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



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Copper Green…

The Copper Kettle

The Copper Kettle

This kettle made out of brass and cooper was designed by Christopher Dresser. Like any metals in an oxygenated environment, copper and brass need to be cleaned at least once a year to help them their shine.

In order to clean this kettle, two substances are used; Autosol which is a metal polish that removes oxidation  rust, stains and corrosion, without being too corrosive. Autosol is applied to a small piece of cotton wool and then rubbed gently to remove any dirt or corrosion. Cotton

buds are used on smaller harder to reach areas, such as where the

Materials used in cleaning copper and brass

Materials used in cleaning copper and brass

handle joins the pot, to free it of as much dirt and discoloration as possible.

The kettle was then buffed slightly before a layer of Rennaisance wax was was added using a specially designated hogs hair brush, which is the second substance.This adds a barrier to prevent some moisture and oxygen from reaching the surface causing corrosion.

Green stained dirt

Green stained dirt

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Front of House

photo 1

One of our very welcoming volunteers on duty on the Porch

One of the most important jobs that we do here as staff, is to ensure that our volunteers are happy and enjoying what they do for us. We do this mostly through front of house duties.

Doing front of house basically means ensuring that the house runs smoothly on a daily basis. This is a role that we split between myself, the Assistant House Steward, House Steward and House Manager.

We start off the day with a briefing. This is to update everyone, staff and volunteers, on things that are happening that day, such as if there are any groups coming or if there is a new exhibition starting. It also means that any information from other departments like the garden team, are passed on to keep everyone updated, such as updates on the Garden Revival project. We also let each volunteer know what room they are guiding in for that shift.

Once  we are open, we will go around the house and see how the room guides are doing – It gives me an excuse for a quick catch up as well. We are also on hand to answer any queries or requests that the room guide feels unable to answer fully or generally lend a hand if it is busy.

Larkspur Bedroom

Larkspur Bedroom

Front of house does bring its own challenges especially with us being open 363 days of the year now. Often I find myself going from room to room covering tea breaks or covering the room whilst the guide goes and does an introductory talk – one of my favorite rooms to cover is the Larkspur Bedroom and Dressing Room. However  this does give me the opportunity to connect with our visitors and find out what they like and dislike about the house.

Being front of house is always an interesting way to spend the day. Every day is different, with new questions, challenges and demonstrations. I always find that I learn something new, whether from a visitor, volunteer or member of staff.

Happy New Year

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Chim Chim Cher-ee

This winter, we have been able to light the fire in the Hall for the first time in over 40 years. But there are always a few things that need to be checked before lighting a fire in such a historic and unused fireplace.

Testing the Chimney to see if there are any gapsChimneys need to be swept regularly so that the flues remain clear of soot, debris and birds nests (especially in unused ones – see previous posts about birds coming down the chimneys in the bedrooms upstairs here). Also they need to be swept so the gases can escape safely out of the top of the chimney as opposed to building up and causing a chimney fire. All of this will help to increase the chimney’s ability to draw the smoke up instead of out into the room and generally help to keep the fire going.

Much like in the song in ‘Mary Poppins‘, brushes are still used today – technology has not changed that much due to the confines of space in the chimney, the main change has been that vacuums are used in some to help get rid of build ups of soot and tar. The brush are twirled upwards to dislodge any soot and tar until the brush pokes out the very top of the chimney. A series of poles are used to extend the brush to make it long enough.

One of the other jobs that needed to be done, was to line the chimney. If a chimney is not lined and burns wood, tar builds up on the inside and eventually seeps through the walls leaving black/brown stains. If lined incorrectly, the flue can also start to leak smoke and fumes such as carbon monoxide as well as leading to poor updraught. The main reason that we got the chimney lined was a precaution against moisture and tar leaking through the walls. Also as it was last used in 1972, we needed to make sure that the chimney would draw well.

We have been lighting the fire every weekend in December and will do so over the 27th and 28th December if you would like to come and have a sit down by it (House open 11am – 3pm). You will be very welcome to.

