Reading into Ruin

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This year we are celebrating 10 years since the start of the Attingham Re-discovered project in 2006. Each month we are focusing on a room in the Mansion and how that room has evolved over time. This month we are looking at the Inner Library and the West Ante Room.

Re-discovering the Inner Library

The Inner Library was designed as a breakfast room in 1782 for Noel Hill, 1st Lord Berwick. His son, who became the 2nd Lord Berwick in 1789, was such an avid book collector that he had the room converted into a library in the early 1800s.

(c) National Trust, Attingham Park; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Thomas Noel-Hill, 2nd Baron Berwick of Attingham, FSA (1770-1832) by George Romney (Dalton-in-Furness 1734 – Kendal 1802). Attingham Park © National Trust

The 2nd Lord Berwick employed the architect, John Nash, to work on Attingham Hall. In c.1805, Nash designed the pink trompe l’oeil (‘fool the eye’) decorative scheme on the ceiling. Nash’s designs were at the height of fashion, as were the bold colours and sense of illusion in the decorative scheme.

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Detail of ceiling and cornice in the Inner Library. National Trust Image.

The walls of the Inner Library were painted red, a popular Regency colour choice associated with strength and masculinity. The dado was painted to imitate grey marbling, similar to that in the Entrance Hall. In 1827, the carpet was a crimson-ground Axminster and there was a ‘slate and stone colour octagon roset-pattern Floor Cloth’ like the one in the Entrance Hall.

The Regency bookcases in the Inner Library at Attingham Park. Image by Robert Thrift, 2008.

The Regency bookcases in the Inner Library at Attingham Park. Image by Robert Thrift, 2008.

Thomas Donaldson, a Shrewsbury carver and gilder, fitted the lattice work doors in 1812. The open lattices prevent conditions in the bookcases getting damp, so are ideal for preserving the book collection.

In the twentieth century, the ceiling and dado decoration were painted over in white. As part of the Attingham Re-discovered project, in 2001, the white paint was removed from the ceiling to reveal John Nash’s decoration and the dado decoration was partially revealed on the dado ten years later.

Paint window in Inner Library North Wall

The original grey marbling painted decoration on the dado in the Inner Library.

In 2011, re-created curtains, poles and finials were installed to represent the look of the room in the Regency period. They were re-created using surviving samples and documentary descriptions.

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The Re-created Regency curtains which now hang in the Inner Library, West Ante Room and Octagon Room.

Rediscovering the West-Ante Room

It is not entirely clear how the West Ante-Room was first used when built in the 1780s but in the 1810s it became a library space for Thomas, 2nd Lord Berwick. At this time, it would have been one of five library spaces in the new Attingham Hall building which encircled the old house, Tern Hall (demolished 1856/7). The room had grey painted walls with a wood graining scheme on the dado. The curtains would have been pink and hung above the blue and crimson scroll-pattern carpet.

In 1921 the room was painted pale grey with white woodwork and used as the 8th Lord Berwick’s writing room. The marble fire surround was removed by the Adult Education College (1948-76) to create space for office furniture when the room was used as the college secretary’s office.

The Attingham Re-discovered project has been reviving the mansion since 2006. The decorative scheme of the early 1800s was restored between 2008 and 2010. The fireplace was returned and the Regency decorative scheme replicated. In 2013 the finishing touch was added when Attingham books were put back into the cases.

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The West Ante Room before re-decoration but with the fireplace re-installed. National Trust image.

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Installing books into the cases following the re-decoration of the West Ante Room.

A passion for books

Thomas, 2nd Lord Berwick (1770-1832) was a patron of art and his extravagant tastes almost lead to bankruptcy. The road to ruin began during his Grand Tour (1792-4). He travelled to Italy with his tutor, Edward Daniel Clarke, whose biography describing the trip is displayed in the Inner Library today. The many souvenirs that Thomas collected included books and he developed a special interest in early manuscripts. Thomas was invested as a Fellow in the Society of Antiquaries in 1801.

(c) National Trust, Attingham Park; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Thomas Noel-Hill, 2nd Baron Berwick of Attingham, FSA (1770-1832) by Angelica Kauffman RA (Chur 1741 – Rome 1807). Attingham © National Trust Photo Library

His library was a splendid sight as he commissioned bindings in London and employed local bookbinder Eddowes. Books were status symbols and collecting was one way in which Lord Berwick, who was nervous in society, may have attempted to impress acquaintances.

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An example of some of the stunning marbling and fine bindings within the collection.

Lord Berwick became increasingly extravagant, amassing over 3,000 volumes. In 1809 he had a small number of catalogues printed to list his collection. As part of the Re-discovered project, we had two copies made for visitors to browse.

