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

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Copper Green…

The Copper Kettle

The Copper Kettle

This kettle made out of brass and cooper was designed by Christopher Dresser. Like any metals in an oxygenated environment, copper and brass need to be cleaned at least once a year to help them their shine.

In order to clean this kettle, two substances are used; Autosol which is a metal polish that removes oxidation  rust, stains and corrosion, without being too corrosive. Autosol is applied to a small piece of cotton wool and then rubbed gently to remove any dirt or corrosion. Cotton

buds are used on smaller harder to reach areas, such as where the

Materials used in cleaning copper and brass

Materials used in cleaning copper and brass

handle joins the pot, to free it of as much dirt and discoloration as possible.

The kettle was then buffed slightly before a layer of Rennaisance wax was was added using a specially designated hogs hair brush, which is the second substance.This adds a barrier to prevent some moisture and oxygen from reaching the surface causing corrosion.

Green stained dirt

Green stained dirt

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Chim Chim Cher-ee

This winter, we have been able to light the fire in the Hall for the first time in over 40 years. But there are always a few things that need to be checked before lighting a fire in such a historic and unused fireplace.

Testing the Chimney to see if there are any gapsChimneys need to be swept regularly so that the flues remain clear of soot, debris and birds nests (especially in unused ones – see previous posts about birds coming down the chimneys in the bedrooms upstairs here). Also they need to be swept so the gases can escape safely out of the top of the chimney as opposed to building up and causing a chimney fire. All of this will help to increase the chimney’s ability to draw the smoke up instead of out into the room and generally help to keep the fire going.

Much like in the song in ‘Mary Poppins‘, brushes are still used today – technology has not changed that much due to the confines of space in the chimney, the main change has been that vacuums are used in some to help get rid of build ups of soot and tar. The brush are twirled upwards to dislodge any soot and tar until the brush pokes out the very top of the chimney. A series of poles are used to extend the brush to make it long enough.

One of the other jobs that needed to be done, was to line the chimney. If a chimney is not lined and burns wood, tar builds up on the inside and eventually seeps through the walls leaving black/brown stains. If lined incorrectly, the flue can also start to leak smoke and fumes such as carbon monoxide as well as leading to poor updraught. The main reason that we got the chimney lined was a precaution against moisture and tar leaking through the walls. Also as it was last used in 1972, we needed to make sure that the chimney would draw well.

We have been lighting the fire every weekend in December and will do so over the 27th and 28th December if you would like to come and have a sit down by it (House open 11am – 3pm). You will be very welcome to.

Merry Christmas everyone.The fire all warm and cozy



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Black and Silver…

The Tarnished Silver Coffee Pot

The Tarnished Silver Coffee Pot

Silver is one of those metals that tends to tarnish very easily, especially if it exposed to the air or if people are handling it. As both of these things are hard to prevent, silver objects start to develop blackish patches and generally do not look as nice as they can.

We have a silver coffee pot that sits on a tray outside the Dining room. We moved it into the kitchen for Christmas and realized that, in better lighting, it was in need of a clean.

Silver Dip

Silver Dip

We are careful about using chemicals to clean objects because, more often than not, chemicals tend to take off layers of material. We dust items regularly, using pony hair and hogs hair brushes and sometimes specially designated cloths. But the coffee pot had tarnished beyond that point (or at least the point where it would take several hours to clean one small area).

Cleaning the Coffee Pot

Cleaning the Coffee Pot

We use a product called Silver Dip to clean silver objects. It works by removing a single layer of silver (along with all of the tarnish) to reveal the clean silver underneath.

Using a  small piece of cotton wool dipped in silver dip, I rubbed a small area of the coffee pot gently and in a circular movement until all the tarnish had gone. Then using another piece of cotton wool, but dipped in water, I rubbed the same area in a circular motion to remove any left over silver dip. If silver dip is left on and not cleaned off it can go through several layers of silver and ruin the object. Any excess water is removed by dabbing tissue paper on it. This is then repeated until the

Shiny and Clean

Shiny and Clean

whole of the object is clean. To get into the small nooks and crannies along the lip and the handle, I used a cotton wool bud, repeating the above. The pot was then buffed to bring out the shine.


