Bringing the Old Kitchens back to life

I know I have mentioned mine and Kate’s Old kitchens project a couple of times so now I have finally taken some photos. The house team has been spilt into four groups for winter, each focusing on a different aspect of preparing for the winter season. The Conservation Assistants, Carol and Megan, are in charge of the Winter Clean. a huge task where every room in the property gets a deep clean and conservation tasks that need doing annually are undertaken.

Ben and Will have been given the Cellars as their area to prepare for the winter offer. Like the kitchens this area was pretty much a blank canvas for them to put their ideas into. They have decided on two themes; the Crimean War in the first area of the cellars, as Sir Percy Herbert fought in the Crimean War as we have several items in the collection that used to belong to him, including his medals and his sword. Their second area is dedicated to a history of brewing beer and ale, in collaboration with Monty’s Brewery, the place that has made our new Powis Pale Ale. This areas would have been used to store the ales that were drunk by the family at the castle. They have done some fab work with lighting in this section, making it really atmospheric!

The huge barrels in the cellars

Emma and Naomi have been tasked with the Ballroom and Clive Museum and have gone with an Indian theme, to tie in with the Clive of India collection. This is why I have been sewing Elephants, for the Christmas tree that will be in the Ballroom. Because the Old Kitchens and the Cellars are closed areas we have been able to get on with installing our winter offers, but Emma and Naomi have not had the chance to do the same.

The Ballroom

And on top of all of these themes will be our Christmas theme, it is going to be really spectacular and I am so excited about it! But more on that in another post.

The we have the Old Kitchens. We have focused on restoring the kitchens to something what they would have looked like when they were in use. After our House Staff Conference at Chirk Castle we have though differently about the interpretation we will be using. We are going to use the objects in the kitchen to tell the story of its use. Placing in utensils that can be handled and will show what happened in the kitchens, what technology and tools they had, and what they cooked. I have also been researching recipes from Menus found in the archives that we know were cooked in these kitchens and served at Powis.

The first physical step we took after the planning was filling the huge wooden dresser that stands in the kitchens with some beautiful Indian Rose design crockery that had been donates to the castle.

The dresser filled with Indian Rose china

Then we went shopping! We searched all the charity shops and antique shops in Welshpool for anything suitable for our kitchens that could also be handled by members of the public. We managed to do really well, with huge thanks to the Antique shop on Boots Street that did us some fantastic deals. All we really want now are some huge copper pan, but copper is so expensive at the moment that will have to wait for another day, or year. Then all our purchases had to be cleaned up, the cooks at Powis would have run a very well oiled ship so we can’t let the side down!

Cleaning pots for use in the kitchens.

The we put our purchases out on display in the Kitchens.

The dresser with some of our bargains on

We had decided we wanted jars filled with different thing that would be used in cooking that have a really strong smell to them, We call these our ‘smell me jars’. They contain a selection of herbs, spices, teas and coffee and the idea is to help engage all the sense in learning about the kitchen.

Our ‘smell me jars’

I was being nosy a found a cupboard so we decided to make good use of it, by filling it with interesting things for people to discover. We put in some more of our shopping finds in the cupboard, as well as some more jars filled with jams and preserves ect.

A fab selection of different bottles and jars

Mmm pickled eggs

Kate found these fantastic little vintage paper groceries bags , in several different designs. We stuffed them with tissue paper and placed the in our little cupboard as well.

Aren’t they lovely!

We have also been dressing the Cook’s sitting room, it went form a bare room to something that is starting to feel really homey. This is the room that will have some different types of interpretation to the traditional flat media. We are going to have picture frames with information about the servants that used to work at Powis, and cushions with facts on them. Again it is still a work in progress but this is where we are at currently.

A taste of comfort

Programs like ‘Downton Abbey’ and documentaries like ‘Servants – The true story of life below stairs’ (both of which I thoroughly recommend watching) have peaked the interest in areas like the kitchens. I also think the life servants lead feels more relateable to most people. We often get asked where the kitchens are when they are not open and people love to look around them. On Monday our State Rooms close and our Old Kitchens open everyday, it is a funny thing, the grandest more sumptuous rooms shut and the rooms that are designed for a practical purpose with no frills. I cannot wait to finish dressing our area and adding the interpretation, and on monday we start decoration for Christmas too. We will be very bust but it is very exciting so worth all the rushing around.




A Conservation Assistants work is never done!

Well today was shaping up to be a fairly relaxed day at work; the usual morning clean and then the afternoon spent discussing the House Team’s proposal for the winter offer. However the castle had some other ideas for me today.

I was just doing the morning vacuum, the same as every morning, when I went and switched on the lights in the Library and saw something I was not expecting to see. Precariously balanced on top of the fire basket and the fire guard was a huge pile a debris, made up of twigs and soil. It looked like the material of several birds nests had fallen down the chimney. There had been a chicken wire and fabric hammock wedged in the chimney shaft to stop detritus falling down into the fireplace in the room, however the nests had obviously gotten too much for it to hold and had given way.

I hurried down the stairs and called on the assistance of Carol, A Conservation Assistant that has worked at the Castle for years. I knew I was going to need some assistance clearing up the mess. We scooped up the twigs and some of the soil and put them into black bins bags, three bags full in all. Then I hoovered the rest of the soil up and me and Will put the chicken wire hammock back into the chimney. Hopefully it will hold this time!

Then I hoovered inside the fireplace thoroughly, moving out the fire guard and the metal plate on the floor. I had to move some of the chairs that sit in the middle of the library to clean the rug underneath them. I hoovered the rug and flipped it back to hoover the underside and the floor underneath it. Then I finished the morning clean and it was decided the rest of the mess would be cleaned up in the afternoon.

The Library, and the culprit fire-place.

From 12 until lunch at 1 we had a meeting about what we wanted to offer visitors during the winter. This is the first year Powis has been open 364 days of the year and the offer we present this year will define what happens in the years to come, so it has to be successful. We are all working together but we have also been assigned areas in pairs; me and Kate have been assigned the kitchens, and also the Medieval Tour. This is good for us as we are both medieval re-enactors and have some big plans for the tour! Will has assigned the areas in the castle according to our own areas of interest. Naomi is particularly interested in Indian furniture and artefacts so she has been given the Ballroom and Clive Museum.

For lunch, purely for research purposes, me and Kate went to the old kitchens where the sewing ladies were working and they fed us. They always cook themselves lunch in the working Aga we have in the kitchens. The ladies are lovely and very kind to feed me, especially as dessert today was sticky toffee pudding. These ladies also make up our costumed interpreters that did the cooking on the Stuart Day I posted about.

After my lovely lunch I was posted in the Library to room steward whilst I finished cleaning up for the morning’s adventure. This involved cleaning and polishing the fire irons. There are four steel implements set around the fire basket and these were covered in soil. I brushed and cleaned them with a blue duster, then put autosol onto them with cotton wool. I buffed it off and then re-cleaned the metal with a new blue cloth. Then I put Renaissance wax onto the implements and left it for 20 minutes, and buffed them off. Thankfully buffing these requires less upper body strength than buffing the marble floors after we wax them. This all took a lot longer than I expected, meaning I stayed in the castle after it was closed, but the fire-place looked as good as new once I was finished. I always say I could never be bored here, there is always something for me  to do, even before the Castle decides to throw a new task at us! On the plus side, I got some more experience handling metal which I wanted.