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

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Working holiday in the house!

This week we have our annual working holiday. They get to do a variety of things across the property including working in the garden and estate and the house.

We’re having them in the house both today and tomorrow. We’ve got them doing a variety of jobs…

Metal cleaning


Polishing a candlestick with Autosol

We use a polish called Autosol to clean our metalwork. It’s an abrasive, but quite a gentle one – it’s originally for chrome on cars or motorbikes. All metal cleaning takes away a layer of the surface, so we try not to do it that often.

If the object is a bit more robust or rusty – for example if it is iron – we can use wire wool on it to get rid of the lose rust.

Cleaning rust off with wire wool

Cleaning rust off with wire wool

Once the object has been polished we got our willing volunteers to put a coat of Renaissance wax, a microcrystalline wax, which protects the object from the open air and prevents it from tarnishing again so quickly. This was then buffed up to a lovely bright shine!

Waxing and polishing

Our floors at Standen are doing an awful lot of work for us this year with us being on track for well over 100,000 visitors. Think of all those feet!

Waxing the Conservatory floor

Waxing the Conservatory floor

We got our willing working holiday volunteers to put a layer of floor wax on by hand. Our conservation team will buff them up to a nice shine tomorrow morning after the wax has had a bit of time to settle into the floors.

The conservatory after its wax.

The conservatory after its wax.

Apart from the floors, some of our furniture needed a bit of TLC.

Waxing furniture

Waxing furniture

Painting the water tower

At the beginning of this year we opened up the water tower as part of our behind the scenes tours. Last year’s working holiday had given the belvedere room right at the top a nice lick of paint, but it needed a bit more.

Painting the belvedere

Painting the belvedere

Our lucky working holiday volunteers were able to paint the room for us, and enjoyed the fabulous views from the top of the water tower as well.

And for a change…

After lunch, here they all are outside working in the garden!


2015 Standen working holiday

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Maggie’s studio

When we redisplayed the house back in 2011 to evoke how it was in the 1920s when the garden and house were in their heyday, we knew we wanted to recreate the Westbourne as Maggie’s artist studio.

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The Westbourne as a bedroom

Maggie was the Beales’ second eldest daughter and the “artistic one”. She went to the Slade School of Art to study fine art there from 1896 to 1900, returning in 1905 for another term to refresh her skills before the family went off on their world tour in 1906.

The Westbourne Bedroom was named after Westbourne Road, where a Beale family home was located in Edgbaston, Birmingham. Although this wasn’t the original location of a room Mrs Beale designated as a studio, Maggie Beale used this bedroom as an artist’s studio and workroom. With its windows overlooking the entrance courtyard, the steady north light provided ideal working conditions.

It has taken us a few years to get the money and plans together, but thanks to everyone who bought a raffle ticket or donated to our collection box last year we have been able to do it! All of last year we raised money via our inimitable raffle ticket seller Jenny who, pretty much singlehandedly, raised in excess of £5000.

Whilst this was going on we used our archives to find out what the room might have looked like. We don’t have any images of the room set up as a studio, but we have recollections from the grandchildren of Mr and Mrs Beale.

They remembered that this room had a large table in the middle where they would sit and draw on wet days. Maggie would tell them what to draw and make suggestions. She might give drawing lessons with the subject sitting in her big roomy armchair. She would also tell the children stories and about her experiences at the Slade School of Art.

Maggie Beale as a girl

Maggie Beale as a girl

They remembered how the room used to be stacked with canvases near the wall. There were also sketchbooks, art materials and half-completed paintings and sheets of paper with embroidery designs.

Also, found when we were researching the World War 1 exhibition about Helen, a letter from 1915 from Maggie to Helen in France:

Inspired by two wet days this week I have tidied my papers in the studio, wh[ich] judging by the dates on some of the letters having been awaiting my attention since this time last year, also posted up my accounts for the year…

We’ve also recently been donated Maggie’s sketch books from the family. They’re too fragile to put out on display, but we have facsimile prints in the room from the World Tour and are hoping to put together facsimile sketch books for visitors to leaf through. As Maggie took a lot of her inspiration from her family and surroundings we are hoping for lots of new images of Standen.

