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New blog post alert! All about volunteering.
Hello All, long time no see! I know there has been distinct hole in my blog posts recently, but with good reason, I promise.
Big changes have happened in my little world over the last few months and so I have been focusing all my energy on that.
And the big news is: I have started a new job!
I am now Chapel & Collections Officer at Clumber Park, another fabulous National Trust property in the Midlands.
This is a big step up from my post as Conservation Assistant at Hardwick Hall, and a huge role looking after several collections and becoming head of my own little department!
I loved being at Hardwick so much but even so I have been looking for jobs for a few months now, wanting to progress my career. This job is an amazing opportunity to learn new skills and really use all that I have already learnt from my years with the Trust so far.
Clumber Park is a beautiful, huge estate near Worksop, that was once the seat of The Duke’s of Newcastle. Though the mansion no longer stands on the site all the surrounding buildings still stand, including the focus of my role; the stunning Chapel of Saint Mary the Virgin.
This role is already proving to be full of excitement, interest and new challenges, and I am enjoying every minute of it. I started in December, in a the deep end with Christmas events and lots of carol singing!
Now the Chapel is closed for the deep clean and I have lots of events and projects on the horizon, Clumber is going to be keeping me very busy.
So now I will be back to regular blogging from my new home, (and on my new blog: viewfrommyattic.blogspot.co.uk) but in the meantime have a look at this article I wrote for the Clumber Park webpage about what I’m going to be up to for the next few weeks. See you all soon!
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!
Throughout spring the House Team have been busy Deep Cleaning the Middle Floor, and many of our visitors have been able to see just exactly what it takes to care for a collection like ours!
The Deep Clean begins in November and is carried out over most of the year, with a few other projects and distractions in between, but this year we have got through it in record time!
A ‘Deep Clean’ as opposed to a daily or weekly clean, means almost every item in the rooms will get some TLC, starting at the top and working our way down to the floor. This is a really good opportunity for staff and volunteers to check the condition of all of our objects, making sure nothing has deteriorated over the year.
We also get the opportunity to clean items that can only be cleaned once a year, like fragile textiles or gilded furniture. These are the items on which we can really see the year’s dust build up!
On the top floor our Deep Clean requires a scaffold tower, but on the Middle Floor as it’s not so tall we can get away with just using our tall ladder.
It was a little tricky in some of the smaller rooms to fit us and our equipment in and move the furniture around us, but we managed. One of the smallest rooms we have to clean is the Cut Velvet Dressing Room. Going up the ladder in here means we get up close with the painting that hang at the top of the room, which are seldom spotted from the visitor route. We also see the little details, like the ‘ES’ monogram on the carving over the window.
The ceramics in the Cut Velvet Bedroom were particularly dirty this year, so we decided to wash them as well as dust them. However this requires a little more delicacy that I would use to wash the dishes at home.
When we wash ceramics we use only a very tiny amount of water, with one small drop of sensitive washing up liquid in. We apply the water with a cotton bud, working in tiny circles to remove the grime. It is a very effective method and the results afterwards were sparkling!
It’s always great to get a closer look at the objects in the collections, not just to give them a through condition check but also because we often notice things we have never seen before. This year when I uncovered one of the chairs in the Drawing Room to clean underneath it we noticed that the chair itself actually reclines!
We have been told by one of our Oral History interviewees that this was Duchess Evelyn’s favourite chair to sit and sew in, and maybe that was why.
Another thing I had never noticed before in the Drawing Room was the Cavendish serpents on the lead windows. I’ve not spotted these in any other rooms yet, but I could just be looking straight through them to the lovely view outside!
The frame of Duchess Evelyn’s portrait was also particularly dusty, with a lovely arrangement of cobwebs on. Because the frame is gilded we can only clean it once a year, any more and we would risk wearing away the fine top layer of gold. Because of this, when we do get to clean it, it is always a very satisfying job!
I also got the opportunity this year to dust all the objects stored inside our beautiful Dutch Marquetry Cabinet. Most of the ceramics in this cabinet are Chinese including even a Ming dynasty piece, so I was very, very carefully when moving them.
In order to have both hands to work with while cleaning the ceramics I fashioned a ‘hoover holder’ out of a plastic box. It was not quite as neat as I hoped but it did the job and meant I had one hand to hold the brush, and the other to support the ceramic. Then I dusted the pieces with a pony hair paint brush, flicking the dust into the nozzle of the hoover.
It was an absolute pleasure to get to see the objects so up close because they are all so beautiful. They were made with such attention to detail by what must have been some very talented craftspeople.
So now the Middle Floor is finished!! And we only have one more room to Deep Clean and we will be finished until November. However, no rest for the wicked, we still have plenty of other jobs to be getting on with, Deep Cleaning store rooms, cleaning tapestries and getting through our Summer Works program as well, not to mention helping the house survive the summer holidays!
