Coughton Court, a patchwork property

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An interesting trip down memory lane

Last weekend me and my friends visited Sudbury Hall. This is a bit of a two for one visit, because there is also the Museum of Childhood there, and the two sides of the visit are very different.

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I really enjoyed the Museum of Childhood, it was full of so many interesting things. I was a bit surprised to find items from my own childhood in there!

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There is so much to see, including little hidden things like these cute mice having a lesson in their little classroom.

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There were doll’s houses and so many fantastic dolls with amazing dresses, like this one dating from 1880, and a huge doll of Queen Victoria before her coronation. I used to collect china dolls when I was a child so I loved seeing all the pretty dolls in the museum.

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I also saw a little reminder of my time at Powis in this Peacock Automaton, also dating from 1880 (must have been a good year for making beautiful toys). The tail has real feather and it is such a pretty item, it must have been a joy to watch walk.

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There were quite a few things I loved in my childhood in the museum now, Furbies, Polly Pockets, Barbie Dolls and Elmer the Elephant. We also spotted the Harry Potter books, and the Millenium Falcon, which really deserve a place in a museum just because of the huge impact they have had the universe. Ok maybe not the entire universe but definitely my universe anyway.

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The one thing from my childhood I really did not like seeing in a glass case however was Little Bear. I used to have the book and a video of the Little Bear stories and they are so lovely. The one that really sticks in my mind is when Old Bear was going to be put in the attic and Little Bear and his friends decided to rescue him because they all needed to be together, and there was Little Bear and Old Bear in that case with none of their other friends. It made me sad.

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If anyone has no idea what I’m rambling about I found a video of the story on Youtube and I recommend the books for any small child (or child at heart).

There were also a lot of toys around for children to play with, which I think is a good idea. It is a shame that all of these beloved toys are now behind glass but I like to imagine some kind of Toy Story/ Night at the Museum style adventures going on when no one is around. It’s wonderful however that all these childhood memories are being preserved for people to look back on, and for new generations to discover.

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The Museum of Childhood also talks about the not so fun side of childhood, child labor. However they do make learning about it quite fun. They even have a replica chimney that children can climb up to get some kind of experience of what it might have been like to be a Chimney Sweep. To be honest I really wanted to have a go too, but would have probably got stuck.

In the end I think the main thing I took away from the Museum of Childhood was that I really haven’t left my childhood behind, even if parts of it are now in a museum, and I don’t think I ever want to. I am very lucky to have been a child when I was, and have seen so much change already. Makes you wonder what the future holds!

The museum was really interesting and enjoyable, the house however was not very interesting.

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I think I have probably been spoilt now, having seen so many beautiful and interesting National Trust houses, with not only really strong stories but such engaging ways of telling their stories that other properties have a lot to live up to.

The building its self is beautiful, elaborate brickwork and lots of different colours of stone used.

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There were a few beautiful elements throughout the house too but for the most part it is just another stately home with nothing to really make it stand out. I feel quite bad saying this but I was almost bored walking around, especially after how interesting our visit to the Museum of Childhood had been.

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The main staircase was very impressive, lots of pretty plaster work.

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Upstairs there is a very interesting bed spread which seems to have flowers cut from another piece of fabric sewn on.

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The other bed on the tour is currently having conservation work done on it so it is in pieces. They are replacing some of the silk because it has been so badly damaged by light.

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My favorite room was the little library upstairs. It was small, but it was tall, a double story library! With an awesome swirly staircase just perfect for perching on with a book.

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The Long Gallery was also very impressive, it had a beautiful plaster work ceiling and felt very light and airy, a bit like Montacute’s. However they had gone and spoilt it by putting a load of modern art down the center. I’m not a fan of modern art and this stuff didn’t impress me. I’m not sure what it was supposed to be, one piece looks kind of like a dinosaur egg.

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At the end of the Long Gallery was a beautiful, finely decorated cabinet depicting scenes from the old testament painted in painstaking detail. The NT Collections webpage has some really beautiful images of the paintings on all the different drawers, well worth checking out.

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http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/652719.2

http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/652719.1

http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/652719.3

I didn’t get a sense of any of the personalities of the residents of the house and the interpretation in the hall wasn’t brilliant either. Each room had just one side of paper A4 laminated and after not finding information about the items I was interested in on the first few I admit I gave up looking.

