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


Saying goodbye…

We’re rapidly approaching the end of June, which should hopefully mean the sunny weather is here to stay. For me, it also means the end of my training post here at Standen.

My year here has gone incredibly quickly, and it’s strange to think that this time last year I was fresh out of university and very nervous about starting my first role within the heritage sector. It really does seem like only yesterday!

I’ve learnt a tremendous amount here at Standen, and have loved every minute of it: working with such dedicated staff and volunteers has been a privilege. I will shortly be starting as Assistant House Steward at Stourhead in Wiltshire, and it really is down to my time at Standen – and the support I have been given – that I am able to confidently take the next step in my career.  

I’ve really enjoyed writing this blog, and sharing with you ‘behind the scenes’ at Standen – I hope you’ve enjoyed reading. I’d also like to take this opportunity to introduce the next trainee Conservation and Interpretation Assistant, Lizzie, who will shortly be writing on the blog.

Standen © NTPL

I’m going to sign off with a picture of Dobbin, the lovely rocking horse in the Billiard Room. For me, he symbolises what Standen is all about: a family home full of beautiful things.


Object in Focus: Arts and Crafts clock

Standen © NTPL

The clock in the Morning Room

I am almost at the end of my training post here at Standen, and I have been looking around the house with fresh eyes; taking in the unique range of beautiful and interesting objects we have in our collection. This week, I thought I’d focus on one of my favourite objects in the collection: the small metal-cased clock in the Morning Room.

Clocks are one of my favourite types of object: I don’t know much about them, but there’s something fascinating about how they work, and the sheer number of different designs and styles that they are produced in.

I’ve chosen the clock in the Morning Room because the room itself is a favourite of mine – it’s a very tranquil room; with books, beautiful ceramics, and lovely views across the garden. I always think of the clock in the Morning Room as being rather mischievous: it doesn’t keep particularly good time, and there has been many a morning – when cleaning and getting the house ready for visitors – that it has convinced me that I’m running half an hour behind schedule!

This clock was designed by Lewis Foreman Day, an English designer involved in the Arts and Crafts movement. It was made in about 1880 by a well-respected London-based clockmakers called J.W. Benson. The clock has an 8 day French striking mechanism, and the case is quite unusual; it’s made from bronze, with blue and white tiling to the front.

Standen © National Trust / Jane Mucklow

The clock in the Hall: one of the oldest objects in our collection 

We maintain our clocks by winding them weekly, and their gentle, steady ticking and chiming of the hours contributes to the cosy, lived-in atmosphere of the house. We also have an horologist (an expert in caring for and making clocks and watches) who visits once a year to service the clocks.

A number of the clocks at Standen are amongst the oldest objects in our collection – the long-case clock in the Hall has a case dating back to the 1690s!

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Emergency salvage training at Polesden Lacey

Many historic places or buildings housing historic collections have a salvage plan to help deal with the aftermath of an incident such as fire or flood. In May I attended a salvage training exercise at Polesden Lacey; a full-scale incident which even involved local fire crew!

Fire crew arrive

Fire crew arriving at Polesden Lacey (image: Eddie Hyde)

Salvage plans are designed to safely move and protect objects after a major incident, and National Trust salvage plans are tailored to the individual needs of each property. Much was learned by the Trust in the wake of the devastating fire at Uppark in 1989, and the lessons learned then continue to inform the Trust’s approach to salvage and conservation (see here for an interesting piece about the Uppark fire).

At Standen I am a member of the property salvage team, which also includes staff from different departments across the site. I have attended regular refresher training on the salvage process, but have never taken part in a full-scale training exercise – when I was offered the chance to attend Polesden Lacey’s training session, I jumped at it!

Roles are allocated...

First things first: roles are allocated (image: Eddie Hyde)

The training at Polesden took place after the property had closed for the day, and was attended by colleagues from local museums and Trust properties. The fire alarm rang to signal the start of the exercise, and we were allocated our roles. I was a member of the Salvage Team, and would be going into the building to remove important historic objects. However, first stop was the emergency store to get various pieces of equipment: room plans, personal protection equipment, and materials to prepare an area for objects immediately after they had been retrieved from the building.

Salvage Team

The Salvage Team prepare an area for temporary storage of salvaged objects (image: Eddie Hyde)

Shortly after this the fire service arrived, and they investigated whether the building was safe for us to enter. Once we had the ok from them, we began to enter the house in pairs, along with members of the fire service, to retrieve objects from the showrooms.

Salvage Team - going into mansion

The Salvage Team in the mansion, on the way to retrieve objects from the showrooms (image: Eddie Hyde)

While we were busy retrieving, the Recovery Team had set up a Safe Area for objects that been salvaged. Objects were checked against inventory lists, and a triage operation was set up to give attention to those items most in need of it.

