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

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Re-interpreting the servants’ wing

The Dog Leg Corridor as it was a few years ago, with the low false ceiling

The Dog Leg Corridor as it was a few years ago, with the low false ceiling

If you’ve visited Standen in the last few months, you may have noticed one or two changes as you came to the end of your journey around the house. We’ve been looking at and refreshing the way we present the servants’ areas of the house to give these areas a bit more context. One of the areas we have been concentrating on is the Dog Leg Corridor (so-called because of the bend in the corridor, which would apparently stop cooking smells reaching the family part of the house). We started work on this area a few years back; removing a doorway and a false ceiling that were later additions. This was a lengthy process that involved fire and safety considerations and listed buildings consent, among other things.

The removal of the false ceiling revealed an area of William Morris Trellis wallpaper; showing that this area was once as heavily decorated as the Morning Room Corridor, which it leads on from.

A new, suspended ceiling was recently fitted to hide wires and other electrical fittings. The fact it is suspended means that further damage to the surviving Trellis wallpaper is avoided. We also added glass coolie shades to the light fittings, which are in keeping with the light fittings in the rest of the service wing.

This surviving Trellis wallpaper was found above the false ceiling in the Dog Leg Corridor

This surviving Trellis wallpaper was found above the false ceiling in the Dog Leg Corridor

Although these works made the Dog Leg Corridor more historically accurate, we felt that it was still a little anonymous: walking along, one didn’t necessarily get the feeling that you were heading away from the family part of the house, towards the ‘working’ part of the house. An evolving ideas process led us to decide upon something a little different when it came to interpreting this area – the corridor was almost a blank slate, and so we were able to do something bold and eye catching.

A glimpse of the anamorphic design in the Dog Leg Corridor

A glimpse of the anamorphic design in the Dog Leg Corridor

We wanted to highlight that this corridor was a transitional space from family life to servant life. Inspired by a quote from the Beale family archives, an anamorphic design was created: different parts of the design were painted on different areas of the corridor; coming together to create a whole when viewed from the start of the corridor. The colour and rosette around the quote are inspired by the roses in the Morris Trellis wallpaper, again underlining the transition from the richly decorated family quarters to the more austere service areas.

There has been a really positive response from visitors towards the anamorphic design – just the other day, I overheard a visitor comment that it was clever and thought provoking. The re-display of the Dog Leg and service wing is a long-term project, so do keep an eye out for more changes and improvements in the future.

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Object in Focus: Umbrella Stand

Just for fun, we recently asked our staff and volunteers whether they had a least favourite object at Standen. As we’re usually waxing lyrical about our favourite objects, we thought this was a good opportunity to spark conversation and think differently about our collection.

Standen © National Trust / Jane MucklowThere were lots of interesting suggestions: from a garishly coloured and odd shaped vase; to a pair of stuffed birds. One definite theme was the dislike of objects that resemble animals: Standen has a number of objects that are creature-inspired, such as a standard lamp with a clawed foot, or a table with hoofed feet.

The ‘winning’ object with the most votes was this blue-glazed china container (pictured left); a style known as a grotesque. Some people said that it is unattractive and strange (I have to say I agree with them!), but it does seem to divide opinion as there were others that commented that they thought the container was unusual and quite liked it for that reason.

Standen © National Trust / Jane MucklowThe container is currently displayed in the Cloakroom, and has been used in the past as an umbrella stand. It was probably produced by Burmantofts, a Leeds-based pottery which operated from the 1850s until 1957. They specialised in earthenware vases, jardineres, bowls and tiles, which were finished in brightly coloured glazes. There are several pieces of Burmantofts here at Standen – another example of this type of grotesque is the toad spoon warmer pictured right, which is currently displayed in the Billiard Room. These pieces might not be to everyone’s taste, but they certainly attract lots of attention and questions from visitors!



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A morning in the life of a National Trust trainee

This week saw the first ever Museums Week on Twitter; where hundreds of museums and museum professionals came together to talk about different aspects of museum life. One of the themes was a typical day in the life of a museum, and inspired by this – and by the fact that people often ask me what my role as a trainee entails – I thought I’d write a blog post or two about a day in the life of a National Trust trainee. In this post, I’ve written about what I got up to one morning this week… 

My day started at 8.30am, when I arrived at Standen and began the daily cleaning, along with the Assistant House Steward and Conservation Assistants. Some days this is a longer task than others – there’s usually more cleaning to do after a busy weekend, for instance.

The glamorous daily cleaning kit!

The glamorous daily cleaning kit!

As well as dusting and vacuuming, this is our chance to check everything is in order: perhaps refreshing interpretation, or changing bulbs and batteries, and other small tasks. We also check the presentation of a room and that everything is in place. Busy days mean the rooms can get crowded and furniture may get jostled or accidentally moved, so the following day we can check this as we clean.

We also keep an eye out for objects that might need a closer inspection, or even the attentions of a conservator. Just recently, on our daily rounds, we noticed that an antimacassar in the Drawing Room needed to be looked at more closely, as it was in a very poor condition – it was consequently put into storage to protect from further damage.