After leaving the Hall we had an explore and found a sweet church, with some fantastic patterned tiles and of course, pretty stained glass!

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There is a lot to do at Sudbury and I would recommend the Museum of Childhood to anyone who wants a really interesting and nostalgic trip down memory lane. I think I would like to go back in better weather and explore the gardens and grounds a little bit more, it was a little bit soggy when we went. I like the idea of taking my god-children, and one day my children to the museum and showing them my childhood.

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.

Cannon Hall’s got it all!

Cannon Hall is a lovely little farm near where I grew up that I have visited many, many times as a child. Me and my lovely little brother had a little ‘staycation’ at mum’s house recently and decided to revisit the farm on a day out, and there was much more to see than we remembered.

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As an added treat the house at Cannon Hall (which I didn’t know existed) had an exciting exhibition; the costumes of Downton Abbey!! Bless my little brother for indulging me 😀 He’s a very good egg.

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The house itself is largely empty today, leaving room for temporary exhibitions and the museum full of glass and pottery. The stately rooms provide a very fine backdrop for the Downton costumes.

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There was Sybil’s First World War nursing uniform and Mrs Patmore and Daisy’s kitchen-wear, which I took lots of photos of for our own Below Stairs project. Daisy’s apron had a pattern printed on the fabric which I had never noticed in the show.

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Lady Violet’s dress has the most amazing bead-work across the top. So much effort has gone into the detail of the costumes that you couldn’t notice unless you get close to them in real life, but it all adds to the fabulous glamour of the tv show.

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The Crawley ladies dresses were obviously amazing, although I was surprised by how tiny they were. No chance of me being able to squeeze into any of them! There were day dresses in the Drawing Room and the Dining Room was set out ready for a sumptuous looking dinner, completer with gorgeous evening-wear.

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Even Mrs Huges, the Housekeeper, has a lovely costume. I particularly like the accessory on her belt to keep her keys and scissors always handy. Pretty and practical.IMAG1789IMAG1792

Anna’s ‘posh’ maids outfit has some lovely lace on the apron and we even got to see Lord Grantham’s pajamas! If, by the way, for some strange reason you have never seen Downton Abbey I really recommend it, it is one of my favorite tv shows ever!

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On the day we decided to visit Cannon Hall was hosting a huge food fair! I love food so was very excited about this. We had a lovely lunch in the sunshine and a wander around looking at all the delicious things for sale before heading for the farm.

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The farm has changed quite a lot since my last visit. The biggest change, a very disappointing one for me, was that you can no longer let the animals eat from your open palm. I used to love feeding the animals so much and was looking forward to going back and doing this again. You can still buy bags of animals feed but you now have to pour the food down a metal chute into the animal’s pens. Damn health and safety spoiling our fun!

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The animals however are just as cute as they always have been. There were goats, sheep, chickens, pigs galore and even reindeer!

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The tiny piglets were adorable and there were even bunnies you could stroke! Cuteness overload!

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Can’t beat a day out that contains sunshine, pretty things, lovely dresses, history, adorable animals and good food! Brilliant.

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!

Glitz and glamour on the road home.

The final property of mine and Mum’s Trusty holiday was Kedleston Hall, juts south of home for me. I had never been to Kedleston before this visit and am so pleased I have finally been, it is stunning!

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The house that stands today was built by Sir Nathaniel Curzon on his ancestors lands in the mid 1700’s and he employed Robert Adam to design the interiors, giving him a very generous budget to work with. I love Robert Adam’s design work, the symmetry and swirly designs are full of grand classical influences, it’s really striking and beautiful.

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The Curzon family still live in part of Kedleston today (lucky things) and link me back to Montacute House, where I had been days earlier. The famous Lord Curzon had rented Montacute with his mistress before he inherited Kedleston in 1916.

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We went about our visit slightly alternative to the visitor route because I got drawn into the Eastern Museum, usually visited last, by something sparkly. The beautiful object by which I had been led astray by was Lady Curzon’s peacock dress that she wore to a ball during Lord Curzon’s time as Viceroy of India.

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The dress is stunning, hand embroidered by a team of Indian craftsmen, it is covered in beads laid out like golden peacock’s feathers with flowers created around the bottom edge of the dress.

