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!

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The Deep Cleaning continues

After a slight hiatus over the last couple of weeks to send Gideon on his way we have jumped right back in to our Deep Cleaning. We are getting along with it so well I couldn’t be more pleased, and … Continue reading

Goodbye Gideon

Or should I say ‘see you later’! We have just sent the next one of our Gideon tapestries away from conversation!

The latest Gideon we took down

The latest Gideon we took down

The Gideon tapestries projects has been on-going for years and I was lucky enough to help re-hang the last two Gideons that returned from conservation in May. Even though this was the first time I had taken down a Gideon the team are more than well-practiced so we were in safe hands.

The damage to the tapestry

The damage to the tapestry

The tapestry we were taking down this time is in the worst repair of the three that remain to be conserved, which is why we decided it needed to be the next to go. The closer we looked at the tapestry, the worse the damage is!

Bess' patch peeling to reveal  the original shield underneath

Bess’ patch peeling to reveal the original shield underneath

As this tapestry is one of the three largest in the property we had to re-think about how to approach handling such a massive weight. It was decided to help us this time round fixed scaffolding would be hired to cope with the weight of the tapestry, which was going to be a new experience for us (It was odd climbing a different scaffold that was so sturdy it barely moved at all!).

The fixed scaffold

The fixed scaffold tower

The first thing the Textile Conservators did we remove the bottom border of the tapestry. All the tapestries are woven in three pieces, with the top and bottom borders being separate. The bottom border is in the worst repair, having taken most of the wear and tear and the most dirt. Taking off the bottom border makes it easier to roll the tapestry later, and makes it a little bit lighter.

Removing the lower border

Removing the lower border

The tapestry had to be rolled onto a drain pipe so our carpenters built a brilliant little track for us. We had a trolley that the drain pipe stood upright on and this ran along the wooden track set at the base of the wall. This partnered with the fixed scaffold with three levels on made rolling the tapestry easier for us.

Our little trolley

Our little trolley

There were three levels to our scaffold, we had four people on each helping roll and another four or so at the bottom pushing the trolley and rolling the very bottom of the tapestry onto the drain pipe. It true when they say ‘many hands make light work’!

Starting to roll the tapestry

Starting to roll the tapestry

Starting at the side nearest the fireplace velcro was tacked to the lining of the tapestry and this was fixed to the velcro on the drain pipe. We then ran the trolley along the track, rolling the Gideon smoothly onto the pipe as we went. Once it we rolled on to the drain pipe the whole thing had to be lowered.

Rolling, rolling . . .

Rolling, rolling . . .

Thanks to the ingenious design of the trolley the pipe was on a hinged piece to make lowering it much easier. Two straps were tied around the roll and used to slowly lover the roll down to the ground. This had to be done very carefully to make sure we did not squash anyone standing below waiting to receive! A good test of my knot tying ability and it certainly flexed our muscles too.

Coming down

Coming down

The planning that has gone into this event, based on the previous tapestry removals, made the whole process very smooth and quite quick, once we started it took us about half an hour to roll and lower the tapestry. Then the textile conservators took the newest backing fabric off in the Long Gallery, and found an awful lot of detritus behind it!

Removing the backing fabric from the tapestry

Removing the backing fabric from the tapestry

After they had finished they rolled the tapestry onto a second drain pipe (without velcro on), padding it with wadding and acid free tissue as they rolled it. This mean the tapestry was properly protected and ready for transport the next day. It’s first stop will be the Textile Studios at Blickling Hall, where it will be made ready for being washed.

The tapestry in the Long Gallery

The tapestry in the Long Gallery

Our Gideon tapestries are sent to Belgium to be washed, not far from Oudenaarde where they were originally woven. They are sent here because it is the only workshop with tanks large enough to wash our tapestries flat. They tell us we have the dirtiest tapestries in Europe! (But to be fair they haven’t been washed in over 400 years!).

The tacks that were keeping the tapestry up

The tacks that were keeping the tapestry up

After washing the tapestry will be sent back to the Blickling Studio where the Textile Conservators will work on it, and then it will be returned to Hardwick in about 2 and a half years time! It will be absolutely amazing to see the whole set after they have all been conserved , but that is still several years away!

Chap photo in front of the Gideon

Our Chap photo in front of the Gideon

And we’re open!!

