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

Leave a comment

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.


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

Leave a comment

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.


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.


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


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,


hmb as a nurse

Helen as a nurse after the war (centre back)


Leave a comment

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.


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.


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!

Leave a comment

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.


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.


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?


Leave a comment

Uncovering wallpaper

This week we’ve had a wallpaper conservator, Mark Sandiford, back with us.

He’s been with us to reveal more of the wallpaper originally in up the servants’ back stairs of the house. We knew we had some there as we had some of it exposed but we wanted to know how much more.

Originally this part of the house looked quite different to how it does now. The space which is now an entrance hall is half of what used to be the Butler’s Pantry and the archway was originally a solid wall. Entrance to the Butler’s Pantry was through both the door round the corner and through the cupboard which now houses all sorts of fuses. The cupboards with our servants exhibition were against this wall and would have held glassware and china for the dining table. The butler – or housekeeper as the family didn’t have a butler for very long – would be able to see into the court yard for any visitors.

Old side entrance

How the Butler’s Pantry/side entrance was when the house was built.

As you can see the door is a later addition – created after a lift was removed in the 1970s which had been installed for Mrs Beale to get to the upper floors. When the house was split up into flats in the 70s this was used as a main entrance for them.

Wallpaper side entrance1

Mark at work.

Mark was able to carefully peel back the later lining paper to reveal the remains of the paper underneath. He has also cut small squares in the paper elsewhere (see if you can spot them!) to see how far the wallpaper extends. This is the biggest piece remaining.

As you can see there are two distinct colours. Mark believes that the greener bit on the right is the original paper put up by the Beales which was protected by a later internal door frame. The yellowy piece next to it he thinks is a later addition which was also protected by painting it with size – a gelatinous liquid – to protect it.

Wallpaper side entrance

The extent of the revealed wallpaper.

We are now raising money so we are able to put the paper back up on the back stairs through our raffle this year so we hope to get it up before the end of February 2017. If you would like to help please buy a ticket!

Leave a comment

Farewell for now…

Tomorrow is May Day, but you probably won’t find me dancing round the maypole with joy as it also marks my last day working at Standen. Since arriving in September I’ve met many wonderful people – both staff and volunteers –  and learnt a great deal from all of them. I’ve also become overly familiar with the local bus timetable thanks to my inability to drive.


The 84 bus stop at the end of the drive.

I’m incredibly grateful that Ben and Vicky chose me for this internship and for the knowledge the house team have imparted. The support they’ve given me has allowed me to learn new skills, whether it be checking pest traps with Caroline, inventory marking with Sally, book cleaning with Sarah or packing archives with Lizzie. I’ve also presented my first piece of interpretation that is currently on display in the Butler’s Pantry, so I’m leaving a little reminder of me behind.


My Butler’s Pantry display about servants at Standen.

My time in the house gave me the opportunity to have a go at actually doing the conservation work I’d previously only read about in books and it is because of this invaluable experience I’ve been able to move on to my new job. On Monday I started as an Assistant Collections Manager at the British Museum with a focus on moving the European ceramic collection to a new storage facility. To make me feel at home, some of the first things I got to handle were De Morgan tiles!


A dust monitoring slide.

This isn’t the last you’ll be seeing of me though. Vicky and I are still working on a paper to present at the Institute of Conservation Conference in Birmingham in June so I’ll back in the near future to analyse the dust we’ve been collecting on our monitoring slides and have a chat over a piece of cake with you all.

Leave a comment

Cleaning the whole room

When we clean the whole room we start high up so we don’t have to clean things lower down twice as dust falls on them, cleaning the walls and ceilings with a brush on the end of the vacuum cleaner hose. Curtains are thoroughly vacuumed on low suction – with a mesh if they are particularly fragile – back and front and not forgetting in between the lining.


Amy dusting the panelling in the dining room.

We check for any insect or general damage to all objects as we go, recording any changes on condition reports. Drawers are taken out of furniture, given a thorough dusting with a brush with a vacuum cleaner head held close by to suck up the dust, and the carcase of the furniture is given the same treatment. Chairs and sofas are dusted with a brush on wooden parts and vacuumed on seat covers.


The fireplace in the dining room is lacquered so only needs a dust with a soft brush.

Metal is dusted with a soft brush and, if needed, polished with a mild abrasive polish and waxed to help keep its shine. Ceramics and glass are dusted in the same way and wet cleaned if necessary. We only do what is needed as there is always a risk of damaging an object through cleaning it – in fact, by polishing a metal object we are actually taking away a microscopic layer of the surface. This can be a problem with an electroplated object where the silver is only microns thick.

The frames of paintings are dusted carefully into a vacuum and we would only dust the painted surface very rarely – staff need to have special training to do this as paintings can be very fragile and there is a risk of damaging them. Glazing on paintings or photographs is cleaned with cotton wool and meths, holding a piece of card in front of the frame to protect it.


We even clean the windows carefully – because of the special film which blocks out the UV light.

Finally we deal with the floor. Carpets and druggets are vacuumed – historic ones on low suction – and all of them are lifted up to vacuum the underlay and floor underneath. Wooden floors are vacuumed to get the grit up and then waxed to protect them.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,046 other followers