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Original 1809 book catalogue (right) and facsimile copy made in 2009 (left).

Bibliomania was a popular craze amongst Regency aristocrats, satirised in a poem by Thomas Dibdin (1809) that praised the 3rd Duke of Roxburge’s library. The sale of the Duke’s library in 1812 was eagerly attended and marked the founding of the Roxburge Society, one Britain’s oldest bibliophilic societies. The Berwicks’ neighbours, the Heber family and J.A.Lloyd of Leaton Knolls, were members of the Roxburghe Club. Amongst the books sold was a first edition of Boccaccio printed in 1471 that made £2,260, a record that stood for over sixty years. The Marquis of Blandford and the 2nd Earl Spencer fought over the Boccaccio. Blandford won but when he sold his library in 1819 to pay off debts, Spencer bought the Boccaccio for just £918.15s!

For sources and further information, see a blog post on the Roxburge sale and 
A Catalogue of the Library of the Late John, Duke of Roxburghe and a page on bibliomania.

Reading into ruin

The 2nd Lord Berwick’s extravagant spending was not helped when in 1812, aged forty-one, he married Sophia, a seventeen-year-old courtesan, whom he lavished with gifts. Harriette Wilson, Sophia’s sister, describes their route to ruin in her memoirs that are currently displayed in the Inner Library today. Lord Berwick’s cousin, Edward Burton, warned Thomas: ‘I fear you will go on until your affairs are quite unmanageable.’

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Sophia Dubochet, Lady Berwick (1794-1875) by Richard Cosway RA (Tiverton, Devon 1742 – London 1821). Attingham Park © National Trust / Claire Reeves

In the late 1820s, Lord Berwick moved to Italy and in 1827 he was forced to auction many of his possessions in a sale that took sixteen days and was in 213 lots. Most of his books were sold and further sale occurred in 1829. Upon his death in 1832, Attingham then entered the care of his younger brother, William. William, 3rd Lord Berwick also collected books and around 9,000 volumes owned by him were sold after his death in 1842, although some of his books remain in the cabinets today.

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English rosewood bookcase, c.1835, containing books from the 3rd Lord Berwick’s collection.

Were the books actually read?

All the books currently in the Inner Library belonged to the family. They are of varied dates and most show marks of wear that indicate they have been read at some point by the family or their guests. The collection mostly dates from the mid-1600s to the early 1900s and includes novels, poetry, art, history, travel, bird, botanical, geography and law books.

Amongst the most fascinating are the schoolbooks used by Noel, 1st Lord Berwick, and his siblings. Samuel, Noel’s elder brother who died young, seems to have been a budding artist and used blank pages for sketches and caricatures.

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Sketches can be found on some pages in the Attingham books that were used to educate the younger members of the family in the Georgian period.

Discovering a 1920s Christmas at Attingham

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Here at Attingham, we have been preparing the Mansion for a 1920s Christmas.

 

Christmas decorations in the Entrance Hall, 2014. © National Trust/R & A Knisely-Marpole

Christmas decorations in the Entrance Hall, 2014. © National Trust/R & A Knisely-Marpole

During this decade the 8th Lord and Lady Berwick made Attingham their home following their wedding in 1919. They held parties for the local school children and gave Christmas gifts to the tenants and servants.

The 8th Lord and Lady Berwick, 1928.

The 8th Lord and Lady Berwick, 1928.

To prepare for our 1920s Christmas theme we carried out research in the Attingham archive to learn what Christmas was really like for Lord and Lady Berwick. The couple worked on the interiors of Attingham and they frequently had visitors staying such as artists, writers and musicians. Sadly, Lady Berwick’s father died in 1921 but her mother and sister visited Attingham regularly.

 

Lady Berwick (in white) with friends and family, 1920s.

Lady Berwick (in white) with friends and family, 1920s.

We have some examples of Christmas cards that were sent to the Berwicks, such as a 1933 card from the author Barbara Cartland. In 1927 she married into the McCorquodale family who lived at nearby Cound Hall, Shropshire. Earlier, in 1922, Lord and Lady Berwick invited the McCorquodales to dine at Attingham to celebrate the work to put the large Dining Room in order.

Christmas card from Barbara McCorquodale (née Cartland) to Lord and Lady Berwick, 1933.

Christmas card from Barbara McCorquodale (née Cartland) to Lord and Lady Berwick, 1933.

To see a 1928 photograph of Barbara McCorquodale at her writing desk, please click here.

