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

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Scrubbing Churchill …



Recently I went to Chartwell for a day to shadow Flick and Sophie, the 2 assistant house stewards there.

Chartwell has a diverse history. it was originally a farmhouse that was builtin the 16th century, under the name of Well Street. Apparently, Henry VII stayed there during his courtship of Anne Boleyn, who was raised at nearby Hever Castle. During the 19th century, the farmhouse was significantly, enlarged and modified into the red brick Victorian building you see today complete with tile hung gables and oriel windows – bay windows on higher levels so they do not reach the ground.

Churchill comes into play around about 1922, when him and his wife, Clementine, bought it as their

The Garden Studio

The Garden Studio

principal home. Chuchill hired an architect by the name of Phillip Tilden to modernize the house, especially with regards to bringing more light as oriel windows were notoriously poky and small. Tilden followed the thoughts of Edward Lutyens, who disregarded the fashionable Tudor revival style and instead made each house part of its landscape. The gardens were also refurbished at the same time and a series of lakes created to house Churchill’s precious fish. The gardens provided much inspiration for Churchill’s paintings, many of which he painted in his garden studio.

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill

However, financial struggle struck in 1938 and Churchill put Chartwell up for sale. With the advent of World War 2 and with Churchill’s rising position in government, Chartwell was deemed unsafe for Churchill and his wife to live in due to its proximity to the English Channel and to the main road. Instead Churchill and his wife spent their weekdays in London and weekends in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

After World War 2, with strained finances, Churchill put Chartwell back on the market. However, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. To thank Churchill for his efforts during the war, a group of business men got together and bought Chartwell. They charged him minimal rent on the condition that once both him and Clementine had passed on, Chartwell would be given to the National Trust. Upon Churchill’s death in 1965, Clementine decided to pass the house to the National Trust straight away. Clementine did, however, specify the route that the visitors would follow and still do today.

Churchill's Study

Churchill’s Study

One of the things that Churchill loved and this was untreated pine. to this end, as part of the modifications that Churchill made, large parts of the wood used was pine. As it is untreated it has to be treated quite differently then polished or varnished wood. This was one of the things that I helped Sophie and Flick with. The oldest part of Chartwell is the study and Churchill’s bedroom, both of which date back to medieval times. To this end it is decorated with darkened pine. The stair case that leads down from the study to the dining room is a great example of natural pine. So that it doesn’t splinter or  wear to quickly, twice a year a mixture of vinegar, sensitive soap and warm water are used to scrub the tread of the stairs as well as the top of the pine banister. After a short period of time clean warm water is scrubbed onto to reduce any stickiness. This mixture solidifies so that the stairs are non slippery as well as protected from the thousands of feet that climb up and down them over the year.

The banister, once the mixture of vinegar, sensitive soap and warm water is applied is then waxed with Harrell’s wax, giving a little more grip for the visitors, staff and volunteers.

I also got to help them with the deep clean of Churchill’s bedroom, which is not normally on display. It is a small room, simply furnished  as well as with photographs of his family and his favorite books. It also has an en suite bathroom with a sunken bath so that he could better enjoy the view.

All in all, it was a really interesting day and I learnt quite a bit about Churchill and his lifestyle, as well as more about deep cleaning. I also got to meet a couple of Chartwell’s cats including Jock – Churchill left quite specific instructions about there always being a Jock the Cat at Chartwell, including what he should look like!






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There is no “I” in Team, but there is “U” in Volunteer

Lat week, Kate, our Volunteering Development Officer, and I went along to Sackville School to talk to some of the sixth formers’ about volunteering for the National Trust and Standen.

There are many roles across the property here from the garden to the house to the wider estate to admin – within each domain, there are varying roles from people giving just one hour a week to people who give several days – it is all dependent on how much time you wish to give. For me, it was interesting to hear about some of the roles that fall outside of the house, like garden stewards, who are not so much involved in the garden but are more involved in being around to talk to visitors.

Talking to 16, 17, 18 year olds sixth formers  made me think about what angle would get younger people interested and enthusiastic about volunteering, especially as it would mean giving up their time after school or on the weekend when they could be out with mates, having part-time jobs or even completing school work. I found that talking about the fact that volunteering looks good on your CV and that it can make your application for University stand out, got them thinking about what would suit them.

Visiting this school also made me realize what opportunities there are out there for everyone, not just  for younger people but also those who are looking to increase their skill set or even as something to do once you retire. The key is letting people know, which was the point of visiting the school but also about this blog.

So if you would like to get involved or if you know someone who like to learn something new and different then please contact us.

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Learning at Work Day …

On the 19th June, the house team at Standen, including myself, went on a Learning at Work Day. This basically means we got to snoop around two places to see how they interpret and present their collections!

This was just before I started so it was a nice opportunity to meet the team outside of an interview situation. It definitely made my first day the week after less daunting!

Sutton House

Sutton House

  The first place we visited was Sutton House, which is a beautiful Tudor house in the middle of London. It is a  classic medieval property with dark wood panelling and huge fireplaces dominating every room.

