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

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Object of the Month: Utrecht Velvet

Easy Chair in the Drawing Room

Easy Chair in the Drawing Room

Utrecht velvet is a strong, thick plush velvet that is most commonly used in upholstery. Here, it has been used to upholster three easy chairs that were designed and built by Morris & Co.

The pattern is stamped onto the velvet making it appear darker and slightly raised.

The Dutch Suite, Titanic, in First Class Image Courtsey of CyArk

The Dutch Suite, Titanic, in First Class
Image Courtsey of CyArk

Utrecht velvet was first produced in the Low Countries of Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. Morris adapted this idea and sold it from 1871.

It was manufactured through Heaton & Co in Manchester, who were later employed by White Star Line to decorate the interiors of the Titanic. Utrecht velvet was used for the walls of the Dutch Suite, which was part of the first class accommodation in the Titanic.



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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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.

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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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Object from the Stores: ‘Phyndit – a great party game!’


Phyndit – ‘at last, a really new game’

We’re currently checking and organising our object stores as part of an ongoing project to improve the storage of our collection. The cellar storage area is full of all sorts of interesting and beautiful objects, so I was keen to select something to display in the house, as part of the monthly Object in Focus feature.

The bold colours of a board game caught my eye, and when I removed it from its tissue paper, I found it was actually a type of parlour game called Phyndit. I was intrigued, so I decided this would be our object from the stores!

The well-used box is decorated in primary colours, with the figures of elegant individuals dashing around a large house. The costumes of the figures seemed to be 1930s in style, and a little digging around on the internet told me that the game was patented in 1931 in America, by a now defunct London-based box making company.

PhynditOpening up the box, the contents revealed the type of game popular with wealthier classes during the first half of the 20th century: games that often involved hurtling around the house (or even outside) from one box to the next, posting answers to questions, or matching up ‘letters’ with the correct post box.

A scorecard inside Phyndit was dated 18th March 1938, with a list of players names: Grace, Doreen, Joy…There are several lists of names inside, suggesting the game was played over and over again, perhaps by different generations of the same family – the box, which has been repaired several times using sellotape certainly seems to suggest that it was a favourite game.

Phyndit 010

Although most objects at Standen are on the inventory database and are marked with an inventory number (see here for last week’s post on inventory marking) there are inevitably some items that aren’t, for one reason or another – Phyndit is one of these. The most likely explanation is that it was a donation to Standen at some point, and has probably spent most of its time here in storage – the stores project will enable us to know exactly what we have in storage, and make sure it is better labelled and stored.

I’m really pleased to be able to have an object from the stores on display, and the fact that Phyndit has probably never been displayed before is even better. The bold colours of the box and the figures dashing around on the front evoke the glamorous dinner parties of the 1930s. Because of the lack of database information about the game, it’s unlikely that it belonged to the Beale family of Standen (in addition, the names on the scorecard inside the box don’t match those of the Beales) but games such as this were so popular, it’s just possible the Beales played a similar game…


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Object in Focus: ‘Prince Pharamond and his cat – a fairy tale for Christmas’

As Christmas is approaching at an alarming rate, I thought that a festive-themed Object in Focus would be very appropriate.

I’ve always loved a Christmassy story to help set the mood for the celebrations, so I decided to have a quick search on our collections database to see whether we had any Christmas books at Standen. The database showed a number of books: some were Christmas stories; others had been Christmas presents (complete with inscriptions inside). A book called Prince Pharamond and his cat: a fairy tale for Christmas caught my eye due to its unusual title. The database entry said that it had been given to Margaret Field (later Margaret Beale, one of the creators of Standen) in December 1856, probably by her father. The book didn’t sound like a traditional Christmas story, but I was intrigued by it and thought it deserved to have its moment out on display.

Prince Pharamond and his catTucked away, high on a shelf in the Morning Room, I found it: a tiny, slim paperback that was lost amongst the larger, more substantial books on the shelf. Gently opening the front cover, I found the inscription that had been recorded on the database: Margaret Field with her [Father’s?] best love, December 29th 1856. Margaret loved to read; passing her passion for reading on to her own children, who regularly received books as Christmas presents.

The book is rather fragile: the spine is crumbling, and some of the pages are coming away from the binding. It’s clearly been well-read over the years. Our books are checked and cleaned annually by a team of volunteers, who record the condition of the books on a care sheet. Looking at the care record, I saw that although the book is in poor condition, it is stable – its condition hasn’t deteriorated in the last few years.

Prince Pharamond is definitely not your stereotypical Christmas story – instead, it promises a tale of magic and adventure. It tells of a young Prince who, upon the death of his father the King, seeks distant lands with only an enchanted snow-white cat for company. The Prince encounters fairies, elves and goblins along the way, and falls in love with a beautiful fairy. He returns to his homeland a wise and worldly man; marries the fairy, and together they become well-loved and admired rulers of the kingdom.

The book was published in 1857 (slightly at odds with the date of the inscription inside) by Routledge and Co. Routledge became famous for publishing huge quantities of cheap paperbacks, such as this one, which cost one shilling. Originally a small London-based publisher; today Routledge is a global publishing giant, producing books on many different topics.

Prince Pharamond and his catRoutledge helped to introduce well-known writers (such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Washington Irving and Benjamin Disraeli) to the masses by publishing affordable copies of their most popular works. The author of Prince Pharamond is not indicated on the book itself, and further research didn’t produce any answers. Some early works by writers like James Fenimore Cooper and Edward Bulwer-Lytton were published anonymously by Routledge, so perhaps this is the case with our book…

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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.

