to where I grew up. I took some photos of the pieces that I really liked, which I will share below.

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The place, in Elland, is a stones throw from where I grew up but I had never heard of it. Mum had wanted to visit for a while and so we decided to make a day of it.

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The shop, called Andy Thornton’s, is in a converted Mill. Big old mills like these are a familiar sight growing up in Yorkshire, but even though the building is huge, it is packed full of interesting and amazing pieces. Check out the website here: www.andythornton.com but beware it may damage your bank account!

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As well as architectural salvage and antiques the shop has a further floor of items you can order from their catalogue. They seem to specialise in kiting out trendy ‘urban vintage’ bars and restaurants with the most beautiful furniture and decor!

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The showroom is a treasure trove of items and must be perfect for film crews looking to set dress historical sets. I would love a job that meant I spent most of my time exploring places like Andy Thorntons, and the rest creating atmospheres and rooms from distant or fictional places. I was just looking for an excuse to but something.

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One day, when I’m rich and live in something bigger than a Wendy House I would love to fill my house with items found in shops like this, spending time restoring and personalising them for my home.

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The floors were set out in little ‘rooms’ and seemed to stretch for miles back. Furniture was sort of organised to have like with like, and around every corner and behind every pile was something else fabulous and interesting. It was a real Aladdin’s cave!

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It was a shame there was no information about where these pieces had come from (that could just be the historian in me). There were some elements with stories just begging to be discovered, like a basket full of Bibles, many with dedications in the front.

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Items on the floor ranged from HUGE fireplaces to vintage style replicas to retro glass coke bottles. There was even a collection of chairs that used to be in Westminster Abbey.

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In fact there was enough ecclesiastical items for mum to be able to kit out an entire church, with lots of fab stained glass and beautifully carved woodwork.

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I will bear this place in mind for future projects with work too as it seems like the place many National Trust properties could make good use off.

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There are so many beautiful and unique items in that old mill in Elland, if you are ever in the area, or in need of furniture or even inspiration, pop in and have a browse. Even if you come out empty-handed it will have been really be worth your while.

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Cradling Books and Taking Tours

Now it is the new year the castle is open weekends only and we are giving guided tours! Well we should be, however the snow has been playing havoc with our plans slightly and the castle was closed for a few days. While it was snowy I stopped taking my usual route to work through the gardens and started going up the East Front. I say this is to avoid making footprints in the pretty, unspoilt snow, but really I’m trying to avoid getting snowballed by the gardeners!

Perfect snow in the Formal Gardens

Perfect snow in the Formal Gardens

All this snow has meant we have been checking all the rooms in the castle for leaks everyday (for some reason I keep getting sent to the spooky top floor!). We have to be vigilant and check the windows when there is bad weather anyway. We check for leaks, windows blowing open or wind causing detritus to fall down the chimneys. As it has been snowing we are also now looking out for snow piling up on window ledges. If the snow starts to melt on a window ledge with a gap then it could drip inside. Luckily the windows at Powis aren’t too bad and a few well placed towels seem to be doing the trick and keeping everything dry!

My weekend duty I had been preparing and psyching myself up for giving tours it seems it was not to be on Saturday, the roads had turned to ice so the property was closed again. Since me and Emma were the only people in the whole castle we were wondering what to do with ourselves (not that my to do list is anything like short!). In the end we decided to get crafty! We are preparing a new display to go out in the Ballroom and we were going to commission some new book cradles to be made for the books that we will be putting out on display. However after an e-mail back from the man who would have been making the cradles said we could have a go at making them ourselves we decided to rise to the challenge. We had the acid free card, and now the time, why not give it a go.

First steps

First steps

And it turned out ok, we have made seven book cradles over the weekend, and once I got my head around the tricky mathematical part of the process it was easy enough. Book cradles are used when books are put out on display open at a page. You can get generic sized cradles but ones specific to the book gives the pages better support, spreads the pressure out and minimise any damage being open for a length of time could do. When a book is laid out on a flat surface open it puts a lot of pressure on the spine. It is better for the book to be supported in a V shape, to prevent the spine from cracking or the pages coming loose. This is especially the case in the books we are putting out on display, as they are one-of-a-kind accounts personal to Powis, and are all around a hundred years old! I was really eager to attempt the cradles, not only to save the property a bit of money, but also to add a new skill to my repertoire!