We often work in pairs when cleaning the house and carrying out other tasks. On this particular day, after cleaning, I carried out humidity and temperature checks while Alison, one of Standen’s Conservation Assistants, checked and wound the clocks. We monitor the humidity levels in the house very carefully, as fluctuations in humidity levels can cause lasting damage. Organic materials in particular are affected by continual changes in humidity; gaining or losing moisture as the humidity changes, sometimes resulting in irreversible damage (see picture below).

An example of damage caused by falling humidity levels

An example of damage caused by falling humidity levels

At 9.45am, its time for the daily briefing, when staff on the property get together to be briefed on the day’s activities. It’s here that we find out whether there is a large coach party or school group visiting, or who the first aider for that day is…and what’s on the menu in the café!

After the daily briefing, it’s back to prepping the house for opening until 10am, when we take a much needed tea break – dusting is thirsty work! And of course it’s always nice to have a chat with colleagues over tea and biscuits. Once tea break is over we usually rush around opening blinds and shutters, ready for when visitors start arriving.

Later on this particular morning, I attended the Conservation and Curatorial meeting, where the regional conservator and curator met the house staff to discuss all sorts of issues: from museum accreditation and conservation updates, to interpretation and future exhibitions. As a trainee, it’s really interesting for me to be a part of these meetings, as it gives me a real insight into the wide range of subjects that are a part of working in historic houses.

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Standen in a hurry

Recently, I spoke to a visitor who said that he’d never visited Standen before, but was a little short of time – were there any objects that he simply shouldn’t miss? This was a tricky question, because although Standen is modest when compared to some country houses, there’s still much to see.

I told the visitor a few objects to look out for, but mostly advised him to ask the room guides as he went around. But it got me thinking – if I’d had more time to prepare, what would I suggest someone on a flying visit to the house absolutely shouldn’t miss?

Thinking about the objects and features that are most remarked on by visitors to the house – and only a little influenced by my own opinions – I chose 6 ‘must-see’ objects. In no particular order, here they are…

Dobbin (Standen © NTPL)Dobbin

Dobbin is the well-loved rocking horse that resides in the Billiard Room. He was brought for Amy Beale, the eldest of the James and Margaret Beale’s children in 1874, when she was 3 years old. Family anecdotes indicate that Dobbin was a reward for Amy learning the alphabet! Dobbin is a lovely, direct link to the Beales, and visitors always stop and admire him.


Dining Room fireplace (Standen © National Trust / Jane Mucklow)

Dining Room fireplace surround

The fireplace is one of the most striking features of the Dining Room and is frequently commented upon by visitors. The fireplace surround was designed by Standen’s architect, Philip Webb, and made by John Pearson. The metalworking technique used to create the decoration is called repoussé, and the material used is mild steel. The rack above the fireplace could be used by servants to rest plates and platters when serving the family at mealtimes – this is an instance of Webb and his thorough design process; where he tailored his designs to the lifestyle of his clients.

Pip tray (Standen © National Trust / Jane Mucklow)Silver pip trays

Another must-see object in the Dining Room, is one that is almost always commented upon by visitors. These clever silver trays attach on to the edge of plates, and were used to deposit unwanted pips and seeds throughout the course of a meal. The Dining Room table is currently presented as the dessert course of an evening meal, with bowls of fruit and the pip trays attached to the dessert plates. Visitors always ask what the trays are for, and I like to give them a clue by pointing out the fruit on the table.

Benson light fitting - landingBenson light fittings/lamps

This is cheating slightly, as this isn’t one specific object, but a type of object. The light fittings throughout the house were designed by W.A.S Benson, a friend and colleague of William Morris. He was a talented designer who owned a workshop and also designed for – and was later a director of – Morris & Co. Benson was well known for interpreting the requirements of lighting in an inventive and technically ingenious way, such as lamps which adapted to hang on walls or sit on tables. His creativity can be seen throughout Standen, and I especially like the beautiful hanging lights, like the one pictured, on the half landing.

Acanthus bedspread (Standen © National Trust / Jane Mucklow)Acanthus bedspread

This Morris & Co. bedspread is displayed in the Westbourne bedroom. It was given to Standen to display after spending a hundred years in storage. Its time in storage means that the bedspread is in excellent condition, and the colours of the design are particularly vivid. The bedspread was handmade at the Morris & Co. factory, and it is possible that William’s daughter, May, who was famed for her embroidery skills, supervised the work on this bedspread.


The clavichord is on long term loan and is displayed in the Morning Room. It was made by Dolmetsch in 1897, and is beautifully decorated by Edward Burne-Jones, who was closely associated with the Pre-Raphelite movement. The clavichord has been conserved and is playable, but special training is needed, as it doesn’t play like a piano. We have a volunteer that plays the clavichord occasionally, and visitors are always fascinated by the sound it makes.

*There’s no image for the clavichord: because the object is on loan to Standen, we are not able to publish images of it without the permisson of the owner – but that’s the perfect excuse for you to come and visit us, and see it ‘in the flesh’!

What are your must-see objects at Standen?

