Adventure in Erddig – Part Two

After my behind the scenes look at Erddig and chatting with the house team I was lucky enough to go on the two tours that Erddig offer. The property opens at 12.30 am and they have a ‘taster tour’ at 11.30 am and a ‘servants tour’ at 12.00. They were really good tours, giving background information on the property and the unusual relationship between the staff and their servants. The family had a touching tradition of taking very good care of their staff, even caring for them in their old age. They commissioned oil paintings of the staff done by noted artists, and later took photographs of them. The images were all accompanied by poems written by the family about the character of their staff. This showed affection towards them, as if they were family, and proved they knew their staff well.

An oil painting of one of the servants

A photograph of some of the Erddig servants.

After the two tours I had a quick lunch in the staff room, I spent my lunch chatting to the volunteers. Erddig has a lot more volunteers then Powis does, but they have need for them, having more rooms. I then walked round the property with an audio tour, talking to staff and volunteers as I was going around. It was a really interesting time to visit as the day before the had begun a trial of taking down some of the stanchions and ropes in several of the rooms, including the Saloon below. I picked this room as the chairs here are the same as the chairs here at Powis in the State Bedroom, obviously a popular style!

The Saloon at Erddig.

This is something that was discussed on our visit to Penrhyn and is a very interesting debate, lying close to the areas I studied when writing my dissertation on access Vs conservation. The fact that it was only the second day of the trial so it was still very much in progress. It seems that it will be a case of trial and error. Day two of the trial run and the alteration was to place notices in some of the rooms asking people to keep to the modern drugets, instead of walking across the historic carpets. This seems to be working better. However more adjustments will have to be made in order for the system to work out. Removing the stanchions and allowing increased access is part of the Trust’s policy of ‘bringing places to life’, however it can cause problems for conservation. This could be where the glass walkways come in, in the future, allowing people into the room without the increased wear and dust.

I talked to the volunteers and staff about their view on the changes, but it really seems like there needs to be more time, and more observation. The conflict between conservation and access is always on going, being closely monitored and adjusted if needed. The last room in the property was very interesting, it contained many odd and interesting items the family had collected. They were displayed in a long case in the centre of the room, with other objects in cases around the edge. The centre case was full of skulls, dried fish, shells, shoes, coins and other strange and eclectic items. Alongside were handwritten notes labelling the objects. This case was just like the ‘cabinets of curiosity’ that antiquarians displayed their collections in before they developed into the museum displays that we are familiar with. It was indeed a very curious collection of items!

The house viewed from the Garden

After my (long) walk around the property I visited their second hand book shop. Most Trust propertied have these now, selling donated books to raise funds for the property. I do not spend much time browsing our own as I am usually dusting it, or opening or closing the area. This is probably a good thing as I love books, and got slightly carried away at Erddig, buying three books from the second hand book shop and two more from the gift shop, thank god for volunteer discount!

The beautiful gardens at Erddig

I could not stop smiling all day, everyone at Erddig was so welcoming and friendly. They were willing to chat and answer my questions about their routine, the property and the changes, and were very helpful when I may have got a little lost in the property. I feel so privileged to be able to go to these properties, and see behind the scenes like I have been doing so far on my internship. What I love about the Trust is their amazing range of properties, I have visited many but would love to visit them all. There are so many Trust properties I want to visit, and at the moment I am in a fantastic position to do so, and am learning so much with each visit!

Adventure in Erddig – Part One

When writing this post it turned into a rather long one so I have split it in half. Here is the first part.

On Wednesday I was lucky enough to visit Erddig, and it was counted as a work day! Some of my colleagues were going on a training day being held at the property so I took the opportunity to travel with them and spend the day there. After my visit to Penrhyn and the day I spent at Benthall Hall I am eager to visit as many properties and see how all the different House Teams operate. The Trust has a company wide standard but there are distinct variations between properties, due to size, number of employees, funding and other factors.

The East Front of Erddig

My day started with joining the house team on their tea break – timing, I know – and talking with them about their daily routine. Erddig is bigger that Powis, with 30 rooms and a series of out buildings, mostly all open to the public. They have two interns, it is the first year Erddig have run such a scheme so it was interesting to compare what they are doing to what we are, as Powis have had interns for many years. It seems their daily routine is much the same as ours, but a little less in depth due to having to cover a larger area with a smaller team than we have too.

I was taken around the property to see the store rooms and behind the scenes space. They have an amazing collection of items as the donor family never threw anything away, and have now died out so the Trust own the whole collection. I got rather jealous of their collection as they can move thing around and put new things out without having to get permission from anyone, which makes things simpler. They also have a large collection of toys, there were never really any children at Powis and I do miss the ‘nursery’ scene when visiting other properties that have that. I especially loved to Doll’s House in a cupboard!

The Nursery

My favourite room in the property, not an easy decision in such a spectacular place, was the State Bedroom. This was not only because of the beautiful furniture in the room but also because of the way the room is displayed. The room was badly damaged after a fire and the bed was especially damaged. It is a really stunning bed and was restored at the V&A. It stayed there for two years and was returned under one condition, it be placed behind glass in order to keep the conservation work sound. Instead of placing the bed inside a glass case it was decided to create a glass walkway for the visitors to enter the room inside.

The State Bedroom

I think this is a really good idea, as it keeps the environment in the room constant, preventing harmful fluctuation. It also means less dusting has to be done, only the visitor route has to be vacuumed and the glass cleaned. This not only saves time but means the objects are touched less often, which lowers the effects of cumulative wear. This also allows the visitor into the room without causing damage, a nice alternative to a rope across the door. To me this seems like a tidy solution to improving access into room without increasing risk, wear and tear, and dirt. However it would be a very radical step and I could see that it would be disagreeable to many.

The Cars house in one of the Outbuildings

Talking to one of the two interns based at Erddig was very interesting. They started off their internship learning with the conservation assistants inside the house and were then given the outside areas as their responsibility. At Powis we have the coach house and stables, but Erddig have a large range of different vehicles house in the out houses. Due to lack of staff time these areas had been neglected in the past so the interns have their work cut out, cleaning, condition checking and deciding what to do with them in the future, regarding interpretation. Similarly to here at Powis they have been shown the ropes and then allowed to carry on under their own steam. We both agreed this is a great way to learn, it encourages us to be self-reliant and the strive to do our very best, relying on ourselves. I really enjoy the sense of responsibility I get from my work at Powis.

The Erddig Prayer

All picture from the National Trust Picture Library.