Merry Christmas everyone.The fire all warm and cozy



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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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Cosmetic Work…

Scaffolding in the Courtyard

Scaffolding in the Courtyard

Every 7 years, the house has a face lift to repair the paint and wood work around the windows. This year is the turn of the north side of the house in the main courtyard.

The Conservatory as the Main Entrance

The Conservatory as the Main Entrance

Scaffolding has been put up this week so we have not been able to use the main entrance, and have instead opened up the conservatory as the entrance to the house. This is only temporary for the next few days and will go back to normal later this week. However, having the porch closed off has given us the opportunity to repaint the ceiling and to wax the floors.

Having the Conservatory as the main entrance has opened up parts of the house that are sometimes missed such as Helen’s little room. Helen was the youngest daughter of the Beales and only around 7 years old when Standen was being built. She approached Phillip Webb, the architect, and asked him to create a little space that she could call her own – with 6 older brothers and sisters, this is not very surprising! Webb said yes, but she had to pay him sixpence for it. Not only Helen used though, her nieces and nephews used it as their Wendy house and secret meeting space too.

Helen's Little Room from the inside

Helen’s Little Room from the inside

Helen's Little Room from the outside

Helen’s Little Room from the outside

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A Day in 1925…

The Kitchen Gardeners

The Kitchen Gardeners

Last weekend, we had our big Day in the Life day. The house is set up for a weekend in 1925, when Amy, the eldest daughter of the Beales, is coming to visit along with her husband and three of her children. Hence why as you go around you might spot a bag that has not quite been unpacked, the table is laid for dinner and then when you go upstairs, Amy is having breakfast in bed and Maggie is writing her diary before coming downstairs.

All of this has been gearing up to last Saturday where we took the Day in the Life story to the extreme! It was especially  exciting and fun to share the house with the visitors (not that it is not usually)  but this took that feeling to the next level. This was something that united the property as loads of volunteers and staff dressed up and pitched in.

The Cafe Staff

The Cafe Staff

There was loads of activities going on throughout the house with some of our volunteers playing billiards and draughts. We also had napkin folding demonstrations and writing in the Visitors book with pen and ink. We also had some cooking on the range with produce from the Kitchen Garden at Standen, where people could try roasted pumpkin, red cabbage and fresh bread.

Draughts and Puzzles in the Drawing Room

Draughts and Puzzles in the Drawing Room

It was a thoroughly enjoyable day but not one without its tensions! The main one happened just before we opened – we had filled the bath in the Green Bathroom upstairs and filled it with bubbles so it looked like someone was just about to have a bath. Now the taps are no longer connected so we had to fill it by hand with buckets. The next thing we knew water was coming through the ceiling in the Victorian Gentlemen’s Lavatories! So we had to quickly empty it, again by hand, using buckets!

I was dressed up as  a maid and got the chance to spend the day in the house talking to everyone and partaking in some of the activities. Here is one of me in action:

Gretting Guests as they arrive..

Greeting Guests as they arrive..

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Re-interpreting the servants’ wing

The Dog Leg Corridor as it was a few years ago, with the low false ceiling

The Dog Leg Corridor as it was a few years ago, with the low false ceiling

If you’ve visited Standen in the last few months, you may have noticed one or two changes as you came to the end of your journey around the house. We’ve been looking at and refreshing the way we present the servants’ areas of the house to give these areas a bit more context. One of the areas we have been concentrating on is the Dog Leg Corridor (so-called because of the bend in the corridor, which would apparently stop cooking smells reaching the family part of the house). We started work on this area a few years back; removing a doorway and a false ceiling that were later additions. This was a lengthy process that involved fire and safety considerations and listed buildings consent, among other things.

The removal of the false ceiling revealed an area of William Morris Trellis wallpaper; showing that this area was once as heavily decorated as the Morning Room Corridor, which it leads on from.

A new, suspended ceiling was recently fitted to hide wires and other electrical fittings. The fact it is suspended means that further damage to the surviving Trellis wallpaper is avoided. We also added glass coolie shades to the light fittings, which are in keeping with the light fittings in the rest of the service wing.