Recovery Team

The Recovery Team transforming the cafe into a Safe Area for salvaged objects (image: Eddie Hyde)

Part-way through the evening, we had a break to rest and grab some refreshments, and then swapped roles with those that had been on the Recovery Team, so that we had experience of as many different aspects of the exercise as possible.

The exercise ended as darkness fell, so we gathered together and reflected on the evening. We all agreed that we’d learned a great deal: although regular refresher training at our individual properties is very useful, being able to take part in an event such as this gives you an idea of how a salvage operation really works.

Polesden and fire engine

(Image: Eddie Hyde)







Read a blog post about the salvage training by Claire, Polesden Lacey Conservation Assistant

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Work on Wallpaper

Larkspur wallpaper damage

Damage to the wallpaper in the Larkspur Bedroom (before conservation work)

At the start of this year, I wrote about how strong driving winds and rains had caused old damp patches and leaks to reappear in some of the south facing rooms in the house.

In the Larkspur Bedroom and the South Spare exhibition room, the damage was particularly bad. Both rooms have a history of leaks and damp, and this time they had developed leaks above the fireplaces. The water ingress had badly stained the Morris & Co. wallpaper, and – despite the use of fans and a dehumidifier to circulate the air and stablise the humidity levels – the damp conditions led to mould forming directly on the paper.

The water had come in under the flashing around the chimney, so the first thing we did was to renew the flashing and pointing in this area. Then it was the turn of the wallpaper; and so a conservator recently came and worked on the affected areas.

South Spare wallpaper damage

Staining on the wallpaper in the South Spare exhibition room (before conservation work)

He was able to remove much of the unsightly mould from the Larkspur wallpaper. The mould was very noticeable, and had begun to detract from the charm of this room. Although the wallpaper is still stained, it looks much better. Once the area has thoroughly dried out, the conservator will be able to come back to carry out work to remove the staining.

In the South Spare exhibition room, the wallpaper was carefully removed by the conservator, who has taken it away to begin a treatment to wash out the staining. It is quite a long process – not only does the delicate work on the wallpaper need to be carried out, but we also need to wait for the wall itself to dry out properly before rehanging the paper. This can take months, so it’s likely that the wallpaper will be back at Standen early next year.

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A piece of Standen’s history returns…


The bedspread prior to conservation work

Last year, money raised through our property raffle, visitor donations, and collections by staff (some of whom raised money by running the Brighton 10k race!) enabled us to send an important piece of Standen history for vital conservation work.

A family bedspread was donated to Standen by the late Phyllis Wager, who, as one of James and Margaret Beale’s grandchildren, had often come to stay at Standen when it was the family’s much cherished home.


Detail of the bedspread, with damaged areas prior to conservation work

The bedspread had been made by Amy Beale – Phyllis’s mother, and the eldest of James and Margaret’s children – but had been so well-used and loved that it required some expert TLC.

Thanks to the efforts of visitors, volunteers and staff, this specialist conservation work has been carried out and the bedspread will be returning to Standen on 19 May, where it will be displayed in the Larkspur bedroom.

Thank you to everyone that donated the money, time and energy which has made this delicate work possible. We look forward to welcoming the bedspread back, and hope you will be able to visit and see the bedspread returned home.

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Object from the Stores: ‘The Charge’; a jigsaw puzzle

Standen © National Trust / Jane Mucklow

‘The Charge’ – a 290 piece jigsaw which probably belonged to the Beale family of Standen

This wooden jigsaw puzzle is usually kept in our collections store, along with many other interesting objects that are not currently on display in our showrooms.

The jigsaw has about 290 pieces, and is called ‘The Charge’; the name suggests a military scene – perhaps the famous Charge of the Light Brigade. We don’t know exactly what scene the jigsaw shows, as we have never tried to piece it together, and the original box – which more than likely had an image of the completed puzzle – was probably lost or damaged many years ago.

The puzzle is stored in a biscuit tin, manufactured by a company called MacFarlane Lang & Co., which began life as a small bakery in 1817, although it later expanded and even held the royal warrant of appointment. One internet source suggests this particular biscuit tin was in production in the 1930s, but this is difficult to confirm. The only thing we can be sure of is that the tin was produced during or after 1904, when the company first began using the MacFarlane Lang & Co. name and expanded their business in London. The company traded under the MacFarlane Lang & Co. name until the 1940s, when it merged with other manufacturers. 

The biscuit tin is a commemorative keepsake; depicting a meeting between Roberts Burns, the Scottish poet, and Walter Scott, the Scottish writer, in Edinburgh in 1786. The picture is based on an original painting by Charles Martin Hardie which shows the only meeting between the two men. 

