A Hardwick update

I know it sounds like all I’ve been doing recently is gallivanting round Trust properties and not actually doing any work at my own but that’s not the case, I promise we have been as busy at Hardwick as ever.

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We have totally finished the Deep Clean of the show rooms, with the Below Stairs rooms the last ones we tackled. We moved the huge wooden tree trunk that the mortar stands on in the corner of the kitchen, and found a bit of a mess underneath, mould, dust and a few creepy crawlies.

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This is why it is so important we move objects every year, because who knows what could be happening underneath them! Luckily it wasn’t too difficult to get cleaned up and I kept it laying on its side to dry it out.

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Meanwhile we have had quite a few guests over the past couple of weeks, film crews, authors and even the National Trust Council! While this meant a long day and late night for us it is always nice to get to show our property off, especially as we were stationed in the attics. I met some nice people and had some very interesting conversations.

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We are also starting to get busier, and unfortunately the more visitors we have, the more incidences of wandering hands. One of our objects that gets touched the most is the coral bed in the Paved Room, because we don’t often have enough volunteers to man that room. I guess it’s just too tempting but every time someone does touch anything they leave a trace of oil from their fingers on it.

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This oil builds up and will end up corroding metal, staining textiles and blemishing surfaces. Not to mention the physical damage that can be done to objects when people keep touching them! We try not to have too many notices reminding people not to touch but we decided we needed another one to protect this beautiful bed, especially while we’re busy.

Occasionally we have enthusiastic experts come to Hardwick to take a closer look at items in our collection. Sometimes this is very easily done, and sometimes accessing them is a little trickier. Recently we were asked for two pictures, and they just happened to be the ones at the top in the corner of the alcove.

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Getting them down with a ladder was not as simple as we first though, so we took a different route and built our small scaffolding to get them back up again. Now we just have to wait to hear what conclusions the experts have come too.

The next visitors we had were a film crew from America filming a documentary about Arbella. They were very efficient to work with, getting all the filming done in one day. This included an interview with our resident Arbella expert, House and Collections Manager Nigel Wright. I’m looking forward to watching the DVD they promised to send. It’s quite a buzz to look at footage or photos and know that you were stood just out of shot observing and assisting with the whole process.

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We had to change a light-bulb the other week, something that should not be a big deal, but in a big room really is! So we got out the big ladder and I went up to see if I could reach, but I couldn’t. Luckily for us we have a very tall colleague who was willing to come up and help us, and so the lights are back on in the High Great Chamber.

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We have also have mirrors installed in the gardens to tie in with the Arbella exhibition we are running this year. The mirrors are in pretty ‘gilded’ frames and have quotes on them relating to Arbella’s life.

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They work really well, sitting in the borders glinting in the sunlight and drawing people over to discover them. On a sunny day they look so lovely!

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We also did a little spring cleaning of the Arbella exhibition inside; we cleaned the paintings currently on display in the High Great Chamber. Because these paintings are now displayed on a slight angle they gather a lot more dust than they did hanging on the walls of the Long Gallery.

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We were just going to clean the frames, but while we were doing so noticed how dusty the canvases were, so we decided to clean them too. To do this we use a very soft, wide brush and gently brush the dust off the canvas into our hoovers.

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Getting to the top of queen Elizabeth’s frame was a little tricky, we couldn’t get close enough on a ladder so Claire came up with the ingenious method up sneaking up behind her with a brush, while I directed her disembodied hand from the front.

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I love that there are always new things to discover at Hardwick, and one beautifully sunny day one of our volunteers mentioned something about the Elizabethan drains. Me and Claire got very excited about this, we had never heard about these drains before, let alone that you can go in them! So we went on a little team trip to the building in the corner of the gardens to see them.

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Hidden under a very heavy trap door is the entrance to the old drains, with one tunnel heading under the house, and the other down the hill towards the motorway. For this visit we just had a sneaky peek into the drains, which are brick-built and tall enough to walk in. We’ll save the actual exploration for another day perhaps. So many things still to be discovered!

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Hope you’ve enjoyed this little update, proof that I am still working hard and not just swanning about the country visiting one Trust property after the other. Having said that the next few post are going to be about my visits to another few NT houses!

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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