What goes on behind the scenes at Standen House, an Arts & Crafts family home

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Bats and Towers …

One of the things that I got up over the weekend was assisting one of our volunteers in carrying out the Tower tours. These run Thursday and Sundays over September and October as well as February to May.

The Water Tower from the Courtyard

The Water Tower from the Courtyard

You may be wondering why there is a three month gap in the summer – from June to August – this is because we have brown long-eared bats that use the attics in the tower to roost and raise their young. Only the females and their teenage babies will roost here, whilst the 1 male in the colony will roost elsewhere. With around 20 females in the colony, each one has a single baby. So you can imagine it is quite busy up there!

The Slate Tanks

The Slate Tanks

Today was the first chance that I got to up the water tower since I started here, nearly 3 months ago (time just flies by!)  and I would definitely recommend a visit. As you can tell by its name, the water tower, it was used to filter all of the water that the Beales’, and their servants, used, from washing to drinking. It is a rather complex system using vast tanks hidden underneath the ground to collect rain water, which is then pumped up to the water tower using slate tanks and lead lined pipes (surprisingly all of the Beales lived to ripe old ages!) .

The Kitchen Garden from the top of the Tower

The Kitchen Garden from the top of the Tower

At the top is a viewing platform, that has beautiful views of the surrounding countryside and the Weir Wood reservoir. It also shows how much land that the Beales owned and most of the 12 acres of gardens. As well as being used as a viewing platform, Maggie and Helen (the 2 unwed daughters) used to sleep up there on hot nights under the stars.

Weir Wood Reservoir and surrounding countryside

Weir Wood Reservoir and surrounding countryside

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A Day in 1925…

The Kitchen Gardeners

The Kitchen Gardeners

Last weekend, we had our big Day in the Life day. The house is set up for a weekend in 1925, when Amy, the eldest daughter of the Beales, is coming to visit along with her husband and three of her children. Hence why as you go around you might spot a bag that has not quite been unpacked, the table is laid for dinner and then when you go upstairs, Amy is having breakfast in bed and Maggie is writing her diary before coming downstairs.

All of this has been gearing up to last Saturday where we took the Day in the Life story to the extreme! It was especially  exciting and fun to share the house with the visitors (not that it is not usually)  but this took that feeling to the next level. This was something that united the property as loads of volunteers and staff dressed up and pitched in.

The Cafe Staff

The Cafe Staff

There was loads of activities going on throughout the house with some of our volunteers playing billiards and draughts. We also had napkin folding demonstrations and writing in the Visitors book with pen and ink. We also had some cooking on the range with produce from the Kitchen Garden at Standen, where people could try roasted pumpkin, red cabbage and fresh bread.

Draughts and Puzzles in the Drawing Room

Draughts and Puzzles in the Drawing Room

It was a thoroughly enjoyable day but not one without its tensions! The main one happened just before we opened – we had filled the bath in the Green Bathroom upstairs and filled it with bubbles so it looked like someone was just about to have a bath. Now the taps are no longer connected so we had to fill it by hand with buckets. The next thing we knew water was coming through the ceiling in the Victorian Gentlemen’s Lavatories! So we had to quickly empty it, again by hand, using buckets!

I was dressed up as  a maid and got the chance to spend the day in the house talking to everyone and partaking in some of the activities. Here is one of me in action:

Gretting Guests as they arrive..

Greeting Guests as they arrive..

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Between the Covers…

One of the things I have been working on recently is a new exhibition that opens today called Between the Covers. It focuses on some of the books that we have in the collection.

Now this is the first ever proper exhibition I have done so I have been a little manic and running around like a crazy thing!  But I have actually enjoyed myself in the process and it reminded me of one of the reasons that I wanted to go into heritage – which was to be constantly doing new things and to be enjoying it!

The start...

The start…

It has been a steep learning curve; like having this idea in my head and then forgetting to tell the printing company all the tiny details – need to remember I am not telepathic!

