Day to day in the house

Hello again!

Well, it is now our second house diary blog post and I think it might be a good time to tell you a bit about our ‘normal’ routines of work inside the house.

Through the year, we have two distinct seasons – the open or summer season and the closed or winter season. We normally open in or around St. Patrick’s Day (17 March) and close again on the last Sunday in October/ first Sunday in November. In 2014 our open season is 8 March – 2 November.

Our routine during the open season is to clean and prepare the house for the visitors. I usually start by unlocking the inner doors and opening the shutters to leave the rooms ready for the conservation assistants to clean. Then the floors are all vacuumed or dry mopped daily and the flat surfaces of the furniture are dusted. As close as possible before the opening time (11am this season) the blinds are ‘set’ ie. opened to the proper level for the amount of light on the day. On a very dark day the blinds will be raised up high – sometimes fully, on a bright, sunny day they are kept lower down – sometimes fully. These may need adjusting during the day as the weather and light can change. Also the lights will be switched on – if not needed earlier for cleaning, ropes put in place and everything checked and ready for the first visitors.

There are bigger jobs that need done too, such as cleaning the central hall floor. To wash, rinse, dry and then finally polish this huge floor takes up to four hours (the whole morning), so it can only be done when we know there are no visitors in the house as it is dangerous to have people walking on wet floors. It is also very annoying to have dirty footprints appearing on the floor you are trying to clean! Detailed dusting of the rooms is also required regularly throughout the season.

Then there is the closed season and the winter clean! The first thing needed after closing is to do an inventory check of the contents, then dust covers can be put over the furniture and the team moves in to do the detailed annual clean.

We do a room or area at a time, starting with the cornicing and high items (off a scaffold or high step ladder), then do the lower items (off a lower step ladder or the floor) and finishing with the skirting and floor. We use vacuums (back pack & regular), brushes and dusters. For many years, my colleague Michael and I have spent much of our winters up and down ladders – the help of our volunteers is most welcome as they can pass up equipment and keep an eye on things (best not to crash into the chandelier directly behind one!)

This past winter we did not clean as we had to assist the project team with the protection, packing up and removal of the contents of the normal showrooms as our contractors are working there this year – a huge job as each room contains many items (furniture, ornaments, books, pictures, curtains, carpets) all of which need careful packing and removal or in-situ protecting.

Well, now you have a brief idea of all the work that keeps the house team busy throughout the year. I hope to tell you about these things in more detail in future blog posts.

See you then!

Sheena

Welcome to the house diary!

Hello & welcome!

My name is Sheena and I am the Assistant House Steward in Mount Stewart House. This is the start of a house diary in which I aim to show you some of the work we do.

So, to begin with, a quick introduction to our wonderful historic house…..

While the estate was purchased by the Stewart family (later the Marquesses of Londonderry) around 1740, the present Mount Stewart House was built over two phases – 1780s & 1840s. It has been lived in by many of the family, including Lord Castlereagh, British Foreign Secretary during the Napoleonic times. It was gifted to The National Trust by Lady Mairi Bury (the youngest daughter of the 7th Marquess – she and her Mother previously gifted the gardens and the Temple of the Winds during the 1950’s) and opened to the public in 1977. Lady Mairi lived much of her life in the house she was born in, until her death here in November 2009. Her daughter, Lady Rose Lauritzen, has taken over the mantle & her personal memories of Mount Stewart are invaluable to us.

We are currently in the middle of a major restoration project which is due to complete in March 2015, which makes it a particularly exciting time to visit Mount Stewart House!  It is a massive work in progress which aims to restore Mount Stewart to its glory days in 1920’s & 1930’s when Charles & Edith, the 7th Marquess & Marchioness, lived here while he was the minister of Education in the first Northern Ireland government. Over the years Edith, Lady Londonderry, redecorated the house and started her world famous gardens. Jill, one of our garden volunteers keeps her own weekly garden diary of the ongoing work happening outside our front door; it is well worth looking at – even for a non-gardener like me!

The building is being stabilised, redecorated, rewired and replumbed. All the windows are to be removed, repaired and replaced – our chief joiner, David writes interesting blog posts about their work, whenever he can find a few spare seconds in which to do it! Our main contractors are a local firm H & J Martin and they are certainly kept busy here at Mount Stewart.

Also, inside the house there is much work needed to look after the contents. Apart from the day to day care (carried out by me and my house team colleagues) there is expert care that is done by specialist conservators – we have had several of these here during the past year or so and look forward  to enjoying their skillful and knowledgeable work in the future.

So, that is a brief introduction about Mount Stewart House and I look forward to delving into these subjects, along with many others in the future.

Looking forward to renewing our acquaintance then,

Sheena

Our fabulous project volunteers

Hi all,

Lauren has asked me to continue on with the blog posts so you’re all stuck with me for the foreseeable future, and from what I’ve heard, we have some serious catching up to do with the Project Joinery Team’s blog posts (ours will be even more fabulous)! I started volunteering at Mount Stewart just three months ago, but in that time I have met some lovely people (I’ll get everyone’s names right in the end!) and learned some interesting conservation techniques. It’s been a while since I have written anything like this so bear with me; I’m a little bit rusty!

