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

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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