It was built-in 1535 for Sir Ralph Sadlier, a high-profile noble during the reign of Henry VIII. The house has had a wide variety of uses prior to becoming open to the public; from a family home to a school ( both as a boys school and then a girls school, from a fire station during World War 2 to a club house for Edwardian clergy. At one point the building was left abandoned and lived in by squatters who painted the walls with beautiful designs:


Graffiti at Sutton House

After a morning wandering around – it is amazing how much time you can spend in a small property – we then went onto the Geffrye Museum of the Home. It is a series of narrow almshouses that have been converted into a museum that shows the development of urban living rooms and how style, fashion, taste and society have influenced how we use rooms today.

The Geffrye Museum of the Home

The Geffrye Museum of the Home

By this point we were very hungry so had a wonderful lunch at the cafe there, though they did struggle to get the food out quickly as we were quite a big group!

The Geffrye Museum is very long and narrow – only as wide as a small room. It was very enjoyable though and interesting looking at how room designs and uses have changed over the last few hundred years. Over of course, we had to have the obligatory cake break as well.

Overall, we had a lovely day out and it gave us all loads of ideas of how  to present our collection here at Standen, especially about using today’s technology like iPads and mobile phones.

Hopefully over the next few years, a few of these ideas will start to appear here.

I thought I would leave you with a picture  of my favourite room of the whole day, which is a drawing-room at the Geffrye Museum set up for 1830. I really love all the different blues:

Drawing room 1830

Drawing room 1830


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Introducing Me ….

Hi I am Lizzie, the new Conservation and Interpretation Assistant here at Standen. I am Hannah’s successor to the role and, like her, will be here for the next year.

I have spent the last few weeks learning my way around Standen and meeting all of our lovely volunteers and staff members, all of whom have been very welcoming and friendly. It has been very busy – I am pretty sure I spent the first week in a haze of new impressions and names!

Prior to starting here, I was a Conservation intern at another National Trust property for 4 months. This introduced me to some of the routines and basic skills that are needed to help preserve historic houses. I am really excited about this role here at Standen as it gives me the opportunity to learn more about what it means to be a Conservation and Interpretation Assistant and more about the intricacies of running a historic house within the National Trust.

Like Hannah, I will be writing posts about the things that we get up to behind the scenes here at Standen and also about my experiences of the next year. I am also open to including posts written by and about our volunteers and their experiences of Standen.

Larkspur Bedroom

Larkspur Bedroom

As this is my first post, I thought that I would talk about my favourite room here at Standen – the Larkspur bedroom. Part of the reason I like it is that it is a warm, calming and comfortable room. I also like it because it feels the most alive of all the rooms in the house – I am always half expecting Amy Beale to come around the corner!

So what is your favourite room here at Standen and why?


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.

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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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Wallpaper: layers of history

Morris wallpaper

Close up of a sample of William Morris wallpaper

Historic buildings are often known for a particular aspect of their collection – perhaps they have an unrivalled library, or a unique collection of ceramics. Here at Standen, we’re known for having – amongst other things – an important collection of William Morris wallpapers.

We are fortunate, then, to have recently hosted a regional training day focusing on the care of wallpaper. The National Trust’s Paper Conservation Adviser, Andrew Bush, led the training, which began with an account of the history and development of wallpaper. Now – wallpaper may not sound a particularly interesting subject, but it has a fascinating history…

Morris wallpaper

Sample of William Morris wallpaper

A (very!) brief history of wallpaper

Wallpaper was originally developed to line the inside of books and chests; later being used on walls. Because of these origins, wallpaper was first sold by stationers, and was produced in individual sheets, rather than rolls.

Wallpaper blocks

Examples of the printing blocks used to produce wallpaper

Wallpaper was intended to emulate textiles, and became popular first with the rich, later filtering down through society. It wasn’t really until the end of the 17th century that more ‘ordinary’ people began to use wallpaper to make their homes look neater. However, this didn’t include the homes of the poor – they started using wallpaper in the mid 1800s, when it had become much more affordable and commonplace. In the 18th century, wallpaper manufacturing and designs became more specialised; attracting taxation in 1712. Papers were marked with tax stamps, and in some cases, tax officers would visit wallpaper manufacturers at least once a day – a practice that lasted until 1836.

Many innovations in design and manufacturing were developed, with the choice of wallpapers becoming vast: from stencilled to flocked; leather to textiles; block printed to machine printed. The majority of early William Morris wallpapers were produced with the block printed method, and many of the wallpapers at Standen were also produced using this method.

Wallpaper on table

Samples of wallpapers and wallcoverings, including tapestries

Care of wallpaper

Andrew Bush spoke about how he considered wallpaper in historic buildings to be ‘live’: there are plenty of examples of wallpaper in museums, but in historic buildings, wallpaper is still in situ; still serving its original purpose. This does have it cons – creating the right conditions to protect and preserve wallpaper can be difficult, as it’s a living, functional part of a building. It’s also tempting to try and interpret the age of wallpaper purely by considering its pattern, but it’s important not to rely on this – patterns come and go and only tell part of the story. It’s better to rely on other factors – printing techniques or tax stamps, for instance – to determine the age of wallpaper.