The finished product

The finished product

Sunday was not as quiet as Saturday we had a huge amount of rain that washed away all the snow. I went to bed in a world of white and woke up in colour! It was a shame to see the snow go but I’m glad that the property could open fully again! However the rapid thaw meant there is some quite bad flooding in the fields beyond the castle grounds. I have seen them flood before, with the heavy rain we have been having this winter, but I had never seen it this bad! The ponds in the castle grounds were overflowing too, and flooding into the meadow next to the Great Lawn. This did reveal something of interest to the Archaeologist in me however. The flood waters pooled around a small mound in the centre of the field, and Emma told me this was where a fountain used to stand!

So with the property open the tours could commence and all my preparation would pay off. I was excited to get back into giving tours, something I used to do a lot of as a Student Ambassador at uni. The first tours we agreed that Emma would do the most part, and I would talk about the family history in the State Dining Room and about the Kitchens (since they’re my baby). Then as the second tour was running a little behind I told Emma I would go and start the last tour while she finished the second one up. I was feeling very confident after listening to Emma and taking mental notes, and I was eager to do a bit more talking, and showing off just how much I have learnt since coming to Powis.

It look so different without the snow

It look so different without the snow

I really enjoyed delivering the tour, throwing a few jokes in and engaging the visitors by asking questions. I love talking to visitors, and until I started preparing for the tours I didn’t realise how much I had learnt about Powis’ collection and history. Emma says you absorb the information by osmosis the longer you’re here but I know it’s spending time with our House Team. They are so knowledgeable and willing to share (and be bugged with endless questions!).  Especially at the moment doing the winter clean; me and Emma have spent days sat on the scaffold cleaning items while I ask questions about the room, a particular objects or the family, and she seems to know every answer! I guess that happens after ten years at a property!

Snowdrops!

Snowdrops!

The history here is so long and complicated but so varied and interesting! I’m glad I know enough that I can fill an hour-long tour around the castle, but I’m still a long way off feeling confident about the whole of Powis’ timeline! Again it reminds me how lucky I am to be in this industry, and especially here at Powis, where it seems everything has a story to tell! I’m looking forward to giving my next tour, the weekend after next!

Recommended Reading

To steal a phrase from my university days I am going to put forward a little recommended reading list of some fabulous National Trust books, but beware, they will make you want to travel the length and breadth of the country until you have visited every property and seen every item featured!

I final graduate from my undergraduate degree at the beginning of the month and as a graduation gift my mum bought me some Trust books to peruse. It made me realize I seem to be building up quite a collection of heritage type books, with a particular focus on the National Trust.

'The Archaeologist's Bible'

‘The Archaeologist’s Bible’

The first book I’m going to recommend is what we nicknamed ‘The Archaeologist’s Bible’ at uni; Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice. By Renfrew and Bahn. We were told to read it in our fist year so I went online and bought one and still refer to it today. This book helped me write so many essays over my three years at uni and is a really good starting point for someone, like me, who has no real knowledge of archaeology beyond Time Team. This books covers every topic you could need to know in an easy to understand and interesting way.

Another book that helped me, especially in my first year at uni was Kevin Green’s Archaeology; an Introduction. 

Archaeology; An Introduction

Archaeology; An Introduction

A book I have spent a lot of time studying and a brilliant tool published by the National Trust is their Manual of Housekeeping. This incredibly comprehensive manual is regularly updated and ensures that every Trust property has the same information to refer to. It covers every question you could have with regards to housekeeping, conservation, winter cleans, moving, storing and caring for objects ect. I used it a lot when I was working at Greyfriars as there were no other conservation Assistants for me to ask, and it helped me understand a lot of the reasons for doing thing the way the trust does them. I also used the manual in my dissertation, and would recommendatory purchasing it if you want to go into conservation.

