Standen

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


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Focus on – the staircase hall

I asked one of my Wednesday room guides if she had a favourite object I could talk about and she suggested that I talk about our beautiful Webb staircase.

I thought it would be interesting to expand this and start a new series where we have a look at different rooms in the house starting with, of course, the staircase hall.

The staircase hall is set back from the the main entrance of the house, away from the rooms that guests, unless they were staying overnight, would be invited into.

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Webb’s plan showing the staircase hall

Its main feature is the staircase with the impressive fumed oak balustrade. Fumed oak is oak that has been smoked, a bit like a kipper, which brings out the grain of the wood.

The flat banisters up the stairs are a typical Webb detail, which look like a splat – one of my favourite words –  the back of a Windsor chair.

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A view of the staircase hall from the half landing

The wallpaper, ‘Batchelor’s Button’, which was designed by William Morris in 1892, was put up when Mrs Beale first decorated in the 1890s. It was repaired in 1906 and varnished to protect it from grandchildren’s wayward elbows and sticky fingers and has been there ever since.

The stair carpet is a copy we had specially made in 2001 of the Axminster carpet supplied to the Beales by Morris & Co. in 1906 when the original was too worn out to be safe any more.

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The light in the hall

The central light fitting is one of our original W.A.S. Benson light fittings, similar to but larger than the ones in the hall. It’s wrought iron with an opaque glass shade made by Powell & Co. Glass Manufacturers, London.

My favourite thing in the staircase hall is the Webb designed table at the bottom. It has got seven legs and is a lovely oval shape, not circular as it might at first appear.

Standen © National Trust / Jane Mucklow

The Webb seven legged table

The most striking picture in the staircase hall is the massive replica of a cartoon by Ford Maddox Brown of the Manchester city hall murals. It shows the introduction of Christianity to the Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria (c.586 – 632/33), which included Manchester, through the baptism of King Edwin.

Standen © National Trust / Jane Mucklow

The Baptism of King Edwin

There are also the two portraits of Mr and Mrs Beale at the bottom of the stairs – make sure you stop to say hello next time you visit!

Are there any rooms you’d like to know a bit more about? Please let us know in the comments or on our Facebook or Twitter.

 

 


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Floors and what we do about them…

As you might have guessed, floors are the hardest working parts of our house. Last year we had over 120,000 visitors which is an awful lot of feet.

We  have carpets and rugs that we can’t let you walk on directly because they are fragile or precious. We protect them using druggets, but these wear out too.

The huge Morris & Co. carpet in the Drawing Room is one of our most important carpets. Designed by J.H. Dearle, Morris & Co.’s chief designer, and made at the Merton Abbey Mills, it is a spectacular carpet and in very good condition for its age.

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The Drawing Room carpet when we cleared the room for decorating

 

Before we put down the old drugget the carpet was rolled up and visitors walked on the wooden floor which felt a bit odd – a bit like looking at the room as if it was a picture, rather than actually being in it.

But the blue drugget was  6 years old and showing definite signs of age.  It had been an improvement but it needed replacing. Could we make the room look even better?

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The old blue drugget

Ben, our house manager, was very keen to get an Eyemat because we thought it would improve how the room looks. An Eyemat is a very detailed set of digital photographs printed on mats and stitched together to recreate the floor underneath.

So what you are walking on is exactly what is underneath the protective flooring – if you don’t look too closely you might think that you are walking on the carpet itself.

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The image used to print the Eyemat

After many samples were printed and compared with the original carpet to get a good colour match, last Wednesday Eyemat came to fit it and soon after we could walk on it!

Eyemat installation

Fitting the Eyemat

This was only made possible by the funds from our second hand bookshop, so thank you very much to everyone who donated or bought books here. We hope you like the change!

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Can you spot the join?


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Endearing Freaks? Exhibition set up!

We’ve been getting exciting crates and boxes delivered over the past month and this has been the week to open them all.

Yes, it’s exhibition set up time again.

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Inspecting the objects before they go on display

We’ve been unpacking crates, condition checking objects for display, proof reading interpretation panels, talking to our designer and (my favourite!) arranging objects in the display cases.

 

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A spoon-warmer being cleaned

The exhibition is about The Martin Brothers Pottery, who were four brothers who ran a pottery in London in the late 1800s. They were unusual because they were from a working class background but designed as well as made their objects. They were the embodiment of the Arts & Crafts ideal of the workman being involved in every stage of creating their pieces.

Ben and Vicky Martin Bros

Ben and Vicky posing for the purposes of social media

The inspiration for this exhibition came from two pieces that we hold in our collection which are examples of their later work. Our House Manager got interested in the brothers and was intrigued and charmed by the most famous of the Martinware – the so called Wally Birds and the wonderfully grotesque spoon-warmers.

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A sneaky peek of one of the cases

We’ve also put out our exhibition themed merchandise in the shop – bags, mugs, magnets and notebooks. The House Manager is already planning to use them all for Christmas presents this year…

Come along on Monday and see the finished exhibition!


