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.

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A trusty holiday

Last week I was away on a much anticipated holiday, and how else would this National Trust employee spend her annual leave than visiting other Trust properties! The holiday started with a re-enactment event way down south, which was why me … Continue reading

A trip to the Big City

Last weekend a couple of our lovely volunteers organised a coach trip down to London to see the ‘Elizabeth I & Her People‘ exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, and I went along to see it too. The exhibition gives a glimpse into the people in Elizabethan England and features several pieces from Hardwick’s own collection. I was really hoping to see the exhibition before it closed, given all the hard work we Chaps had put into getting our two lovely portraits ready for the loan. (Read more about that here)

The two portraits we loaned to the NPG

The two portraits we loaned to the NPG

The exhibition was only small but we managed to spend nearly two hours in there, looking at all the fabulous treasures there and admiring how wonderful our objects looked on display. It was such a different setting to see these familiar objects in. We were particularly looking at the lighting in the exhibition, it highlighted every detail on our newly conserved paintings.

 

It would be so nice to be able to do something similar at Hardwick but we are restricted with not having anywhere near enough electric points, and not being able to attach light to the walls or ceilings. We have been starting to look into different way of highlighting objects in our collection to show them off to their full potential. It’s a tricky thing to try to do but after seeing how good they look we want to try to do something. A project to be mulling over for the future!

I felt oddly proud of how Hardwick’s objects held their own alongside objects from all over the world, from collections like the Ashmolean’s and Private Collections. Our portrait of Queen Elizabeth was the main feature of the exhibit, the biggest, and in my opinion the best portrait of Queen Elizabeth there! Not only could you see her in the section with all the paintings of the Queen, but you could spot her from most points in the exhibition, and through an archway perfectly places to show our portrait off, with a seat in for people to sit and admire!

Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I

It was fascinating to get a glimpse into the lives of so many different Elizabethan people, so many stories that I had never heard before. The people featured were such a cross-section, and lead such interesting lives! The portraits artifacts that accompanied them were of such good quality, I did have quite a few ‘Wow!’ moments.

Along with our two portraits, one of Elizabeth and one of our Bess, we also had some embroideries on display. These were two figures of men on a hunt embroidered on a backing of black velvet, and one of the lovely red velvet panel we have from a bed the Bess commissioned. This piece had the honor of being made into a pin cushion on sale ion the gift shop (I was very tempted but went with the from tree ornament instead). We were also included in a large part in the video that accompanied. I helped out the crew while they were filming the pieces and Hardwick looked amazing! It came off really nicely and hopefully will peak a lot of interest and inspire a few people to come and visit us.

The Embroidered Panel

The Embroidered Panel

A couple of my favorite objects (other than our portraits and embroideries of course!) included a beautiful sword, and a beautiful purse! The sword had engraved decoration on every part; I love it when weapons are both pretty and deadly! The purse also appealed to another thing I like, frogs. It was a really sweet little embroidered purse in the shape of a frog. Still can’t decide which one I would have taken home given the chance! There was a few pieces of really skilled embroidery on display that you can see some examples of here.

The Frog Purse

The Frog Purse

My Souvenir from the Exhibition

My Souvenir from the Exhibition

There was also a really lovely  pencil sketch of Queen Elizabeth, supposedly drawn from life, that really captured my imagination. There were several different paintings and portraits of Elizabeth looked like a different person in each so it made me wonder what she really looked like. I wonder what she was really like, and what her and Bess’ friendship was like too, if only Dr Who and his Tardis could come and help me find out!

I am so pleased to have been able to go down and see our ladies on display at such a prestigious London gallery. It fills me with pride and reminds me again how lucky I am to work somewhere with such a stunning collection of nationally important treasures! And as well as giving me a lot of food for thought (mainly about Elizabethan life) it has given us things to think about at work too. The exhibition is on until January and well worth a visit if you get a chance!

The Besses go on holiday

The last few weeks at work have been spent preparing for a big holiday, not for any of us Chaps, but for two of our portraits. ‘Young Bess’ and Queen Elizabeth I have just left Hardwick in preparation for being … Continue reading