Wonderful Wightwick

Recently me and mum visited Wightwick Manor near Wolverhampton. Wightwick (pronounced Whittick) is so beautiful, I was stopped in my tracks, and that was just the exterior of the building! A mixture of black and white walls with red tiles, colourful windows and beautiful carved detail around every corner. Every where you looked there was something else to notice, some other decorated element adding to the stunning vision of the building.

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Luckily for me the inside more than lives up to the bar set by the amazing exterior. Wightwick boasts two amazing collections that set the tone of the house; Pre-Raphaelite paintings and William Morris, well, everything.

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The tour of the interior starts in the Drawing Room, which felt very cosy. In fact most of the house felt very homely. The Drawing Room boasts a lovely plaster ceiling and there is a nice window seat area where you can sit. Seats for the public to use are denoted by having cat cushions on them, as the owners used to allows the cats to sit on all the furniture, more even than the guests were allowed to. I think the cat cushions are a really nice idea.

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In the Entrance Hall there are a series of gorgeous stained glass windows, showing the seasons as women. There is also a very sweet little nook around the fire place that looks so inviting. The perfect place to snuggle up and read a book.

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In the Upper Hall there are some very interesting objects, including a copy of Emperor Napoleon’s death mask which once belonged to Dante Gabriel Rossetti of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Further along the hall is a small painting that belongs to a very large scandal. The painting shows Effie Ruskin and was painted by John Millais, another member of the Brotherhood.

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At the time of the painting Effie was married to John Ruskin who was a strong supporter of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Millais and Effie fell in love and Effie went through a very public split which left the couple shunned from high society. The story of the Brotherhood is a very interesting one, one I admit I only know from the BBC drama Desperate Romantics a few years ago (worth a watch if you have not seen it, and not just because Aidan Turner plays Rossetti!).

The final thing in the Upper Hall that excited me probably doesn’t mean a huge amount to anyone not familiar with the National Trust collection database. I finally found the painting that has been sitting on the home page for years. It’s a lovely painting of a lady called Jane Hughes tending to her flowers. Now when I log on to CMS I shall be able to picture it hanging instead of wondering where it might live.

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The Morning Room had some very unusual cupboards in, that had once been Flemish Window Shutters, then later installed in the Library at Wightwick and finally moved into the Morning Room.

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The Great Parlour really lives up to its name, a room built to wow and as a space to entertain. There is William Morris furniture and wallpaper, beautiful Medieval inspired stained glass windows and a collection of ceramic tiles displayed around the room. The frieze that runs around the top of the Parlour is a forest scene which animals hiding among the trees. Is is said the frieze was inspired by the one here at Hardwick Hall.

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I could really picture life in the Great Parlour, not only is there another lovely fireplace but a little fire pit too, for portable fire needs. Another essential is the mobile book case. I can imagine relaxing on the William Morris settee, fire keeping me toasty, books on standby. Although there is a good chance I would get distracted by all the pretty things in the room around me.

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Through the Parlour is the Billiard Room, with another cost fire place, snuggly window seats and a William Morris sofa showcasing a selection of Morris print pillows.

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In the Gentlemen’s Cloakroom and the corridor outside were a fascinating selection of hats and accessories used by the family during their history, including elements of genuine uniform from the World Wars. All of these different ensembles were displayed hung around the room and it made for a fantastic visual insight to the houses history and the families service.

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Also in the Gentlemen’s Cloakroom was this rather unusual stool, decorated like a cobra. It is quite odd, and doesn’t look like the most comfortable thing in the world but I like it because it is so different.

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Upstairs in the Honeysuckle Room I found a William Morris print I really like, called ‘Honeysuckle’. The bedrooms on the top floor are all visitor’s bedroom as the family rooms are still used by the family and therefore not open to the public.

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In the Indian Bird Room there hang some lovely hand embroidered curtains. The design ‘Mary Isobel’ was sold as a kit by Morris & Co and is named after the woman who originally stitched the pattern Mary Isobel Barr Smith who lived in Australia. What a lovely legacy to leave to the world!

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The Acanthus Room boasts a fine bed, and I love how this room and the Indian Bird Room, that are back to back, fit with one another. The wall between the two rooms is not straight and the creates a recess for both beds, one either side of the wall. A very clever use of space to make the rooms even cosier.

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From the Gallery visitors get another angle of the gorgeous Great Parlour and a better look at the frieze, which is certainly very reminiscent of Hardwick’s, except Wightwick’s has more kangaroos! There is a lovely settle on the Gallery overlooking the Parlour. Highly decorated with four oil paintings depicting the four seasons.

