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!



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.


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

A quick update from the conservation team

Hi all,

So what has been happening on the conservation front at Mount Stewart? Well in the last five weeks we have been fully booked in Hague our conservation studio, we have had glass chandeliers, gilt floor lights, doors, floor skirting boards, altar hangings and pelmets which have had their turn in ‘hospital’ this month, all coming out in ‘good health’ in a much improved condition.

In the first two weeks of May we had Terry Brotheridge – freelance lighting specialist onsite continuing the re-wiring all of our fixed light fittings housed at Mount Stewart. I attempted to work out the precise number of lights he is working on and after counting seven chandeliers and over sixty wall lights I succumbed to averaging that we have over 120 fixed lights. This does not account for the free standing table lamps and floor lamps we have in the collections which are also being rewired; Richard from Irwins (our electrical contractors) is carrying out the careful re-wiring of these. He had to undertake a rigorous test in conservation object handling, administered and scored by myself and our House and Collections Manager before he was entrusted and able to work on the lamps. He passed with flying colours and to date has re-wired around 180 free standing lamps from our collection!

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All of the lights across the property are having their bulb/lamp holders changed from bayonet fittings to screw-in, so no downward pressure will be placed on the arms of the lights when these require changing or cleaning in the future, this is how breakages have occurred in the past. The wiring on all the lamps is being upgraded to double insulated, clear, 3 core wire with earthed lamp holders, in which new LED bulbs/lamps will be fitted. LED lamps last longer and emit less heat than a tungsten bulb/lamp, reducing damage to the object and surrounding collections, as well as being energy efficient. These new amendments will ensure that the lamps, wall lights, and chandeliers are preserved for future generations as we will no longer run the risk of scorching our delicate lampshades and breaking delicate, glass and gilt wooden arms from our chandeliers.

So to continue….

Mid May Fergus Purdy – furniture conservator paid us a visit in Hague; he worked on numerous skirting boards and doors from the upper floors of the west end of the house, removing inlays which had suffered from woodworm damage and old repairs which have failed. He then cleaned the items and fitted new sections of wooden inlay and veneers, staining and waxing them to match the original item. Fergus will be back working in Hague (conservation studio) 9 June through to 20 June, Monday to Friday; do come and visit Hague and see his fabulous work!

On Friday 23 May, the doors were moved out of Hague in order to create space for four textile hangings and eight pelmets to be laid out on the benches in preparation for assessment this week by Melanie Leach, one of our freelance textile conservators. Many of the textiles at Mount Stewart have deteriorated over the years, they are one of the most delicate and susceptible materials to light damage, surface dirt accretion and wear and tear. As many of our textiles hang, it is important that they are conserved, to ensure that they do not suffer and fail under their own weight. Many of the textiles are also undergoing deep cleaning to remove all the dust and debris which has accumulated over the years; this entails careful conservation vacuuming carried out by our project conservation volunteers all trained in this specialist cleaning method. In some cases further work such as wet conservation cleaning and repairs are required, these are all carried out by our specialist textile conservators, both offsite and in Hague. Holly (one of our volunteers on the textile team) will update you on more works which have been occurring.

Melanie Leach showing the project conservation volunteers how to carry out dry conservation vacuuming of textiles

Melanie Leach showing the project conservation volunteers how to carry out dry conservation vacuuming of textiles

This week (start of June) we have Graeme Storey ‘taking the reins’ in Hague, he is a specialist in the conservation of paper and will be here for the week working on our vast collection of paper/vellum lampshades, only about 180 in our collection of which Graeme will be assessing and working on. Wish him luck!

Graeme at work in Hague our conservation studio

Graeme at work in Hague our conservation studio

As for the rest of the team, Christina, myself, the project volunteers and house team volunteers, we’ve been enjoying tea and cake whilst the conservators have been working hard in Hague….…. If only!! No, we’ve been working hard, moving collections out of storage for conservation works, returning them to storage once works are complete, continuing with the careful cleaning of the vast collection of textiles in the house, packing collections going away for conservation, monitoring the collections in store, cataloging and organising collections in storage……..all in preparation for THE REINSTATEMENT!!!


Take a quick peak at our some of the collections in store.

