Coughton Court, a patchwork property

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An interesting trip down memory lane

Last weekend me and my friends visited Sudbury Hall. This is a bit of a two for one visit, because there is also the Museum of Childhood there, and the two sides of the visit are very different.

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I really enjoyed the Museum of Childhood, it was full of so many interesting things. I was a bit surprised to find items from my own childhood in there!

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There is so much to see, including little hidden things like these cute mice having a lesson in their little classroom.

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There were doll’s houses and so many fantastic dolls with amazing dresses, like this one dating from 1880, and a huge doll of Queen Victoria before her coronation. I used to collect china dolls when I was a child so I loved seeing all the pretty dolls in the museum.

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I also saw a little reminder of my time at Powis in this Peacock Automaton, also dating from 1880 (must have been a good year for making beautiful toys). The tail has real feather and it is such a pretty item, it must have been a joy to watch walk.

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There were quite a few things I loved in my childhood in the museum now, Furbies, Polly Pockets, Barbie Dolls and Elmer the Elephant. We also spotted the Harry Potter books, and the Millenium Falcon, which really deserve a place in a museum just because of the huge impact they have had the universe. Ok maybe not the entire universe but definitely my universe anyway.

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The one thing from my childhood I really did not like seeing in a glass case however was Little Bear. I used to have the book and a video of the Little Bear stories and they are so lovely. The one that really sticks in my mind is when Old Bear was going to be put in the attic and Little Bear and his friends decided to rescue him because they all needed to be together, and there was Little Bear and Old Bear in that case with none of their other friends. It made me sad.

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If anyone has no idea what I’m rambling about I found a video of the story on Youtube and I recommend the books for any small child (or child at heart).

There were also a lot of toys around for children to play with, which I think is a good idea. It is a shame that all of these beloved toys are now behind glass but I like to imagine some kind of Toy Story/ Night at the Museum style adventures going on when no one is around. It’s wonderful however that all these childhood memories are being preserved for people to look back on, and for new generations to discover.

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The Museum of Childhood also talks about the not so fun side of childhood, child labor. However they do make learning about it quite fun. They even have a replica chimney that children can climb up to get some kind of experience of what it might have been like to be a Chimney Sweep. To be honest I really wanted to have a go too, but would have probably got stuck.

In the end I think the main thing I took away from the Museum of Childhood was that I really haven’t left my childhood behind, even if parts of it are now in a museum, and I don’t think I ever want to. I am very lucky to have been a child when I was, and have seen so much change already. Makes you wonder what the future holds!

The museum was really interesting and enjoyable, the house however was not very interesting.

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I think I have probably been spoilt now, having seen so many beautiful and interesting National Trust houses, with not only really strong stories but such engaging ways of telling their stories that other properties have a lot to live up to.

The building its self is beautiful, elaborate brickwork and lots of different colours of stone used.

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There were a few beautiful elements throughout the house too but for the most part it is just another stately home with nothing to really make it stand out. I feel quite bad saying this but I was almost bored walking around, especially after how interesting our visit to the Museum of Childhood had been.

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The main staircase was very impressive, lots of pretty plaster work.

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Upstairs there is a very interesting bed spread which seems to have flowers cut from another piece of fabric sewn on.

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The other bed on the tour is currently having conservation work done on it so it is in pieces. They are replacing some of the silk because it has been so badly damaged by light.

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My favorite room was the little library upstairs. It was small, but it was tall, a double story library! With an awesome swirly staircase just perfect for perching on with a book.

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The Long Gallery was also very impressive, it had a beautiful plaster work ceiling and felt very light and airy, a bit like Montacute’s. However they had gone and spoilt it by putting a load of modern art down the center. I’m not a fan of modern art and this stuff didn’t impress me. I’m not sure what it was supposed to be, one piece looks kind of like a dinosaur egg.

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At the end of the Long Gallery was a beautiful, finely decorated cabinet depicting scenes from the old testament painted in painstaking detail. The NT Collections webpage has some really beautiful images of the paintings on all the different drawers, well worth checking out.

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http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/652719.2

http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/652719.1

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I didn’t get a sense of any of the personalities of the residents of the house and the interpretation in the hall wasn’t brilliant either. Each room had just one side of paper A4 laminated and after not finding information about the items I was interested in on the first few I admit I gave up looking.

After leaving the Hall we had an explore and found a sweet church, with some fantastic patterned tiles and of course, pretty stained glass!

