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

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House Project – Behind the Scenes Tour

On Wednesday 14 November at 2.00pm, our House & Collections Manager, Louise will be guiding visitors around the house to see for themselves the ongoing work taking place within the conservation project.

This will be an exclusive tour of the conservation project and you will see the work we carry out once the house closes. The tour will look at some of the problems that the project will tackle in the showrooms, exploring the work that will be taking place over the next 3 years. You will also get the chance to look into rooms that have never been seen by visitors before, see the specially created purpose built store in the chapel and also look in detail at the structural issues and solutions that we will be carrying out to the house. You will also have the chance to see the winter clean work we do and how we care for the collection here at Mount Stewart.

Booking is essential for this tour and the price is £10 per adult / member adult.

To book a place, please contact our reception on (028) 4278 8387.

An introduction to our Visitor Services Manager – Susan

I am looking forward to the challenges ahead regarding the Mount Stewart Conservation Project.

I am currently working as Visitor Services Manager and a large proportion of my job has been taken up managing the property events programme. My new role within the Conservation project will take on a different type of event management when I will be tasked daily with ensuring that Mount Stewart is open for business as usual, but, with the opportunity to reveal various new and old discoveries and provide a great experience for all our visitors.

I will be assisting the conservation team with the creation of new opportunities and identifying unique and interesting aspects which will be uncovered through this rediscovering process. I will be reviewing and developing communication channels to help you plan your visits to this fabulous house during the forthcoming years and I hope to be able to encourage everyone to become engaged in some way with this exciting restoration programme. It’s a whole new adventure for me, and I am embarking on this new journey with both excitement and trepidation. I hope that you will be able to enjoy this with me.

Susan Roberts
Visitor Services Manager

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

Discovery of the week – 1919 Newspaper and cigarette box

This week while working on the floorboards in the Hague bedroom, Callum, our apprentice joiner discovered a newspaper dating back to 1919 and a cigarette box.

Our project joiner, Callum discovering the newspaper dating back to 1919 (c) Peter Muhly

The cigarette box dates more than likely to 1919 as it was found alongside the Ulster Examiner newspaper dated 23 August 1919. Various news headings in the newspaper were, ‘Excursionists Stoned – Attacks at Newry, Banbridge, Dromore and Lisburn’ and ‘German Reconstruction Legislation for carrying out peace treaty – Big Economic effort’

A close-up of the Ulster Examiner, dating back to August 1919 (c) Peter Muhly

The cigarettes are a pack of 20 Gold Flake honeydew made by W D & H O Wills. They were founded in 1786 and became part of Imperial Tobacco in 1901 which remains one as of the largest tobacco manufacturers.

The Gold Flake cigarettes box which was also found under the floorboards (c) Peter Muhly

Kicking off the restoration project

Welcome to the first blog post of the Mount Stewart Restoration Project!

Visitors today will see a magnificent house in need of some serious ‘TLC’.

The house was given to the National Trust by Lady Mairi Bury in 1976 and some remedial works were undertaken in the 1980’s. Lady Mairi Bury, remained in residence until her death in November 2009. In her later years she was in failing health and therefore, very little, in the way of essential maintenance, was carried out because she would not have been able to tolerate such disruption. Her daughter, Lady Rose Lauritzen, is the current donor family representative and is an invaluable source of information. Lady Rose will be keeping a very close eye on what we are doing.

Now we have a situation where the drainage system is failing, there is serious cracking to walls, ceilings and archways and the house requires a new conservation heating system and completely rewiring. If this is not enough we really need to lift the presentation of the house away from the current ‘shabby chic’ to a more vibrant look and feel as it would have been in the halcyon days when Mount Stewart was a place of high society and ‘the place to be seen’.

So, a lot of work to do. It has always been my belief that projects are about people, get the right people, keep them motivated and invariably you will get a good result.

We have gathered a really good team together at Mount Stewart to deliver this complicated project and you will be hearing from them through the blog as the project progresses.

The total cost of all of the works is in the region of £6 million. We have a team of expert engineers and architects who are currently designing solutions to the problems.

Visitors will be able to get up close to the works when we start in the Autumn. The house will be closed for parts of the winter and reopen Spring 2013 when the works will be in full swing. This is great opportunity to see ‘conservation in action’ and members of the National Trust will be able to appreciate why their membership subscriptions are so important in preserving the country’s heritage.

Dennis Wright

Senior Project Manger