Standen

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


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More floors… (amongst other things)

In our quest to make sure our floors look lovely and are well cared for we try to wax the floors twice a year – getting down on our hands and knees, applying wax and buffing it up to a lovely shine – with the help of our venerable-but-still-effective floor  buffer.

However, for particular floors we have a wood and furniture conservator in every year to treat them slightly differently. These are rooms where we have stained them as the family had them originally – the Larkspur dressing room – and our two exhibition rooms – the South Spare and Croxley bedrooms.

 

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A very exciting picture of the floor in the Larkspur dressing room

The wear and tear of so many feet mean that the floors need re-staining and scratches filling in. Keeping on top of this means the underlying wood is protected and only the superficial surface is scratched and worn.

This year we got the conservator, Graham Marley, to do something a little extra – the Morning Room floor was looking sad and worn and obviously needed something more. After discussions with  our curator and conservator it was decided to put a coating of shellac on the floor.

Shellac is resin from the lac bug, and has many uses.78 records were made of it up until the 1950s, but you might be more familiar with it as nail polish. Shellac was chosen because it is natural and can be added to when it has been scratched – a plastic resin can’t be – which means we can maintain the floor at it’s best.

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Graham putting shellac on the Morning Room floor

We also took the opportunity to get him to clean up the banisters around the house. The team buff and polish them regularly, but they still get sticky when the humidity is high and we thought it was probably due to grease from people’s hands. This turned out to be the case – just look at the next photo!

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One section has been cleaned – the dull bit is from everyone’s hands who’ve ever touched this – yuck!

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Focus on – the staircase hall

I asked one of my Wednesday room guides if she had a favourite object I could talk about and she suggested that I talk about our beautiful Webb staircase.

I thought it would be interesting to expand this and start a new series where we have a look at different rooms in the house starting with, of course, the staircase hall.

The staircase hall is set back from the the main entrance of the house, away from the rooms that guests, unless they were staying overnight, would be invited into.

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Webb’s plan showing the staircase hall

Its main feature is the staircase with the impressive fumed oak balustrade. Fumed oak is oak that has been smoked, a bit like a kipper, which brings out the grain of the wood.

The flat banisters up the stairs are a typical Webb detail, which look like a splat – one of my favourite words –  the back of a Windsor chair.

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A view of the staircase hall from the half landing

The wallpaper, ‘Batchelor’s Button’, which was designed by William Morris in 1892, was put up when Mrs Beale first decorated in the 1890s. It was repaired in 1906 and varnished to protect it from grandchildren’s wayward elbows and sticky fingers and has been there ever since.

The stair carpet is a copy we had specially made in 2001 of the Axminster carpet supplied to the Beales by Morris & Co. in 1906 when the original was too worn out to be safe any more.

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The light in the hall

The central light fitting is one of our original W.A.S. Benson light fittings, similar to but larger than the ones in the hall. It’s wrought iron with an opaque glass shade made by Powell & Co. Glass Manufacturers, London.

My favourite thing in the staircase hall is the Webb designed table at the bottom. It has got seven legs and is a lovely oval shape, not circular as it might at first appear.

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The Webb seven legged table

The most striking picture in the staircase hall is the massive replica of a cartoon by Ford Maddox Brown of the Manchester city hall murals. It shows the introduction of Christianity to the Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria (c.586 – 632/33), which included Manchester, through the baptism of King Edwin.

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The Baptism of King Edwin

There are also the two portraits of Mr and Mrs Beale at the bottom of the stairs – make sure you stop to say hello next time you visit!

Are there any rooms you’d like to know a bit more about? Please let us know in the comments or on our Facebook or Twitter.

 

 


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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?

 


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Standen’s deep clean

If you visit Standen you may see some of our conservation team working in the house. They might be dusting, but they could also have pulled all the drawers out of a cabinet and are cleaning them. There also might be a team of volunteers dusting books or cleaning metal objects.

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Metal cleaning in the kitchen

So what’s going on? Well, as part of the routine of caring for the house we clean all of it, every year, from top to bottom, and everything in it.

Our team of specialist preventative conservation cleaners work systematically through the house, dusting glass and ceramics with special brushes, vacuuming textiles with low suction and taking furniture apart to get to all the nooks and crannies and to make sure they are in the best possible condition.

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Dusting the dining table glassware with a soft brush.

They note any changes on object condition reports and record what they have done. This is important as we have over 6000 objects in our collection and couldn’t possibly remember them all!

So why are you seeing this now? Traditionally, National Trust houses would close for 3 or 4 months in winter to do all of this work behind the scenes. The house would be “put to bed” and covered up, only uncovered to be cleaned and finally when we reopened to the public in March. Now we are open we can share the work that the house and collection needs to ensure that it is in the best possible condition for our visitors to enjoy.

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The Hall covered up for winter in 2009.

If you want to know more we run three weekends in November where we talk about the work we do – you might even get the chance to have a go! Or you could read the blog next time…

 

 


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Object of the month: St Agnes

With the weather finally starting to look like spring has arrived and Easter just around the corner, this month I thought I’d choose an object featuring a traditional symbol of new life.

