It takes a village

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Changes

Hello All, long time no see! I know there has been distinct hole in my blog posts recently, but with good reason, I promise.

Big changes have happened in my little world over the last few months and so I have been focusing all my energy on that.

And the big news is: I have started a new job!

I am now Chapel & Collections Officer at Clumber Park, another fabulous National Trust property in the Midlands.

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This is a big step up from my post as Conservation Assistant at Hardwick Hall, and a huge role looking after several collections and becoming head of my own little department!

I loved being at Hardwick so much but even so I have been looking for jobs for a few months now, wanting to progress my career. This job is an amazing opportunity to learn new skills and really use all that I have already learnt from my years with the Trust so far.

Clumber Park is a beautiful, huge estate near Worksop, that was once the seat of The Duke’s of Newcastle. Though the mansion no longer stands on the site all the surrounding buildings still stand, including the focus of my role; the stunning Chapel of Saint Mary the Virgin.

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This role is already proving to be full of excitement, interest and new challenges, and I am enjoying every minute of it. I started in December, in a the deep end with Christmas events and lots of carol singing!

Now the Chapel is closed for the deep clean and I have lots of events and projects on the horizon, Clumber is going to be keeping me very busy.

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So now I will be back to regular blogging from my new home, (and on my new blog: viewfrommyattic.blogspot.co.uk) but in the meantime have a look at this article I wrote for the Clumber Park webpage about what I’m going to be up to for the next few weeks. See you all soon!

 

 

 

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.

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.

Interesting, intriguing and inspirational Snowshill Manor.

After one of our re-enactment shows last month me and the mother decided to stay over an extra night and break up our journey back home with another National Trust property, as we love to do. I really wanted to visit Snowshill Manor and gardens, this was the property we had decided not to visit in favor of Dyrham to try to get on the roof so I was really pleased to go and see it now, and it was fab!

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The house is opened by timed tickets which is good in the narrow walkways. We did have to wait a little bit to peek into one of the rooms downstairs, but when we got upstairs it didn’t feel too crowded for the most part.

There has been something on the site of Snowshill Manor since at least 821 AD and the earliest parts of the current structure are medieval, it was even given to Catherine Parr by Henry VIII as part of her dowry. However when the building was purchased by Charles Wade in 1919 its new purpose was set; to house Charles’ treasures from around the globe.

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Charles Wade started collecting items that interested him when he was a child and after restoring the manor it provided a place for him to display and enjoy his collection. Each room has a general theme and they all have different names, many mythical creatures. Charles himself, and much later his wife Mary, lived in a small cottage just next to the main house, which is also full to the rafters of interesting objects.

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Charles Wade’s Bedroom

The house itself looks quite small from the side visitors enter, but going down into the gardens you can see that it spreads back quite a way. It is a maze of small rooms with so many things in every room! The motto that accompanies Charles Wade’s Coat of Arms is Nequid Pereat which translates as ‘Let nothing perish’ very fitting not only for Mr Wade but also for the National Trust as a whole.

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There were many, many curious objects throughout the house, but one of the first that caught my attention was this rather strange bust. Looking it up on the National Trust Collections website I have found out it is a 16th Century Spanish Reliquary. I don’t know what was displayed in the hole in his chest but the gristly part of me thinks it should have been a heart! (Unlikely but wouldn’t that have been a sight!)

IMAG1429I loved these little bone figures which were displayed either side of a doorway. They were carved out of bone from prisoner’s rations during the Napoleonic Wars, and a re so incredibly detailed for such small scale pieces.

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My favorite room is the Green Room full of Japanese Samurai armour. The armour has been set out to look as if they are soldiers camped out, ready for battle or adventure. Some sit around a camp fire while others stand, keeping guard. Most have masks but a few have wooden faces and you feel like at any moment one could turn its head towards you and bark at you for intruding into their camp.From National Trust Images

Add to that the low light levels and whistling wind sound effects this room is a very atmospheric one. I couldn’t get a very good picture of the room so the one above is from National Trust Images. Even though it was quite eerie I really liked that room.

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On the very top floor is a room called ‘A Hundred Wheels’ for very obvious reasons. The room is so full of bikes and trikes and carts and carriages they are hanging from the rafters! Some are real vehicles, some toys or models and other mini versions made for children.

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There are so many objects in this wonderful collection that even just flicking through the guidebook I have seen thing I didn’t spot on my visit. I will have to go back and spend a long time looking round. By the end of my visit however I was starting to get a bit of object fatigue!

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There was not a lot of interpretation in each room, which suited me fine. I like to just be in the rooms and only tend to want information about specific things. For such instances Showshill has very knowledgeable room guides and folders in the rooms with further information about the objects. I then go away and read the guide book, and look up anything I want to know more about online.

Here are a few pictures of some of the objects that did catch my eye during our visit. So many pretty and fascinating things!

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I have been inspired by the next picture, all these different keys were presented in a frame. I love old keys and have always kind of wanted to collect them but not for the to just sit around in a draw. So now I am going to gladly start collection them and do something similar for myself!

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I love the idea of collecting items that interest you from all your travels, the mundane and the far flung. Wouldn’t it be fab to have your own collection like this to display your passion, and your life’s story! What a legacy to leave behind, although I think mine would definitely involve a bit more glitter! On the side of the little cottage where Charles actually lived there is a lovely little clock mechanism where every time it strikes St George here strikes the bell. I don’t now if he still work but I think it’s a really cute feature.

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I hope I’ll get a chance to go back, maybe next time I’m in the area, and spend even longer looking around. I also need to visit Berrington Hall as well, as they now have Charles Wade’s collection of textiles and costume! I think they’re only on display occasionally so that may even have to be a special trip! Snowshill is a must visit for anyone with an interest in amazing objects and fascinating collections, and as of September they are open seven days a week. ‘Yay’ for visitors but send a prayer to their conservation team, dusting all that with no closed days! Oh, and the restaurant does a lush crumble and custard!