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Object of the month – Washing Day at St. Ives

A game I play when I visit museums and other National Trust properties is one that was introduced to me by a friend. At the main entrance of an exhibition she turned to me and said:

You are such an amazing person that the museum has decided that you get to take one thing away with you – this is your chance to decide. What do you pick?

At Standen I am lucky enough to have had a long time to get to know the collection and decide what I’d have, if I ever got to be this amazing – although it would take an act of Parliament for me to be able to take my thing away!

So what would I choose? The first thing I would go for (there are a few) would be this painting by Arthur Hayward.

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Washing Day at St Ives.

I chose it because I love the sea and the small villages clustered on the edge of the land with one foot in the sea. The painting is so evocative: you can almost feel the sting of the wind on your cheeks and taste the tang of the sea. But as well as that I love his use of light and the sketchiness of how he handles the paint here. He trained with Stanhope Forbes was known for painting en plein air, and I can’t see how else Hayward would have captured that airy, light feeling of St Ives. There is a reason painters head for the coast, and especially Cornwall – the quality of the light.

Hayward was a Lancastrian born in 1889 who originally studied architecture at South Kensington, but gave it up for painting. He trained in Warrington before Stanhope Forbes (of whom’s paintings we have 2 of the 3 in the National Trust’s collection – which are another possibility for me to take home) at Newlyn. He went on, after serving in the Royal Artillery in World War 1, to establish a St Ives School of Painting. There is a great self portrait at the National Portrait Gallery here.

Here is a link to his other paintings in public collections if you would like to find out more. If you would like to see our painting in the flesh it’s in the Westbourne artist’s studio on the first floor of the house. If I haven’t got to it before then…

hmb as a nurse


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100 years since the Battle of the Somme

Today is the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. A devastatingly bloody battle with over a million men killed over its course. The first day alone – 100 years ago today – resulted in around 57,470 casualties. It continued until the 18th of November 1916 – the BBC have some excellent pictures here if you would like to know more.

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Helen’s Red Cross service record card

The Beale family were, unavoidably, involved in the First World War. Helen and Maggie, the two unmarried Beale daughters, joined the local East Grinstead VAD unit in 1911, which led to certificates in first aid and home nursing.

 

Helen, after serving as a VAD in local Red Cross hospitals and in London, volunteered to work overseas and was posted to France in August 1915 for 13 months. We are lucky enough to have the large collection of letters sent to and from her when she was away in France.

She was sent to at No.26 General Hospital, Etaples from August 1915, arriving only a few months after it was established. She was there until almost the end of the Battle of the Somme, leaving in September 1916.

It is a town of huts, both wooden and tin and canvas – almost miles of them

No. 26 General Hospital consisted of 35 wards, two operating theatres and assorted ancillary services in huts and a large corrugated iron building. In 1917 another VAD, Elsie Tranter, records being able to hear the guns at the front quite clearly. Vera Brittain famously recorded her experiences as a VAD at Etaples, after Helen had left, in Testament of Youth.

The Beales were a close family and sent many letters dealing mostly with domestic and practical matters – they were trusted to “self-censor”, so the war and Helen’s work were mentioned only superficially.

It’s a great time to be out here & a thing to remember for always, and I wouldn’t be missing it for anything…

Life was tough, tending war casualties. Working days were long and life could be hectic. VAD nurses were kept busy, keeping wards clean and meticulously tidy, as well as doing actual nursing.

We really have been busy for this past eight days – convoys in, evacuations out, dressings, Medical Officers popping in and out, the C.O. coming in with fresh orders about extra beds, the Quartermaster coming in and countermanding them, the Matron and the Wardmaster doing the same, patients arriving on stretchers from the theatre or going there or to the X-rays, everybody wanting drinks and writing paper, and their positions shifted or something or other until one really didn’t know which way to turn or what to be at next.

Discipline was strict and conditions were somewhat spartan. Helen rose to the challenge and coped well, describing her demanding work at the hospital:

Eleven & a half hours bang off on end, probably not sitting down at all, or only on the end of a bed whilst one is cutting up dressings etc, is a pretty long spell, and especially that most of the time one is working against time to the most dreadful extent!

I find it is almost impossible to settle down to anything in the night – my lurid imagination always runs riot and I think somebody must be haemorrhaging and I’d really better pop out from behind the screen and go and look.

We are lucky enough to have Helen’s medals in our collection which she was awarded for her war work.

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Helen’s First World War medals

I’ll leave you with a letter Helen wrote to her mother on the 3rd of July 1916, just after the start of the Battle of the Somme. Not quite how we see it based on what we now know.

 

No. 26 General Hospital

B.E.F.

July 3rd 1916

Dearest Mumsy,

Isn’t it just lovely to have such real exciting news!  I do hope it goes on being good.  We eagerly read the London newspapers here to get the official reports and so sort our minds a bit as to what is real news and what only rumour.  Of course we are busy – off times go by the board at times like these – we are rather thrilled at a notice put up in the Mess to say that folks in surgical wards are to stay within call if they do get off duty – it makes one seem quite important if only in one’s own eyes!  This is the kind of time when we bless our luck in being out here.  I’m afraid I sounded grumpy rather in my last letter – you can’t think how trying slack times are after a very few days of them.  Directly folks get busy all goes much better.