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In the house there is also a portrait of Lady Curzon in the dress, as well as a photograph. It is really interesting to see these three items in one house, to compare the three. The portrait is lovely but it doesn’t do the dress justice. You just can’t capture the sparkle of the item in real life.

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As well as the dress there are hundreds of other fascinating and beautiful items in the Eastern Museum. I really enjoyed peering in all the cases to see the collection, and it reminded me of the Clive of India collection at Powis Castle, which I loved working with.

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In the Entrance Hall there is a portrait  standing to one side, as if greeting you when you walk in. The portrait is of Mrs Garnett who was Housekeeper at Kedleston after it was built. She took visitors on tours of the house, Kedleston was enjoyed as a destination right from its beginnings.

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From the Entrance Hall we headed up the main stairs into the Marble Hall, which is a truly amazing room. I think I stood with my mouth open, just gawking at the sheer scale and design of the room, which is exactly what it was designed to do. The room is so grand, so over the top, you must have to have a large personality to commission something like this in your home.

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The Music Room and Drawing Room have to most amazing set of spangly gold and blue chairs and arm chairs, which have been restored to their former glory. In the Drawing Room the walls are decorated to match the upholstery on the chairs, and a similar blue theme appears later in the house.

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However the lighting in the Drawing Room lets them down somewhat, making it particularly difficult to take a photo of the room that reflects how lovely the furniture and wallpaper actually looks.

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On display in the Library is this rather unusual looking chair. It’s a Reading Chair that you can either sit in conventionally or sit on ‘backwards’ resting you book on the table to be able to read hands free. As someone who tries to read a lot, but is also quite fidgety I think it’s a fab piece of furniture, which I could pick one up from Ikea!

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The Saloon is another awe-inspiring room whose style is inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. While I was in there I thought, this would be prefect for holding dances, and the guidebook tells me this was the case. It must have been wonderful to attend a ball at Kedleston, dancing in grand rooms like this. I really liked the chairs in the room too.

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The State Apartment is decorated beautifully, in another lovely blue fabric. As with the Music and Drawing Room the fabric here has also been restored since its original conception, with the National Trust beginning another round of restoration in 2008. As a result the colours are really vibrant, making the rooms feel bright and exciting. A little touch I really liked and hadn’t seen in other properties is the gilt edging where the wall covering ends.

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Currently the State Bed is away for restoration so there is a mock bed in its place (made by the brilliant SetWorks). The bed invites you into it and has a secret video showing different aspects of the bed up close. For some reason even though the room was full of people I was the only one to try the bed out. It was a shame not to see the actual bed, but what they had in place went a long way to making up for it, so well done to them. I look forward to going back again when the bed returns.

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I really like the shiny look of the restored areas at Kedleston. Most Trust properties have a policy to conserve rather than restore, but at Kedleston there is a history of restoring their pieces so in doing so the Trust is staying true to their traditions. The last time the fabric of the State Bed was replaced was in the 1970’s, before the Trust took the property on.

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While the bed is not currently at Kedleston some of the hanging still are, awaiting their turn at the conservators. There is also a huge mirror, and really interesting set of lacquered shelves. I love how coordinated this suite of rooms is, and all the gilded furniture really appeals to my inner magpie!

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There is some more beautiful plaster work in an alcove in the Dining Room, which still looks today very much like the plans drawn up by Adams, but in a more muted colour palette.

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Just outside the gift shop is a table selling an assortment of hand-made textile goods. These items are all made from the fabric removed from the State Bed and have been made by Kedleston volunteers to raise money for the project. What a genius idea, and a lovely gift for someone passionate about Kedleston.

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I really really enjoyed my Trusty holiday and a visit to lovely, shiny Kedleston Hall was the perfect last stop. I’m so glad I’ve finally visited and will be sure to try and go back when the State Bed returns. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my holidays, and don’t worry I’ve been doing some more visiting since then so have plenty more properties to share!

Chaotic collections at Calke

On the finally day of our Trusty holiday we were getting closer to home, for me at least, visiting some local properties that I had not been to visit before. So the next property on our trip was Calke Abbey.IMAG0880

I had been to Calke before for a meeting but not got the chance to have a look around the house, and it is a very unusual Trust property. Calke’s tagline is ‘The un-stately home’ and for a very good reason, the House is a collectors dream, and an obsessive organiser’s nightmare!

