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

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A Fond Adieu…

Yesterday was the 21st June, the summer solstice and the longest day of the year. It is really the turning point of the year, with summer holidays fast approaching and before we know it will be Christmas! It is also the turning point for me as I near the end of my contract as a Conservation and Interpretation Assistant – this year has just flown by. It feels like it was only yesterday that I started on one of the hottest days of 2014 (fyi – avoid long trousers and a jumper in the future).

I have learnt so much from the house team as well as from the volunteers and the visitors. Standen is one of those properties where you can see the results of a strong team in the atmosphere and the high level of detail that is apparent in everything they do, one which I am lucky to have been a part of. Also one that I look forward to continuing working with in the future.

So last year my predecessor, Hannah, left to be Assistant House Steward at Stourhead. I am not so much leaving as changing role. So from this week, I shall be the Conservation and Engagement Assistant here in the house. This blog through which I have shared my experiences, will become more of a collaboration between the house team and will give you more of an in-depth insight into Standen. Vicky, our House Steward, will be taking over and ensuring that we share some of the stories and tasks that are involved in the day-to-day running of the house.

Although the blog may be a little more sporadic, this will not be the last that you hear from me. In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger: ‘I’ll be back

On that note, I will leave you with an image of one of my favourite objects here at Standen:

The Grand Piano in the Hall

The Grand Piano in the Hall




Saying goodbye…

We’re rapidly approaching the end of June, which should hopefully mean the sunny weather is here to stay. For me, it also means the end of my training post here at Standen.

My year here has gone incredibly quickly, and it’s strange to think that this time last year I was fresh out of university and very nervous about starting my first role within the heritage sector. It really does seem like only yesterday!

I’ve learnt a tremendous amount here at Standen, and have loved every minute of it: working with such dedicated staff and volunteers has been a privilege. I will shortly be starting as Assistant House Steward at Stourhead in Wiltshire, and it really is down to my time at Standen – and the support I have been given – that I am able to confidently take the next step in my career.  

I’ve really enjoyed writing this blog, and sharing with you ‘behind the scenes’ at Standen – I hope you’ve enjoyed reading. I’d also like to take this opportunity to introduce the next trainee Conservation and Interpretation Assistant, Lizzie, who will shortly be writing on the blog.

Standen © NTPL

I’m going to sign off with a picture of Dobbin, the lovely rocking horse in the Billiard Room. For me, he symbolises what Standen is all about: a family home full of beautiful things.


Object in Focus: Arts and Crafts clock

Standen © NTPL

The clock in the Morning Room

I am almost at the end of my training post here at Standen, and I have been looking around the house with fresh eyes; taking in the unique range of beautiful and interesting objects we have in our collection. This week, I thought I’d focus on one of my favourite objects in the collection: the small metal-cased clock in the Morning Room.

Clocks are one of my favourite types of object: I don’t know much about them, but there’s something fascinating about how they work, and the sheer number of different designs and styles that they are produced in.

I’ve chosen the clock in the Morning Room because the room itself is a favourite of mine – it’s a very tranquil room; with books, beautiful ceramics, and lovely views across the garden. I always think of the clock in the Morning Room as being rather mischievous: it doesn’t keep particularly good time, and there has been many a morning – when cleaning and getting the house ready for visitors – that it has convinced me that I’m running half an hour behind schedule!

This clock was designed by Lewis Foreman Day, an English designer involved in the Arts and Crafts movement. It was made in about 1880 by a well-respected London-based clockmakers called J.W. Benson. The clock has an 8 day French striking mechanism, and the case is quite unusual; it’s made from bronze, with blue and white tiling to the front.

Standen © National Trust / Jane Mucklow

The clock in the Hall: one of the oldest objects in our collection 

We maintain our clocks by winding them weekly, and their gentle, steady ticking and chiming of the hours contributes to the cosy, lived-in atmosphere of the house. We also have an horologist (an expert in caring for and making clocks and watches) who visits once a year to service the clocks.

A number of the clocks at Standen are amongst the oldest objects in our collection – the long-case clock in the Hall has a case dating back to the 1690s!

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Emergency salvage training at Polesden Lacey

Many historic places or buildings housing historic collections have a salvage plan to help deal with the aftermath of an incident such as fire or flood. In May I attended a salvage training exercise at Polesden Lacey; a full-scale incident which even involved local fire crew!

Fire crew arrive

Fire crew arriving at Polesden Lacey (image: Eddie Hyde)

Salvage plans are designed to safely move and protect objects after a major incident, and National Trust salvage plans are tailored to the individual needs of each property. Much was learned by the Trust in the wake of the devastating fire at Uppark in 1989, and the lessons learned then continue to inform the Trust’s approach to salvage and conservation (see here for an interesting piece about the Uppark fire).

At Standen I am a member of the property salvage team, which also includes staff from different departments across the site. I have attended regular refresher training on the salvage process, but have never taken part in a full-scale training exercise – when I was offered the chance to attend Polesden Lacey’s training session, I jumped at it!

Roles are allocated...

First things first: roles are allocated (image: Eddie Hyde)

The training at Polesden took place after the property had closed for the day, and was attended by colleagues from local museums and Trust properties. The fire alarm rang to signal the start of the exercise, and we were allocated our roles. I was a member of the Salvage Team, and would be going into the building to remove important historic objects. However, first stop was the emergency store to get various pieces of equipment: room plans, personal protection equipment, and materials to prepare an area for objects immediately after they had been retrieved from the building.

Salvage Team

The Salvage Team prepare an area for temporary storage of salvaged objects (image: Eddie Hyde)

Shortly after this the fire service arrived, and they investigated whether the building was safe for us to enter. Once we had the ok from them, we began to enter the house in pairs, along with members of the fire service, to retrieve objects from the showrooms.

