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!

Sheena

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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.

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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

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