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!



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!


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.



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.


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


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).


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.


The servants stairs


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.


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.



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.



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.



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.


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.


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


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.





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!


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’.

Bringing the Old Kitchens back to life

I know I have mentioned mine and Kate’s Old kitchens project a couple of times so now I have finally taken some photos. The house team has been spilt into four groups for winter, each focusing on a different aspect of preparing for the winter season. The Conservation Assistants, Carol and Megan, are in charge of the Winter Clean. a huge task where every room in the property gets a deep clean and conservation tasks that need doing annually are undertaken.

Ben and Will have been given the Cellars as their area to prepare for the winter offer. Like the kitchens this area was pretty much a blank canvas for them to put their ideas into. They have decided on two themes; the Crimean War in the first area of the cellars, as Sir Percy Herbert fought in the Crimean War as we have several items in the collection that used to belong to him, including his medals and his sword. Their second area is dedicated to a history of brewing beer and ale, in collaboration with Monty’s Brewery, the place that has made our new Powis Pale Ale. This areas would have been used to store the ales that were drunk by the family at the castle. They have done some fab work with lighting in this section, making it really atmospheric!

The huge barrels in the cellars

Emma and Naomi have been tasked with the Ballroom and Clive Museum and have gone with an Indian theme, to tie in with the Clive of India collection. This is why I have been sewing Elephants, for the Christmas tree that will be in the Ballroom. Because the Old Kitchens and the Cellars are closed areas we have been able to get on with installing our winter offers, but Emma and Naomi have not had the chance to do the same.

The Ballroom

And on top of all of these themes will be our Christmas theme, it is going to be really spectacular and I am so excited about it! But more on that in another post.

The we have the Old Kitchens. We have focused on restoring the kitchens to something what they would have looked like when they were in use. After our House Staff Conference at Chirk Castle we have though differently about the interpretation we will be using. We are going to use the objects in the kitchen to tell the story of its use. Placing in utensils that can be handled and will show what happened in the kitchens, what technology and tools they had, and what they cooked. I have also been researching recipes from Menus found in the archives that we know were cooked in these kitchens and served at Powis.

The first physical step we took after the planning was filling the huge wooden dresser that stands in the kitchens with some beautiful Indian Rose design crockery that had been donates to the castle.

The dresser filled with Indian Rose china

Then we went shopping! We searched all the charity shops and antique shops in Welshpool for anything suitable for our kitchens that could also be handled by members of the public. We managed to do really well, with huge thanks to the Antique shop on Boots Street that did us some fantastic deals. All we really want now are some huge copper pan, but copper is so expensive at the moment that will have to wait for another day, or year. Then all our purchases had to be cleaned up, the cooks at Powis would have run a very well oiled ship so we can’t let the side down!

Cleaning pots for use in the kitchens.

The we put our purchases out on display in the Kitchens.

The dresser with some of our bargains on

We had decided we wanted jars filled with different thing that would be used in cooking that have a really strong smell to them, We call these our ‘smell me jars’. They contain a selection of herbs, spices, teas and coffee and the idea is to help engage all the sense in learning about the kitchen.

Our ‘smell me jars’

I was being nosy a found a cupboard so we decided to make good use of it, by filling it with interesting things for people to discover. We put in some more of our shopping finds in the cupboard, as well as some more jars filled with jams and preserves ect.

A fab selection of different bottles and jars

Mmm pickled eggs

Kate found these fantastic little vintage paper groceries bags , in several different designs. We stuffed them with tissue paper and placed the in our little cupboard as well.

Aren’t they lovely!

We have also been dressing the Cook’s sitting room, it went form a bare room to something that is starting to feel really homey. This is the room that will have some different types of interpretation to the traditional flat media. We are going to have picture frames with information about the servants that used to work at Powis, and cushions with facts on them. Again it is still a work in progress but this is where we are at currently.

A taste of comfort

Programs like ‘Downton Abbey’ and documentaries like ‘Servants – The true story of life below stairs’ (both of which I thoroughly recommend watching) have peaked the interest in areas like the kitchens. I also think the life servants lead feels more relateable to most people. We often get asked where the kitchens are when they are not open and people love to look around them. On Monday our State Rooms close and our Old Kitchens open everyday, it is a funny thing, the grandest more sumptuous rooms shut and the rooms that are designed for a practical purpose with no frills. I cannot wait to finish dressing our area and adding the interpretation, and on monday we start decoration for Christmas too. We will be very bust but it is very exciting so worth all the rushing around.




Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, hope you have had fun today! The castle has been heaving with small monsters, vampires, witches and ghouls! We have had a really successful day of children’s activities (including scary face painting) taking place in the Old Kitchen’s. It was lovely to see so many children enjoying a day out at the Castle.

The Old Kitchens decorated for Halloween

On Monday the House Team had a pumpkin carving session up at the castle. Even though we are somewhat out of the way up at the castle we do a lot of socializing together, which is really nice. I enjoy the fact that we all get on and can do things together. So we had a get together and got very creative, and here are the fruits (or vegetables) of our labour.

The pumpkins ready to go

Ben and his pumpkin

Will’s poorly pumpkin

Powis Castle on a pumpkin

Megan’s kitty cat

Neil’s pumpkin in the Duke’s room

My Tardis pumpkin

Naomi’s pumpkin in the State Bedroom

Kate’s pumpkin all lit up









A House Team day out at Chirk Castle

This week has again been a busy one, what with thursday marking exactly two months until Christmas day, and today being only a week before our Christmas decorations start going up in the castle!! Our State Rooms are being put to bed a week on monday and Christmas officially open on the 17th November, I have to keep reminding myself we haven’t even had Halloween yet! We have a lot to do and not too long to do it but Christmas should be very magical, I’m really looking forward to it and enjoying the challenge too!

