Standen

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


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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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Object of the Month: May – Burmantofts Vase

Burmantofts Vase in the Billiard Room

Burmantofts Vase in the Billiard Room

These Burmantofts vases found in the Billiard Room and in Maggie’s studio were bought to Standen by Arthur Grogan, the first caretaker of Standen after Helen Beale’s death.

Burmantofts vases as they are known today were only known under this name for a short time during the company’s 99 year stint as a working pottery.

The original company was set up in Burmantoft, Leeds by John Lassey and William Wilcox in 1845. They originally started a coal mine but when they hit clay in 1858, started producing assorted building materials, like bricks. And pipes. By the time that 1879 rolled around neither of the original founders were alive and the company had passed onto James Holroyd. He started producing decorative items like vases and jardinières in the 1880s.

This move into ceramics bought more fortune to the company enabling them to open a London showroom under the name of the Burmantofts Company. However, this was short lived, soon after Burmantofts merged with five other Leeds based  ceramic companies and became the Leeds Fireclay Company. Production finally stopped in 1957.

 


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Object of the Month: April – Chinese Ewer

Chinese Ewer from the Dining Room

Chinese Ewer from the Dining Room

This blue and white china ewer found in the Dining Room was made in the mid to second half of the 16th century during the Ming  Dynasty in China. The Ming dynasty was a period of advancement in technology and techniques used in ceramic making.

Ceramicists explored  different colours and showed a preference for painted designs as well as  taking inspiration from foreign styles.

However, blue and white ceramics are some of the most well-known pieces from the Ming Dynasty. The blue colour and shades became clearer and more defined.

There was also a shift in the  economy with emphasis put on producing ceramics and goods to sell overseas across the world. Plates and vases were particularly sought after.

This Chinese ewer is decorated with the ‘magic fountain’ design, a fairly common theme in blue and white Chinese ceramics. It was a theme that evoked the idea of extending life, of living forever. By drinking the liquid from this jug, you could potentially extend your life.

This theme is carried on it’s makers mark, which means ‘Forever preserve late spring’. A wish for longevity, not a date sign.

 


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Object of the Month: January – Vase by William De Morgan

Red Luster Vase

Red Luster Vase

Sitting underneath the mother of pearl cabinet in the Hall Alcove, is this two handled Red Luster vase by William De Morgan.

Luster ware pottery has a metallic glaze that makes it look different colors based on what light you view it through. De Morgan rediscovered this technique around 1873—74, after many years of experimentation.

This vase is covered in fish, which was a common theme in De Morgan’s work. He took inspiration form the East,    particularly that of Hispanic and Italian origin, as well as further afield.

De Morgan did not only produce vases, he also produced tiles, other ceramics and stained glass windows. All of which were sold through Morris & Co.

William De Morgan

William De Morgan

De Morgan originally met William Morris when he attended the royal academy of arts. He had quickly become disillusioned by the ideas there and turned to Morris and the Pre-Raphaelite circle.

He set up his first ceramic studio in 1872, in Chelsea but was not very   successful at the start. His early work contained a lots of firing defects and irregularities. By the time he moved to Fulham, his work had become what you see today but he was beset by financial difficulties. Despite regular cash injections by his wife, Evelyn De Morgan an artist in her own right, De     Morgan could not afford to keep the pottery going so it was sold. De  Morgan eventually found success as a writer.

 


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Good Clean Fun….

One of our annual tasks in the house, is to deep clean all of the rooms. Recently, I have been helping to finish off the Dining room before its goes to a night-time scene at the end of this month.

Brush dusting the sideboard in the Dining room

Brush dusting the sideboard in the Dining room

Every morning we will dust flat surfaces and vacuum the visitor route but the deep clean takes it to the next level. It means moving most of the objects off any surfaces, dusting and inspecting both, checking for any damage. IT also means crawling under tables and chairs to get rid of cobwebs and dust as well as inspecting the carpets for insect activity like carpet beetle and clothes moth. This happens in every single room and corridor in the house that is open to the public.

