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

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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.

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Object of the month: St Agnes

With the weather finally starting to look like spring has arrived and Easter just around the corner, this month I thought I’d choose an object featuring a traditional symbol of new life.

St Agnes, a tapestry by Morris & Co after a painting by Burne-Jones, at Standen, East Grinstead, West Sussex

Morris & Co. Tapestry of St Agnes

This is the tapestry of St Agnes at the top of the stairs. She is often depicted holding a lamb to represent her purity as a virgin saint, and in fact her name comes from the Greek ‘hagnē,’ meaning chaste. Agnes is also very similar to ‘agnus,’ the Latin word for lamb. She was martyred in Rome in AD304 for her Christian beliefs and is the patron saint of engaged couples, gardeners and girls. Every year on her feast day, 21 January, two lambs are blessed at her church in Rome.

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Stained glass window from the Church of St Helen, Welton

This particular design was adapted from one of a pair of stained glass window by Edward Burne-Jones which can be seen at the Church of St Helen in Welton, Yorkshire, along with a version featuring St Cecelia. William Morris added the foliage to the design and the tapestry was produced by Morris & Co., highlighting the collaboration between the two men. Both were involved in the founding of the company that bears Morris’ name, even though nowadays Burne-Jones is better known as one of the leading Pre-Raphaelite artists.

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Label on the back of the tapestry frame

The tapestry was originally made for Sir Thomas Wardle, a fabric printer from Staffordshire who produced many early Morris textiles. There is a label on the back that tells us that it was exhibited at the Manchester Jubilee exhibition in 1887. Another label from the Stockport Centenary Exhibition in 1892 wrongly labels it as an image of St Cecelia, so it must have originally been one of a pair.


Chalk drawing by Henry Stacy Marks

The tapestry of St Agnes is not the only object in the house to feature a lamb, you can also see one in Henry Stacy Marks’ chalk drawing representing spring from ‘The Seasons’ in the Billiard Room.


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Object of the month: Taxidermy birds

This month I’ve chosen an object that I would love to take home and have in my house. These taxidermy birds are in the Billiard Room alcove and belonged to the Beale family.


Taxidermy birds in the Billiard Room alcove

They are brightly coloured, tropical quetzals from South America and their name means ‘large, brilliant tail feather’ in the Aztec language Nahuatl. They’re admired so much in Guatemala that the currency is even named after them.

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Rowland Ward from his 1903 book ‘Records of Big Game’

The Beales’ glass dome of quetzals has a label so we know it was made by Henry Ward, when he had a shop on Oxford Street at 2 Vere Street. He only used this address between 1857 and 1878, so it must have been made long before the Beales moved to Standen. Henry Ward trained one of the most famous taxidermists in the world, his son, Roland Ward. He specialised in big game and had a shop called ‘The Jungle’ in London with many famous clients, including Winston Churchill, Walter Rothschild and Edward VII. You can see some of his most famous work at the Powell Cotton Museum at Quex Park in Kent.

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Winston the mouse on my mantelpiece

Taxidermy was very fashionable in the Victorian era for remembering beloved pets and displaying hunting trophies as well as showing off. Rich travellers and explorers also brought back exotic species that they had stuffed to teach people about other parts of the world in the days before photography and holidays abroad were common. It was very difficult to preserve specimens though as fur and feathers are a favourite meal of insect pests, so the art lost its popularity. People also began to consider the ethics of killing wild animals for decoration. Nowadays artists like Polly Morgan are using taxidermy for modern art installations and there is a trend not to use animals that have been killed for the purpose of stuffing. I even have a few small pieces myself. Let me introduce you to one of them, above is Winston the mouse, who was originally destined to be snake food!


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Object of the month: St Margaret’s, Westminster

This month I’ve chosen an object that you’ll still be able to see every day, even when we’re running our Behind Closed Doors tours on weekdays throughout January. St Margaret’s, Westminster, with Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, London as seen from Mr Beale’s Office by Herbert Menzies Marshall hangs in the Business Room and provides a visible link to James Beale’s career as a solicitor.


St Margaret’s, Westminster, with Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, London as seen from Mr Beale’s Office

I also used to work in Westminster, and this is a view I saw frequently on my way to work. It amuses me that nothing has changed – the buildings are all still there and there was even traffic and roadworks back in 1887!

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James Beale’s office at Beale and Co. at the time was at 28 Great George Street, but unfortunately the building is no longer there. The company still exists though, diverging into two separate firms, Beale and Co. in London and Hadgkiss, Hughes and Beale in Birmingham. As the Ordnance Survey map from 1896 shows, however, this address seems to be on the wrong side of the square for this view. The artist, Herbert Menzies Marshall (1841-1913) went to Westminster School which is very close to the viewpoint of this painting and he also lived at 1 Victoria Mansions, now the location of 26 Victoria Street just down the road from the square, until 1896. This means he would have been very familiar with the area and have seen this composition almost every day. It certainly is the most picturesque angle of the square with all of the famous landmarks in one view. There are two other paintings by him that show the same view, but with a different ambience – St Margaret’s, Westminster from 1894 and Parliament Square from 1895.

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Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

Herbert Menzies Marshall originally completed a travelling studentship at the Royal Academy to study architecture, but changed his mind when he came home and decided to retrain as a watercolourist. This early experience explains his ability to paint buildings and architectural details and his interest in townscapes. He was fairly well known, even becoming vice president of the Royal Watercolour Society, although less famous than his contemporary Whistler who he once had to move one of his exhibitions to make room for! Hill Top, Cragside and Tyntesfield are other National Trust properties who have works by him in their collections.

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Object of the month: A Dream of Patience

Since the house has been so beautifully decorated for Christmas I’ve chosen one of our Christmas themed objects for a closer look this month. It normally hangs in the Larkspur Dressing Room, but at the moment A Dream of Patience isn’t covered up for the conservation exhibition like the other objects in the room – it’s part of the Christmas exhibition in the Croxley.


A Dream of Patience – print by Alice Havers at Standen

At first glance it might not seem like a very festive scene, but it’s actually a Christmas card design. Lots of Victorian cards looked like this and they were very popular, with over 1.5 million produced in 1880 alone. Henry Cole only came up with the idea of Christmas cards in 1843, but as printing got cheaper the images became more elaborate and artistic to try to stop the holiday becoming too commercial.

People liked aesthetic Christmas cards as they could not only send messages of goodwill to their friends, but also have them as art in their houses. However, Punch magazine commented at the time that they were “about as appropriate to Christmas as strawberries and iced-cream.”

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Detail of left hand side of Dream of Patience

This particular design by Alice Havers won the first prize of £200 in a Christmas card competition judged by the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais. The cards were first printed in 1882 by the publisher Hildesheimer & Faulkner, who also published Christmas cards by Beatrix Potter. The publishers sent some Christmas cards to Oscar Wilde who commented that they were “really charming” with the ones by Alice Havers being “especially good.” This design was later used in the programme of a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera Patience, which parodied the aesthetic movement of the time.

The artist, Alice Havers, had an exotic upbringing, living in the Falklands and Uruguay as a child, before settling in England in 1870. She was unusual for the time for continuing to use her maiden name after she married and was a member of the Society of Lady Artists. She was a friend of Lewis Carroll and a well-known illustrator who exhibited at the Royal Academy. Some art critics thought that she was overly sentimental, but she was clearly talented – Queen Victoria even bought one of her early works.

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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.

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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.