Christmas cards did not necessarily have to have a festive theme in the 1920s. In the Attingham collection is a c.1930 card intended to be sent by Lady Berwick to her friends and there is no indication of Christmas apart from the printed text inside.

Lady Berwick's Christmas card c1930.

Lady Berwick’s Christmas card c.1930.

Our written archive also informs us that post was delivered at Attingham on Christmas Day in the 1920s. The General Post Office stopped delivering letters on Christmas Day in 1960.

The c.1870 mahogany letter box in the Entrance Hall at Attingham.

The c.1870 mahogany letter box in the Entrance Hall at Attingham. Attingham Park © National Trust / Claire Reeves.

The tradition of sending cards goes back many years. Greetings cards can be traced back as early as the ancient Chinese and Egyptians who each exchanged messages of good will to celebrate the New Year.

But it was not until the Victorian period that the first published Christmas card appeared. This card highlighted the plight of the poor during the festive season and was made in 1843. Commissioned by Sir Henry Cole and designed by John Calcott Horsley, the card showed a family raising a toast with scenes of charity at the sides. Each card was sold for a shilling. To see an image of the card and to find out more, please click here.

Early English cards were often quite plain and rarely showed religious or winter themes.  But cards soon became fancier with glitter, embroidery, lace and fringes on them. A great deal of work went into making each card. You can view a 1920 British Pathé film about making Christmas cards by clicking here.

Today, cards are a multi-million pound industry, although a growing number of people are making their own again.

Do you keep your Christmas cards or re-cycle them? Many National Trust houses still retain cards once received by family members. To take a look at some Christmas cards from the 20th century, please click here. Search for ‘Christmas card’ and then ‘Explore and refine’ by the date of ‘20th century’.

A 1928 Christmas card from the collection at Erddig, Wales. Erddig © National Trust / Erddig Photography Team

A 1928 Christmas card from the collection at Erddig, Wales. Erddig © National Trust / Erddig Photography Team

A Christmas card with a photograph from Mr. and Mrs. Vincent Massey, 1928, of the Canadian Legation, Washington. Polesden Lacey © National Trust / Andrew Fetherston

A Christmas card with a photograph from Mr. and Mrs. Vincent Massey, 1928, of the Canadian Legation, Washington. Polesden Lacey © National Trust / Andrew Fetherston

You can see the 1920s Christmas decorations at Attingham from 10.30 everyday (last entry 3.30) until 23rd December which is the final day to see them. Follow the story of the Berwicks and the local community in the 1920s and enjoy the sparkling lights, baubles and costume. On the three weekends before Christmas you can also see Charleston dancing in the Dining Room by local group, Revel in Dance. For more information, please see our website.

 

Seashells, seashells…

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The team at Attingham Park have been busy condition checking and cleaning the fascinating collection of shells kept in a cupboard in the Boudoir. The work provided a wonderful opportunity to show the collection to visitors as the cupboard door is only opened on rare occasions. The shells are sensitive to high light levels and over time, can fade and become brittle. We periodically clean these objects and we do so using a soft pony hair brush.

Shell Cupboard, Boudoir

It is important to store shells in the right environment as organic acids given off by certain resins, paints, adhesives and types of wood and cardboard can attack calcareous materials like shells. In damp conditions this causes white growths known as Byne’s disease, so it is important that humidity levels are monitored in the house.

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It is not known for certain who collected the shells but they may be the early nineteenth-century collection of Sophia, wife of the Second Lord Berwick. Many wealthy people of the time had a cabinet of curiosities where they kept shells and semi-precious stones. To view Attingham’s shell collection on the National Trust Collections website, please click here.

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Often cabinets of curiosities were formed from items collected on the Grand Tour. Although Sophia’s husband, Thomas, had been on his Grand Tour to Italy the shells come from further afield.

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The collection contains many varieties of shell including cowrie, conch, marlin spike, mitre, helmet, turbo, conus, volute and liguus shells. As well as shells there are some sea urchin shells, seahorses and the egg of an ostrich, which lays the largest eggs of any living bird. The shells originated from places such as the Caribbean and Africa, with many of them coming from the Indo-Pacific. Sailors and naturalists collected shell specimens that would be sold in dealers’ shops.

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608944 egg

‘Conchylomania’ started in the seventeenth-century when the Dutch East India Company began bringing back amazing shells from Indonesia. The Dutch shell collector Jan Govertsz van der Aar was particularly celebrated, although the interest in shells soon spread to other countries. Shells and shell motifs were so popular that the mid-eighteenth century Rococo style derives its name from the French for shell. Wentletrap shells from the Philippines were especially prized and sold for vast amounts, equivalent to over £60,000 today!

