Fire & Flood!

In December I attended a three-day residential course all about planning and dealing with emergency situations. I had heard about this course when I was a LTV at Powis and it sounded really interesting and quite exciting so I was hoping to be able to attend it. Happily enough this year my wish came true!

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The course focuses on creating an Emergency Salvage Plan for historic properties and heritage sites should something happen like a fire or a flood. We did a bit of knot tying, which took me back to my Scouting days, learnt about the different roles people would need to play in an emergency situation, had talks from the emergency services.

We were also taken through several practical exercises ,and newsflash, if your property floods you are going to get soggy shoes – at the very least!! The training was based in West Brom at a Fire Services Academy, complete with working ‘hot house’ which can be set to simulate a real fire situation.

Image from bbc.co.uk

On the first day we got to wear the full protective outfit and breathing apparatus that Fire Fighters wear in real situations. Wearing all this we went into the training house when it was full of smoke. It was so disorienting walking through rooms we had never been in before in almost total dark whilst being totally cut off from our surroundings by the protective clothing we were wearing.

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I have such a huge respect for Fire Fighters and how they do their jobs under such incredibly difficult conditions! The Fire Fighters that were training us were very helpful, I felt all fingers and thumbs in the protective clothing but they helped us to kit up and made sure all our breathing apparatus was working.

The session I think will come in most useful for me was the objects first aid session. We were taught all about the most effective way to dry out wet items, to clean them if they can covered in soot or ash. It is much more likely that I would have to deal with drying out objects, with flooding potential from burst pipes or leaking roofs. Objects rescued from a fire situation would also most likely be wet from the fire services attempt to put out the fire.

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Because of all of these reasons we were shown ways to turn every day objects into drying stations and wind tunnels. In a serious disaster where many objects were damp some could be frozen. This would keep them in stasis until you had the capacity to defrost and deal with drying them out. Space is very quickly taken up when drying out objects so freezing things may be the only option. I could see the situation quickly becoming too enormous a task to handle otherwise.

The practical scenario was a real eye opener, seeing just how quickly 20 people suddenly turned into there being no one around. Everyone got so busy so quickly! I was in charge of communication and welfare and spend the exercise running around making sure everyone was ok, that they had a break, that messages were getting passed on and no one was getting too stressed or cold.

The fire service did an amazing job in listening to what we needed, and getting the priority items out of the building. Then the salvage team were able to go in with the fire fighters after they had checked the building. Very quickly objects were coming out thick and fast and the team doing the first aid had their work cut out for them.

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Documenting the objects was particularly challenging, especially as we didn’t know the collection which would obviously be different in our own properties. As the objects were coming out so quickly we often didn’t get chance to ask which rooms they came from, or if we did we lost track. This did cause a bit of an issue, but one that could be solved after the fact when all the objects were in the salvage area.

The exercise worked very well in showing us what the pit falls and challenges of a scenario could be, so we can try to be prepared. The course also made me see how well prepared Hardwick is, we have a very comprehensive Emergency Salvage Plan and carry out regular exercises with the local fire brigade. We are having a salvage exercise at Hardwick next month which I am very grateful for as I will get the opportunity to see Hardwick’s plan in action! Whilst I do now feel quite prepared should the worst happen, but it also makes me pray that I never need to put this particular training course into action!

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Encountering Moseley Old Hall

Just after I had returned from my visit to Packwood and Baddesley I was off to another Trust property, this time for a training day!

As part of a large project taking place at Hardwick which I seem to have taken on a large part of the responsibility for me and Sadie have been going on several training courses. The latest of which was hosted at Moseley Old Hall, a lovely property in the Midlands with a very exciting story to tell.

Moseley Old Hall

Moseley Old Hall

The project we are taking part in looks at how to tell our properties stories in a different way, through active engagement and conversation. I got involved in this project thanks to my background as a re-enactor and am really enjoying it so far, even if it is going to be a lot of hard work!

