Standen

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


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Freezing them out: how we deal with pests…

Here we have a blog by our newest conservation assistant Rachel. She’s previously worked at Scotney Castle and has been covering a role here at Standen since July. It’s hard to believe she’s only been here since then as she’s a great part of the team!

With only 3 months left as a Conservation Assistant at Standen, it’s pretty shameful that I haven’t contributed to the blog but my excuse is that it’s been a busy 6 months.

To prove this, I thought I’d explain one of the tasks that I have done to assist the House Team in order to protect Standen’s collection. I’ve chosen one that I’d never done before this week because I enjoyed it and think it’s pretty interesting: freezing objects to destroy insect pests.

A few weeks ago, Kay, Standen’s Facilities Assistant, and I were asked to inspect and clean the display cabinet in the Butler’s Pantry and its contents. The cabinet is rarely opened so you might think it would be unnecessary to clean inside. However, although the doors are kept shut, they are not air tight so a bit of dust had got in but more significantly so had a certain kind of pest – carpet beetle and their larvae, woolly bears.

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The Butler’s Pantry cupboards (NT/Rachel Finch)

Woolly bears sound cute but they’re actually the larvae stage of carpet beetles and eat keratin found in natural fibres so are a real threat to our collection, especially textiles, at Standen. The larvae shed old skins as they grow and it is usually these, along with the damage they cause, that indicate an infestation.

Have a look at them here

During our survey of the cabinet, Kay and I found enough woolly bear cases (plus one fully grown carpet beetle) to require action beyond a thorough vacuum.

Carpet beetles cannot survive below a certain temperature so an effective method of killing both the larvae and adult beetle is to freeze the items on which they have been found. The length of time it is recommended to freeze objects depends on the temperature of the freezer: 3 days at -30, or 14 days at -18 then 48 hours to defrost followed by another 14 days exposure. We use the latter method at Standen due to the temperature of our freezer.

This week, Fiona and I prepared the objects for freezing treatment. Carpet beetles target textiles in particular and although we had not found evidence of the pests on all of the textile items in the cabinet, we decided to freeze them all to be on the safe side.

To freeze the items we removed them from the display and wrapped them in acid free tissue followed by polythene.  It was important at this stage to remove as much air as possible from the packages before sealing them with tape to prevent any water ingress which could lead to dye leakage. For awkwardly shaped items a hoover can be used to suck the air out; we used this method for the chauffeur’s hat.

Once the items were all sealed in polythene with their identifying details and the date clearly marked on the outside, we took them to the chest freezer in the Stable Yard to be frozen.

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Fiona in the chest freezer (NT/Rachel Finch)

We placed the smaller items in hanging trays and raised the rest above the bottom of the freezer to allow air circulation.

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Everything packed and ready to be frozen (NT/Rachel Finch)

At the end of 2 weeks we will carefully remove the items and allow them to defrost for 48 hours before refreezing them for a further 2 weeks.  After this we will un-wrap them and hopefully find nothing, meaning they were pest free when they were placed in the freezer, or some dead woolly bears/carpet beetles.

In the mean time we will remove the remaining items from the display case and spray it with a water-based insecticide to kill off any insect pests left inside.

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What goes on in January?

The house opens differently in January for lots of reasons! We’re not as busy as usual so we take the opportunity to open in other ways.

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Opening up in the morning (NT/Victoria Witty)

We run special Behind Closed Doors Tours which go into not usually seen parts of the house. You get to go down to the cellar and up to the water tower and we have some extra time in the main part of the house to get some of the deep clean done in awkward areas.

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At work in the Billiard Room (NT/Victoria Witty)

We also use January opening to get any building or decorating work done – this year we had the painters in to decorate the Morning Room Corridor.