We have opened our doors to the public again, but it doesn’t seem very long since we closed after Christmas! However, getting the house ready for the public made me realise just how much our team has achieves over since … Continue reading

A New Year full of Old Objects

As soon as we were back at work we were straight back into our Deep Clean, finishing the top floor and moving into the Entrance Hall. However we’re not just thinking about the closed season, we have already begun preparing … Continue reading

We’re closed!

Well sort of closed, for a little while . . .

So it is finally the ‘Closed Season’ at Hardwick Hall. Traditionally this would have been the time when the house could be cleaned from top to bottom and then ‘put to bed’. However for us, we’re open again in December, for Christmas and more then doing the Deep Annual Clean we also have a few little projects planned. Projects which include laying new matting in the High Great Chamber and getting trained by the NT textile conservators on how to clean some of the larger textile objects in our collection.

The High Great Chamber

The High Great Chamber

This week we have mostly been getting ready for our up-coming projects, and starting our Deep Clean. We started by emptying the High Great Chamber of everything we could carry, and covering the rest with dust sheets.

The covered canopy

The covered canopy

This meant we got to build the scaffolding tower not once but twice! I really enjoy building scaffolding because we get to all work together as a team, and we always have a laugh together! Before we covered the scaffold we had to clean the top of it, and it really needed it!

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Before cleaning

Mid-clean

Mid-clean

After we had moved all the furniture out then we cleaned to cornice around the top of the room from the scaffold. Actually cleaning the cornice doesn’t take that long, but moving the scaffold what feel like every five minutes takes up the time. Every time the scaffold tower is moved it has to be re-leveled, which on our less than flat floor definitely needs doing! I think I was up and down that scaffolding about 20 times!

The scaffold tower in the High Great Chamber

The scaffold tower in the High Great Chamber

After finishing the cornice I moved on top deep cleaning some of the amazing pieces of furniture that live in the State Withdrawing Room. I dusted the Sea Dog Table and the Spice Cabinet, both pieces are believed to have been gifts to Bess from Mary Queen of Scotts.

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This is believed to be the case because both pieces are of royal quality. To dust our furniture during the deep clean we use different types of brushes, so on these partially gilded pieces of furniture I used two types of paint brushes. We use hog’s hair paint brushed on the main pieces of carved wood, and a softer pony hair brush on the gilded wood. this is to help preserve the gilt as much as possible.

One of the Seadogs

One of the Sea Dogs

This also means we get a chance to look inside the objects we are cleaning, like opening all the doors inside the beautiful spice cabinet! I was told that originally it was lined with silk inside, and must have looked stunning!

The Cabinet open

The Cabinet open

While I was cleaning some of the wooden furniture the other Chaps were turning their attention to the Farthingale stools from the High Great Chamber. Because of the delicate embroidery on the top of these stools we have to clean them very carefully. We use one of our adjustable suction Museum Vacs and a fine tool, and clean the piece through net to avoid pulling up any fibers.

Cleaning the Farthingale Stools

Cleaning the Farthingale Stools

Sorry for the lack of posting recently, I’ve been having technical problems (ageing laptop is refusing to co-operate any more)!

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

And they’re up!

This week has been a very big week for us at  Hardwick Hall, we have been re-hanging two of the largest Gideon tapestries in the Long Gallery, after their return from two years of conservation work. Monday and tuesday were full of preparation work, we had to re-route our visitors as we were going to be working directly over the door where people usually come into the Long Gallery. We used two scaffolding towers to hang the tapestries, so these needed to be built. I love working on the scaffolding, it usually means were doing something exciting  and it allows for a really different perspective of the beautiful rooms I get to work in!

Going up!

Going up!

Then we had to staple the velcro strips onto the wooden batons on the walls where the tapestries will hang. originally the tapestries would have been nailed up, and later were attached with poppers, but now we use velcro. Many people find this surprising, but it gives a really firm hold and allows use to easily remove the tapestries, should we need to for any reason. Next the walls then had to be cleaned, we did this with a backpack hoover and a veeerryy looonngg pole.

One of the poppers

One of the poppers

The velcro strips

The velcro strips

The Textile conservators arrived on tuesday and set about doing the final prep on the tapestries (which had been delivered some weeks ago). The ladies who worked on the Gideons have been working with Hardwick for a long time, on many different projects, and have been responsible for the conservation work on all the Gideons so far. They are based at the National Trust Textile Conservation Studio in Blickling, Norfolk.