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Object in Focus: Della Robbia charger

Welcome to our second Object in Focus!

I didn’t intend to feature another object so soon after the last, but I was inspired by some of our volunteers, who said that this particular item is one of their favourites…since I didn’t know much about this piece myself, it seemed a good opportunity to expand my knowledge of our collection.

Della Robbia charger (Morning Room)

Standen is known for its large and varied ceramics collection. Throughout the house, we have many examples of a type of plate called a ‘charger’. There are several examples of chargers in the Morning Room alone!

Della Robbia charger

Della Robbia charger, currently displayed in our Morning Room. The caption reads ‘Who is Sylvia, what is she?’

This particular charger was produced by Della Robbia and is displayed on the bookcase in the Morning Room. The unusual design features the head and shoulders of a girl in the centre, with a caption above reading Who is Sylvia? What is she?’.

The charger is a favourite piece of one of our Room Guides, and he told me that the ‘Who is Sylvia?’ caption is actually a quote from a poem in Shakespeare’s The Two Gentleman of Verona.

So…what exactly is a charger?

A charger is a large, decorative plate that is often used to dress dinner tables, and is usually placed underneath the food-bearing plates.

Food is not served directly on a charger – its function is largely aesthetic – and so it can be made from a variety of materials, such as wood or metals, and have elaborate decorative finishes, such as the lustreware glaze used by the Arts & Crafts potter William De Morgan (1839-1917).

The word ‘charger’ originated around the 13th century, probably from the Middle English word ‘chargeour’. Chargers became popular as decorative pieces in the 19th century, and many were produced specifically to be displayed on walls and in cabinets.

Della Robbia

Another Della Robbia charger

Another charger produced by Della Robbia, which can also be seen in the Morning Room

The Della Robbia Pottery was a Birkenhead-based ceramics factory which operated from 1894-1906. The company followed the Arts & Crafts principles advocated by William Morris and others by using local materials and traditional craftsmanship in the production process.

The company made numerous different types of ceramics, such as vases, plates, decorative panels and wall chargers, and the designs incorporated lead glazes and often took inspiration from Middle Eastern imagery – particularly Islamic art.

Standen is one of only a couple of National Trust properties lucky enough to own Della Robbia ceramics. We have many pieces in the house, and their elaborate and unusual designs often divide opinion…what are your thoughts?

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Object in Focus: Corner Armchair

You might have seen my post from a few days ago asking you to keep an eye out for our new Objects in Focus series…well, here’s our first object!

18th Century Corner Armchair

18th century corner open armchair

This 18th century corner open armchair is displayed in the Hall

This chair is on permanent display in the Hall, and it’s one of the first objects our visitors glimpse as they make their way into the house. I was always intrigued by its unusual shape, and having had a number of visitors ask me about the origins of the chair, I thought this would make a good starting point for our spotlight on objects.

The chair is from the 18th century, and is an interesting shape; described as a ‘corner open armchair‘. It is made from fruitwood, and the seat is covered in red velvet.

This piece of furniture is particularly interesting, as we know that it belonged to the Beale family before Standen was built, and they brought it with them when they moved here in 1894.

More than meets the eye…

Anne Stutchbury is a Standen volunteer who is currently researching the Beale family archive as part of her PhD project. Anne told me that there is more to this chair than first appears…she’d come across evidence that the chair may have been altered from a commode corner chair. An 1894 invoice that she’d come across in her research suggested that this chair, or one very like it, had been altered by one Charles Sale of Kensington:

‘Altering 1 commode corner chair…making new seat, upholstering same and covering in calico 15s.0d’

Charles Sale Invoice July 20th 1894

The 1894 invoice from Charles Sale of Kensington, detailing alterations to a number of pieces of furniture – including the corner armchair

Commode chairs like this one were not unusual in the 18th and 19th centuries. A chamber pot would have been hidden underneath the removable seat, and the chair placed somewhere discreet, such as a bedroom.

The Beale family were great admirers of antique furniture, which they thought was often better made and more refined than the furniture they could buy new. It would not be unusual for them to buy antique furniture and then pay for it to be repaired or altered so that it better met their needs.

Bug damage…

The back of the chair is rather damaged. At first glance the chair appears to be a well-loved and well-used piece of furniture, but the damage is not from use or age: it was actually caused by a woodworm infestation. Woodworm are the larvae of furniture beetles, and they live and feed inside wood, often causing serious damage to furniture.

The best line of defence against future pest damage to our collection is cleaning and inspection, and controlling the conditions objects are kept in.


Objects in the Spotlight

We want to make our collection even more accessible to visitors, so we recently started an Objects in Focus series, which allows us to pick objects from our collection that we think deserve their moment in the spotlight, sharing them with you both inhouse and online.

I‘ve been given responsibility for researching and putting together this series of information sheets, and it’s something I’m rather excited about – I’m especially keen to get our volunteers involved, so they can tell you about their favourite objects. We look forward to sharing with you all sorts of wonderful objects from our collection!

We’ll be choosing a new object each month, so look out for our first pick over the next couple of days!

Here’s a sneaky clue as to our first object…

Charles Sale invoice

A clue to our upcoming Object in Focus…hint: have a look at the second line down!