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In my line of work it usually helps to be very organised, liking things in their proper place, set out straight, clean and tidy, and I do tend to be rather fond of clean and tidy. However I feel like if I went to work at Calke it might just drive me mad.

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To start with we were allowed in to the ground floor before free-flow opening. I’m still not sure whether this was a tour or sneak peek. We were allowed to wander about the Entrance Hall, then we were chaperoned from there to the second room, lectured at and the moved on into the last room downstairs where we were again allowed to look at our leisure.

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This final room was brilliant, full of items that had been moved down from the collections store so visitors can see them. There was the front skirt of an amazing ball gown, decorated with iridescent beetle wings, which you could get a closer look at with a magnifying glass. There was also this beautifully detailed jacket, really fine embroidery.

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There was also a lot of information about conservation in this room, which I thoroughly approve of. They have a brilliant example of pest damage, a jar a fluff that used to be a duck! Poor thing.

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After our taster we had a walk around the gardens. These are much more orderly than inside the house, with lovely colourful flowers and a secret tunnel leading back toward the house and out near this amazing grotto in the gardens.

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There is also a church in the grounds. Some days they have Gravediggers in the church yard, unfortunately there weren’t any there when we went, but it was lovely weather so the stained glass looked fab.

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After our walk around the ground we headed back to the house, and it is huge, there just seemed to be room after room and there was just so much stuff! The first room of the Entrance Hall was full of taxidermy, which I did not like. I cannot understand why anyone would want to fill their home full of angry-looking dead things. * shudder *

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The room we were dragged into by the eager volunteer earlier is called the ‘Caricature Room’ because the walls are covered in caricatures from newspapers. The walls are bright blue, not a colour you expect to find in your typical Trust property. Honestly, I think the room is quite hideous, but it did have a rather lovely clock tucked at the back.

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All the rooms in the house seem to have their own style, the Dining Room is almost Robert Adams-esque, which I love.

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The Saloon is very impressive, stuffed full of interesting items in museum cases. I liked the geological artifacts, the gems and shells, but again there were more stuffed dead things which I do not like.

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The gorgeous golden wall paper of the Drawing Room manages to shine out even amongst more chairs than any one family could ever possibly need. The chairs had very fine embroidery on the seats though so i can understand the reason for collection them.

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I really enjoyed walking through the attics, this is where I felt Calke’s character the most. The rooms were really dilapidated and pile high with random pieces of furniture. In some ways they were quite creepy, but definitely atmospheric.

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There is a lovely large doll’s house in the school room.

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The house just seems to go on and on, it is huge! Near the end of the tour there is a lovely surprise, a beautiful bed. I remember reading about the bed but forgot it was at Calke. It was found in a trunk never having been a gift never put on display.

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The bed is stunning, Chinese silk and gold work and silk embroidery decorating. It is so pretty, birds fly through trees and flowers. The colours are still so vivid because it had never been exposed to light or dirt. When the Trust erected the bed they put it in a darkened room, behind glass to preserve it as is. It is so nice to see such a fantastic piece of furniture in such great condition.

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At the end of tour, once we were through the abandoned looking kitchens, we got the chance to go through a tunnel where beer would have been delivered to the house. The tunnel was very cool, and they even have their own skeleton, found in the Courtyard and laid back to rest there.

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Calke is a very unique property, they didn’t even get electricity until 1962! The Harper Crewe family were a family of collectors, so that is how the house came to be so full of such an amazing and varied collection. When Calke came to the Trust in 1985 they decided to treat it in a way the respects its individual nature.

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It was decided that the house would be preserved in the state it was left in. While most of the collection didn’t really appeal to me I do love the fact the Calke is so different to other Trust properties. I can’t say that I liked everything about the house, or even most things, but I did really enjoy my day out there. I liked the atmosphere of the attics and how interesting the house and its collection are, I would go back and take friends to visit with me, I bet you would see more and more every time you visit.

Textile Heaven

In recent weeks me and the Chaps at Hardwick have had the pleasure of doing an audit of our textile store. I love this store-room, I think it is one of the most interesting rooms on the property and having the opportunity to go through all the boxes and see the treasures inside has been fantastic!