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We have already nearly completed reinstatement of items in the family’s private rooms, currently reinstating their collection of books. The reinstatement of the main rooms across the house will be starting this summer……..so… if you are currently volunteering within the property or have experience in handling collections in the museum sector or similar and wish to join the project conservation team, we have a role for you here!

I think we are now up to date with conservation works at Mount Stewart, it has been a busy month, yet quiet and peaceful as we have not seen or heard the joiners in weeks! They’ve been hiding from us in the west end of the house!

Next month’s happenings coming soon……..


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!


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 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!



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

Volunteer Internship vacancy

Property: Mount Stewart

Region: Northern Ireland

Salary: Voluntary internship (agreed out of pocket expenses paid; accommodation provided)

Hours: 30 hours over the week as agreed

Working Pattern: Internship for 6 months

About the role

This is an opportunity to live on the Mount Stewart estate and play an integral role in one of the National Trust’s largest conservation/building/re-servicing projects.

You will assist the Project Conservator and House team in all aspects of packing, protecting and cataloging the historic collection while building works are being carried out. Also, helping to communicate our work to the public by creating exciting interpretation and giving talks and demonstrations.

You will lead on projects agreed with the Project Conservator in storage management, volunteer management and packing and protection.

The work will be challenging and fast paced with unparalleled access to rooms and collections not previously seen by the public.

You will work alongside key National Trust and external specialists and assist with in-situ conservation work

This first hand experience, coupled with the Trust’s commitment to provide relevant support and development opportunities will provide a fantastic stepping stone into your professional career in preventive conservation and management of historic collections.

About you

This will suit someone who:

  • Is planning a career in the museum/conservation sector and needs to build skills, experience and connections.
  • Has an interest in caring for historic objects and buildings and enjoy engaging with the visiting public
  • Confident leading a volunteer team of mixed age groups
  • Has an ability to follow instructions and work well as a team but is also self motivated, able to use their own initiative and motivate others
  • Displays good manual dexterity and observational skills
  • Capable of prioritising the use of limited resources
  • Has working knowledge of Microsoft Office applications and working with databases

What is a National Trust Internship?

Our internships are volunteer roles that give you the chance to gain work experience across different areas of the National Trust. As you’ll be attached to a particular project or area of work, you’ll be able to develop your skills and experience in that area. We’re committed to supporting the personal development of volunteers on our internships, and recognise how important work experience is to career development.

About us

Here at the National Trust, we want even more people to enjoy our extraordinary places. We want people of all ages and backgrounds to get involved with them, be inspired by them, and love them as much as we do. That’s why we’ve put some bold ambitions in place. We want everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to feel like a member of the National Trust and, by 2020, we want to have grown our membership to more than five million.

About Mount Stewart and the Project

Home of the Marquesses of Londonderry, the earliest parts of Mount Stewart house date to the late 18th century. The house was greatly enlarged in the 1840s. The glorious garden was given to the National Trust in 1955 by Edith, Lady Londonderry, and is one of the most significant in its care. Her daughter Lady Mairi Bury donated the house in 1976, and continued to live at Mount Stewart until her death in 2009. Lady Rose Lauritzen, her daughter, now lives for part of the year at Mount Stewart.

The house has embarked on a three-year project which will involve important conservation work to the Grade A listed building.
The work includes important repairs and improvements to the structure and services in the house. Alongside this a program of conservation and research will help see the house, its contents and stories restored and brought back to life.

As a National Trust top priority project the £6m investment will help us to bring Edith, Lady Londonderry’s vision back to life and we will be keeping the house open so that our visitors can watch the work in progress.


To apply, please send your CV and covering letter to sandra.mcmullan@nationaltrust.org.uk outlining:

  • Why you would like to be involved with the conservation work of the National Trust and Mount Stewart in particular?
  • What experience, knowledge and skills make you the best candidate for the internship?
  • What you’d hope to give to the project and gain form The National Trust in your time with us at Mount Stewart?

Closing date: 12th Feb 2013. Interview date:  21st February 2013.

Contact Name: Sandra McMullan

Contact Email: sandra.mcmullan@nationaltrust.org.uk

Contact Phone Number: 02897512346