Now our visitors can come and see the room as it might have been, and can also take a little inspiration from Maggie and her nephews and nieces and have a go drawing their surroundings!


A visitor’s art in the studio

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Green Living 2015

This Saturday (12th September) Standen will be hosting our first (annual) Green Living 2015 event. It will be on from 11am to 4pm and will be exploring different ways that we can save energy and reduce waste.

green mascot 2The National Trust has set us a goal of reducing our energy use by 20% by 2020. In response to this a Green Forum was set up to look at different ways and methods to help Standen achieve this goal. The Green Forum is made up of representatives from across the property, both staff and volunteers, who are passionate about all things Green. Although we have not been active for very long, we have already put in some basic measures to help get our message across, such as placing stickers on light switches and computer monitors reminding people to turn them off when they are not in use of at the end of the day. We have also installed some 4 watt LED light bulbs along the Dog Leg corridor through into the historic kitchen – these alone could save us over a £100 a year.

Being Green is not only about big dramatic projects like installing solar panels or having a biomass boiler, it is also about educating people about why we need to save energy and how we can do so in little ways. This is where our Green Living event comes in.

We need your help to find a name for our Green Mascot - come find us in the courtyard to put forward your favourite

We need your help to find a name for our Green Mascot – come find us in the courtyard to put forward your favorite

On Saturday, there will be several stalls set up in the main Courtyard near the house, where representatives from the Green Forum will be with leaflets and information with tips on how you can save energy in your own home. There will be posters up around the property talking about what measures we , at Standen, have already taken and what we are looking to do in the future. A trail will also be available from the Green Forum stand helping you to explore some of these options. There will also be representatives from the West Sussex County Council talking about their Love Food Hate Waste campaign.

We look forward to welcoming you to Green Living at Standen on Saturday!


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7 Hammersmith Terrace, London - Emery Walker's House

7 Hammersmith Terrace, London – Emery Walker’s House

One of the things that the National Trust promotes is the sharing and learning of knowledge and skills that will benefit different properties, not only within the Trust but also at other historic sites.

To that end, a few of the house team here have been helping out at Emery Walker’s house in London. They are going through a major refurbishment at the moment that will last until late next year. As it is a structural refurbishment, the entire collection needs to be moved into temporary storage so the staff in charge asked for help with the packing.

As you can imagine, moving historic objects, much less an entire collection, involves a lot of planning as well as lots and lots of padding! How you pack an object depends on what it is. Larger objects like furniture or artwork can often be stored with very little padding or protection depending on the conditions in the store. Small objects like ceramics often need to be stored in boxes.

Emery Walker

Emery Walker

The first thing to do is to have central document that the entire team can access so that detailed information about the objects can be noted, especially information about the original location of each object, their condition and where they are going to be stored temporarily and in which box. This inventory is printed off box by box and stored in the relevant one so that there is both a hard copy and electronic version to access – especially useful when you are working to put the objects back in place after the refurbishment is complete.

Another important thing to do when packing is to make sure that you have all the materials to hand, especially lots material that could be used to pad objects such as acid free tissue paper, plastazote (especially useful to line boxes as it is quite thick) and bubble wrap.

Corex Boxes

Corex Boxes

Now boxes – you may think there is a simple answer to the this question of what box to use but it all depends on what type of storage the objects are going into. If its long-term store for, say, part of a collection or archive that is never intended for display, the best boxes to use are acid free card boxes as they are able to withstand a lot of environmental factors like dust and light. For shorter term storage like the collection at Emery Walker’s house, then corex (fluted polypropylene) boxes tend to be less expensive and easier to produce – you can order pre-sized ones or make your own for unusually sized objects. Boxes are also quite handy to store collections in as several items from the same location can be stored together.