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The Oak Room was very pretty and I particularly like the bed, which folds itself away into a cupboard and even has a built in bedside table. Unfortunately we couldn’t take photos in the Oak Room but I found the bed on the NT Collections webpage. I love how highly decorated the inside is, even though it was designed to be folded away.

The day nursery is a lovely space crammed full of fun looking toys. There are also modern toys out for visitors to play with. This really added to the relaxed and cheerful atmosphere of the room.

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The night nurseries however didn’t feel quite so cheerful to me. Maybe it’s just the overdone horror trope of children’s toys of a particular era being creepy but the room just didn’t make me feel anywhere near as comfortable as the rest of the house. Even the cute puppies on the walls and Snow White bedding couldn’t tempt me into spending a night in there.

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Back downstairs and we found another huge selling point of the house, a built in Turkish Bath! After seeing that me and mum decided we could very much live there, and when should we deliver our things? The Mander family certainly had good taste!

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All around the house are these little saying, painted on walls and fireplaces. What an interesting way to show guests your character and beliefs about the world, and to decorate spaces too.

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After my visit, while I was writing this blog post I read through the National Trust guidebook for the property, and there is one part that hints at a hidden part of Wightwick’s history I would have never guessed existed.

The Introduction to the Guidebook is written by Anthea Mander Lahr Coles, a member of the family to whom the house belonged. Her introduction talks of painful memories and a difficult family life, which present day Wightwick shows no sign of. It feels very strange to read Anthea’s introduction after imagining such a happy life in that beautiful home full of amazing things. Anthea talks of her pleasure in the fact that the house ‘is now the focus of affection and enjoyment’ and it just goes to show that no matter the treasures in a place, it’s not a guarantee for happiness. I am glad too that Wightwick is now a happy place that so many people can, and will, enjoy. It is such a beautiful place it deserves to be enjoyed and remembered fondly.

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Cannon Hall’s got it all!

Cannon Hall is a lovely little farm near where I grew up that I have visited many, many times as a child. Me and my lovely little brother had a little ‘staycation’ at mum’s house recently and decided to revisit the farm on a day out, and there was much more to see than we remembered.

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As an added treat the house at Cannon Hall (which I didn’t know existed) had an exciting exhibition; the costumes of Downton Abbey!! Bless my little brother for indulging me 😀 He’s a very good egg.

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The house itself is largely empty today, leaving room for temporary exhibitions and the museum full of glass and pottery. The stately rooms provide a very fine backdrop for the Downton costumes.

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There was Sybil’s First World War nursing uniform and Mrs Patmore and Daisy’s kitchen-wear, which I took lots of photos of for our own Below Stairs project. Daisy’s apron had a pattern printed on the fabric which I had never noticed in the show.

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Lady Violet’s dress has the most amazing bead-work across the top. So much effort has gone into the detail of the costumes that you couldn’t notice unless you get close to them in real life, but it all adds to the fabulous glamour of the tv show.

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The Crawley ladies dresses were obviously amazing, although I was surprised by how tiny they were. No chance of me being able to squeeze into any of them! There were day dresses in the Drawing Room and the Dining Room was set out ready for a sumptuous looking dinner, completer with gorgeous evening-wear.

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Even Mrs Huges, the Housekeeper, has a lovely costume. I particularly like the accessory on her belt to keep her keys and scissors always handy. Pretty and practical.IMAG1789IMAG1792

Anna’s ‘posh’ maids outfit has some lovely lace on the apron and we even got to see Lord Grantham’s pajamas! If, by the way, for some strange reason you have never seen Downton Abbey I really recommend it, it is one of my favorite tv shows ever!

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On the day we decided to visit Cannon Hall was hosting a huge food fair! I love food so was very excited about this. We had a lovely lunch in the sunshine and a wander around looking at all the delicious things for sale before heading for the farm.

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The farm has changed quite a lot since my last visit. The biggest change, a very disappointing one for me, was that you can no longer let the animals eat from your open palm. I used to love feeding the animals so much and was looking forward to going back and doing this again. You can still buy bags of animals feed but you now have to pour the food down a metal chute into the animal’s pens. Damn health and safety spoiling our fun!

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The animals however are just as cute as they always have been. There were goats, sheep, chickens, pigs galore and even reindeer!

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The tiny piglets were adorable and there were even bunnies you could stroke! Cuteness overload!

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Can’t beat a day out that contains sunshine, pretty things, lovely dresses, history, adorable animals and good food! Brilliant.