In the past, the majority of this deep clean took place in the winter months when the house was closed. But this year it has been different. We are now open for 363 days of the year, leading to interesting debates on the effect this may have (or may not have) on the collection. So the deep clean is now being carried out whilst we are open and in front of volunteers and visitors.

As we are open longer, we have already noticed an increase in our work so trying to fit in deep cleaning can be difficult. Our Assistant House Steward always tries her best to plan days where at least one person can do the deep clean but it is the nature of heritage that things pop up.

The Dining room has taken us 5 days over a 1 month period to complete and there is a noticeable difference to the room. A lot of the plates that look like they are cream are actually an off white colour, whilst the dust on the tablecloth also made it look yellow but it is now a lovely snowy white.

Now that the Dining room is complete, it is off to start the next one – the Drawing room. This is by far one of the more complex rooms to deep clean as there is so many objects and pieces of furniture. I got to clean the Mosque lamp this morning, which matches the one in the Conservatory and were both bought during Mr and Mrs Beale’s world tour in 1906.

Cleaning the Mosque lamp in the Drawing room

Cleaning the Mosque lamp in the Drawing room


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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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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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Collections care: inventory marking

This week, the House Team have been working in the Kitchen, inventory marking some of the collection.

Kitchen at Standen

The House Team have been inventory marking some of the objects from Standen’s Kitchen this week

Each object in Standen’s collection has its own unique inventory number, which helps to clearly identify objects and is useful for our conservation records, as well as keeping track of items if ever they’re moved to another location.

Inventory marking kit

The inventory marking kit

The method that we use for inventory marking allows the number to be removed if necessary, without causing any damage.

First of all, we clean the area where we will be marking with a brush, or wipe with acetone. On most objects – especially if the surface is porous, such as an unglazed ceramic – a base coat of clear varnish is applied. It can take several hours for the varnish to dry completely, so patience is required! When the varnish is dry, the inventory number is written on in small but legible figures. We use an ink pen with a very fine nib and mark in black or white ink, or use oil alkyd or acrylic paint. Good eyesight and a steady hand are definitely needed – and having neat hand writing helps! The final stage is to apply a top-coat of varnish when the ink or paint has dried.

Inventory marking

Here, Hannah is having a go at inventory marking one of Standen’s many blue and white dinner plates

Although the process itself is fairly simple, waiting for varnishes to dry can be quite time consuming. In addition, there are often old inventory numbers or labels that needed to be carefully removed, so even marking a small number of objects can take quite some time!

Inventory marking

A newly inventory marked plate. On the left, in greenish ink, is an old inventory mark, which will be removed

When we’ve finished in the Kitchen, we’ll move on to the Dining Room to continue marking the vast collection of blue and white plates that are on display.


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Redecorating the Drawing Room

The Drawing Room at Standen, West Sussex.

The Drawing Room as it usually looks

For the last couple of days, the house team have mainly been concentrating on emptying the Drawing Room of its contents, as the room is being redecorated next week. The paintwork is looking a little old and tired, and a new coat of paint should really brighten the room up. Of course, this does mean that there was the ‘small’ matter of where the room’s contents were going to be temporarily stored!

Standen isn’t a large house, and aside from the permanent storage spaces that are already in use, we don’t have much in the way of additional storage space for our collection. When it came to temporary storage for the Drawing Room collection, we needed to utilise other showrooms – consequently we ended up with cushions on the billiard table, and an array of ceramics safely stored on the Dining Room table…a slightly odd sight! Although there were lots of objects to be moved, members from the house team – along some of our conservation volunteers – were on hand to help, and the move went a lot more smoothly and quickly than anticipated.

