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’.

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

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

Suited and booted – Inspecting the drainage

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Joe Heaney, Building Surveyor for the project getting suited up to go down and inspect the drainage culvert that runs from the lake down through the property, under the courtyard and reception right through the gardens and under the main road and out into the lough!!

Excess water from the property should drain through this culvert down into the Lough but over time the culvert has collapsed in places causing the water to back up and flood the property and the gardens, especially during high tides. Part of the conservation project will be to identify the damaged areas and repair the drainage system to prevent future flooding.

Jenny

Project Administrator