I’ll begin with an introduction to the Project Conservation Volunteers:

Firstly I should mention Christina, Project Conservation Assistant, who co-ordinates us all…and offers us seats when we’re looking a bit fatigued! Below is a photo taken at our Mad Hatters Tea Party and you can see some of us looking very happy to be enjoying some tea, buns and cakes.

Volunteers tea party

From left to right; Lauren, Jack, Colin, Catherine, Marie, David, me (Holly), Pauline, Terry and Alan

Others whom either aren’t to be found in the photo or were unable to attend the tea party are as follows; Rebecca, Valerie, Martin, Freda, Heather, Paul, Allen, Elayne, Connie, Drew, Christine, Colette, Moira…..

(That’s everybody named but yet to be shamed! Or, as Lauren has previously mentioned, praised! Come and find me if I’ve left anyone out…and be gentle!).

There is an average of three or four volunteers every day at Mount Stewart and they are immensely invaluable, especially during this huge project. We managed 300 voluntary hours in March of this year and 287 in April, that’s a great deal of spare time! The Mad Hatters Tea Party was held as a thank you to the team for their hard work and the fact that they keep coming back, no matter how much of a ‘slave driver’ Lauren can be (we all know she’s actually really nice and sometimes even brings cake)!

Tea and cakes aside, we volunteers get involved in various training sessions which have helped mould us into the wonderful, well-rounded conservation assistants that we are…or will be soon! The training I have received to date has included the identification, documentation and conservation cleaning of painting and picture frames. It sounds boring but I can assure you it is very interesting. Getting to see a painting up close is terrific; we can spot things that might otherwise have been missed!

In addition to the volunteer positions the National Trust also offers six to eight week placements for students studying conservation, the most recent student at Mount Stewart being Rebecca Gee all the way from the London Metropolitan College!

Rebecca

Rebecca cleaning

Rebecca worked alongside Fergus, our accredited furniture conservator, carrying out conservation cleaning of the Saloon floor and skirting boards discovered by the joiners behind some panelling in Lord Londonderry’s Sitting Room, one of many interesting finds during the project! Rebecca also cleaned the frame of the Annunciation painting from the Chapel. She was a great asset to team! We were sad to see her go at the end of her placement but we wish her all the best with the completion of her course in furniture conservation.

That’s all from me, over and out!

Holly

Holly

That’s me! Does anyone know who the squirrel is though?

An introduction to our Project Conservator, Lauren

Hi all,

I’ve recently started at Mount Stewart taking on the role of Project Conservator (ok I’ve been here 6 months), taking over the fabulous work Fiona Austin-Byrne was carrying out prior to leaving. Having never written a blog post before, but with the pressure on I thought I best get started.

image001

So lets start with an introduction to the Project Conservation Team, the better half to the Project Joinery team! I’ve got to keep up with the banter! There is myself, Lauren Jackson, Project Conservator, Christina, Project Conservation Assistant and a small team of dedicated voluntary conservation assistants (who will be named and shamed (praised) in a later blog post). We all work very closely with the house team here; Louise, House and Collections Manager, Andrea, House Steward, Sheena, Assistant House Steward, Matthew, Conservation Assistant, Michael, Conservation Assistant and their dedicated team of conservation volunteers.

Since I have arrived we have all been very busy with the movement of collections into storage and the protection of fixtures and fittings left within the rooms, to allow contractors access into the rooms to work and create lots of dust!

 Holly one of our volunteers giving the doors first class treatment!


Holly one of our volunteers giving the doors first class treatment!

We have surely broken a few Guinness World Records in decanting, packing and storing collections in record breaking times, as well as engineering the most complex structures to store and protect unusual collections. We have tackled complicated deconstructions of delicate four poster beds, large bookcases, and have carefully removed VERY large delicate mirrors and paintings without any glitches. Including removing windows to fit paintings through!

Hambeltonian by Stubbs, our most famous painting on the move, he only had to jump the stairs!

Hambeltonian by Stubbs, our most famous painting on the move, he only had to jump the stairs!

 Circe has her men in line to move her through the window!


Circe has her men in line to move her through the window!

Fingers crossed the reinstatement of the collections at the end of the project isn’t required to be carried out anywhere near as quickly! As the Project Manager, Dennis Wright keeps reassuring me, ‘…everything will be down to the wire!’ so I am quite confident we will have plenty of time!

In the short time I have been here, I am not sure what I have said or done or asked for, but I seem to have gained a bit of a reputation as a ‘slave driver’! The joinery team, in particular David, all seem to hide now when they see me coming; I am not always asking them for further structures to store collections!

We have finally completed the packing and protection of the collections and Louise has commissioned an interesting exhibition showcasing the project work going on. We are now open for the summer, so do come visit and see our collections on show in store!

That’s all for now, Holly one of our volunteers will follow this up with an introduction to our fabulous project conservation volunteers.

Lauren