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Margaret Cavendish Bentinck, the Second Duchess of Portland (1715-1785) was an avid shell collector, her collection being the largest of its time. She helped to make shell collecting fashionable for wealthy British women.

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Decorating rooms with shells was a popular pastime for ladies of leisure. Many eighteenth-century ladies, like Mary Delaney and Lady Fane, designed shell grottos and made shell art. The cousins of the Attingham Hill family, the Hills of Hawkstone, decorated the walls and ceiling of a chamber in their grotto with shells, pumice and other ‘petrifactions from the deep.’ Hawkstone Park in North Shropshire is now open to the public. For more information please click here.

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Attingham is not alone in having a shell collection. Many National Trust properties have shells in their collection, from the shells arranged to form a basket of flowers bequeathed by Ellen Terry that can be seen in Smallhythe Place, to the decorative pictures made of shells at Greenway, including two beautiful shell pictures from c.1800 bought by Agatha Christie. Arlington Court and Wallington have particularly good shell collections, the one in Arlington Court having boxes of shells arranged decoratively like those at Attingham.

Shell flowers in basket on wood base with glass dome.

Shell picture

Shells in box

Three images above from National Trust Collections website. Please see links in paragraph above for further details on these objects.

Sources:

Hawkstone Park Leisure (1993) ‘Hawkstone, A Short History and Guide,’ Walding Associates

Hays, J. (2009) ‘Sea Shells and Sea Shell Collecting’ http://factsanddetails.com/world/cat53/sub338/item1265.html#chapter-1

National Trust Collections website

Owsianiecki, C. (2011) ‘The art of the seashell,’ The Examiner, http://www.examiner.com/article/the-art-of-the-seashell

Sandwith and Stainton (2002) The National Trust Manual of Housekeeping, The National Trust

(2006) The National Trust Manual of Housekeeping, The National Trust

 

Book Cleaning in the Inner Library

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We recently cleaned and condition checked Attingham’s book collection in the Inner Library. It is a task done every three years to make sure that the books don’t have problems like mould growth or an infestation of insects, such as silverfish or booklice. Luckily, no problems were found as the conditions in the Inner Library are ideal for the preservation of books, being neither damp nor humid which would encourage insects and mould growth.

Booklouse!

Booklouse!

The metal lattice of the upper bookshelves is open to freely admit the air, preventing conditions inside the bookcase from getting damp. Unfortunately, this means that dust blows in and can be seen on the tops of the books! The Octagon Room cases contain silk and this is because documents relating to the estate would have been stored here rather than beautifully bound books.

The Inner Library at Attingham Parking during book cleaning month.

The Inner Library at Attingham Parking during book cleaning month.

When handling books clean, dry hands are best or latex gloves because white cotton gloves can reduce sensitivity and abrade the books. To take a book from the shelf, ideally it should be pushed gently from the back and never pulled out by its spine! The book is then placed on a foam book block and then cleaning can commence!

Two soft pony hair brushes are used to clean the books. A separate brush is used for the outside because the covers often contain tannin, which would be transferred onto the pages and stain them if the same brush was used to clean them.

'Picturesque Views of Edinburgh,' with two pony hair brushes and one hogs hair brush.

‘Picturesque Views of Edinburgh,’ with two pony hair brushes and one hogs hair brush.

The book is opened by no more than ninety degrees and a second brush used to clean the first and last few pages, where any problems are most likely to show. Many of the books have beautiful illustrations, signatures by members of the family, short inscriptions and an amazing assortment of marbled pages.

'British Birds, vol. 2, Water Birds,' Thomas Bewick, 1832.

‘British Birds, vol. 2, Water Birds,’ Thomas Bewick, 1832.

Whilst dusting is in progress, the dust is collected in a special museum vacuum which has a low suction and a paper funnel fitted to the nozzle and placed at the end of the book block. The shelf is cleaned using a robust hogshair brush and then the book can go back in place! A gap is left behind it so that air can circulate freely.

Marbled paper from Elizabeth Radcliffe's 'Gaston de Blond & c.', 1826.

Marbled paper from Elizabeth Radcliffe’s ‘Gaston de Blond & c.’, 1826.

The books in the Inner Library mostly date from the mid-seventeenth to early twentieth century and were all owned by the family. Thomas, 2nd Lord Berwick, was an avid book collector. He acquired over 3000 books and had a special catalogue made of his collection in 1809. He converted what had been the Breakfast Room into the Inner Library in 1812.

Copy of 2nd Lord Berwick's 1809 Library Catalogue made by Ludlow Bookbinders.

Copy of 2nd Lord Berwick’s 1809 Library Catalogue made by Ludlow Bookbinders.

