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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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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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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Object of the month – Washing Day at St. Ives

A game I play when I visit museums and other National Trust properties is one that was introduced to me by a friend. At the main entrance of an exhibition she turned to me and said:

You are such an amazing person that the museum has decided that you get to take one thing away with you – this is your chance to decide. What do you pick?

At Standen I am lucky enough to have had a long time to get to know the collection and decide what I’d have, if I ever got to be this amazing – although it would take an act of Parliament for me to be able to take my thing away!

So what would I choose? The first thing I would go for (there are a few) would be this painting by Arthur Hayward.

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Washing Day at St Ives.

I chose it because I love the sea and the small villages clustered on the edge of the land with one foot in the sea. The painting is so evocative: you can almost feel the sting of the wind on your cheeks and taste the tang of the sea. But as well as that I love his use of light and the sketchiness of how he handles the paint here. He trained with Stanhope Forbes was known for painting en plein air, and I can’t see how else Hayward would have captured that airy, light feeling of St Ives. There is a reason painters head for the coast, and especially Cornwall – the quality of the light.

Hayward was a Lancastrian born in 1889 who originally studied architecture at South Kensington, but gave it up for painting. He trained in Warrington before Stanhope Forbes (of whom’s paintings we have 2 of the 3 in the National Trust’s collection – which are another possibility for me to take home) at Newlyn. He went on, after serving in the Royal Artillery in World War 1, to establish a St Ives School of Painting. There is a great self portrait at the National Portrait Gallery here.

Here is a link to his other paintings in public collections if you would like to find out more. If you would like to see our painting in the flesh it’s in the Westbourne artist’s studio on the first floor of the house. If I haven’t got to it before then…


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100 years since the Battle of the Somme

Today is the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. A devastatingly bloody battle with over a million men killed over its course. The first day alone – 100 years ago today – resulted in around 57,470 casualties. It continued until the 18th of November 1916 – the BBC have some excellent pictures here if you would like to know more.

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Helen’s Red Cross service record card

The Beale family were, unavoidably, involved in the First World War. Helen and Maggie, the two unmarried Beale daughters, joined the local East Grinstead VAD unit in 1911, which led to certificates in first aid and home nursing.

 

Helen, after serving as a VAD in local Red Cross hospitals and in London, volunteered to work overseas and was posted to France in August 1915 for 13 months. We are lucky enough to have the large collection of letters sent to and from her when she was away in France.

She was sent to at No.26 General Hospital, Etaples from August 1915, arriving only a few months after it was established. She was there until almost the end of the Battle of the Somme, leaving in September 1916.

It is a town of huts, both wooden and tin and canvas – almost miles of them

No. 26 General Hospital consisted of 35 wards, two operating theatres and assorted ancillary services in huts and a large corrugated iron building. In 1917 another VAD, Elsie Tranter, records being able to hear the guns at the front quite clearly. Vera Brittain famously recorded her experiences as a VAD at Etaples, after Helen had left, in Testament of Youth.

The Beales were a close family and sent many letters dealing mostly with domestic and practical matters – they were trusted to “self-censor”, so the war and Helen’s work were mentioned only superficially.

It’s a great time to be out here & a thing to remember for always, and I wouldn’t be missing it for anything…

Life was tough, tending war casualties. Working days were long and life could be hectic. VAD nurses were kept busy, keeping wards clean and meticulously tidy, as well as doing actual nursing.

We really have been busy for this past eight days – convoys in, evacuations out, dressings, Medical Officers popping in and out, the C.O. coming in with fresh orders about extra beds, the Quartermaster coming in and countermanding them, the Matron and the Wardmaster doing the same, patients arriving on stretchers from the theatre or going there or to the X-rays, everybody wanting drinks and writing paper, and their positions shifted or something or other until one really didn’t know which way to turn or what to be at next.

Discipline was strict and conditions were somewhat spartan. Helen rose to the challenge and coped well, describing her demanding work at the hospital:

Eleven & a half hours bang off on end, probably not sitting down at all, or only on the end of a bed whilst one is cutting up dressings etc, is a pretty long spell, and especially that most of the time one is working against time to the most dreadful extent!