We were having our meeting at Moseley as they have already been through the project that Hardwick is now undertaking. Recently Moseley decided to open Mondays and Tuesdays, when traditionally they had always been closed. The team saw this as an opportunity and decided to have these days manned by volunteer costumed interpreters.

Making Reed Tapers

Making Reed Tapers

Every so often they also have a special event where the volunteer team stage the day to be the most dramatic day in Moseley’s history, the day they harbored King Charles II after the battle of Worcester in 1651. I really want to go and visit on this day, it sounds fantastic! It is a really bold move that the team have made but so far it seems to be working for them.

The Dresser in the Brew-House

The Dresser in the Brew-House

In the afternoon we had the opportunity to wander around the hall, meet the volunteers and see what activities they were doing. We started on the middle floor and so we went through several rooms before we encountered a volunteer, which left us with a strange sense of almost naughty freedom that you don’t usually find yourself with in a National Trust property (unless of course you work there!).

As we were exploring we found the Priest Hole King Charles had hidden in. It was nice to just discover the hall for ourselves but it worries me that if I had not had someone with me who knew the property I would have missed the significance of this unassuming hole in the floor.

The Priest Hole

The Priest Hole

At one point I get distracted by their brilliant fake fires! This is what happens when you work in the heritage industry, you get excited by the most random things and are always looking for good ideas to inspire you. The fake fire in this grate even ‘smoked’!

The Fake Fire

The Fake Fire+–

The volunteers were doing things like making Reed Tapers in front of the real fire and explaining period board games, which kept us all amused for quite a while! Several of the games where ones I play when I am my Medieval alter-ego. It was nice that Moseley has the freedom to light fires in the grate and space for these interactive activities.

I also spotted a really beautiful clock in the Entrance Hall. I quite like clocks because they are such a practical object that is regularly so beautifully made and ornately decorated! I always enjoyed being responsible for winding all the clock at Greyfriars.

The Clock

The Clock

A glimps of the pretty Garden through the window

A glimps of the pretty Garden through the window

The outdoors at Moseley is just as beautiful as the indoors, and there is just as much to discover. At the end of our meeting we were told about Moseley’s new Tree House! Me and Sadie decided we just had to go and have a look for ourselves, and we were not disappointed! With a special pot of money Moseley had created an outdoor adventure area including a mammoth Tree House, with steps, ladders, scramble path and rope! Here are some pics of me ‘testing’ the Tree House out.

The Tree House

The Tree House

Testing out the rope

Testing out the rope

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

Wonderful wallpaper and a busy week

So I was logging on to start writing this post when what popped up on my reader but this post by the National Trust Press Office. Very coincidental as in this post I am going to tell you all about the Wallpaper Training day I attended on Tuesday!

Sunset behind the castle

Sunset behind the castle

Last week was very varied (not unusual in my job) and I have been thoroughly enjoying all the different activities! Monday we were continuing with the Winter Clean in the Smoking Room. I am loving the Winter Clean so much, I said to everyone the other day once we’re finished we should just start going again! I was working on the left-had side of the Smoking Room, which included some very interesting furniture; a beautiful inlaid wooden desk and two fold-out regency card tables. The Winter Clean allows us to spend time on different objects getting to know them and discover new things. For example to open the card tables you have to swivel the top as you open it and open the legs, a really beautiful mechanism.

The mahogany card tables are made of wood and have green felt on top, I like objects like this that take some time to clean and have a couple of different materials to work on. They are lovely pieces of furniture. The Inlaid desk is absolutely gorgeous, it is made of walnut and has floral motifs inlaid in wood and bone. Furniture like this is fun because often there are objects hiding in the drawers. In one of the desk drawers was a lovely oriental style writing set, with many tiny little pieces and boxes inside boxes. It was so nice to take is out and make it shine again. It is a shame to think it probably won’t be seen again until the next winter clean but I also loved that I got to see it, I felt very special. Some of the drawers and a cupboard in the centre were locked with no keys, make you wonder what could be hiding inside!