The main lesson that I have taken away from this is to leave lots of time to get the room ready. As our House Manager warned me, it always take longer then you think. And four days later I definitely agree with him!

The longest job has been to hang the interpretation board on the wall – do not worry we have not hammered straight into the lovely wallpaper, there is a skirting board along the ceiling we can use. Getting things straight is difficult so much so that wonky starts to look straight after a while!


Hanging the interpretation boards on the wall...

Hanging the interpretation boards on the wall…

I really enjoyed writing all the interpretation, which I freely admit I thought I would not, but its is interesting to try out different styles and discover how to layer it so people can get as much out of the exhibition as they want. You will all have to tell me what you think?

I have also tried to think of people’s comfort with this exhibition. I know when I visit a house or exhibition I like to sit down and soak it all in. So to that end, I have included an area where people can sit and read and generally relax.

Book Corner...

Book Corner…

Engagement is a word you hear a lot about in heritage as we are constantly trying to think of new ways in which we can achieve this. To create a discussion point, I created a board with pegs and post-its so that people can write down their favourite book. I tested it out on some of the staff, it really created a discussion on why. What’s your favourite book?

So I sahll end this post with an image of the final exhibition:

The final product (mostly)...

The final product (mostly)…


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Environmental Monitoring…

Running a historic house involves lots of different kinds of work, which we divide up into daily, weekly and annual jobs. One of the weekly jobs is to monitor the light, humidity and temperature. If the levels are wrong, than the collection deteriorates and becomes permanently damaged.

The Sofa in the Drawing room that used to be pink...

The Sofa in the Drawing room that used to be pink…

Light is one of the main causes of damage in any house, not just historic ones. It can be quite easy to see some of the damage through fading of colors but this is really only an outwardly sign of deeper damage. A high amount of light activates the chemicals, that make up the color, to react and change. One of the best examples that we have here of this is  the velvet upholstery on the sofa and matching chairs in the Drawing Room – they used to be a bright rose-pink but are now green.

Light also affects the threads in fabric, causing them to break down and snap leading to tears and rips. Ever handled something that has fallen apart in your hands when you  pick it up? This is what can happen to fabrics like curtains, carpets and tapestries.

Humidity levels are different for every type of object. For example, the correct humidity level for metals is too dry for wood, which would cause the wood to dry out and split. If the humidity is too low, organic materials like leather and wood shrink, crack and even in extreme cases, break. If the humidity levels are too high, than organic materials swell and stick, like drawers in a desk. High humidity causes dampness which in turn encourages mould and fungi. It also attracts insect pests and cause metals to rust.

Temperatures has two effects on collections. It is directly linked to humidity levels, so if it is hot, then humidity levels will be low and vice versa. Low temperature, especially sub-zero ones, will cause objects to become brittle and crack, whilst high temperatures can soften and melt some materials.

Environmental Monitor

Environmental Monitor

It can be difficult to find the right balance between these factors, which is why we monitor them at least once a week. In order to attempt to prevent damage, we have set budgets. In every room, there are certain objects that have been deemed as at a higher risk than others, which is determined by several factors, their materials or their historical significance to the house. These are the objects that we measure off using an environmental monitor.

This measure light or lux levels, relative humidity (RH) and temperature. We record it manually and take action a level is too high or low. Light is the easiest to fix as we can adjust the blinds, which is why it can sometimes be a little bit dark at times. Humidity and temperature is a bit harder to fix as it often involves adjusting heating levels and putting out humidifiers/de-humidifiers.



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Wax, Wax Everywhere…

Vicky and I Waxing the Porch

One of the jobs that we carry out every year is to wax the wooden floors and the clay tiles. This is one of those un-glamorous jobs that usually involves people getting covered in wax (Well me at least!).

In the past, wooden floors were kept clean by washing them with diluted lime or lime water and then rubbed with sand to keep them shiny. By the time the Beales had built their house, the fashion was to wax them.

In order to protect them now, we use a combination of methods. The first is that we vacuum the floors every morning before we open and look out for any broken or damaged pieces of wood or tile.