Unfortunately, much of Thomas’s collection was lost in the sales in the 1820s, so many of the books at Attingham today belonged to later members of the family. They include novels, poetry, art, history, travel, bird, botanical, geography and law books.

'The Byron Gallery,' 1833, from 'Don Juan'

‘The Byron Gallery,’ 1833, from ‘Don Juan’

Most fascinating are the seventeenth-century schoolbooks which appear to have been brought second-hand for the children of Thomas Harwood. Samuel, the eldest son of Thomas Harwood’s second marriage, who died young, seems to have been a budding artist and used blank pages for sketches and caricatures!

'Clavis Graecae Lingvae,' 1647.

‘Clavis Graecae Lingvae,’ 1647.

In one book one of the children, possibly Noel, later 1st Lord Berwick, had been doing lines to practice his handwriting. This book is charred at the edges. Perhaps he got so annoyed with his studies that he threw it in the fire!

'The Young Clerk's Tutor,' 1664.

‘The Young Clerk’s Tutor,’ 1664.

Volunteers and visitors came up with some great questions about the books. Here are a few questions and answers:

How were the edges of the books gilded?

This would have been done before the cover was applied and is a great way of protecting the edges. The pages were sewn together and put between wooden boards which were clamped in place. The edges of the pages were scraped smooth, burnished and painted with bole which was rubbed dry and the paper burnished again. Then a coat of size and the gold leaf was applied. When dry, the edges were burnished to produce a lovely shine!

Scott, 'Anne of Geristein' 1829.

Scott, ‘Anne of Geristein’ 1829.

How were pages marbled?

Coloured inks were floated on water or size. Various tools were used to move the colours to create patterns and then the paper was carefully placed on top. The technique was first encountered by European travellers in the Middle East in the seventeenth-century.

Edward Wakefield 'Wakefield's Ireland', Vol 2, 1812.

Edward Wakefield ‘Wakefield’s Ireland’, vol 2, 1812.

How was marbling applied to the edges of the books?

As with gilding, the pages were clamped between boards. Each edge was then lowered onto the surface of a trough in which ink was floated to produce a marbled pattern.

Edward Wakefield, 'Wakefield's Ireland', vol 2, 1812.

Edward Wakefield, ‘Wakefield’s Ireland’, vol 2, 1812.

How was tree marbling done?

A marbled pattern was floated on water but instead of inks pigment from the green shells of walnuts, oil of tartar or potash in rainwater were often used. Leather bound book boards were placed on the marbled water and each board bent down the middle so that water and colour flowed to the centre of the board leaving ‘branches’ and congregating in the middle as the ‘trunk’.

Elizabeth Radcliffe's, 'Gaston de Blond' &c., 1826.

Elizabeth Radcliffe’s, ‘Gaston de Blond’ &c., 1826.

 

 

Attingham’s WWI Stories

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Hello readers of the Attingham Mansion Blog!

We thought that you might like to take a peek at our new blog, Attingham WWI Stories. Here is a link to the blog homepage: http://attinghamww1stories.wordpress.com/

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Attingham WWI Stories has posts giving exciting insights into what was happening at Attingham and in the lives of the 8th Lord and Lady Berwick during the First World War. Posts appear monthly and show what was going on that same month 100 years ago. Based on research into letters and documents of the war years, each post will include quotes and photographs from the time.

During WWI, Attingham was tenanted by the Dutch-American Van Bergen family. The outbreak of the war found the family planning to give part of the house as a military hospital, which opened in October 1914. By 1918 there were 60 beds and an operating theatre.

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During the war years, Thomas, 8th Lord Berwick, served in the Shropshire Yeomanry and as a diplomat in Paris. He had met Teresa Hulton, later the 8th Lady Berwick, before the war and continued to correspond with her throughout the war. They were married in June 1919 and began a new chapter in Attingham’s history when they came to live together on the estate.

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Teresa had grown up amongst elegant and artistic surroundings in Venice. When the war broke out she was visiting relatives in England, where she found work helping Belgian refugees who had fled to London, and translating secret documents. When Italy joined the war in May 1915, Teresa returned to Italy to work for the Red Cross. She was stationed at Cervignano, near the Italian Front Line, where she worked as a nurse and at a soldiers’ canteen.

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The mass of letters and photographs that Teresa brought with her to Attingham after her marriage provide an invaluable resource into life during WWI and they will be the main focus of the blog posts.

To make sure that you don’t miss an episode, please sign up to get the monthly posts sent automatically by clicking the ‘Follow’ button and entering your e-mail address.

