Meet our hard working sub-contractors!

Our main contractors are local firm H&J Martin. They are a family run business dating back to 1839, around the time the Stewarts were adding on to their house at Mount Stewart.

This is not the first time that H&J have done work here, they were the firm who did the work on our new reception area in 2001-2. Also they did the work on the Temple of Winds in the mid 1990s. They also did some work for the Londonderry family over the years up to the 1950s.

H&J now work in many countries – such as the UK, Republic of Ireland, Germany, Romania, Saudi Arabia – both in building and property maintenance, it’s great to see a Northern Ireland firm do so well internationally! One of the best aspects for them working on our project is that they are all presently living at home instead of having to live abroad/away from home and family as is fairly normal.

The team here is headed up by Maurice, who is the Project Manager. Maurice has been with H&J for forty years, starting as an apprentice joiner in August 1974. He has worked on many commercial projects over the years including hospitals, schools and shopping centres and was involved in the refurbishment of The Opera House after it was bombed in 1993.

Kelly-Ann is the Site Manager; she has been with H&J for about eight years and started in a more office type job as a document controller before moving into the more hands-on management side of the business. Kelly-Ann is working towards her CIOB (Chartered Institute of Builders) qualifications and takes a practical approach to training, learning on the job from her experienced colleagues.

Brian is the Assistant Site Manager, he is with H&J for one year, and his background is in a degree in Construction Engineering & Management.

They are the main three managers onsite, but there are others occasionally ‘passing through’ – such as Doreen, who is a Quantity Surveyor.

R&M Joinery are our hard working joiners.

R&M are Rab and Marty, both former H&J employees now in partnership for some three years.

This is a very busy section as there is much joinery (some temporary, some permanent) to be done on any building site. They build temporary doors, frames, platforms and barriers, as well as working on floors, skirting, windows and all the wooden parts around a house.

At Mount Stewart they employ several joiners as well as a labourer/stone mason.

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

A ‘quickish’ update!

Hello folks!

I am so sorry I have not been producing blogs for the past wee while, I have had so much to do which has near made me go round the bend! But as we say in Ireland, ‘sure, it will be grand’, which carries with it the connotation of a care free attitude. However I can assure one and all that around here we care greatly for this property and it shows through in the people I work with.

I must say I work with the most amazing bunch of people! Everyone loves their job despite the frustrations and problems which arise. The passion we all share for our jobs and the place we work can be so strong that I find personally I can’t switch off. My life is given over to this project and the delivery of it on time(ish)!

I am writing this over lunch time as things are quiet around here between 1:00 and 1:30pm!

So I nipped down earlier to take a few photos of a floor which is being lifted in the Drawing Room. This room was where various functions would have taken place among other rooms but this room was totally stunning with all its decorations etc. I have mentioned the room in previous blog posts and this time you will see the room with all the furniture and paintings removed and in storage, it feels like it’s having its heart ripped out.

So, just had to pop out there and sort out a delivery of timber! Why on earth does that happen?! Deliveries come either at 4:55pm or between 1-1:30pm, usually just as you’re about to sink your teeth into a sandwich!

Anyways…

The Drawing Room…

No wait!

Ladies and gentlemen, I am very proud to bring to you a special wee woman who was over with us for a week to gain some knowledge in heritage carpentry and joinery. I hereby present to you Miss Sarah Hudson.

Miss Sarah Hudson

Miss Sarah Hudson

Sarah took the decision she wanted to become a joiner and has proved herself very capable in the trade. She will do well as she proved to me that she has a very keen interest and wants to learn. I don’t want to uplift the trade to any height but anyone who wants to become a tradesman in any of the trades must go through 4 years of low pay and feel the weak link in any team, totally reliant on their work colleagues and needs support in most areas. There must be more inside the apprentice to really want to be a trades person to see past the early years.

Speaking of myself, I was 16 when I went out into the big bad world and had to get wise very quickly! The thing is, Sarah is mostly in a man’s world and yet she sticks at it and I must applaud her for her determination and drive to push boundaries.

Keep up the good work Sarah! The joinery team at Mount Stewart wish you well and hope in years to come to hear you having completed your apprenticeship.