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There is a lot to do at Sudbury and I would recommend the Museum of Childhood to anyone who wants a really interesting and nostalgic trip down memory lane. I think I would like to go back in better weather and explore the gardens and grounds a little bit more, it was a little bit soggy when we went. I like the idea of taking my god-children, and one day my children to the museum and showing them my childhood.

House Team on the loose!

A few week ago me and my fellow Conservation Assistants escaped Hardwick for a day out at another National Trust property, Upton House.

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We had decided to visit Upton because they have some large-scale interpretation going on at the moment, called ‘Banking for Victory’. During the Second World War the owners of Upton House, the Bearsted family, moved all the employees for their bank, M. Samuel & Co., in London to the safety of Upton. The family themselves actually stayed at their London residence as they were heavily involved in war work that required them to be in the capital.

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As we walked towards the house from the car park the first thing visitors come across is a tent playing a Pathe news style video explaining why the bank came to move to Upton House. You can watch this video on the Upton House page of the National Trust website. I really liked this touch, it is a fun way of making sure visitors understand why Upton has been transformed.

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It was very generous of the family to open their home to the bank staff for their safety, and so they could continue doing their important work. The people working in the bank were all in a reserved occupation, meaning they were exempt from conscription as the work they were doing was essential to keeping Britain running and keeping the war effort moving.

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The house is opened by timed tickets, so we had some time to wander around the gardens first. The gardens at Upton hold much more than meets the eye. Firstly, tucked around a corner is a beautiful outdoor swimming pool. It’s probably freezing cold but I think the setting would make up for that.

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The next hidden surprise lies at the end of the lawn. A sudden drop down reveals a huge garden, which is currently filled with veg. It must have been a huge undertaking to replant the garden for the new theme but it is actually one of the gardens I have most enjoyed walking round. The whole thing had an added benefit of smelling very tasty too, and had lots of interesting insect life flitting around.

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At the end of the giant veg garden is a lake, with fish in! Huge trees line the edges of the gardens making the whole site pretty spectacular, and most of it can’t even be seen from the house.

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When we entered the house we were taking into the kitchen, into an introductory space which I personally thought was very boring, especially since we were told to wait in there until we could move on to the next room. Luckily that was the only part of the tour that was a little bit dull, and I found the rest of the house really interesting.

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Next we were taken into the Dining Room, where they played a short video setting the scene. The video started with Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s declaration of war that was broadcast over the wireless on the 3rd September 1939. I have heard the broadcast many times before but it still gives me goosebumps and brings tears to my eyes. The speech played over black and white images of war and was a really moving reminder of just how much the war impacted everyone, and changed the world forever.

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After the Dining Room we were allowed to tour the rest of the house free flow, starting with the typing pool. This was also where the bank workers ate so at the first end was a table with some fake food on. The food was made of paper mache and it looked really good, especially the Blackbird pie.

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The typing pool was really good fun. We were encouraged to explore by opening drawers and each draw held something that filled out the picture of life during WWII. As well as opening drawers we were allowed to play type on the typewriters, which was very cool!

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After all our hard work in the typing pool we had a but of a sit down and relax in what would have been the staff room. There was a basket full of knitting needles and wool so we all had a go. We decided the room could have done with a bit of music to add to the atmosphere, but in the true spirit of the era we made do and provided our own. I’m not entirely sure the other visitors were on board but we were enjoying ourselves.

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The stairs to the second floor had beautifully carved banisters wither side, and each window around the stairs and up had a piece of stained glass displayed in it.

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Upstairs we came to the dormitories, men on one side and women on the other. The bedrooms give visitors an opportunity to learn more about the people who lived and worked at Upton House during the war.

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After the staff dormitories there are the family rooms, which give more information about the family, their war work and the sons who were fighting. In several of the bedrooms they had fab trunks with their clothes in. The trunks, drawers and cupboards full of items tell visitors a lot about the people in a really visually interesting way.

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Now we come to the weirdest bathroom I have even been in. It looks like it’s trying to be a spaceship. Most of the walls are covered in silver leaf and the bits that aren’t have been painted bright red. Everyone’s reaction was the same, people just stared in confused awe at such a departure from the rest of the house’s decor.