Salvage Team - going into mansion

The Salvage Team in the mansion, on the way to retrieve objects from the showrooms (image: Eddie Hyde)

While we were busy retrieving, the Recovery Team had set up a Safe Area for objects that been salvaged. Objects were checked against inventory lists, and a triage operation was set up to give attention to those items most in need of it.

Recovery Team

The Recovery Team transforming the cafe into a Safe Area for salvaged objects (image: Eddie Hyde)

Part-way through the evening, we had a break to rest and grab some refreshments, and then swapped roles with those that had been on the Recovery Team, so that we had experience of as many different aspects of the exercise as possible.

The exercise ended as darkness fell, so we gathered together and reflected on the evening. We all agreed that we’d learned a great deal: although regular refresher training at our individual properties is very useful, being able to take part in an event such as this gives you an idea of how a salvage operation really works.

Polesden and fire engine

(Image: Eddie Hyde)







Read a blog post about the salvage training by Claire, Polesden Lacey Conservation Assistant

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Work on Wallpaper

Larkspur wallpaper damage

Damage to the wallpaper in the Larkspur Bedroom (before conservation work)

At the start of this year, I wrote about how strong driving winds and rains had caused old damp patches and leaks to reappear in some of the south facing rooms in the house.

In the Larkspur Bedroom and the South Spare exhibition room, the damage was particularly bad. Both rooms have a history of leaks and damp, and this time they had developed leaks above the fireplaces. The water ingress had badly stained the Morris & Co. wallpaper, and – despite the use of fans and a dehumidifier to circulate the air and stablise the humidity levels – the damp conditions led to mould forming directly on the paper.

The water had come in under the flashing around the chimney, so the first thing we did was to renew the flashing and pointing in this area. Then it was the turn of the wallpaper; and so a conservator recently came and worked on the affected areas.

South Spare wallpaper damage

Staining on the wallpaper in the South Spare exhibition room (before conservation work)

He was able to remove much of the unsightly mould from the Larkspur wallpaper. The mould was very noticeable, and had begun to detract from the charm of this room. Although the wallpaper is still stained, it looks much better. Once the area has thoroughly dried out, the conservator will be able to come back to carry out work to remove the staining.

In the South Spare exhibition room, the wallpaper was carefully removed by the conservator, who has taken it away to begin a treatment to wash out the staining. It is quite a long process – not only does the delicate work on the wallpaper need to be carried out, but we also need to wait for the wall itself to dry out properly before rehanging the paper. This can take months, so it’s likely that the wallpaper will be back at Standen early next year.

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A piece of Standen’s history returns…


The bedspread prior to conservation work

Last year, money raised through our property raffle, visitor donations, and collections by staff (some of whom raised money by running the Brighton 10k race!) enabled us to send an important piece of Standen history for vital conservation work.

A family bedspread was donated to Standen by the late Phyllis Wager, who, as one of James and Margaret Beale’s grandchildren, had often come to stay at Standen when it was the family’s much cherished home.


Detail of the bedspread, with damaged areas prior to conservation work

The bedspread had been made by Amy Beale – Phyllis’s mother, and the eldest of James and Margaret’s children – but had been so well-used and loved that it required some expert TLC.

Thanks to the efforts of visitors, volunteers and staff, this specialist conservation work has been carried out and the bedspread will be returning to Standen on 19 May, where it will be displayed in the Larkspur bedroom.

Thank you to everyone that donated the money, time and energy which has made this delicate work possible. We look forward to welcoming the bedspread back, and hope you will be able to visit and see the bedspread returned home.

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Object from the Stores: ‘The Charge’; a jigsaw puzzle

Standen © National Trust / Jane Mucklow

‘The Charge’ – a 290 piece jigsaw which probably belonged to the Beale family of Standen

This wooden jigsaw puzzle is usually kept in our collections store, along with many other interesting objects that are not currently on display in our showrooms.

The jigsaw has about 290 pieces, and is called ‘The Charge’; the name suggests a military scene – perhaps the famous Charge of the Light Brigade. We don’t know exactly what scene the jigsaw shows, as we have never tried to piece it together, and the original box – which more than likely had an image of the completed puzzle – was probably lost or damaged many years ago.

The puzzle is stored in a biscuit tin, manufactured by a company called MacFarlane Lang & Co., which began life as a small bakery in 1817, although it later expanded and even held the royal warrant of appointment. One internet source suggests this particular biscuit tin was in production in the 1930s, but this is difficult to confirm. The only thing we can be sure of is that the tin was produced during or after 1904, when the company first began using the MacFarlane Lang & Co. name and expanded their business in London. The company traded under the MacFarlane Lang & Co. name until the 1940s, when it merged with other manufacturers. 

The biscuit tin is a commemorative keepsake; depicting a meeting between Roberts Burns, the Scottish poet, and Walter Scott, the Scottish writer, in Edinburgh in 1786. The picture is based on an original painting by Charles Martin Hardie which shows the only meeting between the two men. 

This jigsaw probably belonged to the Beale family, who were responsible for building Standen. A note inside the tin reads ‘Beale, Standen, E.G’. The Beales enjoyed puzzles and games of all kinds, and there are a number of different examples from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in our collection. Although some of them were later acquistions or donations, rather than family items, they give us an idea of how families spent time together.

Standen © National Trust / Jane Mucklow

Another example of a jigsaw puzzle in Standen’s collection

Some of the puzzles and games in our collection are really beautifully presented, with bright colours and intricate designs – one such game was featured on the blog earlier this year. I love that this jigsaw not only indicates how late Victorian families often spent their time, but the biscuit tin also gives us an interesting glimpse into the commemorative memorabilia of years gone by.