On Wednesday all the Powis Castle House Staff took a trip to Chirk Castle for the day for the first All Wales House Staff Meeting, which will hopefully become an annual event. I was so excited about this as the program of talks looked really interesting, and it would be a chance to catch up with some of the people I have met during my time with the Trust, as well as meet new people too! The talks were about issues that are affecting all the Trust properties at the moment, such as bringing place to life and how to get around difficulties such as more staff needing training than places available on training courses.


The stunning Davies Gates at Chirk Castle

Will, our House Steward, also gave a talk about having Interns and Long Term Volunteers, and there was a lot of talk in that area during the day. I felt this was really positive as I have loved and appreciated this experience so much so far and it is great to know that it will continue and benefit of others like myself in the future. Having Long Term Volunteers is also beneficial for properties struggling with being short staffed but that do have the funding to employ more hands. It gives us the opportunity to experience working for the Trust and helps House Teams get they work that needs doing done. Internships are fantastic to get particular projects off the ground by having one person focus on them. I joke we could have done with an Intern purely dedicated to managing our new Christmas theme this year!


Chirk Castle

The talks that gave me the most food for thought were the talks on social media, making me think about my blog. It is how going so much better than I ever expected and the talks gave me some ideas how to increase it’s range, as well as tips on writing posts and finding good stories to write about. This also helped to give me some ideas and focus for the social media side of the work I’m doing for the Castle now.

I spent a lot of the day talking to different members of Trust staff in different areas. Days like this are a fantastic opportunity to network and ask questions from experts in particular areas. Me and Ben were talking to Ken, who gave the talk about Social Media, and he has agreed to come over to Powis and give us some training and advice to help us in our new role. I also talked to one of the Trust’s regional conservators who specialises in Textile Conservation, about her work, with a possibility of shadowing her, and she gave me some great tips about steps to take if I decide to go down the route of specialising in textiles ( a real interest of mine outside of work).


Chirk Castle’s main entrance way

Another talk that me and Kate found very interesting and relevant to our work in the Kitchens was a talk about the Trust’s Bringing Places to Life initiative. The talk was given by Liz, a Trust regional conservator, and Hawys, Visitor Experience Consultant for the Trust in Wales. Their talk really made us think about the way we were going to present our research in the kitchens and changed our minds quite radically. We had always wanted people to be able to come into the kitchens and see it in the midst of a working day, and for people to be able to handle a lot of the objects and learn by doing. We had though about putting large boards of interpretation into the space in the New Year, but after the talk we are beginning to re-think this idea. In a space like what we have with the kitchens it should be possible for us to illustrate its purpose and how it was used with a minimum of written interpretation, relying more on objects and our wonderful volunteers to tell the story of the space.

Over lunch we were taken on a tour around Chirk’s newly opened rooms; the Lord Howard de Walden exhibition. A lot of funding has been up into this area with an emphasis on accessibility and bringing places to life, so a lot of the items in the rooms can be handled and furniture can be sat on. I was very jealous of the fact that they can also light a real fire in one of their rooms! The smell of woodsmokre makes me think of re-enactment. It felt very homely but one of the things we were discussing going round was how do you know what you can touch and what you cannot. It raised issues we had begun thinking about in our kitchens project.


Beautiful leather bound books

Having been a member of the National Trust for as long as I can remember I have spent many family holidays visiting beautiful historic properties, and and used to walking around, hands in pocket, looking but not touching. I am sure many people who have been frequent visitors will say the same, and it is this feeling of not being able to totally engage with the collection that the Trust is hoping to change. Obviously there will always have to be limitations, for the sake of the collections, but in areas such as the de Walden exhibition and our Old Kitchens, how do you encourage people to break out of the routine and touch the handling collections?

It is a complicated question, on one hand to create a more immersive experience we are trying to move away from too many sign s and flat media interpretation. There was a suggestion of ‘please do touch’ signs, or pictures of a hand touching objects to get the point across, but them we are going back on our other objective minimising the number of signs we have. We hope that having a volunteer in the Kitchens, who will be interacting with the public and picking up the collection themselves will encourage visitors to do the same. We will also have activities set out that will allow people to discover the kitchens use through encouraging them to handle the collection we have on display there. I think it will be a case of playing it by ear, trying new things and seeing how the visitors react to them.


The Courtyard at Chirk Castle

On the flip side if we do get people used to being able to touch objects and sit on furniture, how do we then differentiate between areas where this is allowed and encouraged and areas where it is not possible? There are properties that the Trust owns where all items in the collection have been brought in (maybe because there was no native collection) and people can touch everything. However when they then come to Powis and find that they cannot touch our collection (as is the case on days when the kitchens are not open) will they be disappointed and enjoy their visit less because of this? Is there a danger that the opposite of how I feel will happen, and people will come into properties and handle things because this is what they are used to, which would be very damaging to collection that are inherent to properties and cannot be replaced. Again I think this is another dilemma in heritage that cannot be answered one way or another, but must be looked at case by case, where things should be attempted and changed reactively, as this is the only way any of the questions surrounding the issue can be answered!