Within a box, a layer of plastazote is put in the bottom and along the sides. Plastazote is a thick foam that is completely inert so will not leak any chemicals that could damage an object – by padding the bottom and sides of the box means there will be an extra layer of protection. Although not as effective, bubble wrap can be used instead with the bubble side down.

Interior of packed box

Interior of packed box

The next stage is to put the objects inside. At Emery Walker’s house, we were mostly dealing with ceramic items like chargers, tiles and vases. Each object needs to be individually wrapped in tissue paper – if the object is hollow, tissue paper needs to be place inside to help the support the object. It is important to remember to not overfill boxes or make them to heavy as they will most likely be carried by hand. We placed a blue sticker on the tissue wrapped objects to distinguish them as an object rather than a piece of padding.

Once we were happy with the amount of objects in a box, we then had to pad around the objects to prevent them moving around when the boxes are being moved location. We used more acid free tissue paper and bubble wrap to do so. It is possible to buy or make inserts, again using corex, that divide boxes up so that each object has its own section and therefore requires less padding.

We then put a layer of plastazote on top along with a copy of the inventory before the lid goes on. Once the box is sealed, we tied a label detailing the box number, the materials of the objects inside and another sticker to make it obvious how often it needs to be checked whilst in store – anything with textiles or organic material would need to be checked every 3 – 6 months to ensure that nothing has affected the object like pests, unlike an object made of ceramic or stone that would only need checking once a year or even less.

Dining room at Emery Walker's house

Dining room at Emery Walker’s house

It was a really interesting experience to visit Emery Walker’s house and help pack its collection. Emery Walker was a printer who was closely associated with William Morris and the Morris & Co company. Having an arts and crafts interior to a terraced Georgian building showed the versatility of the prints and fabrics made by Morris and Co. A lot of the objects in the collection were bequeathed to Walker by Morris and Webb helping to further our knowledge of them as people and fathers of the arts and crafts movement.

Some of the objects from the Emery Walker collection are on display here at Standen as part of our Phillip Webb exhibition, on until the 16th November.

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A day in the life of the house!

There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes when we are not open to the public. When the house opens at 11am the house staff has been at work for at least two and a half hours already! So what does a “typical”* day look like for us?


A misty sunrise over the reservoir

8-8.30am – the majority of the conservation staff arrive, in addition to those of us who stay on site to ensure the property’s security. We have a quick get together to decide on who will do what and what are the priorities for the day. The conservation team will dust and vacuum the whole house following the visitor route, which takes 2 people. If we have extra people in they will do other things like dusting further into the rooms, or decobwebbing ceilings, or completing part of the deep clean where we clean the whole room from ceiling to floor, dismantling and cleaning furniture.

9.45am – daily meeting across the property to make sure everyone knows what is going on. It covers things like what groups we have in, what the weather is likely to be and what the daily programme of events are on for visitors.

10am – tea time! Time for a cup of tea or coffee – and a good old chat with our colleagues. The shop, café and garden also open at 10am. Any dusting is finished off before the house blinds and shutters are opened up.

10.45am – all our morning volunteers should be here by now! We have a small briefing to let them know any important things – activities, or if anything from the collection has been moved – perhaps for conservation. We let them know their assigned rooms and send them off for…

11am – the house opens!

11.30am – we try very hard to have an introductory talk at this time, which tends to be popular. It’s given by specially trained volunteer room guides and gives people an introduction to the Beale family who owned Standen, and Philip Webb, the architect.

1.15pm – our afternoon volunteers arrive and have a briefing. They swap over with the morning volunteers at 1.30pm and those who are here for a whole day move round to another room.

2.30-3.30pm – a very important time. This is when volunteers have their afternoon tea and cake break. Our cake is made by our volunteers and is an integral part of the day!

Very important cake.

Very important cake.

4pm – is last entry to the house and the member of staff responsible for front of house locks the door and we let the volunteers go after the last visitors have been through their room. The house closes at 4.30pm and we make sure all the blinds are drawn to reduce the amount of light exposure the rooms get to minimise the damage it can cause to the collection.

