Thanks to a bit of networking at a recent training course, an opportunity to do a spot of job shadowing presented itself and Snowshill Manor looked a perfect place to do this. The Snowshill was donated to the National Trust in 1951 by Charles Paget Wade. Mr. Wade had bought the property when he left the Army in 1919 and soon started restoration work. The Manor house of Snowshill dates back to the 16th century when it was first built using glorious Cotswold stone. It was restored in the 17th and 18th centuries, but was in need of more repairs when Mr. Wade saw it advertised in a magazine, and undertook a labour of love. An Architect by trade, Mr. Wade had an eye for collecting. He amassed an astonishing array of artefacts that range from Japanned cabinets, to musical instruments, to Samurai Armour, to bicycles, to toys, to children’s carriages to masks, too many to mention. All of them the finest examples of craftsman-ship. Over the years his collection grew so much he chose to live in a small cottage next to the manor house where he repaired and restored his collection.
I was keen to see how collections management works at another property, and what the house team get up to behind the scenes. The plan was for me to spend two days, one closed, one open, job shadowing the acting House Steward Vicki. As luck would have it, the first day was integrated pest management day and I do like my bugs. All the sticky pest traps are collected, inspected and recorded on a spreadsheet to monitor numbers and act accordingly if they increase. This is a museum and NT standard procedure of monitoring which little beasties are attempting to use the collection as a walk-in buffet. As there were quite a few traps to inspect, it did sound as if we were playing a conservation version of bingo. ’… Woodlouse, silverfish, Death Watch beetle… ‘ then silence. Woodworm, clothes moth and furniture beetle are the worst culprits but there’s a variety of different species of each to look out for.
For the second day, after a spot of conservation cleaning, for the full Snowshill experience, Vicki suggested I could do the daily briefing for the volunteers. Although a little in at the deep end, this was a great way of meeting a completely different team of volunteers. But first there was one job that had been set aside for me. Winding the 18thcentury turret clock. This is a challenging task due to it being on the visitor route, over a doorway and you need to bolt a ladder to the floor get to it! This was probably the oldest and largest exposed clock mechanism I had seen this up close and personal. The large winding handle does present a slight issue when shifting your weight at the top of the ladder, but thankfully the risk assessment had already been discussed. Made by Thomas Mears II, the clock has a handless time keeping design painted on the wall underneath. It’s even more impressive when it’s working!
A good 2 day’s work I think!
Robin Hancock – Assistant House Steward
A normally cool, calm and collected house team have been delirious with excitement this week. For the first time in decades the dividing screens in the Ante room have been brought out. The screens were the brain child of architect Thomas Lee. They create a partition between rooms, with folded and hinged screens set in to a recess. This is then ingeniously hidden behind mirrored panels. In a bold yet calculated move it was high time the screens were revealed so the hidden sections could be condition checked. As one screen had been brought out around ten years ago, we knew it was possible. With a heave and indeed a ho, (the procedure used is a trade secret) the screens were one by one brought out, with a whoop and a gasp. Not as easy as it looks. This was Arlington Court’s Howard Carter moment. Not quite as important as discovering an Egyptian tomb obviously, but we don’t get out much.
The panels are covered on each side to reflect décor of the room they now create. To cover the panels, Sir John Chichester used London artist and decorator John Gregory Crace and George Trollop and date to around 1839/40. The striking Rococo style, hand cut and painted wallpaper is impressive enough, but when the screens were pulled out and unfolded… Wow. We were expecting a wondrous sight but were not prepared for what unfolded before our eyes, or indeed what was next.
As if the wallpaper wasn’t enough, the other side of the screens contained another surprise. We knew they are covered by the same silk hangings as the cabinet surrounds of the Ante room and the nearby boudoir. But, we had no idea the Chinese style Spitalfields silk, would be in such good condition. A photograph and watercolour of the room with the screens out, gave us an idea of them is use, but to see them revealed was quite a moment. The screens and coverings need to be recorded and then carefully cleaned, so now the real work can begin…..
Routine conservation work can sometimes throw up a surprise or two. This week at the Carriage Museum we had 5 surprises, all in the form of gypsy caravan models. We knew they were part of the collection having seen them on the inventory list, and noticed the packing crates for them in the store cupboard. As they had not been on display for some time, the opportunity had come to open them up to condition check the interior of the cases to check for problems. A micro climate can form if the cases are not air tight, so the possibility of mould or woodworm had to be ruled out. Thankfully there were no causes for concern at all. Not only were they in excellent condition, but looked like they were only finished yesterday. One caravan bears the emblems of a heron, the same as the Chichester family have used for generations. Although this is thought to be because the original caravan it is based on was used in East Anglia in the nineteenth century by the Heron family.
Records show they were donated to the Carriage Museum in 1990 and made by R.J. Amphlett of Abertillery, Wales. They are all 1/8th scale models of a variety of caravans, ranging from Burton styles, to a Gordon Boswell Open Lot style. They are made from a variety of hardwoods, brass and glass for the windows. The interiors are just as fascinating as the exteriors and were all painted and finished with original designs by Mr. Amphlett. The other model caravans from the collection are on display at the Stockwood Discovery Centre, Luton along with the Mossman collection of carriages.