This surviving Trellis wallpaper was found above the false ceiling in the Dog Leg Corridor

This surviving Trellis wallpaper was found above the false ceiling in the Dog Leg Corridor

Although these works made the Dog Leg Corridor more historically accurate, we felt that it was still a little anonymous: walking along, one didn’t necessarily get the feeling that you were heading away from the family part of the house, towards the ‘working’ part of the house. An evolving ideas process led us to decide upon something a little different when it came to interpreting this area – the corridor was almost a blank slate, and so we were able to do something bold and eye catching.

A glimpse of the anamorphic design in the Dog Leg Corridor

A glimpse of the anamorphic design in the Dog Leg Corridor

We wanted to highlight that this corridor was a transitional space from family life to servant life. Inspired by a quote from the Beale family archives, an anamorphic design was created: different parts of the design were painted on different areas of the corridor; coming together to create a whole when viewed from the start of the corridor. The colour and rosette around the quote are inspired by the roses in the Morris Trellis wallpaper, again underlining the transition from the richly decorated family quarters to the more austere service areas.

There has been a really positive response from visitors towards the anamorphic design – just the other day, I overheard a visitor comment that it was clever and thought provoking. The re-display of the Dog Leg and service wing is a long-term project, so do keep an eye out for more changes and improvements in the future.

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Standen in a hurry

Recently, I spoke to a visitor who said that he’d never visited Standen before, but was a little short of time – were there any objects that he simply shouldn’t miss? This was a tricky question, because although Standen is modest when compared to some country houses, there’s still much to see.

I told the visitor a few objects to look out for, but mostly advised him to ask the room guides as he went around. But it got me thinking – if I’d had more time to prepare, what would I suggest someone on a flying visit to the house absolutely shouldn’t miss?

Thinking about the objects and features that are most remarked on by visitors to the house – and only a little influenced by my own opinions – I chose 6 ‘must-see’ objects. In no particular order, here they are…

Dobbin (Standen © NTPL)Dobbin

Dobbin is the well-loved rocking horse that resides in the Billiard Room. He was brought for Amy Beale, the eldest of the James and Margaret Beale’s children in 1874, when she was 3 years old. Family anecdotes indicate that Dobbin was a reward for Amy learning the alphabet! Dobbin is a lovely, direct link to the Beales, and visitors always stop and admire him.


Dining Room fireplace (Standen © National Trust / Jane Mucklow)

Dining Room fireplace surround

The fireplace is one of the most striking features of the Dining Room and is frequently commented upon by visitors. The fireplace surround was designed by Standen’s architect, Philip Webb, and made by John Pearson. The metalworking technique used to create the decoration is called repoussé, and the material used is mild steel. The rack above the fireplace could be used by servants to rest plates and platters when serving the family at mealtimes – this is an instance of Webb and his thorough design process; where he tailored his designs to the lifestyle of his clients.

Pip tray (Standen © National Trust / Jane Mucklow)Silver pip trays

Another must-see object in the Dining Room, is one that is almost always commented upon by visitors. These clever silver trays attach on to the edge of plates, and were used to deposit unwanted pips and seeds throughout the course of a meal. The Dining Room table is currently presented as the dessert course of an evening meal, with bowls of fruit and the pip trays attached to the dessert plates. Visitors always ask what the trays are for, and I like to give them a clue by pointing out the fruit on the table.

Benson light fitting - landingBenson light fittings/lamps

This is cheating slightly, as this isn’t one specific object, but a type of object. The light fittings throughout the house were designed by W.A.S Benson, a friend and colleague of William Morris. He was a talented designer who owned a workshop and also designed for – and was later a director of – Morris & Co. Benson was well known for interpreting the requirements of lighting in an inventive and technically ingenious way, such as lamps which adapted to hang on walls or sit on tables. His creativity can be seen throughout Standen, and I especially like the beautiful hanging lights, like the one pictured, on the half landing.

Acanthus bedspread (Standen © National Trust / Jane Mucklow)Acanthus bedspread

This Morris & Co. bedspread is displayed in the Westbourne bedroom. It was given to Standen to display after spending a hundred years in storage. Its time in storage means that the bedspread is in excellent condition, and the colours of the design are particularly vivid. The bedspread was handmade at the Morris & Co. factory, and it is possible that William’s daughter, May, who was famed for her embroidery skills, supervised the work on this bedspread.