Haddon Hall at Christmas!

Happy New Year everyone!

I hope everybody had a lovely December, I was so busy with work and friends and family that I feel like I need another Christmas break to recover!

I had a lovely day out to near by Haddon Hall which was decorated for Christmas, and it was beautiful! The hall dates back to the 11th century and is currently owned and occupied by the Manners family, lucky people!

Haddon Hall

Haddon Hall

I had never been to Haddon before, and I really look forward to visiting again. The decorations were lovely and there were real fires throughout (very jealous).

Fire!

Fire!

The decorations were mostly traditional greenery that fits with the interior decor of the hall. It looked really nice, still managing to stand out in the rooms and make our visit feel very festive.

The Main Hall

The Main Hall

I especially loved the Peacock themed decorations in the Long Gallery! It is the sort of room that makes people go ‘Wow’ when they see it, myself included.

The Long Gallery

The Long Gallery

Peacock Tree

Peacock Tree

The Long Gallery was themed with Peacocks because it features on the Manners family coat of arms. They are beautiful birds anyway, and I am especially fond of them now as they remind me of my time at Powis.

A peacock carved into the wood of the Long Gallery

A peacock carved into the wood of the Long Gallery

Another tree I really liked was the on where visitors were invited to write their Christmas wishes on tags and hang them on the tree. It had a really good effect and I thought it looked very classical against the tapestry backdrop.

The wishes tree

The wishes tree

It was an amazingly beautiful day, really sunny (yet still freezing!) and that just added to the beauty of Haddon’s lovely grounds. The rooms were light and the sun made some really interesting effects where it was streaming in through the windows.

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Sunshine!

Sunshine on the dining room table

Sunshine on the dining room table

I was also really taken with the interesting windows at Haddon. They are all wibbly (technical term) and reflected the light so delightfully.

Haddon's windows

Haddon’s windows

The Chapel was especially atmospheric, decorated with greenery, music playing, candles burning and full of smoke from the incense burning. We spend a lot of time in there, absorbing the atmosphere and admiring the paintings on the walls.

The Chapel

The Chapel

In the courtyard at Haddon

In the courtyard at Haddon Hall

Across the courtyard from the main hall is a little museum displaying objects found in the hall. It has a really interesting, eclectic collection, with pretty pieces of glass, nice keys and even a piece of Hardwick matting!

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I would really recommend a visit to Haddon, it is a stunning property with real charm, especially on a nice sunny day when you can fully appreciate not only the beautiful interiors and manicured garden but also the building itself within its amazing location.

The Deep Cleaning continues

After a slight hiatus over the last couple of weeks to send Gideon on his way we have jumped right back in to our Deep Cleaning. We are getting along with it so well I couldn’t be more pleased, and … Continue reading

Up in the Attics

This week is Delving Deeper week at work, so we are showing off a few things that the public don’t often get to see, including our attics. Meaning us Chaps have spent several days over the last week tidying, organising and dusting the attics in readyness. Now they are looking fab and are ready to receive visitors. I hope people will find them as interesting as we have.

Door to the Attics

Door to the Attics

The attic rooms are used today to store items from the collection that we don’t have on display for various reasons. Each room houses a different type of object, so we have a Chair Store, Paintings, Beds, Fire Screens, Watering Cans and my favorite store-room; the Textile Store. Each room is full of surprises and wonderful and interesting objects and it has been a real pleasure to spend so much time up there; even is it has been very hot recently!

The attic rooms were originally used in the Elizabethan period as guest bedrooms, which explains why they have beautiful plaster-work above the fire places.

The Chair Store

The Chair Store

Later they were used as nurseries, and servants rooms, ans the bell pull system installed, as well as a telephone.

The Telephone

The Telephone

Furniture in one of the Attic rooms

Furniture in one of the Attic rooms

A beautiful embroidered chair

A beautiful embroidered chair

As I mentioned several of the stores are for specific object types. This is one side of the picture store. The other side has large compartments for paintings, with curtains across the front.

The Picture Store

The Picture Store

It houses pictures such as this water-colour, which I’m fairly certain is of one of the window alcoves in the State Withdrawing Room.

The State Withdrawing Room

The State Withdrawing Room

There are lots of books in the attics, from areas such as the Stewards rooms, that we opened to the public and removed the books for their protection. Don’t they look lovely all lined up together.

Beautiful Books

Beautiful Books

Some of the items of furniture in the store rooms are duplicated of what we have in the show rooms, but others are amazing unique items such as this carved chair. It is such a beautiful piece of furniture, I wonder what it’s story is!