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Snapshots of Standen

Standen reopened last month, and as you may have read in previous blog posts, the House Team spent the weeks before opening performing a deep clean of the house. This gave us all a chance to get up close and personal with the many and varied objects in our collection, and I couldn’t resist snapping a photograph here and there when something caught my eye – here are just a few…

Corner armchair

Old woodworm damage in an antique armchair belonging to the Beale family

Dining Room

When the Drawing Room was redecorated, other showrooms were used as temporary storage – here, the Dining Room is being used to house De Morgan lustreware

Cantagalli ceramic

Cleaning the Cantagalli ceramic depicting The Journey of the Magi – the detail in this piece is stunning

Clock from Drawing Room

Standen has a number of clocks – this one is in the Drawing Room and is one of the oldest in the house


De Morgan in the Dining Room!

Cigar box

This old cigar box still smells faintly of cigars…

Knives from picnic set

The picnic set displayed in the Kitchen has many items which needed to be cleaned, including this set of knives

Metalwork detail

While cleaning this glass and metal basket, I was particularly taken with the eye catching metalwork

Detail from clock

Detail from one of the clocks in the house

Detail from glassware

This piece of glassware has a striking and unusual finish, which I hadn’t properly noticed until I started cleaning it!

Blacking the range

Blacking the range: a rather messy job!

Objects from the picnic set

More objects from the picnic set

Liberty & Co.

There are a number of pieces of furniture in the house that were sourced from Liberty, as they were well known for stocking Arts and Crafts pieces

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Object from the Stores: ‘Phyndit – a great party game!’


Phyndit – ‘at last, a really new game’

We’re currently checking and organising our object stores as part of an ongoing project to improve the storage of our collection. The cellar storage area is full of all sorts of interesting and beautiful objects, so I was keen to select something to display in the house, as part of the monthly Object in Focus feature.

The bold colours of a board game caught my eye, and when I removed it from its tissue paper, I found it was actually a type of parlour game called Phyndit. I was intrigued, so I decided this would be our object from the stores!

The well-used box is decorated in primary colours, with the figures of elegant individuals dashing around a large house. The costumes of the figures seemed to be 1930s in style, and a little digging around on the internet told me that the game was patented in 1931 in America, by a now defunct London-based box making company.

PhynditOpening up the box, the contents revealed the type of game popular with wealthier classes during the first half of the 20th century: games that often involved hurtling around the house (or even outside) from one box to the next, posting answers to questions, or matching up ‘letters’ with the correct post box.

A scorecard inside Phyndit was dated 18th March 1938, with a list of players names: Grace, Doreen, Joy…There are several lists of names inside, suggesting the game was played over and over again, perhaps by different generations of the same family – the box, which has been repaired several times using sellotape certainly seems to suggest that it was a favourite game.

Phyndit 010

Although most objects at Standen are on the inventory database and are marked with an inventory number (see here for last week’s post on inventory marking) there are inevitably some items that aren’t, for one reason or another – Phyndit is one of these. The most likely explanation is that it was a donation to Standen at some point, and has probably spent most of its time here in storage – the stores project will enable us to know exactly what we have in storage, and make sure it is better labelled and stored.

I’m really pleased to be able to have an object from the stores on display, and the fact that Phyndit has probably never been displayed before is even better. The bold colours of the box and the figures dashing around on the front evoke the glamorous dinner parties of the 1930s. Because of the lack of database information about the game, it’s unlikely that it belonged to the Beale family of Standen (in addition, the names on the scorecard inside the box don’t match those of the Beales) but games such as this were so popular, it’s just possible the Beales played a similar game…


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Collections care: inventory marking

This week, the House Team have been working in the Kitchen, inventory marking some of the collection.

Kitchen at Standen

The House Team have been inventory marking some of the objects from Standen’s Kitchen this week

Each object in Standen’s collection has its own unique inventory number, which helps to clearly identify objects and is useful for our conservation records, as well as keeping track of items if ever they’re moved to another location.

Inventory marking kit

The inventory marking kit

The method that we use for inventory marking allows the number to be removed if necessary, without causing any damage.

First of all, we clean the area where we will be marking with a brush, or wipe with acetone. On most objects – especially if the surface is porous, such as an unglazed ceramic – a base coat of clear varnish is applied. It can take several hours for the varnish to dry completely, so patience is required! When the varnish is dry, the inventory number is written on in small but legible figures. We use an ink pen with a very fine nib and mark in black or white ink, or use oil alkyd or acrylic paint. Good eyesight and a steady hand are definitely needed – and having neat hand writing helps! The final stage is to apply a top-coat of varnish when the ink or paint has dried.

Inventory marking

Here, Hannah is having a go at inventory marking one of Standen’s many blue and white dinner plates

Although the process itself is fairly simple, waiting for varnishes to dry can be quite time consuming. In addition, there are often old inventory numbers or labels that needed to be carefully removed, so even marking a small number of objects can take quite some time!

Inventory marking

A newly inventory marked plate. On the left, in greenish ink, is an old inventory mark, which will be removed

When we’ve finished in the Kitchen, we’ll move on to the Dining Room to continue marking the vast collection of blue and white plates that are on display.


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