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

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Object of the Month: Kitchen Clock

This clock has one of the plainer dials and cases in the house, and is sometimes overlooked in favour of some of the more exotic clocks. It does have some interesting hidden features though and after getting some more information from the clock conservator at the recent conservation weekend, it seemed like the perfect time to share them.


Kitchen Clock

The clock is on the wall in the kitchen and was in the house when the National Trust took over following the death of Helen Beale in 1972. It was made in about 1920 and has a plain, white dial and blued steel hands, which makes it very easy to tell the time accurately. Inside the mahogany case there is an eight day movement, which means that the clock only needs to be wound once a week. Caroline, one of the conservation assistants, still winds it every Tuesday and it still keeps good time – it hasn’t been more than one minute out this year.

The clock might not always have been in this room, but it would probably always have been in the servants’ quarters. It could have been used by the servants to set the other clocks at Standen as it’s likely it would have been the most accurate in the house. It has a very clever mechanism that means it could be corrected by telegraph from Greenwich at regular intervals – hourly, daily or weekly – if it was connected to the telegraph system and the subscription was paid. Inside the movement there is a horseshoe shaped section which allows an arm controlled by an electromagnet to drop in and centre the minute hand on the hour when it receives a signal.

telegraph mechanism

Inside of Kitchen Clock

Standardisation and synchronisation of time were very important issues in the Victorian era. A reliable, common time was needed to help the growing railway network run efficiently – which would help Mr Beale to get to his London office on time. In 1884 the common reference point for global time became the meridian in Greenwich and so the signal would have come to the clock here at Standen from the Observatory there by way of the local Post Office or the commercial business The Standard Time Company. The ‘Greenwich Time Lady’ is probably more famous for selling time in London in the early 20th Century though. A lady called Ruth Belville would travel around with her old pocket watch nicknamed ‘Arnold,’ showing customers the accurate time she had set in Greenwich for a modest fee.

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November conservation weekends

This weekend and the next are our annual “conservation in action” weekends. This is your chance to come and see some of the cleaning and preventative conservation work we do in the house and meet our team of conservation cleaners and volunteers.

Our team (as seen on the “meet the team page”!) are here to answer your questions about our collection and the work that they do. Today we also had the clock conservator, Duncan Greig, working on several of the clocks. This morning he went round with Caroline who regularly winds the clocks – once a week on the same day – to find out any problems or issues with them that she has noticed. He’ll then adjust them and will do an in depth service on one or two clocks. If there is more of a significant issue with a clock he’ll take away the insides – called the movement – to fix it at his studio.

Duncan's work bench. Clock from the staircase hall dismantled.

Duncan’s work bench. Clock from the staircase hall dismantled.

Sarah, Standen’s Assistant House Steward, has been running a book cleaning session today with her team of trained volunteers. Every book is cleaned in turn using a gentle pony hair brush flicking the dust into the head of a vacuum cleaner nearby. We have a schedule which tells us when the books are due to be cleaned, based on their proximity to the visitor route. Books closer to visitors need to be cleaned more often as they get dirtier!

Book cleaning in the kitchen.

Book cleaning in the kitchen.

Caroline and our intern Amy have both been in the Dining Room doing some of the deep clean. This is where, once a year, we clean the whole room from ceiling to floor and everything in it. We clean the walls, get behind pictures and furniture, check textiles – sometimes getting inside them if they are lined like the curtains, dismantle the furniture, you name it, we do it. This is to make sure the objects are clean but also to check their condition – that damage hasn’t been caused by pests or other reasons, sometimes just due to natural deterioration in their condition.

Amy dusting the panelling in the dining room.

Amy dusting the panelling in the dining room.

Tomorrow we will have Lizzie in to continue the deep clean in the Dining Room – although we are nearly finished in there – and Caroline will be metal cleaning.

Caroline inspecting the laquered mild steel fireplace in the dining room.

Caroline inspecting the laquered mild steel fireplace in the dining room.

