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.

Sheena

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!!!

DUN DUN DAH!!

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……..

Lauren

Welcome to the house diary!

Hello & welcome!

My name is Sheena and I am the Assistant House Steward in Mount Stewart House. This is the start of a house diary in which I aim to show you some of the work we do.

So, to begin with, a quick introduction to our wonderful historic house…..

While the estate was purchased by the Stewart family (later the Marquesses of Londonderry) around 1740, the present Mount Stewart House was built over two phases – 1780s & 1840s. It has been lived in by many of the family, including Lord Castlereagh, British Foreign Secretary during the Napoleonic times. It was gifted to The National Trust by Lady Mairi Bury (the youngest daughter of the 7th Marquess – she and her Mother previously gifted the gardens and the Temple of the Winds during the 1950’s) and opened to the public in 1977. Lady Mairi lived much of her life in the house she was born in, until her death here in November 2009. Her daughter, Lady Rose Lauritzen, has taken over the mantle & her personal memories of Mount Stewart are invaluable to us.

We are currently in the middle of a major restoration project which is due to complete in March 2015, which makes it a particularly exciting time to visit Mount Stewart House!  It is a massive work in progress which aims to restore Mount Stewart to its glory days in 1920’s & 1930’s when Charles & Edith, the 7th Marquess & Marchioness, lived here while he was the minister of Education in the first Northern Ireland government. Over the years Edith, Lady Londonderry, redecorated the house and started her world famous gardens. Jill, one of our garden volunteers keeps her own weekly garden diary of the ongoing work happening outside our front door; it is well worth looking at – even for a non-gardener like me!

The building is being stabilised, redecorated, rewired and replumbed. All the windows are to be removed, repaired and replaced – our chief joiner, David writes interesting blog posts about their work, whenever he can find a few spare seconds in which to do it! Our main contractors are a local firm H & J Martin and they are certainly kept busy here at Mount Stewart.

Also, inside the house there is much work needed to look after the contents. Apart from the day to day care (carried out by me and my house team colleagues) there is expert care that is done by specialist conservators – we have had several of these here during the past year or so and look forward  to enjoying their skillful and knowledgeable work in the future.

So, that is a brief introduction about Mount Stewart House and I look forward to delving into these subjects, along with many others in the future.

Looking forward to renewing our acquaintance then,

Sheena

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.

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

Image 2

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

The blog I should have posted ages ago!

Hi all!

Sorry for the delay in posting any blogs lately but we have just been so busy! Things are a bit mental here at the moment as H&J Martins have unleashed their work force and are marching onwards and upwards.

The project joinery team have started into the nitty-gritty joinery work which is very pleasant work and most rewarding.

The New Look Gallery

The central hall gallery has been the centre of attention for the past few weeks and if any of you have been in the house for a tour you will have seen a scaffold built in the central hall. This scaffold was built for a few reasons but the main reason being to strengthen the gallery which had been failing for some time and had been closed to the public for safety reasons.

The cause of the structural weakening was a very naive or very stupid plumber some time ago decided to notch the joists in order to run pipes through! Notching is fine and it’s done all the time, but these guys really did notching in style!

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Not only did they notch down half the depth of the joist but they did it close to the wall and as the gallery is cantilevered they could not have done it in a worse place. So our Structural Engineers were tasked to design a strengthening system and they came up trumps!

The decision was taken some time ago to remove the existing metal balustrade and restore the original timber spindles and handrails which would also assist the structural stability of the gallery.

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Richard Elphick our much loved Conservation Architect has had the time of his life drawing and redrawing plans needed for the required spindle. What made his life difficult was the fact that he only had a photo of the original balustrade which was taken some time in the 1950s. When the photo is enlarged the image gets distorted making Richards job near impossible to see fine details!

Callum has had the most interesting of times producing the spindle for the new look gallery. He was tasked to produce the mark 1 spindle, which was soon followed by mark 2 then mark 3 & 4! Now our Callum absolutely detests working a lathe, if you believe that you would also believe pigs can fly! Well nothing is further from the truth – he is very talented on a lathe as you have all seen in past blog posts.

So all was well in the workshop, the 4th spindle was finished and we all rejoiced! Richards’s superbly designed spindle and the dimensions he gave came together in one beautifully designed and crafted spindle.

Then out of nowhere Richard discovered a different photo of the gallery giving a clearer view and very soon a new revised drawing was issued. Callum on being told that another spindle had to be turned was totally distraught, virtually inconsolable! I didn’t know what to do! I thought long and hard on how I could motivate the lad, sought out all sorts of advice and finally after spending a lengthy time in deep contemplation……..the answer came to me, I bought him a bag of Maynard’s sports mix!

Callum on receipt of the bag whilst cramming his mouth with sweets, rose to the challenge and produced the best spindle I have ever seen! We all rejoiced this was it, mark 5 the final draft! Surely this was the final spindle, could we or anyone even dare to believe it was? Well….. NO!

If I could add here, Lady Rose blew us all away with her fantastic memory of the original gallery. On seeing the mark 5 spindle she agreed it was stunningly beautiful but it was not the same as the original. Richard lost yet more of the little hair he has left and with his reputation being on the line produced what we all hoped was the last drawing. I bribed Callum with yet more sweets and he commenced the ‘final’ mark 6 spindle.

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Other news

James our youngest apprentice is making steady progress learning new skills and I have included a few photos of him steadily working away.

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We removed a pair of doors in the Saloon which needed a lot of attention as they were badly warped, twisted and bent. Trevor has been fixing and patching one of the doors while I patch the other one.

I have included a few snaps of the work being carried out.

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Once again I apologise for the delay in the blogs, I will endeavour to try and keep posting as many as I can. If you read this and are about Mount Stewart and you spot us, as long as were are not operating machinery please come and see us in our workshop.

David