Standen

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


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Scrubbing Churchill …

Chartwell

Chartwell

Recently I went to Chartwell for a day to shadow Flick and Sophie, the 2 assistant house stewards there.

Chartwell has a diverse history. it was originally a farmhouse that was builtin the 16th century, under the name of Well Street. Apparently, Henry VII stayed there during his courtship of Anne Boleyn, who was raised at nearby Hever Castle. During the 19th century, the farmhouse was significantly, enlarged and modified into the red brick Victorian building you see today complete with tile hung gables and oriel windows – bay windows on higher levels so they do not reach the ground.

Churchill comes into play around about 1922, when him and his wife, Clementine, bought it as their

The Garden Studio

The Garden Studio

principal home. Chuchill hired an architect by the name of Phillip Tilden to modernize the house, especially with regards to bringing more light as oriel windows were notoriously poky and small. Tilden followed the thoughts of Edward Lutyens, who disregarded the fashionable Tudor revival style and instead made each house part of its landscape. The gardens were also refurbished at the same time and a series of lakes created to house Churchill’s precious fish. The gardens provided much inspiration for Churchill’s paintings, many of which he painted in his garden studio.

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill

However, financial struggle struck in 1938 and Churchill put Chartwell up for sale. With the advent of World War 2 and with Churchill’s rising position in government, Chartwell was deemed unsafe for Churchill and his wife to live in due to its proximity to the English Channel and to the main road. Instead Churchill and his wife spent their weekdays in London and weekends in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

After World War 2, with strained finances, Churchill put Chartwell back on the market. However, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. To thank Churchill for his efforts during the war, a group of business men got together and bought Chartwell. They charged him minimal rent on the condition that once both him and Clementine had passed on, Chartwell would be given to the National Trust. Upon Churchill’s death in 1965, Clementine decided to pass the house to the National Trust straight away. Clementine did, however, specify the route that the visitors would follow and still do today.

Churchill's Study

Churchill’s Study

One of the things that Churchill loved and this was untreated pine. to this end, as part of the modifications that Churchill made, large parts of the wood used was pine. As it is untreated it has to be treated quite differently then polished or varnished wood. This was one of the things that I helped Sophie and Flick with. The oldest part of Chartwell is the study and Churchill’s bedroom, both of which date back to medieval times. To this end it is decorated with darkened pine. The stair case that leads down from the study to the dining room is a great example of natural pine. So that it doesn’t splinter or  wear to quickly, twice a year a mixture of vinegar, sensitive soap and warm water are used to scrub the tread of the stairs as well as the top of the pine banister. After a short period of time clean warm water is scrubbed onto to reduce any stickiness. This mixture solidifies so that the stairs are non slippery as well as protected from the thousands of feet that climb up and down them over the year.

The banister, once the mixture of vinegar, sensitive soap and warm water is applied is then waxed with Harrell’s wax, giving a little more grip for the visitors, staff and volunteers.

I also got to help them with the deep clean of Churchill’s bedroom, which is not normally on display. It is a small room, simply furnished  as well as with photographs of his family and his favorite books. It also has an en suite bathroom with a sunken bath so that he could better enjoy the view.

All in all, it was a really interesting day and I learnt quite a bit about Churchill and his lifestyle, as well as more about deep cleaning. I also got to meet a couple of Chartwell’s cats including Jock – Churchill left quite specific instructions about there always being a Jock the Cat at Chartwell, including what he should look like!

Jock

Jock

 

 

 


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Front of House

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One of our very welcoming volunteers on duty on the Porch

One of the most important jobs that we do here as staff, is to ensure that our volunteers are happy and enjoying what they do for us. We do this mostly through front of house duties.

Doing front of house basically means ensuring that the house runs smoothly on a daily basis. This is a role that we split between myself, the Assistant House Steward, House Steward and House Manager.

We start off the day with a briefing. This is to update everyone, staff and volunteers, on things that are happening that day, such as if there are any groups coming or if there is a new exhibition starting. It also means that any information from other departments like the garden team, are passed on to keep everyone updated, such as updates on the Garden Revival project. We also let each volunteer know what room they are guiding in for that shift.

Once  we are open, we will go around the house and see how the room guides are doing – It gives me an excuse for a quick catch up as well. We are also on hand to answer any queries or requests that the room guide feels unable to answer fully or generally lend a hand if it is busy.

Larkspur Bedroom

Larkspur Bedroom

Front of house does bring its own challenges especially with us being open 363 days of the year now. Often I find myself going from room to room covering tea breaks or covering the room whilst the guide goes and does an introductory talk – one of my favorite rooms to cover is the Larkspur Bedroom and Dressing Room. However  this does give me the opportunity to connect with our visitors and find out what they like and dislike about the house.

Being front of house is always an interesting way to spend the day. Every day is different, with new questions, challenges and demonstrations. I always find that I learn something new, whether from a visitor, volunteer or member of staff.

Happy New Year