We’re nearly there now!

It is full steam ahead towards the re-opening of the house on 20 April.

We on the house team are currently spending much of our days cleaning silver, loads of it!

We will have a new and amazing silver display for our visitors to see from next season onwards. Most of it has never been on public display before so it has been kept in a safe for many years and is in need of cleaning.

There are some lovely items amongst it and I’m sure many of our visitors will enjoy looking at it.

We have also been spending time on our knees – scrubbing stone floors.

The Black and White Stone Hall floor was in bad need of some TLC. Tracey, a stone conservator spent a total of four weeks here. Tracey and one of her colleagues spent the first week cleaning the floor, then in the second week she worked with the house team and volunteers showing us how to deep clean the stone. This is a time consuming job with lots of careful scrubbing, then it needs to be well rinsed off and left to dry.

This took us up to Christmas and then Tracey returned in the New Year. Now the floor was finished and she was working on other things, the Chapel ceiling and the alabaster lamps from the Central Hall.

The Chapel ceiling had a few holes that needed filling; this had been done before Christmas by another of Tracey’s colleagues. He worked some of the time from above in the roof space, which meant that he could do a much better and easier job in securing the gaps. He then resurfaced underneath and Tracey finished off by painting, carefully colour matching with the existing ceiling.

The four Central Hall alabaster lamps needed cleaning – a delicate job. I was interested to learn that you do not wash alabaster with water, as this will damage it.

Our friends from Linney Cooper are back again laying carpets and other flooring. There is a new carpet for both the East and West stairs and landings, as well as the first floor corridors connecting them.

We are also getting together the ceramics display ready for the new season. Again there are hundreds of ceramic objects in the house, dinner services, tea services, ornaments, many of which are really lovely and some of which again will be new to public view, so it will take some planning to get it right!

Winter has always been a busy time for National Trust house staff, but not usually quite as frenetic as the current one is at Mount Stewart!

Sheena

Volunteer Open Day – Saturday 24 January 2015

Hello, and welcome to 2015!

An important date to tell you about is next Saturday 24 January 2015, 11am – 3pm, our Volunteer Open Day.

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This is for both current and potential new volunteers to visit the property to see all that is happening and what they might like to start (or continue!) working at.

Jenny, our Volunteer Co-ordinator, has an interesting schedule planned from house tours to garden talks.

You can also meet with…

Christina, Project Conservation Assistant, who is demonstrating textile and book cleaning.

Tomasz, Strangford Lough Ranger, who will show you how to make habitat boxes and help you spot wildlife.

Calum, Project Joiner, who will demonstrate his marvellous wood turning.

The education ladies will be in attendance too, the younger folk will enjoy finding out about the interesting activities they can take part in at Mount Stewart.

I hope to see many of you there!

Sheena

2014 and all that…

Well, here we are almost at Christmas yet again…….

Stopping to think about it makes me realise how much has happened in the past year. This time last year we were labelling, packing and moving hundreds of items belonging to the west end of the house. Many of them are in our normal show house rooms but as many again, if not more, are from the up until now private bedrooms situated in that part of the mansion.

Last January the contractors moved into this part of the building and started their work. Upstairs floors have been strengthened and re-wiring and re-plumbing have taken place. Then floor boards were replaced, the walls and ceilings were repainted as well as the doors and skirtings.

Then the rooms were returned to us and we started our re-instatement.

Paintings are hung on the newly painted walls, our regular visitors will see a big difference next year as we have many beautiful new paintings (on loan from the 10th Marquess) as well as several of our established ones now hung in a different place. Lady Londonderry’s Sitting Room, for example, is now furnished as Edith, Lady Londonderry had it years ago. The fireplace wall is covered with paintings – one of her son Robin, the 8th Marquess, the rest of Lady Mairi, her youngest daughter – a bit like a large family photo album!

