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

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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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Emergency salvage training

As you might guess, emergency planning is high on our list of priorities, even more so after the recent tragedy at Clandon. We have regular training sessions for our emergency salvage team, who are made up from staff and volunteers across the property.

Coincidently, a week after the fire, we had scheduled a training session. Rather than do our planned session we felt that it would be important to have a kind of debrief around the events – as far as we knew them – at Clandon. We’re just an hour away and our former House Steward here had moved to Clandon, only leaving last summer.

We looked at historic fires in NT properties as well as Clandon and talked about the experiences of staff that had gone over to help at the property post fire. It was important to let people talk about the events – we are all very aware that this is something that could potentially happen in our property. A disaster like this makes the Trust, a big organisation, feel like a very small place.

We are also planning to run a practice exercise in September where we get our team to run a scenario so they have more of an idea of what to expect – keep an eye out for that on the blog…

Dunsland House – 1967


Dunsland House just after the fire

Poor Dunsland house caught fire only three days before it opened to the public. It was so badly damaged that it was decided that it couldn’t be rebuilt so the walls were demolished and used to backfill the cellars. Now all that remains is the park and a plaque where the house was.

The guidebook can be found on our website here:


What’s left of Dunsland House now.

Uppark – 1989

At Uppark the fire started in the attics when building work was going on – that’s why there is scaffolding up on the house.


Uppark ablaze

The number of bins in the picture below show just how much debris came out of the house in the salvage operations. All of what we learnt at Uppark will be put into use at Clandon, along with experiences from other historic buildings – for instance Historic Royal Palaces sent a team to help.


Uppark during the clear up operation

Clandon 2015

Staff from Standen went to help with some of the contents that had been salvaged and by making sure the site was secure. These are some of our House Manager Ben’s photos.


Behind the scenes at the salvage operation


Looking through the door to daylight



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A Fond Adieu…

Yesterday was the 21st June, the summer solstice and the longest day of the year. It is really the turning point of the year, with summer holidays fast approaching and before we know it will be Christmas! It is also the turning point for me as I near the end of my contract as a Conservation and Interpretation Assistant – this year has just flown by. It feels like it was only yesterday that I started on one of the hottest days of 2014 (fyi – avoid long trousers and a jumper in the future).

I have learnt so much from the house team as well as from the volunteers and the visitors. Standen is one of those properties where you can see the results of a strong team in the atmosphere and the high level of detail that is apparent in everything they do, one which I am lucky to have been a part of. Also one that I look forward to continuing working with in the future.

So last year my predecessor, Hannah, left to be Assistant House Steward at Stourhead. I am not so much leaving as changing role. So from this week, I shall be the Conservation and Engagement Assistant here in the house. This blog through which I have shared my experiences, will become more of a collaboration between the house team and will give you more of an in-depth insight into Standen. Vicky, our House Steward, will be taking over and ensuring that we share some of the stories and tasks that are involved in the day-to-day running of the house.

Although the blog may be a little more sporadic, this will not be the last that you hear from me. In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger: ‘I’ll be back

On that note, I will leave you with an image of one of my favourite objects here at Standen:

The Grand Piano in the Hall

The Grand Piano in the Hall



Time Passing


This week, I thought that I would bring you the blog in a slightly different format then normal – via a video. Earlier this year, the Larkspur bedroom and dressing room went through a little bit of a makeover and was repainted in Standen White (do not worry the wallpaper is still there!) In order for the rooms to be painted, all of the furniture, paintings, ceramics and fixtures had to be removed  in order to protect them. The video below is a time lapse video that was taken over the 4 days it took the house team to empty both rooms. To add a bit of humor it is set to Tchaikovsky’s Trepak Russian Dance so make sure that you have the volume turned up:


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