This jigsaw probably belonged to the Beale family, who were responsible for building Standen. A note inside the tin reads ‘Beale, Standen, E.G’. The Beales enjoyed puzzles and games of all kinds, and there are a number of different examples from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in our collection. Although some of them were later acquistions or donations, rather than family items, they give us an idea of how families spent time together.

Standen © National Trust / Jane Mucklow

Another example of a jigsaw puzzle in Standen’s collection

Some of the puzzles and games in our collection are really beautifully presented, with bright colours and intricate designs – one such game was featured on the blog earlier this year. I love that this jigsaw not only indicates how late Victorian families often spent their time, but the biscuit tin also gives us an interesting glimpse into the commemorative memorabilia of years gone by.

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Bird in the house!

One morning very recently was more eventful than usual, when it became clear that a bird was trapped in the chimney of the North Bedroom. While this doesn’t happen very often, it is something that has happened a few times in the past here at Standen. We currently have inflatable chimney balloons to keep draughts and dirt out, but it doesn’t always stop birds from getting trapped or making their nests in the chimney.

Before conservation: glass vase damaged by a bird trapped in the house (image courtesy of Pat Jackson, conservator)

A trapped bird is obviously very distressed, and so if it is safe to remove the bird we try to do so. There are also conservation factors to consider, as birds can also cause serious damage to historic materials. A bird trapped in a chimney may fall into the fireplace; escaping into the house itself, and so there is the obvious risk that it could knock over and break historic objects. Bird droppings are acidic, and could cause damage to historic interiors that would be difficult to reverse. Bird nests, as well as dead birds, harbour pests such as clothes moth, carpet beetle and silverfish, which could make their way into the house, and are harmful to historic materials.

Fortunately, on this occasion, the bird was very much alive (we could hear it flapping around!), and luckily, there were a couple of members of staff who were willing to try and rescue the poor creature from the chimney.

Dust sheets, poles and a box were brought along, and as many breakable objects as possible were moved out of harm’s way, just in case the bird escaped into the room and started flying around. The bird – a large crow – was dislodged from the chimney, and although it did briefly escape into the room itself, the quick-thinking staff members were able to throw a dust sheet over it, put it into a box, and release it into the courtyard, where it flew away.

After conservation: the glass vase can be seen in the Larkspur Dressing Room (image courtesy of Pat Jackson, conservator)

As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t the first time a bird has been on the loose in the house. A crow fell down the chimney in the Larkspur Dressing Room a number of years back, knocking a small glass vase off the mantelpiece and smashing it to pieces. A conservator was able to put the vase back together, piece by piece, and it once again sits on the mantelpiece. The vase is one of a pair, and if you look closely, you can see the difference between the repaired vase and the undamaged vase. The bird also left droppings on the frame of a painting – a small stain is still visible, having been cleaned off as much as possible at the time. It certainly makes for an interesting anecdote!

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Re-interpreting the servants’ wing

The Dog Leg Corridor as it was a few years ago, with the low false ceiling

The Dog Leg Corridor as it was a few years ago, with the low false ceiling

If you’ve visited Standen in the last few months, you may have noticed one or two changes as you came to the end of your journey around the house. We’ve been looking at and refreshing the way we present the servants’ areas of the house to give these areas a bit more context. One of the areas we have been concentrating on is the Dog Leg Corridor (so-called because of the bend in the corridor, which would apparently stop cooking smells reaching the family part of the house). We started work on this area a few years back; removing a doorway and a false ceiling that were later additions. This was a lengthy process that involved fire and safety considerations and listed buildings consent, among other things.

The removal of the false ceiling revealed an area of William Morris Trellis wallpaper; showing that this area was once as heavily decorated as the Morning Room Corridor, which it leads on from.

A new, suspended ceiling was recently fitted to hide wires and other electrical fittings. The fact it is suspended means that further damage to the surviving Trellis wallpaper is avoided. We also added glass coolie shades to the light fittings, which are in keeping with the light fittings in the rest of the service wing.

This surviving Trellis wallpaper was found above the false ceiling in the Dog Leg Corridor

This surviving Trellis wallpaper was found above the false ceiling in the Dog Leg Corridor

Although these works made the Dog Leg Corridor more historically accurate, we felt that it was still a little anonymous: walking along, one didn’t necessarily get the feeling that you were heading away from the family part of the house, towards the ‘working’ part of the house. An evolving ideas process led us to decide upon something a little different when it came to interpreting this area – the corridor was almost a blank slate, and so we were able to do something bold and eye catching.