Everybody at home must be simply simmering with excitement over the news – if only we are able to keep it up and really and truly “push” this time.  We have had some nice boys from our part in – the good broad burr sounded very home like.

On Saturday being as how it was Dominion Day the Canadians had a bean fest and a Base Ball Match between themselves and the Americans.  We strolled along about 5.30 and sat on a bank and watched the fun and were provided with the very sweetest of sweet tea – flavoured with maple sugar I should guess – which we had to lose as we couldn’t drink it.  Baseball is a kind of complicated rounders – the real excitement comes when the batter runs from one base to the other – invariably he and the matcher and the ball all arrive at a base at the same moment in a flurry of dust and either he is out or he isn’t according to somebody’s fancy.  Last time, or rather the only time, I have seen it played was in New York on the day of our arrival when Mr. Philpotts took Doppy and me to a popular Saturday afternoon’s game.

It’s a quarter to nine but still quite warm and light for sitting out on the balcony.  D. Pring was at work in the theatre till 12.30 last night and up at usual at 6 this morning so she has gone to bed and I must go soon so as not to disturb her – also one wants to keep fresh and ready for anything just now and there is nothing like a nice long night’s sleep for that – is there?

I was so glad of Mag’s letter to give me such an account of everything.  I wonder if you will ???? Park (?) for a few days – it will be rather a good little change for you I should think.  My love to folks there if you go – tell me how my particular fancy Johnny Kenwick (?) is if you see him won’t you.

It’s no good I can’t write sense tonight – I want to tell you all the little thrill bits, at least the things that seem so to us but perhaps aren’t really, and so I will stop as I can’t write those!!!

Very much love to you both,

                      Your loving,

Helen

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Helen as a nurse after the war (centre back)

 


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Fresh flowers in the house

Our flower arrangements in the house are really important. Not only do they look lovely, they also serve to connect the house, garden and the family.

Mrs Beale was an avid gardener and plantswoman, entirely self taught. She experimented in the garden, planting new and exciting varieties that at the time were flooding in to the UK from across the world. It was only natural that she brought flowers into the house as well.

We know the room that was the flower room – it’s below the back stairs and is currently used as an office by our general manager. It was also used for another Beale interest – it was set up as a darkroom so they could develop their own photographs. It’s got special sliding shutters which are unique in the house. They allow the light levels to be controlled more easily than traditional shutters.

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My favourite vase in the house in the Larkspur bedroom.

Our displays reflect the period that we display the house as: 1925. At this time the house was occupied by  Mrs Beale and her two unmarried daughters, Maggie and Helen, and the garden had matured at 30 years old. For historically appropriate inspiration and guidance we use a book by Mary Rose Blacker called Flora Domestica: A History of British Flower Arranging 1500-1930. However, we don’t use high fashion arrangements – Standen is a family house in the country, rather than being a house for showing off and impressing your guests. With the youngest resident of the house being 40 at this time, they perhaps weren’t at the forefront of fashion! We try to reflect what is grown in the garden and what is seasonal in our displays, trying to keep them as accurate as possible.

We are really lucky to have some cut flower beds developed and maintained by our kitchen gardener and her volunteers. She also has a small group of cut flower volunteers who pick some of the flowers we use in the house. These are then arranged by a dedicated group of volunteers who come in every Tuesday and Friday. We work closely together to make sure that the flowers are suitable for the house. We look for plants that last well and look good – We also have to take into account  our collection too – some flowers drip nasty sticky stuff or pollen! The arrangements sit on glass discs to protect the furniture, but sometimes it does creep over the edge.

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I particularly love the alliums in this vase – very kindly brought in from one of the flower arranger’s gardens!

This links house and garden as Mrs Beale would have done. It’s a joint effort!


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Picture Rehang in the Drawing Room

The majority of our paintings downstairs (with notable exceptions!) come from our first custodians, Arthur and Helen Grogan. They enabled the Trust to take on Standen in 1972 by providing an endowment and becoming tenants of the house. They were avid collectors of Arts & Crafts objects and also of Pre-Raphaelite and Victorian art.

Certain paintings – like Mr and Mrs Beale at the bottom of the stairs – we know were the Beales had them so we like to keep them there. Our collection of New English Art Club paintings were collected by Helen and Arthur, so are a bit more flexible.

Not all of our paintings are easily visible to our visitors, particularly those on the far side of the Drawing Room (although you can see them on the NT’s collection website here), so we decided to move a couple of our favourites by James Charles nearer to the visitor route.

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Ben the house manager and the handlers checking the position of one of the relocated paintings.

We had the advice of our new curator, Jane Eade, who works across several properties in the region and has previously worked at the National Portrait Gallery, and the help of two trained art handlers who are very experienced in moving and hanging paintings.

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Our art handlers measuring out some new picture chain for rehanging one of the paintings.

After trying two paintings in different locations  we decided where we’d like them to go – and here they are! We took into account the size of the paintings and their frames and the spaces we thought they might go into, but we also experimented to see what looked best.

We really think they brighten up this end of the room – what do you think?

 

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