Another way that we use to protect the flooring is druggets under the carpets. A drugget is long piece of canvas, carpet or matting laid underneath the carpet to protect the floor from staining and general wear and tear as well as providing a non slip base.

Harrell's Wax

Harrell’s Wax

Waxing the floor provides a coating that wears away under people’s feet so that the floor does not get worn, which is why we replace it periodically.

The wax that we use on wooden floors is called Harrell’s and is used by the National Trust across the country as it has been specially formulated for historic flooring. It is a dark honey colored wax that we rub into the floor using cloths.

We apply it following the grain of the wood and apply it liberally. We only use it on the exposed pieces of flooring as the flooring under the carpets and furniture retains its wax for a long time.  Although we wax annually, it sometimes feels as if the floor is drinking it in like water!

The wax takes over 4 hours to dry so we leave it overnight. The next day we buff it with a floor polisher machine, that takes quite a lot guidance to keep it going in the right direction! If it is only a small part of the floor, such as the edges around the carpet in the morning room, then we hand buff it using a clean dust cloth.

The Billiard Room after its Waxing

The Billiard Room after its waxing

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Accidents happen…

Last week, as we were closing the house down for the night, our House Manager spotted what looked like a tear in the gold paper screen in the Hall.

The Screen in Store

The Screen in Store

The screen is very delicate and was given to us in 1973. It is a three-part folding screen made up of gold fabric with paper inside on an ebonised wood frame.

It was in our stores for a long time before we decided that the screen should be out on display so that people can enjoy it.  After it had been checked out by our conservators, and they had agreed that it was in a good enough condition to be displayed, it was placed in the hall.  We spent a rather large amount of money in order to get it conserved, of which a large part was made up public doantions through our raffle.

As the screen is largely made by paper, a rope was put in front of it to protect it so that it can be enjoyed by all visitors.

Unfortunately, there is a hole in the screen now but accidents do happen and we are looking at options to repair it. On the other hand, this accident is a good way to educate people; that this is what can happen if the guidelines given by and to staff, volunteers and members of the public are not followed.

The screen as it is now

The screen as it is now

One of the aims of the National Trust is to preserve our history, in whatever shape or form, for future generations, which is why we try to protect our objects from being handled. If you would like to see an object up close, I would recommend visiting the National Trust Collections online at, which has information on most of the objects held in every National Trust property or, it is sometime possible for you to make an appointment with us, the house team at Standen, to view an object.

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Object of the Month: August ‘The Age of Innocence’ by Alfred Drury

This month, the ‘Object of the …’ is a bust that I feel often gets missed. When walking up the stairs and onto the half landing, what do you notice about the objects that are displayed there?

This question occurred to me one afternoon as a group of people were crowded around them, wanting to know more. It made me realise how often do I notice the intricate details when I walk past some of the objects here.

Hence why I have chosen the ‘Age of Innocence’ bust, situated on the half landing next to some beautiful Pilkington, Massier and Chinese vases.

The Age of Innocence by Alfred Drury (London 1856 - 1944) This sculpture is a portrait bust of a young girl cast in bronze on a green plinth. Although entitled ‘The Age of Innocence’ I do feel as if there is a hint of cheekiness in her expression.

 This bust is part of the Grogan collection at Standen. The Grogans were the first custodians of Standen, after Helen died, in agreement with the National Trust. They were avid collectors of Arts and Crafts items and collected many of the items on display here in the 1970s.

Made by Alfred Drury in the 1898, this bust is one of many that were made from the same mould — both in bronze and in marble. It was a very popular piece.  The V&A have a plaster cast of the bust which was most likely produced from the original.

Alfred Drury was an architectural sculpture and he was heavily influenced by the New Sculpture Movement, which tried to introduce a greater sense of technicality and less artistic licence into sculpture, as well as attempting to introduce a wider range of subject matter.

One of Drury’s most famous artistic achievement was helping to design and sculpt part of the entrance to the V&A Museum.


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