Drawing Room carpet

Checking and vacuuming the Drawing Room carpet and underlay

Clearing the Drawing Room of its contents was a good opportunity to properly inspect the room and its contents – in particular, the wallpaper and carpet. The wallpaper is a William Morris design called Sunflower, and looking at it closely, we could see that there was silverfish damage in places, although the damage didn’t seem to be quite as bad as we found in the Larkspur Dressing Room last week. The carpet – also a Morris design – is huge, and almost fills the room. We were concerned that it may have fresh damage in places from carpet beetle, but because of its size, it was impossible to check the carpet thoroughly until we were able to completely empty the room – luckily, we could find no traces of new damage.

The Drawing Room is a favourite of mine – it’s such a restful room, with so many wonderful features – and with the room empty, you could really appreciate the space itself. The craftsmanship that had gone into creating its outstanding features, such as the fireplace surround and the fretwork around the windows, was particularly apparent. The room looked so different, and we all agreed that it would make a fantastic setting for a dance or a party!

Drawing Room

Almost ready for the decorators!

This is the first experience I’ve had of emptying a room, and it was interesting for me to see the logistics of safely moving heavy items of furniture and countless precious objects – and organising them so that they kept the order they were displayed in! Fragile objects are removed bit by bit, which can often seem labour-intensive (a particularly fragile teapot lid was removed from the pot itself, and carried separately), but it really is the best way to ensure existing repairs or damage are not weakened. The heaviest and largest items of furniture – such as the huge, George Jack-designed display cabinet and the Morris carpet – will remain, covered in dust sheets in the centre of room, with the decorators working around them.


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Object in Focus: William De Morgan bowl

Standen is full of all sorts of ceramics, which can make it difficult to single out one piece as a favourite…

So we decided to be cruel and leave the difficult decisions to our Room Guides! We asked them which was their favourite ceramic in the house, and there were lots of great choices (we’ll definitely feature more volunteer favourites in this slot in the future), however there was a clear winner…

…the ceramic with the most votes was:

William De Morgan bowl (Drawing Room)

De Morgan bowl

William De Morgan bowl, on display in the Drawing Room

The bowl is a beautiful piece by the potter and designer William Frend De Morgan (1839-1917). De Morgan was one of the leading designers of the Arts & Crafts movement, and was also a close friend and collaborator of William Morris. De Morgan designed many pieces for Morris’ company, Morris & Co., channeling his talents into not only ceramics, but also stained glass and furniture design.

De Morgan tile

A Middle Eastern-inspired tile by De Morgan.
Part of the collection at Wightwick Manor, a National Trust Arts & Crafts house in the West Midlands

Like his fellow Arts & Crafts advocates, De Morgan was inspired by Medieval imagery, but he was also influenced by Middle Eastern designs – particularly those from Persia. The inspiration for the motifs and colours of this bowl is probably drawn from Persian designs – the use of yellows, pinks, blues and purples was especially common in Persian ceramics (often also referred to as Iznik ceramics).

The overall design of the bowl is striking, and it appears almost contemporary – one of our volunteers remarked that it looked ‘almost modern’, and wouldn’t look out of place in a present-day home.

The intricate decoration of De Morgan’s designs was carried out by a very skilled group of decorators. Many De Morgan pieces were signed by their decorators, which gives a fascinating glimpse into the manufacturing process. This particular bowl is signed ‘J.H’, which we know was a decorator by the name of J. Hershey.

De Morgan bowl underside

Underside of the De Morgan bowl, showing the decorator’s signature: ‘J.H’, the initials of the decorator J. Hershey

Standen has many De Morgan pieces throughout the house, and the variety in designs illustrate his talents. In the Drawing Room you can see not only Middle Eastern inspired pieces, but also many items of lustreware – ceramics finished with an iridescent metallic glaze, a technique which De Morgan is credited with reviving.

Perhaps one of the reasons the bowl is such a favourite with our volunteers is its connections to the Beale family. It was given to Mr and Mrs Beale for their silver wedding anniversary in April 1895 by their children. It is the only piece of De Morgan the Beales owned, but was the inspiration for Arthur and Helen Grogan, the first National Trust custodians of Standen, to buy more of the De Morgan ceramics which you can see around the house today.