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

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From the search terms – William Morris Wallpaper

It seemed like a fun idea to have a look at the search terms through which people come to our house blog. Today’s was what William Morris is famous for – his wallpaper.

And, as you probably know, we at Standen are also known for having lots of examples of Morris & Co wallpapers. Interestingly, some of the most famous Morris & Co. papers weren’t designed by Morris at all, even though they tend to get called William Morris designs.

Here is an idiosyncratic and completely biased round up of some of my favourites.

Fruit (sometimes known as Pomegranate)

This is in the Billiard Room alcove, which was created from a corridor which originally led from the Hall to the Gentlemen’s Lavatories. It has lemons, olive branches and pomegranates in it. Produced in 1864, it is one of Morris’s earliest and most popular designs.

The wallpaper designs were carved onto pearwood blocks to print by hand – each colour needing a different block. Sanderson now own many of the Morris printing blocks.

Standen © National Trust / Jane Mucklow

It’s listed as Pomegranate on our collections website


The first paper William Morris designed – except he couldn’t manage the birds so Philip Webb, the architect of Standen, stepped in to draw them. Morris was so annoyed by his inability to draw the birds he practiced and practiced until he could.

My own favourite story about this is from May Morris, William’s youngest daughter. She remembered having Trellis on her bedroom walls as a child, and being thoroughly frightened by one of the birds who looked at her with a gimlet eye.

We have Trellis in a number of places in the house, but perhaps the most interesting is in the Morning Room and Dog Leg Corridors – there are three different types of paper here; the original handblock printed, 1970s roller printed and 2015 digital printed.


He does look pretty sinister if you ask me


This paper is unusual because it was designed by a woman, Kate Faulkner. It used to hang in the Croxley bedroom where the green version of Poppy is now.

We  also uncovered a patch of it on the back stairs and, with the generous assistance of Morris & Co., are going to reinstate the paper up to the bottom of the water tower stairs. Find out more about the work here.


The remains of Mallow on the back stairs

Kate Faulkner was sister of Charles Faulkner, one of the original members of “The Firm” as Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. was referred to by the partners. She was employed as an artist and designer and designed other wallpapers, tiles and pottery. She also decorated other things like a piano in gold and silver gesso for the shipping magnate Mr. A. Ionides, neighbour of the Beales in Holland Park.

Golden Lily

A really famous William Morris pattern, but actually designed by J.H. Dearle, Morris & Co.’s chief designer from the 1890s.

Interestingly Dearle started as a shop assistant and, after Morris recognised his ability as a draftsman, went on to become a design apprentice.He eventually became Art Director after Morris’s death in 1896. You can see it on the Morning Room sofa – lots of visitors remember it from Sanderson’s 1970s reprints!

Standen © National Trust / Jane Mucklow

Loose covers on the Morning Room settee

Which of our papers is your favourite?


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Endearing Freaks? The Martin Brothers exhibition

You may have seen our current exhibition is on a small firm of Victorian potters, the Martin Brothers.


Image of wally bird courtesy of Ealing Council

The Martin Brothers were four brothers who set up their own pottery business. They were unusual because they designed, made, fired and sold all their own ceramics, well before the advent of Bernard Leach and the studio pottery movement.

Wallace, the eldest brother, was the driving force behind the pottery. He trained with a stonemason on the Houses of Parliament and with Alexander Munro, a Pre-Raphaelite sculptor and had attended evening classes at the Lambeth School of Art which was closely connected with Doulton Potteries.


Three of the four Martin Brothers: Walter, Wallace and Edwin. Charles. Photo courtesy of Ealing Council

You can see these influences in the work he did in the pottery, including their best known work – the wally birds, crafty caricatures of people Wallace came across when selling their pottery in the City.

Walter was an extremely skilled thrower who could throw very large vessels and Edwin was a jack of all trades until later when he developed his own, more abstract style. Charles, who isn’t in the photo above, ran their shop in London and dispensed ideas and inspiration.

We worked closely with Ealing Council’s museum service to put together this exhibition, and were also able to borrow objects from other National Trust properties. One property, Knightshayes, came up with a novel idea to fill the gaps left on one of their mantelpieces.


Knitted wally birds! Designed especially for Knightshayes by one of their room guides. Photo courtesy of Kate Churchill, house steward at Knightshayes

We were lucky enough to get David Battie, formerly of the Antiques Road Show, and fan on the Martin Brothers to open the exhibition for us. Having not been a fan of the “pots” he was working with at Christies, he became a convert the moment he set eyes on a Martin Brothers wally bird. Not everyone is such a fan though, but we hope that everyone has an opinion and can appreciate the craft involved in creating these ceramics.


Ben, our house manager, with David Battie

You can also get your very own bird or beastie inspired by the Martin Brothers by Burslem Pottery – which have proved very popular

The exhibition is on until the 13th November – come and let us know what you think!


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More floors… (amongst other things)

In our quest to make sure our floors look lovely and are well cared for we try to wax the floors twice a year – getting down on our hands and knees, applying wax and buffing it up to a lovely shine – with the help of our venerable-but-still-effective floor  buffer.

However, for particular floors we have a wood and furniture conservator in every year to treat them slightly differently. These are rooms where we have stained them as the family had them originally – the Larkspur dressing room – and our two exhibition rooms – the South Spare and Croxley bedrooms.



A very exciting picture of the floor in the Larkspur dressing room

The wear and tear of so many feet mean that the floors need re-staining and scratches filling in. Keeping on top of this means the underlying wood is protected and only the superficial surface is scratched and worn.

This year we got the conservator, Graham Marley, to do something a little extra – the Morning Room floor was looking sad and worn and obviously needed something more. After discussions with  our curator and conservator it was decided to put a coating of shellac on the floor.

Shellac is resin from the lac bug, and has many uses.78 records were made of it up until the 1950s, but you might be more familiar with it as nail polish. Shellac was chosen because it is natural and can be added to when it has been scratched – a plastic resin can’t be – which means we can maintain the floor at it’s best.

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Graham putting shellac on the Morning Room floor

We also took the opportunity to get him to clean up the banisters around the house. The team buff and polish them regularly, but they still get sticky when the humidity is high and we thought it was probably due to grease from people’s hands. This turned out to be the case – just look at the next photo!


One section has been cleaned – the dull bit is from everyone’s hands who’ve ever touched this – yuck!

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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.


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.


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?

Drawing Room blue drugget

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!


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.


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.



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.


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.


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…