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All our show rooms get audited on an annual basis, usually when we are deep cleaning them. With the store rooms we do this less frequently because they are not often open to the public so likely to be subject to less change.

Auditing the textile store involved going through every box in the room systematically and making sure what should be in there was, and that it was still in good condition,

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Luckily at Hardwick, thanks to many years of hard work before I arrived, the stores in the attics are very organised, including the textile store. Every box had a list of what should be inside, with useful little picture tags attached to it. These come in very handy when we want to find anything, because we can look at the tags first.

As so much work has been done in this room most of the boxes were as they should be, so it was really a case of recording and condition checking. This meant we got to have a good look at ll the beautiful and interesting textile pieces up there.

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Once we have finished the audit we took the list we had written and will be checking it off against our online database. If you want to see some of the collection at Hardwick, or at any Trust property, then look on the National Trust Collections page. This is a great resource for further research, and just having a nosey at what properties have hidden in their collections.

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I’m going to share with you some photos of the pieces I really liked. Some of them I don’t know anything about, I just thought they were really pretty! Others, like the one below, match items we have on display. This piece matched the embroidery we have on the Blue Bed. We know the embroidery taken off the original bed (dated 1629) and places on new, less damaged fabric by the 6th Duke in 1852.

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These columns are all that is left of a 5th great hanging. They once belonged to a piece featuring Cleopatra, part of the set with Penelope, Lucretia, Artemisia and Zenobia that we have begun conserving. They are all that remains because the rest of the piece was used to patch up the first four embroideries!

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Some things we have a large amount of, like these pieces of velvet and metal embroidered borders. We have 21 pieces of this in the textile store. It is believed that this border was purchased in Bess’ time, for a great amount of money, but it does not seem to have been used until the 19th century when it was cut into the lengths we see today.WP_004070

We also have nine of these panels, all featuring a variety of birds on white and blue velvet on a heavy linen base. We were trying to work out what they once had been, as they were only mounted in this way in the 1970’s. Looking at them at first we though they could have all been one piece, however the circles in the corner do contain complete images and don’t line up with one another, so we decided that probably wasn’t the case.

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Here we have sections from what would have been cushion covers. We have two of these, but neither is complete. The embroidery on them is fantastic, the time and patience that must have gone into these.IMAG0539

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The piece below matches the hanging we have on the Entrance Hall Gallery. It contains fabric very similar to the flossy silks (in the Cut Velvet Dressing Room) as well as patterned velvet. I think these fabrics were placed together long after they were originally made and purchased. It is just the sort of thing that has happened constantly throughout Hardwick’s history.

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This is possibly a small bed spread. In the same box is another very similar one but in blues. I love this design, the swirly elements and delicate little flowers are just my style.IMAG0550

We also have pieces that I’m not sure we’ll ever know for sure where they came from, including lots of little pieces of metal embroidery. Originally this little bird would have been very gold, but the thread has tarnished over time. It’s possible that these elements were purchased for projects that never got finished. Any one with a bit of a craft stash knows how easily that can happen!WP_004072

The amount of textile items we have in that store is almost unbelievable, and so much of it is contemporary with Bess. We know she purchased textiles and parts of textiles for projects she was working on. She also had a team of embroiderers she worked with and she and Mary Queen of Scotts used to sit and sew together but the amount of items we have that she could have possibly worked on is phenomenal! Another thing to admire Bess for!

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When visitors come into the attics they often ask why these objects are not on display but the truth is a lot of what is in our attics couldn’t be displayed, it’s too sensitive. A lot of the furniture doesn’t date from the period of time we are telling stories about, so wouldn’t fit in Hardwick today. And even if these things weren’t the case where would we put all of the stuff!? The Cavendish family had many properties to furnish, and a huge amount of that collection now resides at Hardwick. We have more tapestries that walls, more bits of textiles than we could ever have room to display, and more things like fire screens, mirrors and jugs than any human could ever possibly need!

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That is why we like to open our attics up from time to time, so these objects can be seen and admired, as they should be. But also so people understand about why we make the decisions about the collection that we do. If you would like a chance to visit the attics we are currently opening them on Wednesdays up until the beginning of the school holidays. Check the Hardwick Hall website for more information.

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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

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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).

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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.

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The servants stairs

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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!

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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’.