The National Trust Manual of Housekeeping

The National Trust Manual of Housekeeping

When I wrote my dissertation, discussing the delicate balance between conservation and access in heritage properties, I used the National Trust as one of my case studies. This was because of the time I had spent at Greyfriars giving me an insight into the way the Trust did things. A book I used quite a lot in my literature review was Merlin Waterson’s The National Trust. The First Hundred Years. It is a really interesting book that I originally borrowed from the uni library but ended up buying myself a copy and one for my mother for last Christmas. It gives a good overview of how the charity came to be and showed me just how much things have evolved, but how the main principles and beliefs are still firmly at the core of what the Trust do today. It is a really good book for anyone interested in the National Trust.

The First Hundred Years

The First Hundred Years

These books really helped me through my university career and I still read and refer to them today, a great set of books to give anyone a good solid understanding of Archaeology or Conservation in the Heritage Industry.

The next few books are more recreational reading. I mentioned in my Erddig post that I visited their second hand book shop and bought a few more books from their gift shop also. I have begun collecting guide books from different National Trust properties, new guide books and old ones that often turn up in Trust properties’ second hand book shops. These are great souvenirs with fantastic pictures in them. I also use them to jog my memory of all the different properties I have visited!

On my visit to Erddig’s book shop I bought a lovely book called And so to Bed by Margaret Willes. I bought this book as it appeals to my love of textiles, it has images of all my favourite beds from the properties I have been visiting; the State bed at Erddig, and our State bed here at Powis, as well as the gorgeous brass bed at Penrhynn. Another wonderful souvenir of one of my favourite aspects visiting Trust properties.

And so to Bed

And so to Bed

In the Erddig gift shop I treated myself to a book called Great Houses of the National Trust by Lydia Greeves. Again this book allows me to look at the fab properties in the Trust’s care, and add more to my list of places I would love to visit/work! There are more stunning photographs and a good overview about each property and why it qualifies as a ‘great’ house. I was very pleased to see Powis Castle was in there too! I would recommend this book as an overview of the amazing properties the Trust cares for.

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Then as a graduation gift from my mother she bought me two new books on Trust properties and their contents. Big hefty books full of gorgeous pictures!

Me at Graduation outside Worcester Cathedral

Me at Graduation outside Worcester Cathedral

The first book is called Houses of the National Trust also by Lydia Greeves. Similar to the above book it is full of beautiful pictures of stunning properties, and makes me realised how lucky we are as a Nation that the Trust protects these places, but also makes me realise how lucky I am personally to be able to work for the Trust, get VIP access to these stunning properties, and help protect them for others to enjoy! I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in historic properties, but it is a bit pricier than Great Houses, but has more content.

Houses of the National Trust

Houses of the National Trust

The final book I’m going to recommend is Treasure from The National Trust. This book is amazing! So beautiful and makes me so pleased to work for the organisation that cares for all these stunning objects! It was really interesting to look at the objects features that are in our collection. There are several featured from Powis (yes, I’m rather smug about that fact) but the most interesting thing is that they are not necessarily the most valuable (in financial terms), nor the most rare or unusual, and the selection in the book is probably not what the house team would have picked. However some of the items in the book are some of the items I included in my list of favourite objects so obviously I have great taste!

And to finish this post here are a couple of books next on my shopping list!

The Art of Dress

The Art of Dress

The Art of Dress by Jane Ashelford, to feed my love of textiles!

Life below stairs

Life below stairs

Life Below Stairs by Sian Evans, recommended to me many times, and anyone who like me love Downton Abbey!

To the Manor House Reborn

To the Manor House Reborn

To the Manor House Reborn. I have wanted to read this book after watching the first episode of the series, it seems like such an interesting and challenging projects undertaken by the Trust and I would love to visit the property as well!

If you are looking for some interesting and educational reads or just Christmas shopping in general let me point you to the National Trust gift shop on line, I have done most of my present shopping in our gift shop so hopefully you will be abel to find something there, or just something to treat yourself!

http://shop.nationaltrust.org.uk/