Monthly Archives: June 2012

‘The Last Post…?’

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‘And now, the end is near…’

While we were in the neighbourhood, a trip to ‘Back to Backs’ seemed like a plan! This unique property is slap bang in the middle of Birmingham city and has been the haunt of trainee Husnara who has recently completed an amazing wallpaper exhibition relating to the properties. They are basically a bunch of really small houses bunched together (small enough for me to totally lose count how many times I bumped my head or stubbed a toe!) sharing a common courtyard, washroom, outside toilets, and made for a real close community vibe when they were occupied in back in the day… As the buildings around them changed over time, they reamain an amazing snap-shot of the cities history. A bit of a fluke they survived! fellow trainee Bethany treated us to an after-hours trip around Dudmaston Hall, (A beautiful house set in lush grounds) the highlight of which was a Henry Moore sculpture in the property’s contemporary art collection. We were quickly whisked off to nearby Wilderhope Manor for some grub, a pint, a chat and a well earned rest. The property has had a recent face-lift and has been split up into dorms. Of the many trips up & down the winding staircases, on only one occasion I didn’t bump my head or trip over a floor beam. The reason for our visit was our end of training course presentation the next day. (Upon arrival, my quip to fellow trainee Mel -who was a little dubious about our accommodation- that she was booked to sleep in the barn, went down like a sack of the proverbial.) Having been fed and watered, t’was time to hit the sack ready for the final day. Slap up breakfast devoured we all headed downstairs for our project presentations. All were tough acts to follow so when it was my turn to go, any mental preparation I had done went out the nearest window. Along with any ‘speech giving’ confidence I had managed to round up. Somehow I muddled through and before I knew it myself the other trainees and esteemed guests were standing in the rain and wind outside for the graduation/ presentation/photo op. Adding a touch of glamour to the proceedings was none other than the lovely Helen Lloyd who wrote all the good bits in the ‘Manual of Housekeeping’… The conservators Bible….

Having plenty of time to reflect on my year during my journey home, (while singing along to an awesome road-trip playlist) I have lost track of how many people I would wish to thank. The staff at Dyrham, have been relentlessly amazing from day one. Every skill I’ve learnt has been nurtured and every opportunity has been explored. I have had without doubt the best year of my working life and although it’s been at an amazing opportunity to work at an wonderful property, the staff have made it such an awesome experience. Most importantly the Lovely (but bossy) Katy Dainton needs a special mention. Not only did she put up with me for 9 months, but was fundamental in my Dyrham experience. Much love also has to go out to Eilidh, Cath and Lin for their help and support as well as my beloved team, Bridget, Margaret & Jane.
It’s been emotional……………

Stay Tuned…

‘Saxon The City…’

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‘There’s gold in them hills…’

As my last week at Dyrham appeared on the horizon I had an opportunity to join my fellow trainees on a trip to Birmingham Museum. This was to visit the ‘Staffordshire Hoard’ exhibition. Thanks to the lovely Deborah Cane, (Conservation Project Manager for the now world famous collection of Anglo-Saxon artefacts) we had a tour of the conservation studios working on the hoard, and other conservation projects. Having the opportunity to study such a unique find at such close quarters was an honour. The dedicated team, with the help of some expensive but totally awesome equipment, have a time consuming prospect of making sense of the find. No simple job when you consider that the collection of around 3,500 items had been found in one big lump caked together with dirt…

In the time the team has been working on the project they have discovered that of the items analysed so far, there is a distinctly military theme. Many have been removed from their original settings, in some cases, (sword handle decoration for example) disguising their original purpose, and making the teams job of deciphering the collection all the more problematic. The equipment available includes a 3d electro-microscope-thingy that displays an image how your eye would see it but in minute detail, where as conventional equipment would magnify only the top layer. The workmanship is mind boggling. (Even though my mind is easily boggled) They are impressive enough to look at, but when viewed in detail, the collection really comes to life. Be sure to check out the blog on the teams web-site ( and if you find yourself in the middle of Birmingham be sure to pay a visit…

‘Kent Scrapbook…’

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‘Three houses and a moat…’

As my time at Dyrham will soon be at an end, (trying not to think about it) an opportunity arose to do a bit of job shadowing. This was a stipulation of my training course and had been arranged a while ago so I was really looking forward to it. The idea is to experience conservation work in a different environment to compare and contrast with my training at Dyrham. The property I settled on was the magnificent Knole house. Without any money changing hands I bagged a place with the house team for two days to get a feel for the environment on open and closed days. Having arrived the day before, I decided to use the time wisely and visited nearby Ightham Mote. This is a stunning place, made all the more stunning by the warm sunshine.

My first of the two days started with a quick intro to the house staff, most of whom are whipped into shape, (not literally) by Knole’s House Steward, the lovely Emily.
My first task of the day was to dust the rump of a wrestler. Not a real one, a statue in the Orangery. Being a consummate professional I did not blush nor giggle. (Not out loud anyway…) They being sufficiently cleaned I then moved on to another statue and then on to ‘The Cartoon Gallery’ for a deep clean. This is basically an intensive clean of a room, focusing on anything from panelling to painting frames, from floors to furniture. This was shaping up to be a fascinating visit as not only was it a privilege to be working at Knole, it was also interesting to feel an automatic approach to cleaning a room and contents, kick in. It’s one thing to be familiar with a routine of cleaning, but another to apply the principles of conservation cleaning to an unfamiliar and completely different environment. Thankfully my training paid off.

Next on the agenda was a trip to the attic. As my time at Knole drew to an end, I was treated to a tour of the house including some ‘off-route’ areas. These included some attic spaces that show the extent of Knole’s need for serious conservation works, the planning of which is thankfully underway. While in the area I was treated to a look round a sneaky little storage room for a spot of condition checking. This clever use of space management, is part of ‘Knole in Flux’. This is a cheeky little visitor engagement project that instead of hiding major conservation work, celebrates it and engages the visitor. (Who doesn’t love a ‘behind the scenes’!) At the same time this protects items in the collection that are removed from display so the room in question can be accessed and the much needed work carried out.

Having bid a fond farewell to Knole I had a little time for some R&R and so made use of my staff membership while it lasts. Next on the NT tour, Quebec House. Childhood residence of James Wolfe, who’s Valliant struggle in the conquest of Canada ended in tragedy on the battle field. Although facts are scarce, it’s a point in history that’s inspired many a painting…

Last but not least, a trip to nearby Chartwell House beckoned! I had been looking forward to this one. A truly unique property presented beautifully. Chartwell for those who aren’t aware was the residence of a Mr. Winston Churchill. I can see from the first steps inside the complex why he was reported to be so fond of it. ‘A day away from Chartwell is a day wasted’… It’s easy to see how a resident of Chartwell could easily become so fond of it. A fantastic house and beautiful sweeping grounds must have been a perfect oasis of serenity in difficult times… T’was a pleasure to visit. I salute you Mr. C……..