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There are three stories being told at Upton about the Second World War, the family’s story, the bank staff and finally the story of the family’s art collection. Walter Samuel, 2nd Viscount Bearsted, collected a lot of very fine art work, which lived at Upton until the war. Lord Bearsted was a trustee of the National Gallery so when they moved many of the galleries paintings to a quarry in Wales he managed to have much of his own priceless collection stored alongside them.

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The paintings were lovely but I am not really one to stare at art for art’s sake. I like to see historical depictions of costumes for different eras however and the collection at Upton does have some lovely images of medieval dress.

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The interpretation was very well done, immersive and to a continuous standard throughout our entire visit. I really enjoyed all the hands on elements and Upton are very keen to emphasize that they want visitors to explore the house. All the little details in the rooms give a much fuller picture than just having information boards around could do.

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Things like this and the hospital at Dunham Massey really bring history to life and I love being able to walk through history and engage with it like you can at these properties at the moment. I hope this is something more and more Trust properties will work towards. When you have an engaging story to tell doing it like this really does it justice, and makes for a really interesting experience for visitors.

Newton’s genuine gravity tree

The other week I had a lovely day out with my friends Kerry and Dave and as we like to do, we decided to visit some National Trust properties!

To start our day we went to Woolsthorpe Manor. If you don’t recognise the name you will know what it is famous for. Woolsthorpe Manor is the home to a very important tree, the one that dropped an apple on Isaac Newton’s head and changed history!

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Now my friend Dave, lovely as he is, is a bit of a skeptic and on the drive there he was questioning the validity of this famous tree. I assured him that if the Trust said it was THE tree, then it will of course be THE tree. As soon as we got into the visitor reception we overheard the person in front of us in the que asking the very same question.

The tree is indeed the same tree (told you so!). It was partially destroyed but the roots remained and the tree grew up again, so that is why it’s not as tall as I imagined, but still the genuine article.

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The house its self is fairly small, by Trust house standards (huge compared to my Wendy House!) so it was a bit of a squeeze getting into the smaller rooms. It seems to be a very popular destination! It is a lovely house, very simple in contrast to the very complex thinking that went on there. Newton was born and grew up here, returning from Cambridge in 1665 when the plague hit.

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His return to his childhood home marked the start of his ‘Annus Mirabilis’ or year of miracles. Newton spent his time away from Cambridge working with incredibly complicated maths, light, prisms and rainbows as well as thinking about gravity and its effect on apples. Watching the introductory video made me remember playing with prisms in science class, and learning about Newton’s Laws of Motion. It was very cool to be in the space where these discoveries had actually been made.

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The kitchen had a really nice feel to it, with plenty of food to give the place meaning and life. There is even a furry little visitor hiding in the corner.

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My favorite room however was Newton’s bedroom, known as ‘The Hall Chamber’. It was full of interesting artifacts of his work, where he spent time deep in thought. A simple room where some of the most advanced thinking of the time was happening.

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There is a smaller room in the bedroom, sectioned off by a later resident. Here you can see a wooden shutter with hole in it. It is clearly a new shutter, Newton’s original probably having been removed by someone thinking ‘Why on earth is there a hole in this shutter!?’ but it is nice the Trust have added this touch back in.

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In Newton’s bedroom there is also his death mask hanging over the fireplace. It was quite strange to stand in his room and look at a true likeness of his face, unlike portraits which can be quite variable in their realism. To the left of the fireplace is Newton’s book press, used to keep valuable books safe.

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When his step-father died, in 1653, he left Newton 300 books, which is a large number today and was a huge and valuable inheritance at the time. Maybe his stepfather has already seen eleven year old Newton’s genius and wanted to foster his intelligence.

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One of the other upstairs rooms has been filled with activities and information boards aimed at children. Unfortunately interpretation like this has a nasty habit of ageing quite badly. The games were focused around all the different challenges Newton faced in his life, and it was interesting to realise that the Civil War happened during Newton’s life, although it appears to have affected him little. Despite my reservations about the interpretation panels the children seemed to be enjoying the games, and we had a sneaky little go to!

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The children’s eye spy trail around the house was to spot these lovely little wooden mice, and they were also for sale in the shop (nice work NT business gurus). After making friends with an adorable real life little mouse outside I had to buy one, a really cute souvenir from a delightful day out!

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Re-Visiting Dunham Massey

A little while ago, when we were at our most northern Re-enactment event, me, mum and Kerry decided to pop over to Dunham Massey. I had already been but mum and Kerry wanted to visit while it was still displayed as Stamford Military Hospital.