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Right! The Drawing Room

In the following images one can see the floor mostly lifted with the joists being visible. See what I mean by having its heart ripped out?

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A few stories have emerged following the floor being lifted. I noticed at the commencement of the project when I lifted a few boards seeing glass scattered all over the place.

So why all the glass?

Back when I first noticed it, I picked a few pieces up and noticed it was from something that was curved. I figured that it was a broken glass table or something which had been swept into the floor void.

So when the floor was lifted I saw that the glass was all over the floor not just in one section. So the penny dropped (and in my head it has to drop a long way)! I am one of those people who wins an argument an hour after it has happened! One of the joiners said to me, ‘It’s almost like they cut all the glass for the windows in here’.

BANG!

That’s it! It’s crown glass! My goodness! It’s all the remnants of the glass from the late 1840’s when the windows were being installed and the Drawing Room was used to glaze the sashes.

In the photo below you will see how glass came to site. Glass manufacturing of the day was by means of placing molten glass on a spinning table. The centrifugal force flatted out the glass into a disc.

If you’re ever around Mount Stewart look at the windows, those are the ones I have taken out. Look particularly close at the panes, they will be distorted but the key to spotting crown glass in particular is the circular rings which can be visible.

Why is this guy so excited about finding this?

Well crown glass is no longer made anywhere in the world, to find these bits of glass gives me a sense of just how big the discs where and I can also imagine all the sashes in the room and the glazers cutting and fitting the glass and glazing them. I am now going over their work approximately 144 years later! I find that amazing.

Yes yes, I need to get out more!

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Two more joiners

We have two more joiners started with us which brings the team up to 7 poor souls who have to work with me! I will post a few images and a bit of info about them in due course, I have run out of time for this session.

All the best and please keep on supporting the project here and the National Trust in general.

Bye for now. If I haven’t posted another blog post in a few weeks please come and find me, as I might have taken to the hills or rocking back and forth mumbling about sash windows and glass! I am so glad I have a beard these days it’s such a de-stressor, as I muse and think over what the dickens I have to do next!

As we have some readers who might appreciate the following:

Slán go foil! Or goodbye for now in English!

David

An update and request from the joinery team

Hi folks!

I know I know it’s been too long! We have been very busy working hard restoring windows and protecting various items throughout the house.

Everything is in full swing with a team of plumbers, electricians, plasterers, H&J Martin’s joiners and the fabulous, totally brilliant, not to be outdone, National Trust Project joinery team! Am I biased?

At the moment we are involved in the restoration of the French doors and their surrounding architraves all along the south facing side of the house. These rooms from a historical point of view came into existence when the house was enlarged quite considerably by the 3rd marquis of Londonderry, to the wonderful house we see today. The rooms in question, being built to serve as the suite of rooms and bedroom used by Theresa the 3rd marquises wife where of high importance and quality. They are also the rooms in which King Edward VII stayed during his visit in 1903. Sometime later around the 1950’s after the estate office in Newtownards was closed the rooms became office space to serve as the new estate office.

We first removed the shutter doors to repair them as per the instructions by the architect. The shutter doors had been reduced in size sometime in the past probably in and around the 1920’s to accommodate an opening sash fitted in the left hand door (when standing in the room) to allow ventilation.

image 1 with arrow image 1a with arrow

The task was to add new timbers to increase the shutter length bringing them back to the original height they would have been in the 1850’s

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We also removed the French doors so we could service them for two reasons:

1. By removing the many layers of paint which had basically fixed them shut since dear knows when.

2. Remove the sash introduced in the 1920’s which also had been fixed shut and return the doors back to their original appearance.

Problems!

We in the National Trust are not in the business of dumping the old for new, we instead protect and conserve where possible.

The ethos in which the joinery team, in fact the whole the conservation team operate under when restoring anything is best summed up by our project curator Frances Bailey when she said, ‘we do as much as is necessary but as little as possible.’