A glimpse of the anamorphic design in the Dog Leg Corridor

A glimpse of the anamorphic design in the Dog Leg Corridor

We wanted to highlight that this corridor was a transitional space from family life to servant life. Inspired by a quote from the Beale family archives, an anamorphic design was created: different parts of the design were painted on different areas of the corridor; coming together to create a whole when viewed from the start of the corridor. The colour and rosette around the quote are inspired by the roses in the Morris Trellis wallpaper, again underlining the transition from the richly decorated family quarters to the more austere service areas.

There has been a really positive response from visitors towards the anamorphic design – just the other day, I overheard a visitor comment that it was clever and thought provoking. The re-display of the Dog Leg and service wing is a long-term project, so do keep an eye out for more changes and improvements in the future.

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Object in Focus: Umbrella Stand

Just for fun, we recently asked our staff and volunteers whether they had a least favourite object at Standen. As we’re usually waxing lyrical about our favourite objects, we thought this was a good opportunity to spark conversation and think differently about our collection.

Standen © National Trust / Jane MucklowThere were lots of interesting suggestions: from a garishly coloured and odd shaped vase; to a pair of stuffed birds. One definite theme was the dislike of objects that resemble animals: Standen has a number of objects that are creature-inspired, such as a standard lamp with a clawed foot, or a table with hoofed feet.

The ‘winning’ object with the most votes was this blue-glazed china container (pictured left); a style known as a grotesque. Some people said that it is unattractive and strange (I have to say I agree with them!), but it does seem to divide opinion as there were others that commented that they thought the container was unusual and quite liked it for that reason.

Standen © National Trust / Jane MucklowThe container is currently displayed in the Cloakroom, and has been used in the past as an umbrella stand. It was probably produced by Burmantofts, a Leeds-based pottery which operated from the 1850s until 1957. They specialised in earthenware vases, jardineres, bowls and tiles, which were finished in brightly coloured glazes. There are several pieces of Burmantofts here at Standen – another example of this type of grotesque is the toad spoon warmer pictured right, which is currently displayed in the Billiard Room. These pieces might not be to everyone’s taste, but they certainly attract lots of attention and questions from visitors!



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A morning in the life of a National Trust trainee

This week saw the first ever Museums Week on Twitter; where hundreds of museums and museum professionals came together to talk about different aspects of museum life. One of the themes was a typical day in the life of a museum, and inspired by this – and by the fact that people often ask me what my role as a trainee entails – I thought I’d write a blog post or two about a day in the life of a National Trust trainee. In this post, I’ve written about what I got up to one morning this week… 

My day started at 8.30am, when I arrived at Standen and began the daily cleaning, along with the Assistant House Steward and Conservation Assistants. Some days this is a longer task than others – there’s usually more cleaning to do after a busy weekend, for instance.

The glamorous daily cleaning kit!

The glamorous daily cleaning kit!

As well as dusting and vacuuming, this is our chance to check everything is in order: perhaps refreshing interpretation, or changing bulbs and batteries, and other small tasks. We also check the presentation of a room and that everything is in place. Busy days mean the rooms can get crowded and furniture may get jostled or accidentally moved, so the following day we can check this as we clean.

We also keep an eye out for objects that might need a closer inspection, or even the attentions of a conservator. Just recently, on our daily rounds, we noticed that an antimacassar in the Drawing Room needed to be looked at more closely, as it was in a very poor condition – it was consequently put into storage to protect from further damage.

We often work in pairs when cleaning the house and carrying out other tasks. On this particular day, after cleaning, I carried out humidity and temperature checks while Alison, one of Standen’s Conservation Assistants, checked and wound the clocks. We monitor the humidity levels in the house very carefully, as fluctuations in humidity levels can cause lasting damage. Organic materials in particular are affected by continual changes in humidity; gaining or losing moisture as the humidity changes, sometimes resulting in irreversible damage (see picture below).

An example of damage caused by falling humidity levels

An example of damage caused by falling humidity levels

At 9.45am, its time for the daily briefing, when staff on the property get together to be briefed on the day’s activities. It’s here that we find out whether there is a large coach party or school group visiting, or who the first aider for that day is…and what’s on the menu in the café!

After the daily briefing, it’s back to prepping the house for opening until 10am, when we take a much needed tea break – dusting is thirsty work! And of course it’s always nice to have a chat with colleagues over tea and biscuits. Once tea break is over we usually rush around opening blinds and shutters, ready for when visitors start arriving.

Later on this particular morning, I attended the Conservation and Curatorial meeting, where the regional conservator and curator met the house staff to discuss all sorts of issues: from museum accreditation and conservation updates, to interpretation and future exhibitions. As a trainee, it’s really interesting for me to be a part of these meetings, as it gives me a real insight into the wide range of subjects that are a part of working in historic houses.