For the last few weeks we have been settling back into the open season, it’s surprising how much you forget when routines change! Now we are open and back in the swing of things we are cracking on with the Deep Clean.
Whilst Hardwick was closed we managed to get most of the Top Floor deep cleaned. It is really important that we do rooms like the Long Gallery and High Great Chamber while we are closed as we need to use scaffold to reach all areas, and we can’t use this sort of equipment when visitors are in. We also got most of the Ground Floor cleaned as we needed to before we could install the interpretation for this years exhibition prior to opening.
The only rooms we did not clean on the Top Floor while we were closed were Mary Queen of Scotts Room and the Blue Bedroom. We deliberately left these as they are smaller rooms we can clean while we are open. I really enjoy working when we are open, so we can talk to the public about how we care for Hardwick’s collection. My job would hold so much less appeal if I couldn’t share my work the way we do.
People are always so interested and amazed as the amount of work that actually goes into looking after historic properties, and I think it’s really important we do tell people! It gives visitors an opportunity to see what their membership fees do, where the money for that trip to the gift shop goes, or what buying that cheeky slice of cake means to us ( as if people really need another excuse to buy cake!). That is why for the next two months we will be focusing on cleaning the Middle Floor in front of our visitors!
I always seem to notice something new when deep cleaning a room, even though now this is my third time cleaning these rooms! Like these feet peeking out from underneath the Blue Bed!
It was the turn of the Top Floor over-mantles for a Deep Clean this time round, so I cleaned the alabaster over-mantle in the Blue Bedroom by dusting it with a hogs hair paint brush. It depicts the wedding of Tobias and Sarah from the biblical story of Tobit, as story Bess must have been fond of because we also have a table carpet telling the tale.
Whilst I was cleaning it I noticed this masons mark hiding right at the top. I love spotting these marks and it made me think about the person who created this amazing piece of art so many years ago. I wonder what they would think if they could see us still taking care of it today.
I also got to have a close look at this lovely leather studded chest in the Blue Bedroom. I have a soft spot for pretty boxes and would love to have this in my house (if there were room!). The crowns once had blue silk in the spaces, such wonderful attention to detail.
Something most visitors do not get to see is the amazing painted detail on the black wicker chairs in the Mary Queen of Scotts Room. They are covered in painted flowers and gilded decoration. This means they are very delicate and we have to take great care not to damage the detail any more than time already has done. We gently brush the dust off with our softest brushes, with bristles made from pony hair.
Now we’ve finished the Top Floor we are racing through the Middle Floor so if you are visiting in the next few weeks you might get a chance to see us in action!
This week I was drafted in to help cleaning some of the more delicate textiles at Eyam Hall. Eyam is a beautiful house and gardens in the Peaks that the Trust have taken guardianship of nearly two years ago. As they are still quite a small team and in our property portfolio staff from Hardwick offer support in a variety of ways, including looking after some of the more fragile items in the collection.
I last visited Eyam on a beautifully sunny day so being there on a very misty day while there was snow on the ground gave the Hall a different feel. Very mysterious and atmospheric. It was so cold even the pond was still frozen!
While we where there we cleaned the amazing Crewel Work bedspread that Eyam have in the Oak Bedroom. The bedspread was apparently made for Elizabeth Wright around the time that Eyam Hall was being built in the 1680’s. It features amazing colours and wonderful images of exotic birds, beautiful flowers and highly decorated leaves that I just loved!
I was in my element, getting to see this wonderful embroidered work up close. Thinking about skill and hours that must have gone into making this bedspread, and the hangings to match, make me so please we can care for this amazing piece so people can continue to admire it for years to come. And the carved wood of the bed frame complements the elaborate embroidery nicely.
We also took a look at the Tapestry Room, taking a sample of the dust on the tapestry nearest the door to see how the increase in visitor numbers has been affecting it. Since it is a small room even if they have less visitors than Hardwick to dust will build up faster as there is less room for it to disperse. Since there will be many more visitors now the Trust are running Eyam it is something we need to monitor closely. The tapestry room is lovely, it makes me feel very at home!
With Eyam Hall being a family home for many, many generations the collection rather eclectic with some really interesting objects. Some of my favorites included this stuffed moose, and these steps in the library, which double as a chair!
The House has real character, we got to sneak up to the top floor and see some of the rooms not open to the public, and there were these curious windows. There are several different types of windows throughout the building, which I thought was rather unusual.
I also love the detailing around the house, like the carved finials up the stair case, with little hearts in the center.
As another perk of being a staff member we got a sneak peek into the a little building in the garden, which will be opening to the public at weekends. The use of this building, situated in the garden, has been debated.
Until recently it was known as the Gardener’s cottage but it has been discovered that is was originally used as a Banqueting House, where dessert would have been eaten after a meal. Although it is only a little room, it is full of character and atmosphere, and curious items.