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If you have been following my blog for a little while you will know what I thought of my last visit. If you haven’t then here are the links to the two post about it:

Post One & Post Two.

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I had a lot of opinions about the visit, as is deserving of such a huge and ambitious project. I had heard a lot of great things about the WWI theme and unfortunately was a little disappointed in my visit. I didn’t feel I saw the best that was on offer, missing the very emotional vignettes performed by the actors, and finding the exhibition petered out part way round the house. It was a very good example of how important managing expectations can be, give something a lot to live up to and it will be hard pushed to achieve.

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However the Stamford Military Hospital theme is now in its second year, tweaks have been made, I knew what to expect and I really enjoyed my visit second time around.

The main change I though was a great improvement was the way they now end the WWI theme. Before it was confusing where the WWI story ended and the ‘Treasures’ exhibition began.

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The beautiful bed is in a room just off the Gallery, which starts the treasures exhibition, however there is still on room left talking about what happened to the patients and staff of the hospital. This is still the case, but now the live of the people on your entry ticket are concluded in the Gallery, giving it a more final feel.

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At the end of the gallery there are stack of crates, bags and photo frames. Here you are told what happened to all the people on your entry ticket, and it is a really nicely displayed pieces of interpretation. I likes this touch a lot, it was in-keeping with the theme and provided enough information that you felt satisfied.

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They have also removed the nods to the war from the bedrooms further along the visitor route. It’s only a small thing but helps visitors know where they are, and I like things neat and tidy so having a more definitive end appeals to me.

I understood the stories a lot more second time around. I tend to visit a property, then read the guide-book at home (usually as I’m writing the blog post). This means I often understand the property more after I have left than while I am there. Writing the first posts about Dunham meant I got more of a feel for the people talked about in the property, so I had more of a vested interest going around the second time.

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Phase two of the project also included new scenes that the actors would be acting out during the second year. We caught two scenes downstairs, in the ward and the Great Hall. They were quite entertaining but sad at the same time, featuring a well-to-do visitor who lacked understanding about the harsh realities of the war, as so many not directly involved would have done.

Just as we were about to leave the Great Gallery, upstairs, a soldier walked past us, drawing me back in. I got to see a scene between nurse Lady Jane Grey and her brother Rodger, the soldier. It made more sense to me than it would have done, had I not know the history and situations of the two people, but it still drew everyone in. It was a lovely scene and I was really pleased to have seen something a bit more emotive and personal.

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I was also aware of what to expect, so not disappointed when we left WWI and entered the ‘Treasures’ exhibition. This exhibition was set up to appease visitors who might be put out that a lot of the collection has been moved to re-instate the hospital, and I think it’s a wonderful idea.

There are some very lovely pieces on display in this exhibition, and even thought these rooms don’t feel like you’re in a Trust property, they are really interesting.

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The one thing I really did not like however was the new sculpture in the garden, commissioned to remember the patients treated at Stamford Military Hospital. They have chosen to do this with . . . concrete cubes. Visible from the Great Gallery the blocks all have numbers on, representing each of the nearly 300 men treated here. I’m not a huge fan of modern art and while I think it is lovely they have created a permanent memorial couldn’t they have chosen something a bit prettier? Or even just more in keeping with the surroundings?

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Another new feature are more characters, but ones that visitors can interact with. The actors portraying actual people in the house move like ghosts, only talking to one another. However in the kitchens we met two maids, knitting for the war effort, who were quite happy to talk to us, in character. The more characters in a property the better in my opinion.

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Dunham have decided to stick to their original plan and only keep the ‘Sanctuary’ WWI theme for two years, meaning you only have until November this year to see it. Personally I think this is madness, they have successfully enhanced the theme for its second year and I feel they are missing an opportunity by not building on it further, especially as it took so much time and money to achieve. Stamford Military Hospital wasn’t actually established until 1917 and it seems crazy not to have the theme still running for its own centenary, but I suppose there must be reasons for it and those decisions are way above my pay grade.

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I recommend anyone with an interest in Military History or the First World War to make a real effort to see Stamford Military Hospital before it disappears. It is a fascinating, in-depth and unique look into the past, not to be missed.