The clavichord is on long term loan and is displayed in the Morning Room. It was made by Dolmetsch in 1897, and is beautifully decorated by Edward Burne-Jones, who was closely associated with the Pre-Raphelite movement. The clavichord has been conserved and is playable, but special training is needed, as it doesn’t play like a piano. We have a volunteer that plays the clavichord occasionally, and visitors are always fascinated by the sound it makes.

*There’s no image for the clavichord: because the object is on loan to Standen, we are not able to publish images of it without the permisson of the owner – but that’s the perfect excuse for you to come and visit us, and see it ‘in the flesh’!

What are your must-see objects at Standen?

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Spending a day at Chartwell


Chartwell: the house is currently under-wraps and resting after a busy open season

Earlier this week, I spent a day working at the NT-managed Chartwell; the family home of Sir Winston Churchill. Trust staff often spend a day or two helping out or job shadowing at other NT sites as part of their career development, and it was something that I was looking forward to doing.

Every Trust property is unique, and so it’s always useful to see how different properties manage the challenges that their site presents. In the case of Chartwell, I was interested to find out how they balance their high visitor numbers (it’s one of the most visited sites in the South East) with their conservation responsibilities. Chartwell has two Assistant House Stewards – the position that my own role is roughly based on – and so I was also interested to find out what their jobs entailed.

Chartwell - Drawing Room

It was the Drawing Room’s turn to get its winter clean…

Chartwell is of a comparable size to Standen, and is similarly a much-loved family home nestled in a striking landscape. I was excited to get the chance to be nosy, and see behind closed doors at another property; especially one as famous as this!

The property is set in a picturesque landscape, and on the morning I arrived, the surrounding hillside was hidden beneath a layer of frost and mist. Churchill had a great love of painting and drew inspiration from the landscape around Chartwell – and looking around, I could see why.

I started the day by meeting the team, and having a tour of the house. Although the site is open 363 days a year, the house itself is open March to November and is currently under wraps and resting after a busy open season. In November, at the end of the season, the house was ‘put to bed’: windows were shuttered, blinds were closed and objects were covered in dust sheets and acid-free tissue paper. When a house gets as many visitors as Chartwell, it’s really important that it has some respite, and that the house team are able to carry out their winter clean by inspecting and cleaning the collection.

Chartwell - bureau

This wonderful (if rather large!) bureau took a while to clean…

After the tour of the house, I began to help the team with the winter clean in the Drawing Room. The contents of Chartwell are fascinating: although the house has many fine pieces, objects are particularly precious because of their connection to Churchill, and not necessarily because they are a fine example of a particular artist or designer. I set to work inspecting and cleaning the huge bureau, which held some interesting bits and pieces inside; including some headed Chartwell notepaper.

In terms of balancing their high numbers of visitors with caring for an historic house, visitor flow through the house is managed by using timed tickets, so that visitor entry to the house is staggered. This helps with the logistics of moving lots of people around a relatively small space, and also eases the strain on the contents of the house.  

Chartwell - lamp

One of a pair of lamps from the Drawing Room at Chartwell

The way the visitor route is arranged through the rooms also helps conserve Chartwell’s collection – for instance, some of the rooms are roped off at a specific point, from which visitors view the room; therefore helping to protect it from physical wear and tear. At Standen, we have replaced some objects – carpets, for instance – with ‘sacrificial’ items that are historically appropriate but can be used or walked upon, enabling visitors to move around rooms. However, visitors to a place such as Chartwell expect to see objects and furnishings belonging to Churchill, so roping certain rooms off at points in order to conserve the contents is a good way of striking a balance.

Chartwell - inside whatnot drawer

Contents of one of the drawers in the Drawing Room

I enjoyed helping the Chartwell team with their winter clean, and it was a real privilege to be able to clean objects connected to such a well-known and respected figure. It was also a good chance to observe how different historic houses have different approaches to managing conservation concerns and visitor access.