Our WWI exhibition entitled The Great War for Civilisation is available to view daily from 10am in the Attingham Park Stables.

Bursting at the Seams

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Costume is a very evocative part of any collection. It provides a very personal insight into the lives of the individuals who wore them, and can often be linked to key phases in their lives. An example of this that we have mentioned before is our collection of 1953 Coronation Robes, which we were able to reproduce and have on display for the ‘Hidden Lives: Royalty, Glamour and War’ exhibition. In contrast with this formal costume though, the pieces in this blog are from a more light-hearted occasion exemplifying the 8th Lord Berwick’s playful side.

The coronation robes on display as part of our Hidden Lives exhibition.

The coronation robes on display as part of our Hidden Lives exhibition.

As alluded to in previous posts, the 8th Lord and Lady were fond of dressing up. We have multiple photographs showing some of the many occasions upon which they donned their glad rags for a do. The particular costume and occasion in this blog however are from before the marriage of the 8th Lord and Lady.

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8th Lord Berwick and Hon. Mrs. Henry Brougham 3rd Baron Brougham and Vaux, Royal Albert Hall, 1910

From the dating and description of this portrait in our archives, we have been able to deduce that the event in question was probably the Chelsea Arts Club Ball in 1910. The Chelsea Arts Club Ball was held on New Year’s Eve, and was generally a theme based costume event. The Ball was described as ‘the most scandalous event on the social calendar’, although as a man in his early twenties it may not be unusual that the 8th Lord attended such an event. The photo, visible above, shows the 8th Lord in costume along with Diana Brougham, née Stunt, wife of Hon. Henry Brougham 3rd Baron Brougham and Vaux.

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We are fortunate to still possess nearly all of the components of this costume and with some details of its origin (also visible on the National Trust Collections Website). The set of hat, jacket, coat, and breeches are attributed to the costume designers and suppliers B.J. Simmons and Co. of Covent Garden, London.  B.J. Simmons and Co. designed and produced theatrical costumes between 1889 and 1959, further examples of their work can be seen via this link.

Staff and Interns - Halloween 2013

Staff Halloween Costumes 2013

Lord and Lady Berwick wearing fancy dress in the Picture Gallery c. 1923

Lord and Lady Berwick wearing fancy dress in the Picture Gallery c. 1923

The quality of this Russian style costume, as well as the others which we are aware of – the Medieval Pageant at Ludlow and the 1780s formal wear – demonstrate a certain dedication to fancy dress. A dedication that I doubt many of us could match with our own fancy dress or Halloween costumes, although I doubt we have the same budget. Regardless, these items and photos give us an insight into the Berwicks’ private and social lives, and greatly help us to better understand and connect with them and their story.

Lifting in the steel!

Last week we took delivery of the crane, which will now be in residence on the East Side of the Mansion until August.  There was much excitement as the crane boom seemed to rise from a very compact area to extend to its full length.

The crane being unpacked and the boom extended

The crane being unpacked and the boom extended

The crane being unpacked and the boom extended

The crane being unpacked and the boom extended

To many visitors’ amusement a man was soon seen dangling from the the crane as the engineers calibrated the weight and lifting.

View of the crane from the Outer Courtyard of the fully extended crane.

View of the fully extended crane from the Outer Courtyard.

The crane is here to lift the steel components of the new roof as well as the aluminum gutters, outer lantern for the Nash Staircase and the glass.  In order to keep the crane steady there are 50 tonnes of concrete blocks providing ballast.  You can see them best through the Boudoir window.

The crane has a ballast of 50 tonnes of concrete

The crane has a ballast of 50 tonnes of concrete

It takes great skill and a large team to get the steel from the secure compound on the East Side of the Mansion, right over the top of the building to its final resting place in the centre.

 

The crane lifting some of the steel at the front of the Mansion.

The crane lifting some of the steel at the front of the Mansion.

The crane driver moving the crane around and over the Mansion.

The crane driver moving the crane around and over the Mansion.

The steel being lowered into position after being moved from outside of the Mansion into the center.

The steel being lowered into position after being moved from outside of the Mansion into the centre.

One of my favorite roles is the ‘Slinger Banksman’ – a strange title, but actually really important!  The Slinger Banksman is responsible for the ensuring the safety in crane rigging and slinging operations, where he selects and attaches the lifting gear to the load to ensure a safe and secure lifting operation.

The Slinger Banksman is the one in the orange vest.  Steel being lowered into its final location.

The Slinger Banksman and the crane driver are the ones in the orange vests. Steel being lowered into its final location.

Steel being secured in location.

Steel being secured in location.

Some interesting facts!