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Something Old, Something New

The De Morgan Cabinet

The De Morgan Cabinet

Recently we have been loaned a beautiful cabinet, designed by William De Morgan and made by J.P. Seddon around the 1870s, by the De Morgan Foundation.

The cabinet is made of stained ebonised oak with floral inlaid motifs on its sides created from ebony, padoak, box and maple, as well as gilt accents. It also has an oil painting depicting St George presenting the princess and the captured dragon to the King.

As with any item that comes into our care, we thoroughly clean and

1 Hogs Hair and 2 Pony Hair Brushes

1 Hogs Hair and 2 Pony Hair Brushes

inspect it. I used three different brushes plus an ergo vacuum cleaner to do this. I used a hogs hair brush for the wood, mostly the back of the cabinet and a softer ponytail hair brush for the inlaid wood. I also used a separate ponytail hair brush for the gilt accents. Hogs hair is a lot coarser so can be damaging to soft materials but on hard woods it is very good at getting dust from little cracks and crevices. Pony hair is very soft and as such can be used on most materials apart from textiles.

Condition Report

Condition Report

Dusting the cabinet also gave me the chance to inspect it for any possible damage like cracks or chips. I recorded this all onto its Condition report, so that when we next deep clean it, someone can look at the report to see if there is any new damage.


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Cosmetic Work…

Scaffolding in the Courtyard

Scaffolding in the Courtyard

Every 7 years, the house has a face lift to repair the paint and wood work around the windows. This year is the turn of the north side of the house in the main courtyard.

The Conservatory as the Main Entrance

The Conservatory as the Main Entrance

Scaffolding has been put up this week so we have not been able to use the main entrance, and have instead opened up the conservatory as the entrance to the house. This is only temporary for the next few days and will go back to normal later this week. However, having the porch closed off has given us the opportunity to repaint the ceiling and to wax the floors.

Having the Conservatory as the main entrance has opened up parts of the house that are sometimes missed such as Helen’s little room. Helen was the youngest daughter of the Beales and only around 7 years old when Standen was being built. She approached Phillip Webb, the architect, and asked him to create a little space that she could call her own – with 6 older brothers and sisters, this is not very surprising! Webb said yes, but she had to pay him sixpence for it. Not only Helen used though, her nieces and nephews used it as their Wendy house and secret meeting space too.

Helen's Little Room from the inside

Helen’s Little Room from the inside

Helen's Little Room from the outside

Helen’s Little Room from the outside

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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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Environmental Monitoring…

Running a historic house involves lots of different kinds of work, which we divide up into daily, weekly and annual jobs. One of the weekly jobs is to monitor the light, humidity and temperature. If the levels are wrong, than the collection deteriorates and becomes permanently damaged.

The Sofa in the Drawing room that used to be pink...

The Sofa in the Drawing room that used to be pink…

Light is one of the main causes of damage in any house, not just historic ones. It can be quite easy to see some of the damage through fading of colors but this is really only an outwardly sign of deeper damage. A high amount of light activates the chemicals, that make up the color, to react and change. One of the best examples that we have here of this is  the velvet upholstery on the sofa and matching chairs in the Drawing Room – they used to be a bright rose-pink but are now green.

Light also affects the threads in fabric, causing them to break down and snap leading to tears and rips. Ever handled something that has fallen apart in your hands when you  pick it up? This is what can happen to fabrics like curtains, carpets and tapestries.

Humidity levels are different for every type of object. For example, the correct humidity level for metals is too dry for wood, which would cause the wood to dry out and split. If the humidity is too low, organic materials like leather and wood shrink, crack and even in extreme cases, break. If the humidity levels are too high, than organic materials swell and stick, like drawers in a desk. High humidity causes dampness which in turn encourages mould and fungi. It also attracts insect pests and cause metals to rust.

