Our wonderful subbies!

As mentioned before in my earlier diaries, Mount Stewart House is currently in the middle of a huge restoration project.

After a couple of centuries of being lived in and over 35 years of National Trust visitors, the house was in need of some TLC. This is a very exciting time for those of us who work there, as we are seeing our house being ‘done up’ and secured for the future.

Our main contractors are local firm H&J Martin. They have several sub-contractors (known as ‘subbies’) who carry out the specialist work such as joinery, painting, plumbing and electricals.

There is also the firm DJV Insulation who have been working on the asbestos removal.

Asbestos removal has been a major challenge, taking about twice the time it was expected, as at the time (1920’s and 30’s) the bathrooms were installed in the house; asbestos was the miracle substance being used in building work. It was only many years later that it was realised how dangerous it can be (it is fine when in undamaged condition, the danger starts when it breaks down or gets damaged) and many older buildings are riddled with asbestos – including Kensington Palace in London!

DJV are a family run business from Hillsborough with over 20 years experience in asbestos removal. A major reason they won the Mount Stewart contract was the experience of their foreman, David.

They work (and have to) in a very careful and particular manner. Areas have to be sealed off with tents, the men work in safety gear (goggles, helmets, suits, breathing apparatus etc.) and stringent safety procedures are followed – it is always better to be safe than sorry!

The tents need to be air tight, so a smoke test is done before the work starts to make sure. A controlled exit route is established for removal of contaminated material and nobody else should be within the route during the specified removal times. This contaminated material is carefully disposed of later.

It is very detailed work. For instance, absolutely everything under the floorboards needs thoroughly cleaned (pipes, wires, beams, plaster) and this takes a long time.

I remember one Friday last year, when the DJV boys told me that (after a week working at Mount Stewart) they had to go to Ballyquintan beach the next day. Sadly it was not to enjoy ice-creams or build sandcastles but to remove asbestos that someone had dumped there!

Father and son team, Bill & William McAllister carry out the all-important air tests to ensure that, firstly, asbestos is present and then that the area is clear after removal.

It is good to have responsible & skilled people to carry out such potentially dangerous work.

Sheena

Desks, computers and paper!

As with every job in 21st Century, we on the house team have lots of paperwork to complete.

Michael and Matthew, the conservation assistants (c/a’s for short) get off fairly lightly – their paperwork mostly involves filling out records, the regular spot checks and readings for instance.

It is Andrea, the House Steward (HS for short), and I, Assistant House Steward (AHS) who have the joy of the bulk of the paperwork! Andrea’s most absorbing paperwork job is ‘The Guide Rota’, she also looks after the house volunteers (both conservation and guiding) and the pre-booked groups, making orders and various other jobs with plenty of forms to fill out!

My biggest regular paperwork job involves visitor figures, both daily record sheets for the guides to fill in and the monthly ‘counting’ sheets that are input from the daily forms. The monthly sheets are on Excel and can be (for a non techie like me!) very complicated, as we need to record everything each day. We also need annual totals for each scheduled individual time (such as the number of people who went on the 12noon tours through the season), the total for each week (not easy when the week is over two months!), the numbers on pre-booked groups, how many did free-flow, how many didn’t make it onto a scheduled house tour (happily not too many!) etc. This all is very time consuming as everything has to be added up individually and accurately.

Over the past number of months, I have also been preparing ‘Condition Reports’ on the computer, taking useful details such as inventory numbers, descriptions, measurements and photos from our computerised inventory system (called CMS) and copying them onto the paperless forms on the computer. I am doing this for each showroom and area and it means that we can update our records as we carry out detailed cleaning this season in the Hague conservation studio. Later, as everything returns to normal, we can fill out these records wherever the item in question ‘lives’ – either a showroom or a store.

There are also regular checks to be carried out and recorded – either weekly, monthly or quarterly, you’ve guessed it – more paperwork!

For the start of this season, guide info packs had to be produced, including details of the exhibition now in place – provided by Louise, our House & Collections Manager (HCM) – and the highlights of the collection currently stored in the Central Hall. A simple list of two sides of pages became a detailed list of nineteen. Safe to say that the photocopier did overtime as I had over 1500 copies to make!

With the amount of paper and computer work to be done, it is a pleasant surprise to occasionally get out of the office and into the house!

Sheena