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……..



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.


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.


My goodness! Too much work to report on, and no time in which to give it!

Well anyone who knows me will appreciate that I could relay a mountain of information very quickly as I possess the gift of the gab! As my typing skills cannot keep up with my mouth this will take a while longer!

So here goes:

We have been so busy of late with the commencement of phase three works. This means that all the contents of the rooms which fall into this phase need to be decanted. These rooms are mostly situated in the area of the house which is the oldest dating from 1804 and jam packed full of artefacts as those who come on tours will know.

Our role at this stage is packaging and protection, and boy Lauren, our new conservator has us on our toes! Just in case this sounds like a gripe, it’s not! Everyone knows Lauren is doing a tremendous job which I for one find amazing that she is able to organise so much stuff in such a short time in such a brilliant way.

Pitch pine stash!

I never was as glad to hear Joe Heaney our Senior Building Surveyor say that he had some timber at the Argory which had been there for some time and I should take a look at it to ascertain if it’s of any use. Well I did just that and when I clapped eyes on the timber a big smile came to my face when I seen this…

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I know I know, I am a sad individual getting all excited over a pile of wood but normally costing £30-60 pounds per cubic ft and this lot being all free you would be excited too!

Pitch pine simply put is the most beautiful wood I know! Yes there are other species which are stunning but pitch pine has that extra dimension that other species just don’t have. The reasons following are why I love it.

  1. Colour
  2. Density
  3. Longevity
  4. Stability
  5. Sizes available
  6. Workability

It is generally accepted that Oak is one of the most durable timber species on earth. Well I once repaired sash windows in a house which was built in 1764 and had an Oak sill with Pitch pine styles. Now here’s the thing, both species had rotted at the same rate! Both species had the same environment and the same number of coats of paint and yet the pitch pine was lasting every bit as long as Oak.

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A few photos of the joists being machined for the manufacture of a replacement window, I will keep a few photos of the window being assembled and when it’s being fitted.

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Patrick has been working away repairing a rotten meeting rail belonging to a curved sash window. Being curved it makes things that bit more complicated as the original window was made by hand which results in the curves not all being the same and not regular.

The piece of Oak Patrick is working with displays some amazing characteristics called medullary rays. This type of grain is only seen when the timber is cut in a particular way namely quarter sawn.

Stair access needed!

To anyone who is going to be at Mount Stewart any time soon they will see a funny shaped structure attached to the house on the east side. This is a stair case built to provide access to and from the phase three rooms as the contractors access is at the other end of the house.

I should point out that these stairs were built by H&J Martin’s joiners and they did a cracking job.

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One of the many tasks Lauren so graciously gives us!

The carpets which dwelt until recently in the phase three rooms have all been lifted and shifted!

As many of you know Carpets can be very heavy so we employed the use of a buggy fixed together.

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Oh just one more!

The display cabinets in the central hall have some fine china on display.  Lauren asked us to build a few shelves in the cabinets so she could store more china. Lauren has the problem of loads of stuff to store and no where to store it! It’s hard to believe that this house being so big has no storage. It truly is amazing to watch her organise and fit things into seemingly impossible places!

All this praise is bound to warrant a big bag of Haribo Super Mix?

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Window Repairs

The windows which we removed from Lady Londonderry’s sitting room have proved to be rather challenging in that they are curved and have some rather unusual sections of rot.

The area of a window which usually rots is along the bottom where it is in contact with the stone sill, but in this case it was along the inside and top of the bottom rail. This was due to the presence of sap wood which is not as durable as hard wood.

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The repairs of the above mentioned windows can be very tedious as the rot needs to be completely removed. The timber used to repair the rotten sections needs to be carefully selected. Also an adequate size of timber needs to be removed as a small section of repair will move with the seasons and cause the paint to crack thus allowing water in to the joint.

This is a window repair in another property

This is a window repair in another property

A brief explanation about this repair

You will notice that the area which is to be repaired has been painted grey. This is aluminium wood primer and is the best paint to use to prime any timber which will be used externally.

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The reason to paint the area rather than glue it is as follows:

  1. Glue won’t hold the timber securely as water from condensation can get between the glass and the timber on the inside.
  2. Painting the bare timber will ensure that if water does get behind or anywhere around the new section the timber can’t suck up the moisture.
  3. Having bedded the new timber section with linseed putty which acts as a gasket not a glue to prohibit water ingress, the paint stops the timber from sucking the linseed oil from the putty which in turn would dry it out.

You will also notice that I have used oak dowels to secure the new section in place. Why did I not use screws or nails?

Well, the reasons are:

  1. The timber is oak and full of tannic acid which destroys any steel fixings, brass is too soft to provide any pressure, and stainless steel nails and screws are very soft too. This means if the timber wanted to move the fixings could “let go” over the long term.
  2. A dowel such as I used is not going to react with itself. And the wedges used at the ends spread the dowels providing a mechanism in which to hold the section securely.
  3. The dowel joint such as I used is very strong and was the method the original builders of these windows used to secure mortise & tennon joints.

Also in the photos you will notice that I rebated or put a step in the area left. This was to provide a means to stop any chance of water penetrating under the new section and making its way around the back of it. It’s basically to cover all possibilities.

That it for now folks, I will try and get out more blog posts on a regular basis.



Introduction to our Project Conservator – Fiona

Fiona Austin-Byrne – Project Conservator

As Project Conservator I am responsible for the packing, protection and storage of the historic collection at Mount Stewart. I work closely with the joiners, house staff, family members and specialist engineers and conservators to make this happen as efficiently and professionally as possible, following best practices in conservation, whilst offering access for an enjoyable visitor experience.

Fiona Austin-Byrne (Project Conservator), preparing to meet and greet the public at the Garden & Craft Fair

We hope to improve environmental conditions, display techniques and conserve or replace items to lift the presentation of all rooms.

By the end of the project we will be able to open several more rooms all over the house.

I’m actively seeking volunteers to help me with the following tasks:

  • Moving and packing furniture and objects
  • Making bespoke in-situ protection for fixtures or large items
  • Conservation cleaning and writing condition reports for objects
  • Cataloguing objects (IT skills desirable)
  • Making individual furniture dust covers (basic dressmaking skills essential)

Full training and supervision provided and travel expenses paid.

It would be a great opportunity for students or graduates looking for experience working in the heritage sector or those who would just like to be involved with the work of the National Trust during the project and beyond.

Please contact me to arrange an initial visit and chat.



Volunteer Opportunities Open Day

Volunteer Opportunities Open Day

Wednesday 6th June 2012

11am–1pm and 3pm-5pm

There are many ways in which you can get involved in the project. Come along on the 6th June to find out more!

As an essential part of the major conservation project at Mount Stewart, volunteers are sought to assist in the collections documentation element of the project

An open day will be held at Mount Stewart this Wednesday 6 June 2012, 11am-1pm and 3pm-5pm.

Please contact Alison Mitchelson by e-mail at Alison.Mitchelson@nationaltrust.org.uk or by phone on 07530 919746 if you have any queries, or please come along on the 6th to find out how you can help!

We look forward to seeing you there!