I really enjoyed my day at Eyam, and we have planned to go back and do some more work there soon. I love my work, and it is really nice to have a little day out and get a chance to do what I love in another beautiful location!
November has been a very busy month, and when we have not been decorating for Christmas we have been getting stuck back in to our Deep Annual Clean! As with last year we have lots of other projects scheduled over the winter so getting all we need to done will be an interesting challenge. But in the mean time I have been enjoying having some time with the objects.
We start our Deep Clean on the top floor in the High Great Chamber where I have been cleaning the Farthingale Chairs. These chairs were supposedly designed so that ladies wearing Farthingale Petticoats, with large hoops underneath their skirts, could perch on them to rest between dances.
These chairs have stunning 16th Century embroidery on them, featuring flowers and insects. They match the Canopy I had the opportunity to clean last year.
As well as chairs we have stools and two throne chairs, which have really interesting scenes on them in beautiful gold-work.
To remove the dust I used a mixture of techniques. We use an adjustable suction ‘Museum-Vac’ with crevice tool attachment through bridal netting and using artists brushes as we were trained by the Textile Conservators last year. The brushes work better on certain areas because the can remove strands of clothing fibers that have landed on the velvet which would otherwise be left underneath the bridal netting.
I also used the brushes near the metallic embroidery, this removed the risk of the metal threads getting hooked on the bridal netting and pulled. However the bridal netting method is better for the rest embroidery, it is so delicate that the brushes could cause damage by removing any loose pieces.
I love the Deep Clean because we get a chance to really look at the objects we care for, and they are such amazing and beautiful objects. It is one of my favorite things about this job!
Recently I went down to stay with my dear friend and help out at her work, as well as indulge in some much need catching up over tea and cake! Becky is the Heritage Manager at Droitwich Heritage Centre and I help them out by doing some conservation work there.
I started my career by volunteering and it is nice to still be doing some, especially knowing that what I am doing would other wise probably not get done. Money is so tight in the heritage industry and smaller places must be all they can to juggle all their needs on a small budget.
I have been down several times before to train staff and volunteers and to set up some good conservation practice. Doing something like this gives me chance to stretch my conservation muscles! This visit we did some object handling, metal polishing and decorated for Halloween! I just have to say that fake cobwebs are so much fun to play with!! I have since covered my house and the Still Room at Hardwick as well!
When I was not helping at the TIC we decided to do a little Trust visiting and go to Packwood House and, since it was so close, go to Baddesley Clinton again too. Packwood is known for its collection of tapestries, so obviously I was very interested to see their interpretation. The house was restored by Graham Baron Ash in the 1920’s & 1930’s.
The interpretation was done in a similar manner to that at Baddesley, where it was presented on objects, like printed on a rug or even a reproduction tapestry. I really like this style of interpretation. I tend not to want to read long pieces of information until after I have finished looking around a property, unless I want to find out something in particular. That’s why I always try to buy a guidebook, so I can read more about the property at a later date (and look up info’ for blog posts!). They had chosen to put quotes about Baron Ash, the house and the gardens from past visitors and guidebooks around the house.
Personally these quotes didn’t grip me or give me a sense of who Baron Ash was, as they were supposed to. I don’t know if this had something to do with the fact that I did not see a picture of Graham Baron Ash in the house (I may have missed it if there was one). Other properties where you get a strong sense of the people their faces are imprinted in your mind as a starting point for any other information to grow from. I left feeling like I wanted to know more about the man who I though you could admire for his take on conservation and for saving and creating such a unique property, specifically for visitors to enjoy.
However we did find out some really interesting information while we were there, like the fact that the timbers used in the building were recycled from Henry VIII ships! They can tell this by the crown symbol carved into one of the beams. There is also some graffiti carved into another beam, pictures of sailing ships, that they believe were done by the sailors on their long voyages. I love how something you could easily take for granted in a Tudor building has such a history of its own.
I really enjoyed that fact that the house didn’t have a visitor route, you were able to wander around how you wanted to and that made it feel like we were exploring. We were given a map with bits of information on which we used at the end of our visit to check we had seen everywhere. I also loved the floors upstairs, they were uneven and made some of the rooms feel like you were sliding down to one corner. I love this about older houses, and at Packwood it really reminded me of Greyfriars, where I had my first job with the National Trust.
Packwood’s gardens were really beautiful and somewhere I would like to go back to on a sunny day to fully explore. After stopping at Packwood’s restaurant for a cup of tea and slice of delicious chocolate cake our little party went on to Baddesley. It really contrasted with Packwood in how strong the many characters in Baddesley’s story are, and how full an image you get of them. The property has several paintings or photographs of the people it talks about which makes me thing there is something to my theory of needing that image to form an idea around. I really enjoyed it again and so did my friends, as you can see in this photo!