A bit of a disappointment at Dyrham

So this post I’m afraid might be a bit negative. When planning our Trusty holiday me and mum decided we’d really like to go to Dyrham Park because currently visitors have the opportunity to be able to go on the roof! I was very excited when I heard about this so we planned Dyrham in, instead of another property that I would also very much like to visit. However Dyrham did not live up to the excitement I felt whilst planning our holiday.

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Getting to Dyrham we were told that if we wanted to go on the roof we had better head straight there as the weather was getting worse and they might be closing the roof. So we waited for the minibus to pick us up and take us to the house. While we were waiting I took a #antlerselfie with a very cool hat the Dyrham staff has made.

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I was very glad we got the minibus, it would have been a long walk but not just because of that. There were some calves in the estate, very cute but new to the area and they were rather jumpy. They were all across the path and getting quite close to the minibus so I was glad not to be walking down in the middle of them.

When we did get to the house they were just closing the roof tours. Even though I had seen on the website that it was weather dependent I was very disappointed. While the work to repair the roof is happening only the ground floor is open to the public and the collection from the upper floors has been moved into store. There were collections tours running to show the public how this large-scale operation was being carried out.

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However when we were inquiring about the roof tours they told us that the next collection tour would not be for a while. So we decided to do the tour of the house first thing. The rooms currently open to the public are those of ‘Mr Blathwayt’s Apartments’, set out to transport you back to the 17th Century.

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Now if anyone says Hardwick is dark I invite them to visit Dyrham. The tour was designed to be sensory, touch, taste, sound, smell to compensate for the reduced sight, there was not a curtain open in the whole property! I’m assuming this was because no light would have got in past the scaffolding that was wrapped around the whole building anyway.

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You now enter under the scaffolding, through a tunnel that felt like I might have been unwillingly entering a ‘fun house’, complete with funky blue over shoes. We were also given a booklet which I found very frustrating, full of obscure contemporary 17th Century quotes but not a lot of actual information about the rooms themselves.

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In the first room there was a volunteer playing the piano. To the left there was a further room with a stair case and after that in a room beyond a rope a painting that all the volunteers are very proud of. It was a shame I couldn’t get closer too it, but it is a very unusual life size painting called ‘A view through a house’, making it look as if the house extends further than it actually does.

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After that rooms had herbs to smell and another had a trunk full of fabric that you could handle. In total there are eight rooms still open to the public. One of the rooms has these fantastic tulip vases in it.

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Once we had walked through those rooms and out the other side we were offered a taste of hot chocolate to an authentic 17th Century recipe. It was very bitter and heavily spiced, I think a mouthful would be very warming on a cold night but much more than that would make a modern person feel quite sick.

I thought giving authentic tasters was quite a nice idea, however for very good reason it has to be done outside the house, which means it sorts of looses its flow.

After the tour of the house we went to check if there were any collection store tours, which there weren’t so we went for lunch. After lunch we went back to the area where the tours were, and still there was no tour due. We had a look around the exhibition, which is comprised of two rooms.

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The first room talked about how Dyrham was originally built and the second about the work that was now going on on the roof. I have to admit I was not particularly interested in the first room, but the second brought home the scale of the project Dyrham is undertaking.

The project involves removing the whole of Dyrham’s roof and replacing the lead with new, but don’t worry, all the old materials is being recycled, all 46 tonnes of lead and 8000 slate tiles! The scale of the project is astounding, and trying to keep the property open whilst the work is going on is very ambitious.

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After looking at the exhibitions we went again to see if there was a collections store tour leaving, but there wasn’t one for another 30 mins! We had a long drive to our next hotel, so we decided not to wait. We had done all we could and by this point had been on site for nearly three hours but there hadn’t been a single tour! So we caught the minibus back to the car and headed off, disappointed.

I really do admire Dyrham for trying alternate things to keep the property open while the roof is coming off, and by all account the roof tour is amazing, if you actually get up there, but more need to be done for visitors when they cannot access the roof. For there not to have been one tour of the collections store in nearly three hours is pretty poor.

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They could not help that the tour of the house was not to my taste, and the idea of making it a ‘sensory’ experience of 17th Century Dyrham was a really good one, but I felt the execution was just too little to really make an impact. I feel bad for saying it, but all in all my day at Dyrham was very disappointing, and it’s a shame because I know a lot of though and effort will have gone into planning for this frighteningly large-scale project.

Maybe I will visit again, if I’m in the area but I supposed I shouldn’t really complain as I really enjoyed visiting all the other properties I saw on my Trusty holiday. Good luck to everyone at Dyrham, and hope the new roof is much less leaky that the last!