One of the wallpapers we looked at at Sunnycroft

One of the wallpapers we looked at, at Sunnycroft

Tuesday was a brilliant day because I got to go on another training course!! I’ve done floors and this time I was doing Wallpaper! It may not sound that interesting but it really was. We were taught all about the history of wallpaper, the different types and how the are manufactures. Then we had a tour of the host property’s papers and a session on monitoring wallpaper and how to identify problems. The National Trust has the largest collection of wallpapers still in situ in the world.

Powis does not have that many wallpapers in the rooms open to the public, but we have two amazing hand-painted Chinese wallpapers in the Earl’s Apartments. For some reasons even though they are the Earl’s rooms the Trust owns that wallpaper. One room is pink and features branches, flowers and birds. The other is green and features scenes of village life, and birds too. Both are satin effect paper, as much wallpaper was designed to imitate other materials; textiles, wood, leather. Wallpaper was a cheaper way of creating the same effect, especially after it began to be machine printed and mass-produced in the late 1800’s.

The Chinese wallpaper in the Earl's Music Room

The Chinese wallpaper in the Earl’s Music Room

A secondary perk of going on training courses, other than learning so much interesting new information, is getting to go to another Trust property. The wallpaper training was hosted at Sunnycroft, a Victorian house very small in size compared to Powis. Not only did the have a fab collection of wallpapers but also a very interesting collection of objects. The Billiard Room for example, featured a fantastic faux-linen wallpaper, a tiger-skin rug under the Billiard table, and a grenade and small bomb in the fireplace (disarmed of course, I am reassured). The property is so cute, and I loved the staircase and foyer. I will definitely have to go back again when there open because it was just so lovely, and the staff were really friendly too!

Sunnycroft

Recently I have been given the responsibility of being in charge of the team of volunteer Pat testers; Peter and David. They are lovely gents who come in every year and undertake the mammoth task of testing ‘anything with a plug’ in the castle. I love that I’ve been given the lead on this, and we are flying along with our testing. On our first day we tested every item on the top floor show rooms, a record so I am told. At the end of the day both Peter and David said what a help I had been to Will, which was lovely. So I have learnt to PAT test items, and have been dredging up feint memories of high school science lessons too! Having volunteers to do this for us saves the property so much money! We found an old invoice that said they charged £4.50 for each item tested, so with our first days work we had saved the Trust over £250!!

The legs of the Pietre Dure Table

The legs of the Pietre Dure Table

Friday was so busy! I was meant to be doing marketing work all day but there was so much going on that meant I was running around the castle most of the day. We had someone in taking UV photographs of the Pietre Dure Table. These photos will show us which areas of the table have had repair work undertaken on them. It will be really interesting to see the results. While that was going on the BBC were here to record an interview that will be used to promote the upcoming Baroque Concert were having in the Ballroom in March. The interview was focusing on the Baroque items in our collection. Baroque is  a style of architecture and decoration popular in Europe in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Some of the ‘star’ Baroque items in our collection include the State Bedroom, and a cabinet in the Gateway Room that holds a very mysterious item; learn more here.

The cabinet in the Gateway Room

The cabinet in the Gateway Room

On top of all this our lovely Costumed Interpretation Volunteers were in to have a meeting about the new tours were going to be giving in March. When We open again fully in March we will be focusing on the 4th Earl of Powis and the restoration he and the architect G. F. Bodley did to the castle in the early 1900’s. The castle we see today is largely result of their work, and the Gardens the work of the 4th Earl’s wife, Violet. Each day at noon we will be offering an introductory tour around the castle focusing on the 4th Earl and Violet’s changes and use of the castle. The volunteers were taking a walk around the castle to test run the tours, so I was accompanying them, opening and closing rooms. The tour seems really interesting, and I learnt even more new information about Powis!

Luckily I have taken this week off to recover from last weeks business, and to prepare for taking more tours the weekend!