An intricately carved chair back

An intricately carved chair back

I am very biased an even though the Watering Can Store Room comes a close second, for sheer novelty, no other store-room could beat the Textile Store in my mind. It is heaven and every box is filled with treasure! I love being asked to come up here and hunt out one piece or another, I could spend hours in this room.

My favorite store

My favorite store

Treasures such as more of the beautifully embroidered red velvet panels that are on display in the embroidery exhibition.

Embroidery done by Bess herself

Embroidery done by Bess herself

A rather odd, but interesting item also resides in the Textile’s store. The 9th Duke was the husband of Duchess Evelyn, the last person to live at Hardwick.

The 9th Duke's Wheelchair

The 9th Duke’s Wheelchair

I think the stairs up to the attics are also really lovely. They are huge wooden steps, and as you go further up, towards the roof, the get more and more sloping, but after over 400 years they are still doing their job!

The stairs from the attics

The stairs from the attics

Lets hope our visitors enjoy the attics as much as I do, but I’m sure they will. And if the last two days are anything to go by we Chaps are going to have a very interesting week ahead! Delving Deeper week, like Conservation Week, will be happening again in september if you fancy a chance to explore Hardwick Hall’s attics.

 

 

 

Dressing up . . . for grown ups!

I have been a Medieval Re-enactor for half my life and it has been an amazing experience, teaching me so many things, some that I often find useful in my job. I have never needed encouragement to dress up, and I get to wear some gorgeous clothes, so it is nice to know I am not the only one! Re-enactment season has started again, with a St George’s Day themed show at Bolsover Castle last weekend and one at Rufford Abbey this weekend, but I was feeling impatient for the show this weekend.

My group; The Swords of Mercia

The Swords of Mercia Society

The Dragon Knight threatens Lady Alice

The Dragon Knight threatens Lady Alice

 

Luckily Thursday was costume day at Hardwick, when all our ‘Living the History’ volunteers don their fantastic Tudor garb and bring the Hall to life, talking to the public about Tudor life and dress. I was in my element, admiring all the clothes hand-made by our very talented volunteers. It was amazing walking down the Long Gallery and seeing everyone dressed up, it helped the imagination picture the Hall as it may have been in its heyday, when Bess was entertaining.

Our Fab Living the History Vols

Our Fab Living the History Vols

It's not just the ladies

It’s not just the ladies

I know I am more than biased but I feel that events like the costume day, and the presence of costumed interpreters really enhance properties. I love asking them questions, like about their costumes and they are so passionate and knowledgeable. I also love being on the other side, answering the public’s questions, and I love wandering around these fantastic sites in costume and imagining I have stepped back in time! It’s a really brilliant way of engaging people, especially children in history, bringing it to life, and having someone in costume to talk to makes it all seem that bit more real and relate-able, it makes the distant past more accessible. This is something I will always try to support (and take part in too!)

Spinning in the Long Gallery

Spinning in the Long Gallery

This week at Hardwick, when not oogling pretty costume, we have been carrying on the Deep Clean, we’re now in the Dining Room. I was mostly dusting the windows that are on the front of the Hall, I did get some odd looks from people outside! The weather was lovely and bright so I had a lovely time looking out while doing my cleaning. However this is going to have to go on hiatus for a little while over the next couple of weeks as we have a huge project coming up, we are re-hanging the returned Gideon Tapestries. Next week we are starting the preparation for the big event, which will be in a couple of weeks time. Firstly we shall be taking down the paintings that are hanging in the gaps where the returned tapestries will hang. There are twelve paintings to move in total, and we shall be building the scaffold in order to do so, it is a big job but I am looking forward to it. I shall tell you more about the project, along with how we got on taking the paintings down!

The Dining Room Curtains

The Dining Room Curtains

Can't complain about the view

Can’t complain about the view

The glass casting colours on the window sill

The glass casting colours on the window sill

I also seemed to spend a lot of time changing light bulbs this week. Changing light bulbs? What a boring thing to talk about, well not when your changing bulbs in a historic property, it is not as straight forward as we would like it to be. The other day it took us 45 minutes to change 2 bulbs! We had to change one in the Entrance Hall lantern, using the big ladder. The ladders live on the top floor, and the big ladder is so big we have to carry it across the top floor to the main stairs, which are wide enough to carry it down, and the across the ground floor to the bulb. The ladder is then positioned over the table in the Entrance Hall, and I can get up to change the bulb. The second bulb was on the main stairs, but needed the medium ladder, so we had to take the big one back up and across the top floor, and bring the other down! Phew! However I do love looking around when at the top of the ladders!