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Painters in the morning room corridor (NT/Victoria Witty)

We use special water based paint and the colour is mixed specially for us by our specialist decorators. The colour comes from investigations into original paint colours

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Samples of paint mixed specially for us to match the paint colours in the house (NT/Victoria Witty)

This year, following the success of our Winter Tree and exhibition round the house we also have a special Kaffe Fassett exhibition. It’s in the house in our exhibition rooms, open from 12 to 2.30pm (last entry at 2pm).

Come along and see what we are up to!

 


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Focus on – the morning room

The morning room is one of my favourite rooms. It faces south and east so naturally gets the morning sun. It was the ideal place for the ladies of the family to get out of the way of the servants so they can clean and not be disturbed.

Bright and sunny can cause us a few problems though – we have lots of things in the room which are sensitive to light. We’ve recently put new blinds in that are a mesh kind of fabric that cuts out a lot of the light but also can be seen through to outside.

It’s the only room in the house that has fabric hangings on the walls in this way – a bit like medieval houses had tapestries on their walls. The hangings up at the moment are reprints by Morris & Co. from about the 1970s, but we have a small scrap leftover from the originals that has been made into a cushion.

Morris and Co adjustable chair in the Morning Room at Standen, West Sussex.

The original colours and scale of the Daffodil fabric hangings in the morning room

We get asked a lot what is underneath them – it’s just plaster and lining paper! If you visited last year you might have seen it as we’d taken down the hangings to allow the wall to dry out as we’d had a leaky downpipe outside.

We have also fairly recently replaced the sacrificial carpet on the floor – the old one had been down for a very long time and was developing some fairly extensive holes from all the feet walking on it.

The Morning Room at Standen, West Sussex.

The morning room with its old carpet

We wanted to ensure that the replacement carpet was similar to that which the Beales had in the room, rather than just any old carpet. Luckily we had a volunteer who was working with our family archives for her PhD and she, alongside our curator, were able to identify the style of carpet the Beales had. If you look in the photo below you can see the geometric border of the carpet.

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This photo of two Beales in the morning room was very helpful indeed

Our curator was then able to go to carpet suppliers and specify exactly what we were looking for.

After we got the carpet we realised that we’d not only got a carpet very similar to the Beales’ original, but, looking at their receipt, had also managed to buy it from the very same place!


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What to do with the carpet?

It’s November and we’re running our usual focus on conservation weekends with demonstrations and an exhibition.

As we cover up the Larkspur bedroom we have a small carpet we need to store for the duration. As you might guess, we have a very particular way of storing carpets – and this is how…

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Hearth rug from the Larkspur Bedroom

We can’t fold it because textile weakens on the creases over time and can crack, so we have to roll it.

To roll it, first we turn it over – so much easier with a small carpet – when we rolled the carpet in the drawing room it took 6 of us to turn it over!

Hand made carpets are made vertically so they have a distinct direction of the pile – they feel smooth as you run your hand down it. Turning the carpet over and rolling from the top  down means we open the dense weave of the pile helping dust and ingrained dirt to get out.

We use an ordinary plastic drainpipe to roll carpets onto. It’s cheap, can be cut to size and easy to get hold of. It’s also fairly lightweight while being pretty sturdy, which is important when you think just how heavy huge carpets can be.

We wrap the drainpipe with acid free tissue and roll the carpet with tissue in between the layers to protect it (it’s easiest if you can find nice big pieces of tissue) and begin to roll.

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The view from the business end

You have to stop every so often to check the carpet is rolling straight, so the edges of the carpet are supported – if your ends are unsupported they can be damaged over time. However, sometimes the edges of the carpet aren’t straight, so we support them with little sausages of acid free tissue.

Once we’ve rolled it we wrap it  – in this case we’ve used a non-woven fabric called Tyvek. The ends are tied or tucked in to stop dust getting in and we can put it away.

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Finished and ready to store!

This carpet isn’t going away for long, just until spring next year when we will take down the conservation exhibition and reinstate the Larkspur rooms.


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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

Trellis

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.

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He does look pretty sinister if you ask me

Mallow

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.