Temperatures has two effects on collections. It is directly linked to humidity levels, so if it is hot, then humidity levels will be low and vice versa. Low temperature, especially sub-zero ones, will cause objects to become brittle and crack, whilst high temperatures can soften and melt some materials.

Environmental Monitor

Environmental Monitor

It can be difficult to find the right balance between these factors, which is why we monitor them at least once a week. In order to attempt to prevent damage, we have set budgets. In every room, there are certain objects that have been deemed as at a higher risk than others, which is determined by several factors, their materials or their historical significance to the house. These are the objects that we measure off using an environmental monitor.

This measure light or lux levels, relative humidity (RH) and temperature. We record it manually and take action a level is too high or low. Light is the easiest to fix as we can adjust the blinds, which is why it can sometimes be a little bit dark at times. Humidity and temperature is a bit harder to fix as it often involves adjusting heating levels and putting out humidifiers/de-humidifiers.



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Wax, Wax Everywhere…

Vicky and I Waxing the Porch

One of the jobs that we carry out every year is to wax the wooden floors and the clay tiles. This is one of those un-glamorous jobs that usually involves people getting covered in wax (Well me at least!).

In the past, wooden floors were kept clean by washing them with diluted lime or lime water and then rubbed with sand to keep them shiny. By the time the Beales had built their house, the fashion was to wax them.

In order to protect them now, we use a combination of methods. The first is that we vacuum the floors every morning before we open and look out for any broken or damaged pieces of wood or tile.

Another way that we use to protect the flooring is druggets under the carpets. A drugget is long piece of canvas, carpet or matting laid underneath the carpet to protect the floor from staining and general wear and tear as well as providing a non slip base.

Harrell's Wax

Harrell’s Wax

Waxing the floor provides a coating that wears away under people’s feet so that the floor does not get worn, which is why we replace it periodically.

The wax that we use on wooden floors is called Harrell’s and is used by the National Trust across the country as it has been specially formulated for historic flooring. It is a dark honey colored wax that we rub into the floor using cloths.

We apply it following the grain of the wood and apply it liberally. We only use it on the exposed pieces of flooring as the flooring under the carpets and furniture retains its wax for a long time.  Although we wax annually, it sometimes feels as if the floor is drinking it in like water!

The wax takes over 4 hours to dry so we leave it overnight. The next day we buff it with a floor polisher machine, that takes quite a lot guidance to keep it going in the right direction! If it is only a small part of the floor, such as the edges around the carpet in the morning room, then we hand buff it using a clean dust cloth.

The Billiard Room after its Waxing

The Billiard Room after its waxing

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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.

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Snapshots of Standen

Standen reopened last month, and as you may have read in previous blog posts, the House Team spent the weeks before opening performing a deep clean of the house. This gave us all a chance to get up close and personal with the many and varied objects in our collection, and I couldn’t resist snapping a photograph here and there when something caught my eye – here are just a few…

Corner armchair

Old woodworm damage in an antique armchair belonging to the Beale family

Dining Room

When the Drawing Room was redecorated, other showrooms were used as temporary storage – here, the Dining Room is being used to house De Morgan lustreware

Cantagalli ceramic

Cleaning the Cantagalli ceramic depicting The Journey of the Magi – the detail in this piece is stunning

Clock from Drawing Room

Standen has a number of clocks – this one is in the Drawing Room and is one of the oldest in the house


De Morgan in the Dining Room!

Cigar box

This old cigar box still smells faintly of cigars…

Knives from picnic set

The picnic set displayed in the Kitchen has many items which needed to be cleaned, including this set of knives

Metalwork detail

While cleaning this glass and metal basket, I was particularly taken with the eye catching metalwork

Detail from clock

Detail from one of the clocks in the house

Detail from glassware

This piece of glassware has a striking and unusual finish, which I hadn’t properly noticed until I started cleaning it!

Blacking the range

Blacking the range: a rather messy job!

Objects from the picnic set

More objects from the picnic set

Liberty & Co.

There are a number of pieces of furniture in the house that were sourced from Liberty, as they were well known for stocking Arts and Crafts pieces