I find it is almost impossible to settle down to anything in the night – my lurid imagination always runs riot and I think somebody must be haemorrhaging and I’d really better pop out from behind the screen and go and look.

We are lucky enough to have Helen’s medals in our collection which she was awarded for her war work.

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Helen’s First World War medals

I’ll leave you with a letter Helen wrote to her mother on the 3rd of July 1916, just after the start of the Battle of the Somme. Not quite how we see it based on what we now know.

 

No. 26 General Hospital

B.E.F.

July 3rd 1916

Dearest Mumsy,

Isn’t it just lovely to have such real exciting news!  I do hope it goes on being good.  We eagerly read the London newspapers here to get the official reports and so sort our minds a bit as to what is real news and what only rumour.  Of course we are busy – off times go by the board at times like these – we are rather thrilled at a notice put up in the Mess to say that folks in surgical wards are to stay within call if they do get off duty – it makes one seem quite important if only in one’s own eyes!  This is the kind of time when we bless our luck in being out here.  I’m afraid I sounded grumpy rather in my last letter – you can’t think how trying slack times are after a very few days of them.  Directly folks get busy all goes much better.

Everybody at home must be simply simmering with excitement over the news – if only we are able to keep it up and really and truly “push” this time.  We have had some nice boys from our part in – the good broad burr sounded very home like.

On Saturday being as how it was Dominion Day the Canadians had a bean fest and a Base Ball Match between themselves and the Americans.  We strolled along about 5.30 and sat on a bank and watched the fun and were provided with the very sweetest of sweet tea – flavoured with maple sugar I should guess – which we had to lose as we couldn’t drink it.  Baseball is a kind of complicated rounders – the real excitement comes when the batter runs from one base to the other – invariably he and the matcher and the ball all arrive at a base at the same moment in a flurry of dust and either he is out or he isn’t according to somebody’s fancy.  Last time, or rather the only time, I have seen it played was in New York on the day of our arrival when Mr. Philpotts took Doppy and me to a popular Saturday afternoon’s game.

It’s a quarter to nine but still quite warm and light for sitting out on the balcony.  D. Pring was at work in the theatre till 12.30 last night and up at usual at 6 this morning so she has gone to bed and I must go soon so as not to disturb her – also one wants to keep fresh and ready for anything just now and there is nothing like a nice long night’s sleep for that – is there?

I was so glad of Mag’s letter to give me such an account of everything.  I wonder if you will ???? Park (?) for a few days – it will be rather a good little change for you I should think.  My love to folks there if you go – tell me how my particular fancy Johnny Kenwick (?) is if you see him won’t you.

It’s no good I can’t write sense tonight – I want to tell you all the little thrill bits, at least the things that seem so to us but perhaps aren’t really, and so I will stop as I can’t write those!!!

Very much love to you both,

                      Your loving,

Helen

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Helen as a nurse after the war (centre back)

 


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Picture Rehang in the Drawing Room

The majority of our paintings downstairs (with notable exceptions!) come from our first custodians, Arthur and Helen Grogan. They enabled the Trust to take on Standen in 1972 by providing an endowment and becoming tenants of the house. They were avid collectors of Arts & Crafts objects and also of Pre-Raphaelite and Victorian art.

Certain paintings – like Mr and Mrs Beale at the bottom of the stairs – we know were the Beales had them so we like to keep them there. Our collection of New English Art Club paintings were collected by Helen and Arthur, so are a bit more flexible.

Not all of our paintings are easily visible to our visitors, particularly those on the far side of the Drawing Room (although you can see them on the NT’s collection website here), so we decided to move a couple of our favourites by James Charles nearer to the visitor route.

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Ben the house manager and the handlers checking the position of one of the relocated paintings.

We had the advice of our new curator, Jane Eade, who works across several properties in the region and has previously worked at the National Portrait Gallery, and the help of two trained art handlers who are very experienced in moving and hanging paintings.

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Our art handlers measuring out some new picture chain for rehanging one of the paintings.

After trying two paintings in different locations  we decided where we’d like them to go – and here they are! We took into account the size of the paintings and their frames and the spaces we thought they might go into, but we also experimented to see what looked best.

We really think they brighten up this end of the room – what do you think?