Next weekend on Saturday we will have inventory marking and pest checking and Sunday will be metal cleaning and pest checking. Do come along and see what we get up to!

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Hello and Object of the Month: View of the Whirlpool at Awa by Hiroshige

I’m Amy, the new Conservation and Interpretation Assistant intern here at Standen and I’ll be here for the next six months learning as much about the house and how to look after it as possible! I’ve already been here a few weeks, so I’ve had time to pick a few favourite objects. Having studied Japanese at university, the obvious choice was one of the many objects from Japan in the collection.

The whirlpools in the Naruto strait in Japan

The whirlpools in the Naruto strait in Japan – woodblock print at Standen

This Japanese woodblock print on display in the hall was bought by the Beales on their World Tour in 1907. It cost £8 (about £800 in today’s money) and came from Mizoroki & Co in Yokohama, Japan on 11th May – the original receipt is still in the archive listing the purchase of an ‘old coloured print by Hiroshige’ along with a number of other artworks.

Japanese prints, or ukiyo-e (meaning floating world because of their escapist, dream-like nature), were mass produced works of art printed with a series of carved wooden blocks, one for each colour. Hiroshige was known as one of the last great masters and was well known for his landscapes. He even inspired Western artists, in particular the Impressionists, with Van Gogh famously copying some of his other works.

This print depicts a view of the whirlpools in the Naruto strait in Japan and is one of three triptychs in a series designed by Hiroshige in 1857 celebrating the natural beauty of Japan. In this instance there is a subtle mountainous landscape in the background with the swirling patterns in the water said to represent flowers.

Interestingly, on the same day that this print was purchased Margaret Beale wrote a letter whilst in Yokohama about being impressed by floral displays in Japan saying “it is quite the most wonderful thing in the way of flowers I have ever seen.”

The Beales clearly had a good eye for art, there are also copies of this print in the collections of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston!

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Set up of our new conservation exhibition!

This week has been a bit of a busy one. Alongside all of our usual work – cleaning the house, welcoming our visitors and managing our volunteers – Victoria and Lizzie have been putting together a new exhibition in the Larkspur rooms

Lizzie taping down the floor protection

Lizzie taping down the floor protection

It’s appropriate that the exhibition is on conservation as the reason for putting it on in the Larkspur rooms is conservation based. You may know that we monitor closely the amount of light that comes into rooms in the house because of the damage it can do to the collection – particularly fabric, which we have quite a lot of here.

The results for the blue wool dosimeter (small pieces of blue wool which fade at a known rate and are used to monitor cumulative light over the whole year) in the Larkspur bedroom was very high. Our guideline for rooms sensitive to light is that we should be underneath 150,000 lux a year. The Larkspur bedroom is a sensitive room, because of all of its textiles, and is registering 296,000 lux for 2014-15.

Results of the blue wool dosimeters from around the house

Results of the blue wool dosimeters from around the house

(NB: the Hall is also very high, but this is in part because of the location of the blue wool dosimeter, right under the window, and the nature of the room, it’s a long thin room into the centre of the house. We know the Beales found the room dark too!)

So to try to combat this we are trying our new exhibition!

Lizzie applying transfers to the dust sheets.

Lizzie applying transfers to the dust sheets.

The rooms are covered up as if they have been “put to bed” for the winter, with more information in the bedroom about the conservation of the house and collection printed on the dust sheets. We have protected the carpet on the floor so you can walk across the whole room for a change. Our favourite bit is probably the jigsaw of some De Morgan tiles – broken ceramics can be a bit like a complicated jigsaw with no box lid to help you.

Victoria solving our (her) “deliberate” mistake…

In the dressing room we talk about preventative conservation that house staff do, opposed to the remedial work in the other room. If you’ve wondered what we clean with, there are examples in here.

The exhibition is on until next year – please check our website for detailed opening times – and we hope you enjoy it.

Our able assistant Tabitha.

Our able assistant Tabitha.

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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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