5pm – the rest of the property closes – but we are still here! The garden team might use this time to do work that we can’t do when we are open – like spraying, or lighting a bonfire. There is someone in the office to the very end – around 6pm – to deal with any problems before everything else is locked up. However, the property is never left unattended, so there is always someone here to keep an eye on it!

*Proviso: there is no such thing as a typical day! For instance:

  • It could include a conservator visiting to do a survey or collect or deliver an item or workmen working in the house – painting ceilings or mending electrics.
  • We might be building an exhibition – most of our exhibitions are done in house by the team and volunteers – or supervising the installation of one of our selling exhibitions.

Our textile conservator assessing the Vine Hanging in the Billiard Room.

  • Our textile conservator assessing the Vine Hanging in the Billiard Room.
  • We run training for new volunteers, as well as talks and tours for existing ones. We also have two volunteer parties a year to say thank you, which take plenty of setting up!
  • We may have a special opening at 10am or 4pm for pre-booked groups or at the moment we are running special Philip Webb tours most Thursdays and Saturdays at 10am or 4pm (check availability as this depends on volunteers) as 2015 is the centenary of his death.

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Battling the mould at Scotney Castle


The extent of the mould on the wallpaper.

It’s always exciting to visit another National Trust property, so when I had the opportunity to see the conservation work at Scotney Castle, I jumped at the chance to see what their conservation team was up to…

From a conservation point of view it’s great to meet other members of a house team and learn about the challenges they face and how they manage them. I was lucky enough to work alongside the House Steward Emma, who has a great knowledge of the property and the conservation issues currently being addressed.

The biggest challenge facing Scotney is damp. Sadly water ingress is penetrating the porous sandstone walls causing many issues within the Victorian property. Emma showed me the entrance porch where mould was discovered; some of the wood cladding had been removed exposing sodden sandstone behind. In such severe cases the Trust has to call upon the skills of specialist conservators.


Mould from a different angle!

There are other examples where the in-house conservation team can help. Many of the rooms suffer with mould on furniture, walls, textiles and individual items. In ‘The Dressing Room’ there was a severe case of mould showing on the wallpaper on the inside of an external wall, so it didn’t surprise me when I was asked to do ‘my bit’ and remove some of this mould during my visit.


Cleaning the mould off the wall

Once we were equipped with protective masks, gloves, mould brushes and ergo vacuums, we set about removing the mould. This was achieved by gently brushing the wallpaper with a pony hairbrush attached to the nozzle of a vacuum and where the mould was most stubborn a hog hairbrush was used. This is now a constant battle for Scotney, but the team are very efficient at managing the problem by regular spot checks and monitoring each room during the ‘deep clean’ process.

I really enjoyed my visit to Scotney and hope if you’re visiting soon, that you take the time to appreciate the work involved in preserving this Trust property on a daily basis.

Caroline, Conservation Assistant

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Saving Energy

boilers 003This week we thought we’d share some of the measures we’ve introduced in our boiler room to save energy, which is a really important part of the work we do.

The first thing we did was to switch our boiler fuel to kerosene, which is cheaper (saving approx. £2,000 pa) and cleaner, from a maintenance point of view. Ultimately we want to get off oil, but in the mean time to fix a broken burner we replaced the two Avon boilers with cleaner burning units with duel output heads, thus saving money when a low heat is required. A poorly fitting inspection door was also repaired and the boilers re‐lagged with more efficient modern lagging.

Two non‐serviceable heat pumps were replaced and these, together with the four hot‐water pumps, were fitted with sensors and controls to allow adjustment of the running speed (previously they had all run at a constant speed). The 25% reduction in running speed will equate to a significant saving of 48% power.

Redundant piping and unused towel rails were removed from the heating system.

An indirect heat exchanger was installed next to the current hot water cylinder which heats the water much more quickly and efficiently than before.

We’ve seen an impact on our energy use already, and hope that over a full year we will see a real reduction!


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