A walk in the Park

Lyme Park to be precise.

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A few weeks ago, when we were having a spell of lovely weather, I took a drive through the peaks and up to Lyme Park to enjoy the sunshine! Now I have to be honest, I’m usually all about the houses when I go Trust visiting but I am so glad I took the time to wonder around the amazing gardens.

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There is a lovely Orangery in the gardens where I sat for a while listening to the fountain, so calming. It has a lovely tiled floor and when I was there it smelled divine thanks to whichever plants they had flowering in there.

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Outside the Orangery the tulips were out in bloom and they looked brilliant! Tulips are my favorite flowers, they are simple yet come in such a variety of lovely bold colours. We have had a lot at Hardwick at the moment and they’re such cheerful flowers.

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I used to visit Lyme occasionally when I was younger and my brother and I used to run through rhododendrons, it was one of our favorite adventures, exploring and finding dens in the trees and bushes. It was nice to tread these paths again, around every corner there was something else to discover.

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The whole park is so scenic, and the house looks great from every angle.

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The house and gardens were built in an Italianate style, and the house has a strange design where there is a courtyard in the middle and the four sides tower above you. To top of the theme there are several Roman gods perched on the roof of the South Front.

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The Italian gardens are beautiful, ever so neat and symmetrical, which really appeals to me. I don’t think I have even been so impressed by gardens as I was by Lyme’s (the beaming sunshine helped a huge amount I’m sure). They were blooming lovely! (I’m so sorry, I couldn’t resist).

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Of course I did also venture in the house. Unfortunately due to a lot of their collection being loaned items you cannot take photos inside the house, which is a shame because there are some really lovely rooms and pieces I wanted to share with you.

The front door stands above a grand double staircase that leads into the Entrance Hall, where when we visited a volunteer was playing the piano. This added a layer of atmosphere to the room, but it was somehow stifled by walking almost straight from the front door into a rope sectioning off most of the room.

©National Trust Images/Stephen Robson

©National Trust Images/Stephen Robson

I think the Drawing Room was my favorite room, ornate but cosy looking furniture, a lovely ceiling and the most amazing stained glass window that would not have looked out-of-place in a cathedral. The library was nice as they had made replica furniture that people could sit on, and read a book if they wanted. These were made only a few years ago and yet already one of the armchair seats has worn through, a good example of why we can’t let everyone touch our collections! The images below shows the Drawing Room not quite how I saw it, but you can see the lovely features it has.

The Drawing Room

©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

However Lyme’s story did not really come across on my visit, which was a shame because from the snippets I saw it should have been a really emotive and interesting story of how the wars affected the Legh family and their estate. The tag line is ‘Lyme – the end of a golden era’ but there is very little information about this era on the tour of the house, and I didn’t get a sense of the people at all.

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The absolute highlight of the house had to be the Edwardian costume that visitors get the opportunity to dress up in. You can borrow and Edwardian outfit and wander around the house and gardens in it, which was of course right up my street! I really enjoyed my stroll as an Edwardian lady, I felt ever so glamorous. This is a fantastic feature for visitor engagement and well done to the team at Lyme for having such an ambitious idea and seeing it though!

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I think a lot of work must have been done at Lyme in the last few years because the house I saw is very different to the one in the guide-book, which was last revised in 2012. The guide-book only touches on the fall of the estate and again does not tell the story that Lyme are aiming to share. The house was really lovely, I was just frustrated by seeing hints of a story I didn’t then get to find out any more about. I hope this projects is just at the beginning, and that over time this story will be more obvious in the house.

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At the end of the day it was the stunning beauty of the house and park land that made an impression on me, and there is so much beauty to be found at Lyme Park.

Team Trip to Ickworth

The other week us Hardwick Chaps went on a research trip all the way down to Ickworth in Suffolk. It was very exciting to get to go on a team outing, and to tick another Trust property off my list. Warning: there are a lot of pictures bellow, it’s not my fault, there were just too many pretty things!

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In visitor reception

Walking up the drive towards Ickworth I felt very exited. The building itself is amazing, a huge dome sitting in beautiful green gardens. The scale of the house is almost unbelievable, a real project of ambition and wealth!

