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.

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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’.

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!

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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!