  • The crane acts like a weather vane – it knows which way the wind is blowing and moves to accommodate the weather, this is very disconcerting if you see it move after the crane driver goes home!
  • The steel structure on its own weighs 8 tonnes. When the glass and aluminum gutters are added, it will weigh a total of
    20 tonnes
  • The total length of the structural steel components is approximately 330m, that’s a 1/3 of a kilometre (or 11 blue whales lined up tail to tail!).
  • The new roof is 133 square metres or 1200 square feet.  There will be 52 panes of glass, none of which are square,
    ranging in size from 0.75m to 2.5m wide x 1.5m to 2m long.

All the photos in this post were taken by our lovely Volunteer Roof Photographers Richard and Angela Knisely-Marpole.

Glittering Gilding

The high level gilding in the Nash Staircase which would have surrounded the inner skylight has been painted over.  When we were able to get up to have a look, tantalizingly you could still see tiny gold glimpses in the cracks of the paint.

Glimpses of the over painted gilding visible under the cracking paint.

Glimpses of the over painted gilding visible under the cracking paint.

Paint analysis showed that there would have been two bands of gilding on the inner and outer edges of the moulded oculus with the middle section painted in the pink glaze, linking to the fish scales in the dome.

Paint analysis revealing hints of the paint schemes that were there before.

Paint analysis revealing hints of the paint schemes that were there before.

As any attempt to clean the paint-over section resulted in the gilding underneath being removed too, it was decided to redecorate and re-gild this feature.

Gilding is the art of applying thin leaves and foils of precious metals to a surface to give the appearance of a solid or inlaid metal.  The process used has changed little since antiquity.

Showing how thin and fragile the gold leaf is.

Showing how thin and fragile the gold leaf is.

Preparation is the key to good gilding.  The timber used must be sound, free from dust, dirt and grease and well seasoned.  The surface is first primed with a coat of hot rabbit skin size to seal the surface.  Any joints, knots or cracks are strengthened with a layer of cloth.

The gold leaf can be cut and transferred to the work area in a number of ways.  The gilder quite often uses a leather ‘cushion’: they open the book of gold leaf and transfer a page quickly to the leather, so that it is flat and ready for cutting.  Professional gilders will usually empty several sheets onto the back of the cushion, select a sheet from the pile, carry it to the front of the cushion and lay it flat with a puff of air.

Blowing the leaf onto the cushion to make it lie flat.

Blowing the leaf onto the cushion to make it lie flat.

Gold is cut and picked up from the cushion and transferred to the brush by firstly drawing the brush across your hair neck and face so that it picks up the natural body oils, but it can’t be too greasy or it will not release the gilding and the leaf will be torn.

Cutting the gilding ready to be picked up by the brush and applied to the size.

Cutting the gilding ready to be picked up by the brush and applied to the size.

Picking up the gilding with a brush.

Picking up the gilding with a brush.

There are two techniques of gilding, water and oil.  We used oil gilding for the Nash Staircase dome.  In this technique the gold is brushed onto a surface prepared with gold size onto a non absorbent area and waiting for the right stage of tackiness.  Gold size is linseed oil which has been heated with a drying agent, traditionally lead oxide.  We used a yellow coloured size to make it easy to see the area where the gold is to be applied and it also enhances the appearance of the gold.

The upper and lower band painted in the coloured size ready for the gold leaf to be applied.

The upper and lower band painted in the coloured size ready for the gold leaf to be applied.

The gold is then pressed onto the size and finally the excess is removed by a soft brush (skewing in).

Brushing the gilding onto the size.  At this point the gilding looks rough.

Brushing the gilding onto the size. At this point the gilding looks rough.

Brushing the gilding on.

Brushing the gilding on.

Smoothing the gilding using a soft brush ().  The pot is to catch the loose leaf as it falls.

Smoothing the gilding using a soft brush (skewing in). The pot is to catch the loose leaf as it falls.

Finished gilding.

Finished gilding.

All the photos is this post were taken by our lovely Volunteer Roof Photographers Richard and Angela Knisely-Marpole.

Pretty in Pink

The fish scales in the Nash Staircase have for the last few months been undergoing a careful cleaning and repair regime.  There are 11,550 of them in total, each being applied individually and with great accuracy. They are arranged in 42 rows graded from a width of 23/4 inches at the bottom to 13/8 at the top, with 275 scales in each row.

The dirty scales taken while the internal scaffold was being installed.

The dirty scales, taken while the internal scaffolding was being installed.

The cleaning of the scales has made a huge difference and shown how dirty all these inaccessible surfaces have become.   The scales were carefully cleaned using de-ionised water and cotton wool swabs.