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Begun in the late 1790s by the 4th Earl of Bristol, a Bishop more concerned with his earthly possessions than his duties in Ireland. He built the house to display his collection of beautiful artifacts from all over the world, in an ‘instructional’ manner. The family maintained this passion for collecting meaning the house today feels more like a gallery than a home, and has some truly fantastic pieces.

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Visitors enter the house through the side by the Orangery, and leave through the front doors. This felt quite unusual but it allowed for an introductory area before heading into the house through the servants quarters. I quite liked the introductory interpretation even though it felt a little bit like I was in a museum.

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The introduction

One of the reasons we were visiting Ickworth was to see there Below Stairs area, where visitors can handle all the objects there. All the drawers can be opened and there are kitchen items and utensils to be discovers inside them. I would love to do something similar at Hardwick, furnish the whole room with non collection items and make it a really hands on area. You can tell a lot of money has been spent on the project and the servants rooms look really good.IMAG0365

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Inside a draw

I particularly liked the Servant’s Hall, where you can try on hats, play games and even play the piano (as demonstrated below by the ever talented Lucie).

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Once you go up the stairs and into the main house you are not allowed to touch anything and the rooms feel more like art galleries, rather than a home. They were all big, light rooms, beautifully decorated and furnished with fantastic items.

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The servants stairs

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The Entrance Hall

There are three magnificent chandeliers on the ground floor, all of which have been cleaned in recent years. The sparkle so beautifully and so Ickworth have set up the library to best be able to view one of these magnificent chandeliers.

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The Dining Room

There are bean bags on the floor which visitors can sit on to look up the chandelier in the center of the room. While the bean bags, and rather funky chairs with them, do not suite the room I really like the idea of being able to sit, relax and enjoy the view. Previously there were green settee and armchairs in the center of the room, matching the curtains. The set up does look a bit odd now but it allows visitors to engage with the space more, rather than just being guided through a roped off area.

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View from the bean bag

The Drawing Room is beautiful, I love the colours, and it contains another stunning chandelier. There is also a lovely chess set with a board featuring images of Roman ruins, appropriate for a house inspired by classical architecture.

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Either side of the main domed area are two long wings. At the end of one of these is the ‘Pompeian Room’ named after its interesting decoration. While I am not a huge fan of the room itself there is a beautiful inlaid marble table. It has all different types of marble and in the middle an image of doves made up of tiny pieces of mosaic. It must have been made by an incredibly skilled craftsman with a lot of patience.

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On the other side of the dome was a room with the second reason we had traveled to Ickworth, lighting! Lighting is an issue in most National Trust properties and Ickworth has just done a project experimenting with ways to light their collection. We are looking to do a similar project at Hardwick. Side note: the room also features some really lovely wallpaper!

Ickworth had lit several of their paintings, all recently moved into the same room, including a portrait of Lady Elizabeth Foster. The name may sound familiar to some as she was the mistress of the 5th Duke of Devonshire, who was married to Georgiana Cavendish, another Hardwick connection. In the portrait Elizabeth is wearing a miniature around her neck, though to be a picture of Georgiana.

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While it is an incredibly difficult task, to light paintings well, the lights at Ickworth got in the way of viewing the paintings. As is often the way with spotlights, from certain angles the light shone on the painting, obscuring the image. it also meant it was very difficult to take photos of the paintings without getting the glare of the lights on them. However saying that I haven’t got a better solution to offer, and it’s very possible we will never find a brilliant way of lighting everything in our collection.

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The main staircase at Ickworth is stunning, and as you go up the stairs you pass shelves and shelves of books, all beautifully bound and lined up. It looks fab!IMAG0431

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Upstairs there are displays of some of the fine things the family had collected on their travels. There was a collection of beautiful, delicate fans and an odd collection of fish I particularly liked. The fish all had different uses, scent bottles etc and both these and the fans were collected by Geraldine, 3rd Marchioness of Bristol, clearly a woman with great tastes.

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After we had walked around the house we went and found a sunny spot and had a picnic in the gardens, which was lovely.

IMAG0445Back in the car park most of the lamp-posts are decorated in a rather unusual fashion. Visitors have stuck their entry stickers all over the lamp-posts. I know these stickers can be a bit of a pain for House Teams, at Hardwick they tend to fall off and stick to the matting. I’m not sure what the staff at Ickworth think of this but I think it looks lovely and colourful, making an otherwise dull and mundane metal pole quite bright and cheerful!