St Agnes, a tapestry by Morris & Co after a painting by Burne-Jones, at Standen, East Grinstead, West Sussex

Morris & Co. Tapestry of St Agnes

This is the tapestry of St Agnes at the top of the stairs. She is often depicted holding a lamb to represent her purity as a virgin saint, and in fact her name comes from the Greek ‘hagnē,’ meaning chaste. Agnes is also very similar to ‘agnus,’ the Latin word for lamb. She was martyred in Rome in AD304 for her Christian beliefs and is the patron saint of engaged couples, gardeners and girls. Every year on her feast day, 21 January, two lambs are blessed at her church in Rome.

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Stained glass window from the Church of St Helen, Welton

This particular design was adapted from one of a pair of stained glass window by Edward Burne-Jones which can be seen at the Church of St Helen in Welton, Yorkshire, along with a version featuring St Cecelia. William Morris added the foliage to the design and the tapestry was produced by Morris & Co., highlighting the collaboration between the two men. Both were involved in the founding of the company that bears Morris’ name, even though nowadays Burne-Jones is better known as one of the leading Pre-Raphaelite artists.

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Label on the back of the tapestry frame

The tapestry was originally made for Sir Thomas Wardle, a fabric printer from Staffordshire who produced many early Morris textiles. There is a label on the back that tells us that it was exhibited at the Manchester Jubilee exhibition in 1887. Another label from the Stockport Centenary Exhibition in 1892 wrongly labels it as an image of St Cecelia, so it must have originally been one of a pair.

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Chalk drawing by Henry Stacy Marks

The tapestry of St Agnes is not the only object in the house to feature a lamb, you can also see one in Henry Stacy Marks’ chalk drawing representing spring from ‘The Seasons’ in the Billiard Room.

 


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Object of the month: Taxidermy birds

This month I’ve chosen an object that I would love to take home and have in my house. These taxidermy birds are in the Billiard Room alcove and belonged to the Beale family.

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Taxidermy birds in the Billiard Room alcove

They are brightly coloured, tropical quetzals from South America and their name means ‘large, brilliant tail feather’ in the Aztec language Nahuatl. They’re admired so much in Guatemala that the currency is even named after them.

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Rowland Ward from his 1903 book ‘Records of Big Game’

The Beales’ glass dome of quetzals has a label so we know it was made by Henry Ward, when he had a shop on Oxford Street at 2 Vere Street. He only used this address between 1857 and 1878, so it must have been made long before the Beales moved to Standen. Henry Ward trained one of the most famous taxidermists in the world, his son, Roland Ward. He specialised in big game and had a shop called ‘The Jungle’ in London with many famous clients, including Winston Churchill, Walter Rothschild and Edward VII. You can see some of his most famous work at the Powell Cotton Museum at Quex Park in Kent.

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Winston the mouse on my mantelpiece

Taxidermy was very fashionable in the Victorian era for remembering beloved pets and displaying hunting trophies as well as showing off. Rich travellers and explorers also brought back exotic species that they had stuffed to teach people about other parts of the world in the days before photography and holidays abroad were common. It was very difficult to preserve specimens though as fur and feathers are a favourite meal of insect pests, so the art lost its popularity. People also began to consider the ethics of killing wild animals for decoration. Nowadays artists like Polly Morgan are using taxidermy for modern art installations and there is a trend not to use animals that have been killed for the purpose of stuffing. I even have a few small pieces myself. Let me introduce you to one of them, above is Winston the mouse, who was originally destined to be snake food!

 


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Object of the month: A Dream of Patience

Since the house has been so beautifully decorated for Christmas I’ve chosen one of our Christmas themed objects for a closer look this month. It normally hangs in the Larkspur Dressing Room, but at the moment A Dream of Patience isn’t covered up for the conservation exhibition like the other objects in the room – it’s part of the Christmas exhibition in the Croxley.

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A Dream of Patience – print by Alice Havers at Standen

At first glance it might not seem like a very festive scene, but it’s actually a Christmas card design. Lots of Victorian cards looked like this and they were very popular, with over 1.5 million produced in 1880 alone. Henry Cole only came up with the idea of Christmas cards in 1843, but as printing got cheaper the images became more elaborate and artistic to try to stop the holiday becoming too commercial.

People liked aesthetic Christmas cards as they could not only send messages of goodwill to their friends, but also have them as art in their houses. However, Punch magazine commented at the time that they were “about as appropriate to Christmas as strawberries and iced-cream.”

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Detail of left hand side of Dream of Patience

This particular design by Alice Havers won the first prize of £200 in a Christmas card competition judged by the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais. The cards were first printed in 1882 by the publisher Hildesheimer & Faulkner, who also published Christmas cards by Beatrix Potter. The publishers sent some Christmas cards to Oscar Wilde who commented that they were “really charming” with the ones by Alice Havers being “especially good.” This design was later used in the programme of a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera Patience, which parodied the aesthetic movement of the time.

The artist, Alice Havers, had an exotic upbringing, living in the Falklands and Uruguay as a child, before settling in England in 1870. She was unusual for the time for continuing to use her maiden name after she married and was a member of the Society of Lady Artists. She was a friend of Lewis Carroll and a well-known illustrator who exhibited at the Royal Academy. Some art critics thought that she was overly sentimental, but she was clearly talented – Queen Victoria even bought one of her early works.