Cleaning begins on the fish scales.  You can also see the difference cleaning makes on the fluted walls and gilding.

Cleaning begins on the fish scales. You can also see the difference cleaning makes on the fluted walls and gilding.

The resulting green tinged off-white colour of the cleaned scales created an unfortunate contrast with the cleaned dark red of the the fluted walls. Paint analysis showed that the scales had been painted three times since construction.

Peeling away the paint layers - a scale undergoing paint analysis.

Peeling away the paint layers – a scale undergoing paint analysis.

The original scheme gave a translucent pinkish brown glaze caused by probably a resin varnish.  There would have been a sheen but the paint was too thin to have a high gloss.

The green coloured paint has been carefully removed revealing the original pink colour scheme.

The green coloured paint has been carefully removed revealing the original pink colour scheme.

This discovery corresponds to Nash’s 1807 estimate document with includes ‘scales formed in stucco and polished or varnished’. This colour also ties the Nash Staircase more into the decorative scheme of the jib stairs and the first floor corridor.  These spaces have an intricate decorative scheme on paper that was revealed and restored only a few years ago.

The first floor corridors with the decorative scheme paper fully restored after years of being hidden under red oil paint.

The first floor corridors with the decorative scheme paper fully restored after years of being hidden under red oil paint.

The original decoration was repeated possibly because the original developed a network of cracks, or there was water ingress (we know water ingress was a problem in the Picture Gallery from 1807).  There is no dirt layer between the two schemes so this must have happened soon after the original decoration.  They painted a very thin coat of lead white oil paint followed by a fresh coat of the pale pinkish brown varnish. The varnished scheme must have been in place for a number of years, as there is a thick layer of dirt separating this and the final light green seen today after cleaning.  The presence of lead white indicates it must have been carried out before World War II. We carefully reinstated the pink scheme, after consultation with the National Trust panels and English Heritage to ensure we were making the right choice. The paint was created using conservation varnish mixed with yellow ochre and red oxide.  Only teaspoonfuls of the pigment had to be used to create the right colour.

The paint preparation area!  All the paint was mixed on site.

The paint preparation area! All the paint was mixed on site.

Checking the colour mix.

Checking the colour mix.

The paint was very thin and had to be applied with a large brush working quickly around the dome.

Starting to paint the fish scales.  Once they started to paint they had to keep going until they finished.

Starting to paint the fish scales. Once they started to paint they had to keep going until they finished.

Half way round showing the contrast of the pink and the green colour.

Half way round showing the contrast of the pink and the green colour.

Three layers were applied to the fish scales and preparation work was done ready for the gilding to be reinstated around the lantern oculous.

The finished pink scales and the painted oculus ready for the gilding.

The finished pink scales and the painted oculus ready for the gilding.

The new colour against the cleaned and uncleaned red fluted walls.

The new colour against the cleaned and uncleaned red fluted walls.

You can watch a short video on the whole process by clicking here. All the images were taken by our conservators or our lovely Volunteer Roof Photographers Richard and Angela Knisely-Marpole

Throw Open the Doors

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The season is upon us. Open the shutters, raise the blinds, and throw open the doors. Following the winter clean the mansion has had good dose of love and attention from our house conservation team. The floors have been waxed, the pelmets dusted and silver polished. However, we thought that it might be nice to share our work with the visitors. So, this week we have been laying the Dining Room table in front of the public, to give them a better idea of our work, and how the table would have been laid in the 1800s. See also ‘Regency Banqueting Splendour’ for more information.

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Here we have a detailed plan of all the place settings, as well as a booklet of photographs of each place setting for reference.

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During the winter clean the tableware had been stored in these crates, which have now been brought back into the dining room, ready to have their contents returned to pride of place.

In addition to this demonstration we have wide range of new interpretation and displays up for the new season. In response to volunteer and visitor comments we have concentrated on bringing a story back to the Sultana Room, setting it up in the 1930s during the 8th Lady’s own restoration of the room.

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The former Ottoman curtains laid out in the process of being repaired.

The biggest change over winter though has been the return of the Nash Staircase to its former beauty. I shan’t go into too much detail on that though, as there are posts soon to follow, which will concentrate solely on completed work on the staircase. However, I will draw your attention to the, already introduced, new Nash Staircase chandelier, and the new under-stair ‘cinema’, showing a film about the restoration of the Nash Staircase.

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Temporary lit cases for the old and new Nash Staircase chandelier (The new chandelier is due to arrive on the 7th March)

These are just a few of the changes that have occurred over the winter season, and there will be much more to come as the season develops, including scaffolding tours, from April. So come and visit us and see what else has changed…

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