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Oh, and Ickworth also have a brill second-hand book shop! I didn’t spend too much money, and besides it all goes to charity so that makes it ok. All in all it was a lovely day out with my fellow Chaps, and really good fun to go around a Trust property with my team, and discuss it with other ‘insiders’.

Naughtiness in Nottingham

A few weeks ago I had a good friend to stay so we decided to have a heritage day out in Nottingham. I haven’t been to Nottingham since I was 18, it was a birthday treat which I really enjoyed it so I thought it was high time to spend another day there.

To start the day, after I had found the car park, we went to Nottingham Castle. To my surprise and delight there was a medieval re-enactment taking place! Robin Hood even put in an appearance. Walking around the Living History encampment felt like home. There was also an archery tournament, but with a twist. The teams of archers were aiming for a moving target stuck on top of a knight’s helm. It was very entertaining to watch, and the Robin Hood and his Merry Men crashed the party!

Robin Hood! I knew he was real

Robin Hood! I knew he was real

After the show we went for a wander around the castle, which is now a museum. I loved the idea behind their first exhibition, that every object tells a story. This is so true and I often find myself thinking about how the object I am working with got to that point. I love the story of Bess going on a shopping spree in London to buy furniture, and picking out these items for her new home. I would love to know just what she though about each one, what attracted her to them and why she placed there where she did.

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The second exhibition we saw at the Castle was a temporary exhibition about the First World War. I found this fascinating as I have an interest in the subject anyway. I never knew that the metal helmets we are so used to seeing weren’t introduced until nearly half way through the war. I cannot believe they sent soldiers into war without head protection, it seems crazy. There was a case featuring some ‘Trench Art’ made from shelling casing and other materials that would have been found in the trenches. I had seen some of this before and the creativity they showcase is amazing, especially given that what the soldiers were going through was unimaginably horrific.

Trench Art

Trench Art

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After the castle we stopped for a bite to eat, and then went to jail!

Ellen's Mug Shot

Just kidding, we went to visit the Galleries of Justice at the old court-house. I have visited before and really enjoyed myself so was excited to go again.

When you arrive at the Galleries and buy a ticket you are given a criminal number to take with you on your tour. The first half of the tour is led by characters, and the second half is self led. We were first taken by a judge into the court, for our fates to be determined. The court room was beautiful, all carved wooden benches and a very impressive judges chair so you couldn’t forget who was in charge.

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The court-house was very well designed in that if found guilty, as we unfortunately were, you could be led straight from the court room down into the jail. There we were told to look at our criminal numbers and find out our crimes, and more importantly our punishments. Mine said I was to be tied to a cart and flogged. This part of the tour went down really well with the group, and had us all chatting and giggling with one another about our crimes.

Wall of Infamy

Wall of Infamy

After this we met with the executioner. He was quite sinister and talked us through his job, life (and death) in the jail, and even let us sample some of the cells. From here we were let loose to explore the jail and learn about the reforms made to the system. We finally made it outside to the yard to be greeted by a hangman who had made a science out of execution. He was a real gent and clearly very passionate about his job, each to their own I suppose.

The Hang Man

The Hang Man

Next, narrowly escaping the noose we were sent for transportation, and then on to learn about prison breaks and finally the modern prison system. At the end of the tour was a temporary exhibition about crime and punishment during the First World War, and all the extra duties police men had to keep the country safe from spies. There was also an exhibition about a man who had drowned his three wives in a bath tub, who we had heard about in the court room. The galleries even had the murderous bathtub on display.

Hez in the stocks

Hez in the stocks

Solitary Confinement

Solitary Confinement

We really enjoyed our day out in Nottingham and I can’t wait to go back and discover more, as there seems to be so much to do there. I love having exciting new places to discover so close to home!

Pretty Packwood and a bit more Baddesley

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.

Cleaning porcelain

Cleaning porcelain

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.

Shiny!

Shiny!

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!

Halloween in Drotiwich

Halloween in Drotiwich

Spookyfying the Still Room

Spookyfying the Still Room

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.

Packwood House

Packwood House

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.

Tapestry Interpretation

Tapestry Interpretation

 

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.

Conservation Interpretation (and pretty embroidery)

Conservation Interpretation (and pretty embroidery)

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.

The royal symbol on one of the beams

The royal symbol on one of the beams

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

Packwood’s Gardens

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!

Becky and Chris enjoying Baddesley

Becky and Chris enjoying Baddesley