Re-hanging Hambletonian in its new frame

Re-hanging Hambletonian in its new frame

Much of the furniture has been moved back into its room, maybe not into the exact place it will live in but close by. Hundreds of books are back on their shelves in Lady Londonderry’s sitting room and Lord Londonderry’s study, boxes of ornaments and smaller items have also returned to the rooms ready for being put out on display again. Carpets and flooring are also laid.

The contractors have been hugely busy this year and have made great progress; by Christmas they will have handed back all but two of the bedrooms (Archangel and Sebastopol) upstairs and their corridor, while downstairs they are only left in the kitchen plus entrance and central halls. They will also be moving into the chapel in the New Year – their last area to start work on!

That means, of course, that we have to clear the chapel and find new storage for the items there – space in the house is getting tight again!

In the middle of all the above we have also welcomed over twenty seven and a half thousand visitors into our house this (shortened) season. A massive well done to our guides for such a fine job in very unusual circumstances.

2014 has certainly been a year to remember in Mount Stewart house!

Sheena

Our volunteers come from far and wide!

We benefit from the work of many volunteers at Mount Stewart. Some have been volunteering here for a long time; others have arrived more recently – especially in relation to the project.

Most of our volunteers are local people who give their time regularly to us (whatever they want and can spare), others are people who come and stay in our volunteer accommodation and work for a specified number of weeks or months.

Many of these live in volunteers come to work in the gardens, others in the house and/or on the project.

One of the most recent was Laura Tohila, a Finnish girl who worked here for some fifteen weeks over two different spells, summer and then autumn – she was determined to come back!

Elaine Hill FR80 Hague Before Conservation 01

Laura comes from the town of Oulu, which is situated on the Western coast of Finland, slightly over half way up the country. Founded in 1605, it is the fifth most populous city in Finland with over 190,000 inhabitants. Her parents run a chemistry company where her elder brother and sister both work.

She attends Kymenlaakso University of Applied Sciences in Kouvola, which is on the East coast of Finland, facing Russia. She is taking a course in general conservation, having already studied painting.

Laura has an interest in history and likes working with her hands so conservation is an ideal career choice. In her free time she likes to draw, read (especially myths and legends), play the piano and do handcrafts.

While she was here at Mount Stewart she worked mostly with Fergus Purdy, our Furniture Conservator. Fergus told me how quickly she picked up things and how he valued her assistance, in fact it seemed strange to see Fergus working on his own again after she left!

After all her on the job training with Fergus, Laura would like to specialize in furniture conservation and has been doing some more in this after her return to Kouvola. She is currently working on a small table and a long case clock from her school’s storage collection.

Conservation in Finland is a small, individual type business with people running their own firms, probably similar to the UK and Ireland where conservators operate independently and are employed by those who need their skills and services.

Laura’s work was much appreciated and all of her friends at Mount Stewart were sorry to see her leave. We hope she enjoyed her time with us and benefited from the experience.

Sheena

If you would like to find out more about volunteering at Mount Stewart, please visit our website and click ‘Join In’.

A dab of paint here and there

The painting contractor is Joseph Hughes, he can employ up to sixty painters on a job. Here at Mount Stewart it is normally up to ten that are working each day, led by Sam, the foreman.

Elaine Hill GR19 Drawing Room Before Decorating 05

(c) Elaine Hill

Painting Mount Stewart is a bit different from your average house job! Brushes are used instead of the more normal rollers. There are bespoke colour matches to be made and the painters contribute their skills and knowledge to help match previous paints used in the house. Sheen levels and finishes are carefully studied. Case and Distemper (which is being used) is an old type of paint with a chalky type; it is supplied by Farrow & Ball.  Barry is the man doing the mixing, he looks at the colour, goes away and returns with the correct shade – or sometime two versions for Frances, our curator, to choose between.