So when we got the French doors on the bench in our workshop I began surveying them. I noticed the sash we removed looked as if it was original. The reasons being:

  1. The glass in the sash was cylinder glass, that’s the old distorted wavy glass you see in old windows, while all the glass surrounding it was plate glass. This would indicate the sash was older as plate glass was not used in the 1850’s, the time in which the doors would have been constructed.
  2. The door construction suggested it had never been altered or taken apart. It matches exactly the same profile as all the other doors on that façade including the saloon doors which we know for definite were made in the 1850’s.

In short I had a pile of unanswered questions.

So was the door originally made with an opening sash meaning we did not need to remove it, rather restore it?

If the sash was not original, why did it have glass that placed it being made in the 1850’s?

What a quandary, it was all very bamboozling. So I put my inspector Clouseau hat on and started to use what little brains I have.

Mars must have come in line with Jupiter as the answers came!

In the fine detail when I removed the paint I could see on the glazing bar (which was original) a timber section was added to beef up its size to facilitate the addition of a sash. Also the species of timber used in the construction of the sash (probably Douglas fir) was different from the door which was pitch pine.

image 3 A new section introduced to facilitate the sash


A new section introduced to facilitate the sash

Image4 this photo is showing the glazing bar tenon

The glazing bar tenon

So the door was made in the 1850’s. Later, probably around the King’s visit a lot of the original cylinder and crown glass was removed and a new invention, ‘plate glass replaced morit. At that time the sash was introduced to allow ventilation, as the only way to allow ventilation previously was by opening the door.

Could the family have decided that the king deserved a better view of the gardens rather than look through distorted glass? Or did they remove the original glass just to show off by having plate glass, the new invention which was also very expensive?

We will never know, we can only assume, and that’s the charm Mount Stewart has for me!

Mortise & tenon joints

A joint which is used on all doors or at least should be is a mortise and tenon joint. I have included a few photos of Trevor showing James how to form the joint being used in adding the new sections to the shutter doors.

Trevor instructing James how to form a mortise &tenon joint (1) Trevor instructing James how to form a mortise &tenon joint (2) Trevor instructing James how to form a mortise &tenon joint (3) Trevor instructing James how to form a mortise &tenon joint (4) Trevor instructing James how to form a mortise &tenon joint (5) Trevor instructing James how to form a mortise &tenon joint (6) New member of staff!

I would like to introduce to you our latest member of staff, Mr. Stephen King. Stephen joins us for a year as part of a CITB training scheme and is a very welcome extra pair of hands. Stephen has many years experience in the building trade and is hoping to learn new skills during this project.

Stephen King


Our new recruit, Stephen King

The upskilling of persons in the various trades employed during this project is seen as a vital part of this projects legacy. Our two apprentices will have such a start in their respective joinery lives and will no doubt be very employable wherever they may end up in years to come. I know speaking for myself the knowledge I have gained so far is priceless, Trevor I’m sure will agree.

We need your help, we need wood!

I also would like to take this opportunity to ask if anyone has or knows where we can get old reclaimed timber. One species in particular would be bog oak which we need for the inlays to doors, floors and furniture.

Any reclaimed pine I would be only too glad to receive and one can be assured it will be put to good use.

Examples of bog oak used in the house. (1)


An example of Bog Oak which is used in the house

Examples of bog oak used in the house. (2)


An example of Bog Oak which is used in the house

Examples of bog oak used in the house.


An example of Bog Oak which is used in the house

I have included a few photos on a loop showing the work being carried out to the shutter doors and one of the damage which is typical of what we are finding.

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The wood we have used is Quebec yellow or eastern white pine. It’s a very stable and easy to work with (just like myself!) It is either the same species of wood that was used originally or it’s very closely related.

David

Introduction to our Project Curator – Frances

I am currently the Project Curator at Mount Stewart and have worked for the National Trust in Northern Ireland for over 20 years. Prior to that I lived in Co. Donegal looking after the Glebe Gallery in Churchill.

As project curator my role is to advise the team on the history of the house and its architectural development, the significance of the building, the decorative schemes and the collection, and to help develop a vision for the property. I work closely with the architect and design team, the conservator, house team, property manager and the donor family, and also benefit from the input from many external and National Trust advisers on a whole range of subjects.

I am currently working on a history of the house and the way in which it has changed over the years.  This is helping to inform decisions we need make as part of the current project.

 

Frances Bailey – Project Curator