Standen

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


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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 http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/, 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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Unwanted Guests

Pest Trap

Pest Trap

One of our annual jobs in early summer time is to check our pest traps. This gives us an idea of what insects and pests we have in the house so we can take steps to get rid of them.

There is usually 1 pest trap to a room, with the biggest rooms having 2 or 3. There are usually placed out of sight, though you might be able to spot 1 or 2 next time you visit. We place them along walls as this is where pests tend to move around, as it is more protected.

Some pests are more dangerous to have in a historic house than others, but in general we try to discourage them by regular hoovering, dusting and cobwebbing. The pests that are not dangerous to the collections tend to attract larger pest like mice and rats, which can cause more damage in the short-term.

Silverfish

Silverfish

One of the most frequent unwanted pests at Standen is silverfish. Silverfish graze on the microscopic moulds that grow on books and leather. As they graze, they quite often take layers off with them, completely destroying the item. Silverfish also eat some of the wall papers here at Standen, which is something we monitor closely.

 

Pests ...

Pests …

Silverfish are not the only thing we need to worry about. What is alarming is that we are finding the larvae of varied carpet beetles, otherwise known as woolly bears. They eat wool, fur, feathers, silk and skins – here we mostly find evidence of them on the carpets and the curtains. They will eat the material down to its backing, obliterating any trace of its patterns and colours.

One of the things that we found on a lot of the pest traps were millipedes and centipedes. They typically love damp conditions, which due to rains over the winter and spring this year, has caused some issues with damp walls. So maybe is not as surprising as we originally thought! They are completely harmless to the collections but they do attract other more carnivorous pests and animals.


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Learning at Work Day …

On the 19th June, the house team at Standen, including myself, went on a Learning at Work Day. This basically means we got to snoop around two places to see how they interpret and present their collections!

This was just before I started so it was a nice opportunity to meet the team outside of an interview situation. It definitely made my first day the week after less daunting!

Sutton House

Sutton House

  The first place we visited was Sutton House, which is a beautiful Tudor house in the middle of London. It is a  classic medieval property with dark wood panelling and huge fireplaces dominating every room.

It was built-in 1535 for Sir Ralph Sadlier, a high-profile noble during the reign of Henry VIII. The house has had a wide variety of uses prior to becoming open to the public; from a family home to a school ( both as a boys school and then a girls school, from a fire station during World War 2 to a club house for Edwardian clergy. At one point the building was left abandoned and lived in by squatters who painted the walls with beautiful designs:

Graffiti

Graffiti at Sutton House

After a morning wandering around – it is amazing how much time you can spend in a small property – we then went onto the Geffrye Museum of the Home. It is a series of narrow almshouses that have been converted into a museum that shows the development of urban living rooms and how style, fashion, taste and society have influenced how we use rooms today.

The Geffrye Museum of the Home

The Geffrye Museum of the Home

By this point we were very hungry so had a wonderful lunch at the cafe there, though they did struggle to get the food out quickly as we were quite a big group!

The Geffrye Museum is very long and narrow – only as wide as a small room. It was very enjoyable though and interesting looking at how room designs and uses have changed over the last few hundred years. Over of course, we had to have the obligatory cake break as well.

Overall, we had a lovely day out and it gave us all loads of ideas of how  to present our collection here at Standen, especially about using today’s technology like iPads and mobile phones.

Hopefully over the next few years, a few of these ideas will start to appear here.

I thought I would leave you with a picture  of my favourite room of the whole day, which is a drawing-room at the Geffrye Museum set up for 1830. I really love all the different blues:

Drawing room 1830

Drawing room 1830

 


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Introducing Me ….

Hi I am Lizzie, the new Conservation and Interpretation Assistant here at Standen. I am Hannah’s successor to the role and, like her, will be here for the next year.

I have spent the last few weeks learning my way around Standen and meeting all of our lovely volunteers and staff members, all of whom have been very welcoming and friendly. It has been very busy – I am pretty sure I spent the first week in a haze of new impressions and names!

Prior to starting here, I was a Conservation intern at another National Trust property for 4 months. This introduced me to some of the routines and basic skills that are needed to help preserve historic houses. I am really excited about this role here at Standen as it gives me the opportunity to learn more about what it means to be a Conservation and Interpretation Assistant and more about the intricacies of running a historic house within the National Trust.

Like Hannah, I will be writing posts about the things that we get up to behind the scenes here at Standen and also about my experiences of the next year. I am also open to including posts written by and about our volunteers and their experiences of Standen.

Larkspur Bedroom

Larkspur Bedroom

As this is my first post, I thought that I would talk about my favourite room here at Standen – the Larkspur bedroom. Part of the reason I like it is that it is a warm, calming and comfortable room. I also like it because it feels the most alive of all the rooms in the house – I am always half expecting Amy Beale to come around the corner!

So what is your favourite room here at Standen and why?

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