The reverse of the tapestry (on the right) show it's vibrant original colours

The reverse of the tapestry (on the right) show it’s vibrant original colours

Here is a link to the blog of the fabulous ladies at the Blickling conservation studio, I am so very jealous of their jobs and they do such amazing work. Seeing the before and after on the Gideons they made some areas that were really badly damaged barely noticeable! They have also been working on an embroidery from Hardwick, Penelope, so there are a lot of entries about that process, really interesting reading! Another project they are undertaking is the tapestry from the Ballroom at Powis Castle, that I helped to take down a couple of months ago.

After the velcro is sewn onto the top and side of the tapestries more velcro is pinned along another side. The tapestry then needs to be re-rolled so the end the will be hung first is on the outside. The side with velcro pinned on goes on the inside of the roll, as it is attached to the velcro on the plastic pipe the tapestry is being rolled onto. This prevents the tapestry from slipping when the roll is held vertical. I was lucky enough to get to help re-roll the second tapestry, and to pin some of the velcro on!

Re-rolling the second tapestry

Re-rolling the second tapestry

We started to re-hang the first at twelve and we had hung them both by three. It was a much easier and smoother process than I had been expecting. The team worked really well and by the time we were hanging the second tapestry we had quite a crowd of public watching. For a moment I did feel a little stage-fright then, but it was soon forgotten! As well as the crowd we had several cameras and there were a couple of newspaper reporters who came to join in the fun so here are a few videos of the event. The first at the beginning of putting up the first tapestry, and the second after it had been re-hung.

The crowd

The crowd

The rest of wednesday afternoon, and thursday we got to spend talking to the public about what we had been doing, and the Gideons project in general. I love talking to the public, and I am so glad we got to show them this fantastic event, it was so nice to hear people saying how much they enjoyed it. It is wonderful when someone responds well to me enthusing about work, and I am so lucky that I have always had opportunity to interact with the public and share with them what I do. As you can probably tell from the length of my blog posts, I am rarely short of things to say! Thursday evening I got another opportunity to talk about what I do by taking my second ever ‘Last One Out’ Tour with a lovely group of people from Australia.

Before conservation

Before conservation

Talking to the conservators the couple of days they were here was really interesting and enlightening. They had brough photos of the damage to the Gideons and then pointed out the conserved spots on the tapestries. The difference was amazing, from a distance you can hardly notice the damage. Cleaning the tapestries makes a huge difference in their appearance, taking off the dirt and dust. Before this point these tapestries had never been cleaned, and they have been hanging in Hardwick for 400 years! Then the conservators work to ensure and damaged areas are stabilised, so that they can hang for another 400 years without ending up in any worse a condition. Holes are backed with fabric in colours sympathetic to the original tapestry, meaning you can see what has been lost if you look for it. I think this is brilliant as it is not blurring the lines between what is original and what we have done to the tapestry.

After conservation

After conservation

After looking at the restored tapestries we looked closely at the three still in need of conservation. With the returned tapestries hanging one side of the door, and those awaiting conservation the other the difference is startling. The damage the conservators were pointing out was so awful, and the more they showed us I thought I was going to cry! What is really working is the fact that in many placed these tapestries are literally hanging on by a thread, and if it takes us too long to raise the rest of the money it is really scary to think how much more damage will have occurred. I know I have already asked once but after taking a closer look at the tapestries I feel no shame in posting the link to our Just Giving site again. These tapestries are in dire need of major conservation work and it would be wonderful to see them on their way before too long!

Finished!

Finished!

Thankfully I had Friday off because as fab as this week has been, I was knackered by thursday evening and really looking forward to a lazy day! This gave me a couple of days to prepare for working my first solo shift on sunday! Although I have been the only team member in the house before there has always been someone else in the office who was in charge overall, however usually procedure for weekends is to only have one house team member in and they be responsible for everything. Sunday was my first turn to be in charge, including being main point of contact within the Hall for the other departments on site, and delivering the morning brief to the volunteers. While I was a little nervous I wasn’t too worried as I knew as long as nothing terrible went wrong before 11, after that the Vols would be in, and our Vols are brilliant! Everyday there is a Voluntary Day Leader that organizes the team and they do such a good job. It frees up an awful lot of time for the House Team to be getting on with the morning routine and our other projects. Sunday went really well and I enjoyed having more responsibility for the day, looking forward to more work as a team this week though!

The first tapestry we re-hung on wednesday

The first tapestry we re-hung on wednesday

The angel on the second tapestry we re-hung

The angel on the second tapestry we re-hung