The ladder in the Entrance Hall

The ladder in the Entrance Hall

Much better

Much better

This week I took my first tour round Hardwick! I love talking to the public and really enjoyed taking the tours round Powis. I do miss having the depth of knowledge I did about Powis but I am working on learning as much as I can about Hardwick, and taking the tour Thursday made me realise I have already learnt quite a bit! The tours are called ‘Last One Out’ tours, where we take members of the public round with us as we close up so they get a glimpse into a part of our daily routine.

Bess' Coat of Arms in the Entrance Hall

Bess’ Coat of Arms in the Entrance Hall

It is so nice to be able to share this element of our day with the public, and they get to see Hardwick in a different light. We let them have a go at closing curtains and turning of lights, and we walk around the Hall by torch light. The tour was a lovely first tour as there were just a couple of people on it, a gentle start for me. Luckily these ‘Last One Out’ tours focus on our work and how we look after the property, the challenges we face and the steps we take to care for the collection. This element I am well versed in, and Claire and Sadie were on the tour with me so they answered the questions about the history I didn’t know. We make a fab team! I am looking forward to taking more of these tours, and will continue to build my general knowledge about the history so I can take other tours too. The House team is also going on tour training soon too!

 

 

A Conservation Assistants work is never done!

Well today was shaping up to be a fairly relaxed day at work; the usual morning clean and then the afternoon spent discussing the House Team’s proposal for the winter offer. However the castle had some other ideas for me today.

I was just doing the morning vacuum, the same as every morning, when I went and switched on the lights in the Library and saw something I was not expecting to see. Precariously balanced on top of the fire basket and the fire guard was a huge pile a debris, made up of twigs and soil. It looked like the material of several birds nests had fallen down the chimney. There had been a chicken wire and fabric hammock wedged in the chimney shaft to stop detritus falling down into the fireplace in the room, however the nests had obviously gotten too much for it to hold and had given way.

I hurried down the stairs and called on the assistance of Carol, A Conservation Assistant that has worked at the Castle for years. I knew I was going to need some assistance clearing up the mess. We scooped up the twigs and some of the soil and put them into black bins bags, three bags full in all. Then I hoovered the rest of the soil up and me and Will put the chicken wire hammock back into the chimney. Hopefully it will hold this time!

Then I hoovered inside the fireplace thoroughly, moving out the fire guard and the metal plate on the floor. I had to move some of the chairs that sit in the middle of the library to clean the rug underneath them. I hoovered the rug and flipped it back to hoover the underside and the floor underneath it. Then I finished the morning clean and it was decided the rest of the mess would be cleaned up in the afternoon.

The Library, and the culprit fire-place.

From 12 until lunch at 1 we had a meeting about what we wanted to offer visitors during the winter. This is the first year Powis has been open 364 days of the year and the offer we present this year will define what happens in the years to come, so it has to be successful. We are all working together but we have also been assigned areas in pairs; me and Kate have been assigned the kitchens, and also the Medieval Tour. This is good for us as we are both medieval re-enactors and have some big plans for the tour! Will has assigned the areas in the castle according to our own areas of interest. Naomi is particularly interested in Indian furniture and artefacts so she has been given the Ballroom and Clive Museum.

For lunch, purely for research purposes, me and Kate went to the old kitchens where the sewing ladies were working and they fed us. They always cook themselves lunch in the working Aga we have in the kitchens. The ladies are lovely and very kind to feed me, especially as dessert today was sticky toffee pudding. These ladies also make up our costumed interpreters that did the cooking on the Stuart Day I posted about.

After my lovely lunch I was posted in the Library to room steward whilst I finished cleaning up for the morning’s adventure. This involved cleaning and polishing the fire irons. There are four steel implements set around the fire basket and these were covered in soil. I brushed and cleaned them with a blue duster, then put autosol onto them with cotton wool. I buffed it off and then re-cleaned the metal with a new blue cloth. Then I put Renaissance wax onto the implements and left it for 20 minutes, and buffed them off. Thankfully buffing these requires less upper body strength than buffing the marble floors after we wax them. This all took a lot longer than I expected, meaning I stayed in the castle after it was closed, but the fire-place looked as good as new once I was finished. I always say I could never be bored here, there is always something for me  to do, even before the Castle decides to throw a new task at us! On the plus side, I got some more experience handling metal which I wanted.