There are several specialists who come on board to do certain tasks in the project:

  • PJ Burns enamels the baths.
  • Nichol Plaster Mouldings are working on the mouldings – especially in the drawing room.
  • Tommy Stevenson of CDS does the lime plastering of walls and ceilings.
  • Trade Mark Mason will be repairing the South Terrace.
  • K Contracts have installed the new safety system up on the roof.
  • Glass Marque are working on the skylights and have done a great job on the central hall dome.

Sheena

European Heritage Open Day 2014

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Last weekend, 13 -14 September 2014, was European Heritage Open Day (EHOD for short).

This is an annual event which started in 1984. It takes place over the second weekend in September each year and is an opportunity for people to visit interesting places that they may not normally think of going to see.

There are a few variations on the opening weekend. Some places (like National Trust properties) open on one or other of the days and others open on both. Some places (again like National Trust properties) are normally open to the public for an entry fee but are open on this occasion for free; others are normally closed to the public but open for one or two days only each year during this event!

National Trust properties open for free on Saturday only, Sunday is a normal entry day again.

It is a popular event, over 60,000 people in Northern Ireland avail of the opportunity to investigate their heritage. This year here at Mount Stewart we had 1687 visitors to the property, of which 779 entered the house. With our show house smaller than usual because of the ongoing building work, we were probably at full capacity for the day.

Happily most of our visitors this season seem to have enjoyed seeing behind the scenes, watching some of our conservators in action and learning about the project and are keen to return in the future to see the end result – which is going to be rather fabulous (not that I am biased or anything…)!!

We are starting to get some of our showrooms back again which is very exciting and encouraging for us. We are starting to clean and prepare these rooms and furnishings are being returned to them. We have a busy winter ahead of us as we re-instate all the rooms ready for next season.

Next Sunday, 21 September, will be the last open day for our house this season as our contractors have work to do in a few of the areas that are currently open to the public. This needs to be completed before we open again next Spring.

Then, from next week onwards, it is all hands to the pumps as we get down to work. Everything has to be ready for the re-opening of the showrooms, which will be back to ’normal’ – except even better than ever!

Sheena

Busy, busy, busy!

Amongst the busiest of the ‘subbies’ are the electricians (fondly known as the sparks) – Irwins Electrical Contractors. They are a local family business currently run by John Irwin.

They are a busy firm with both commercial and domestic contracts, doing both installation and maintenance. They work in large jobs such as in government buildings as well as smaller jobs in private homes.

Our team leader is Brian. Brian started as an apprentice over 25 years ago and has worked for Irwins for 11 years. At the moment he has a team of ten – four apprentices and six electricians. Last year the team was smaller and also some of the personnel were different. Brian can often be seen pouring over maps of the house as he figures out the routes for all his wiring.

The whole building is being rewired and also with pyro wire, which is incredibly stiff and hard to bend and work with. So pushing the electrical wires under floor boards and through gaps takes a lot of time and effort! However it is the toughest and most fire proof wiring about, so Mount Stewart should be safe from electrical fires for many years.

They also have to set up any temporary lighting that is required. A good example is the lighting currently in our Central Hall. But there is lighting required all over the building so that the work can be carried out. So the sparks can be found beavering away anywhere – roof space, basement….

Part of the electrical work is for the upgraded alarm system, Irwins put in all the wiring and then Crane Communications, our alarm company, attach and commission the new sensors. This is ongoing as they have to come in behind the building work. We currently have two systems (old and new) in operation – which is great fun (not)!

Our plumbers are local firm Maurice Stevenson & Co, another family firm founded in 1921 and currently run by Mrs Stevenson.

Peter is the head plumber in charge, but not on site every day. Stephen is the on-site plumber; he and his assistant can be found laying pipes and peering under floorboards around the building.

One time recently when, one Saturday, there was no hot water in the house, Stephen came in and tracked down the problem. A hot tap had been knocked on very slightly the previous day and because the bath was well wrapped up and protected from all the work going on, this was not seen or realised. Stephen turned off a couple of taps and soon the boiler temperature was rising fast, back up to its proper level.

Sheena