Wallpaper samples

Wallpaper samples featuring flocked and handprinted designs

Like everything in National Trust collections, wallpaper can be affected by a number of different factors or environments – we call these ‘agents of deterioration’. Particular problems for wallpaper can include:

 – Insects: silverfish often ‘graze’ on wallpaper, because it sometimes contains starch due to glues, pastes or other adhesives.

Humidity: fluctuating humidity can cause mould and other problems. This in turn could exacerbate silverfish infestation, as they also like to feed on mould.

Structural weaknesses: old leaks and other structural problems can cause lasting damage to historic wallpapers.

Unstable materials: the quality of the paper used in wallpaper manufacture can cause issues – sometimes the acidity in the paper can have an adverse reaction to the environment surrounding it.

Therefore we have to keep a very close eye on wallpapers in our houses. If it is an especially significant piece of wallpaper, it’s important to understand exactly how stable it is – Andrew Bush recommended that a specific wallpaper monitoring process would be useful.

Wallpaper magnified

Magnifying wallpaper allows us to see how it was produced

As part of the training day, we carried out a practical monitoring exercise; assessing an area of Standen’s wallpaper for areas potentially at risk. Using a strong raking light, we concentrated on splitting the area into a number of smaller areas to assess their vulnerabilities – what were the potential risks and how would we continue to monitor them? We concluded that one area of wallpaper was patchy, and appeared to have been damaged by silverfish in the past – we shared our findings with Andrew, and he confirmed the damage was probably the result of a silverfish infestation. Although there was no immediate evidence of a current silverfish infestation, we need to continue to monitor the area by using insect traps and visual checks, as the wallpaper in this area was clearly vulnerable.

Beauty in wallpaper

Wallpaper sample booklet from the mid-20th century

This was a really interesting and useful training day. Our wallpaper is a great asset to Standen and is such a prominent feature of the house – its important that we get to know the areas that are at risk from deterioration, and how we can best care for them.

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November: a month of cleaning, decorating and learning

Standen was closed during weekdays in November, but far from being idle, it was an incredibly busy month for the House Team – in fact, it was possibly the busiest 4 weeks I’ve experienced since starting here!

The first part of the month was spent on our annual deep clean, where we inspect and clean the house and its contents from top to bottom. The last week of the month was spent decorating the house for Christmas (you might have seen a preview of this in my post last week). The three days spent decorating were fun, but rather tiring – but it was all worth it in the end, as the house looks fantastic!

The House Team also spent time in November taking part in regional training days. Standen was hosting three of these training sessions (so we didn’t have far to travel!), and staff from other properties in the London and South East region would also be attending. For some of us, it was a chance to refresh previous training, but for others (like me!) it was a new experience all together. I was excited about taking part in my first training sessions, and was also looking forward to meeting people from other properties.

Here’s a little more about the first of the training days…

Caring for photographic materials

Slide from training day about photos

Learning about photo processing in the 19th century

The first training day hosted at Standen was with the National Trust’s Adviser on Photographic Materials, Sarah Allen. We have a small collection of photographs at Standen, but didn’t know much about how we should be caring for them, so we were looking forward to the training.

Sarah told us that the conservation definition of a photograph is ‘an image produced by light reacting with a chemically sensitive surface’. The very nature of a photograph means that they are amongst some of the most sensitive objects in National Trust collections: they are complex, multi-layered and are affected by almost everything, including light, temperature, humidity, biological factors (such as mould or insects), pollutants and…us!

Examples of 19th century photos

Some examples of 19th and early 20th century photographs

The National Trust preserves the objects in its collections through preventive conservation – carefully managing change in order to delay further deterioration. In the case of photographs, this means controlling the temperature and relative humidity levels, using high quality storage materials, and – if possible – limiting access to photographic collections by allowing access in other ways, such as digitising collections.

But before we can plan how to care for a photograph, we need to know what it is, and how it was produced. This sounds fairly simple, but as Sarah told us, there are over 1500 photographic processes (!), and establishing what type of photograph you have in front of you is often a matter of elimination. A magnifier can help us see what the image is made up of (such as dots, lines and squiggles), which can be a good indicator of the processes used to produce the photo.

Practical exercise

Practical exercise: matching up the photographs with the correct label. Everyone is wearing gloves, as the oily residues from our fingers can cause photos to deteriorate

We did a practical exercise to match up photos with a label stating the type of photo or process used to produce it – this proved rather tricky! Sarah pointed out that we should be considering the photo as an object, and not get distracted by the image itself, as this can often be misleading. It took a while, but as a team, we got most of the photos matched correctly, though we did need to refer back to our notes rather a lot!

It was a very interesting day – Sarah was a really engaging speaker, and we all learned a tremendous amount. Although Standen’s photographs are in relatively good condition, individuals from properties with larger collections commented that they were going away with lots to think about and put into action.

Slide from photos talk

I couldn’t resist sharing the final slide from Sarah’s presentation…!