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What does a House Steward do on holiday?

August 26, 2014

Sorry for the complete lack of blogging lately, I promise to try harder for the rest of this year, and be a bit more active.

Today I thought I’d share with you what a House Steward gets up to when they’re not being a House Steward. Or more specifically this particular House Steward.

I’ve just had two weeks off work, so am back refreshed and ready for anything (and what I got was a lot of rain!) I spent the first week of my holiday in Disneyland Paris, which longtime blog readers will know is one of my favourite places. I could go on for hours about the magic of Disneyland, but the relevant part is the exceptional customer service. After only half a day in Disneyland Paris, I had already encountered several examples of excellent Disney Service. Let me give you just one! Being the slightly obsessed fan that I am, I knew I should be able to get a certain Mickey Mouse Star Wars toy. Unfortunately it was nowhere to be seen, so I thought it might be worth asking. The member of staff said she thought it was out of stock, but she checked the shelves for me, then went off to check the stock room. Sadly he wasn’t there, but she then checked the computer for me to see when he would be back. Not until October, oh well. So on this occasion I didn’t actually get what I wanted, but she really went the extra mile to try and help me, where she could have easily just told me they didn’t have it.

At Hatchlands we constantly strive for excellent customer service, and when people criticise the National Trust for being too much like Disneyland, I think we could stand to be much more like Disneyland when it comes to the level of service we and they provide for guests.

donald The second week of my holiday was spent pottering. I did visit two National Trust properties, Petworth and Woolbeding Gardens. If you haven’t been to Woolbeding, I thoroughly recommend it. It is quite an unusual experience, from the minibus ride to get there and then through these curious different ‘garden rooms’ and down to a more secluded area with a beautiful waterfall, ruined abbey and even a strawberry elephant. It’s a fun place and quite different, do check it out. I’d been hoping to squeeze in a visit to Kew Palace last week as well, but didn’t get there in the end. Another time perhaps.

© National Trust

© National Trust

Lastly, like any House Steward would probably tell you, I couldn’t have a holiday without also doing a tiny bit of work too. While I was away, we were running a competition on Facebook an Twitter on association with Sylvanian Families, to raise awareness of our tree house fundraising campaign (more on that another day) by giving away adorable Sylvanian tree houses. I’m afraid I couldn’t resist keeping an eye on that! Then this Sunday I had the honour or representing Htahclands at a ceremony in Guildford to honour Captain Francis Grenfell, who was born at Hatchlands in 1800, and was one of the first men to be awarded the Victoria Cross during the firs world war. More on him and that ceremony another day too.

So that was my fortnight off, now I’m back, and I promise to be back on here again very soon!

A slightly damp Tuesday!

February 12, 2014

This week we had an adventure! I’m going to let most of these pictures speak for themselves, with just a little bit of an introduction…

Around 14 years ago, we had a major flood in the cellars at Hatchlands, it is the stuff of legend. Ever since then, we’ve always known that in periods of heavy rain, we should keep an eye on the cellars, although new drainage was put in after the major floods. Our first warning came at the weekend when one of the store rooms in the courtyard filled with water. The cellar was not far behind. At 5.30pm on Monday evening, there was a puddle in one room at the far end of the cellar. By 7am the next morning, the entire cellar for several feet deep in water.

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I won’t go into too much detail, but the entire team was amazing, mostly coordinated by Dan and Sue, the only person still here from the first time this happened. All we could do to start with was bail out water while contractors investigated the drainage out in the park. A big thank you to Jamie Hawkins and his team out there digging! Those who could were down in the cellars taking it in turns using bins for bailing, while others were in the office ringing round getting help from other properties, or even popping out to buy snacks for the workers. A huge thank you to our colleages at Clandon, Polesden Lacey and the River Wey who came over armed with sandbags, pumps, and willingness to help. Thanks to a combined effort of bailing, pumping, and the contractors eventually discovering a tree root that had grown through a pipe, the water finally started going down, and by about 3pm there were even some patches of dry floor. Well, more or less dry anyway.

What comes next in the cleanup operation. The drains are now working properly, and we’ve still got a pump running in places. Over the next few days we will have to take steps to dry out the area and take precautions against further problems. As some of you know, last year we started running tours of the cellars. Thankfully we had cleared out most of the displays at the end of the open season. Some larger items were left down there, and many empty wine bottles, but nothing too serious. We hope to be able to resume cellar tours as planned in the new season, but we will have to wait and see how the drying out operation goes before committing to anything just yet!

Once again, thank you to everybody that helped in any way, and enjoy the photos…

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The new river we were creating from pumping!

The new river we were creating from pumping!

Contractors investigating!

Contractors investigating!

The National Trust emergency trailer...

The National Trust emergency trailer…

Sue in action!

Sue in action!

Dan's understatement of the year!

Dan’s understatement of the year!

Edward and Fanny: A Hatchlands Love Story

January 27, 2014

Frances Evelyn Glanville was born in Kent on 23rd July 1719. Her mother died in childbirth and her father remarried a few years later and had a second family. A lot of Fanny’s childhood was spent away from home often with relatives. One such relative, John Evelyn, was married to Mary Boscawen, daughter of the first Lord Falmouth. It was while staying with John and Mary that Fanny first met Mary’s brother Edward, then a young captain in the Navy. Fanny’s biographer, C. Aspinall-Oglander, writes, “His visits to his sister’s house increased in frequency. Fanny began to look forward to the visits of this bronzed young sailor, who was so much more of a man than anyone else she had met” and in a letter written much later, Fanny referred to this period as the time “when you and I loved each other and told it only by our eyes.”

Fanny’s biographer vividly describes the young couple…

Edward was “Unusually attractive and distinguished looking sailor, with his lithe well-knit figure, his stern yet kindly mouth, his fearless intelligent eyes, his whimsical smile, and his head always carried a little on one side.”

“Though even Fanny’s dearest friends can never have called her beautiful, her vivacious little face and attractive figure, her level brow and restful wide-apart eyes, her ready wit and subtle understanding, her captivating manner and complete lack of self-consciousness were utterly irresistible.”

Having met in 1738 when he was 27 and she was 18, Edward was then away at sea for almost five years. He returned in May of 1472 and they were married by December that year, before Edward went to sea again as captain of the Dreadnought. In fact, for the 18 years of their marriage, Edward was away for almost 10 of them. Fanny lived a good lifestyle. She was entitled to £3000 of her mother’s fortune but her father had other financial problems so she didn’t see much of this. Fanny had simple tastes and as long as she was happily married, she was not bothered about her missing fortune.

Fanny wrote to Edward almost daily when he was away, telling him of her daily life, of their children, and of her search for a perfect family home. She had her heart set on the Hatchlands estate, but it was not for sale. She wrote to him about possible houses, but clearly had other ideas. “by the way, I hear is to be sold, but not knowing whether you would like it or the country about it, I have made no enquiries, my heart still fixed at Hatchlands.”

When Hatchlands finally came for sale, the Boscawens bought it and lived for several years in the old Tudor house on this estate, before demolishing it and commissioning the house you see today. Fanny continued to write to Edward about progress of their new house, describing the good deal she’d managed to get on bricks (“a shilling cheaper than I expected to get them”) plans for her garden walk, (“I will just deign to tell you that I have purple lilacs, yellow laburnums, white Gelder roses comme des Susannes ou Nanettes, fine red cinnamon roses, delightful double thorn blossoms”) and general progress on the building itself. (“Your son has galloped to Hatchlands this morning. Says it is very high, the last scaffolding up and looks just ready for the roof.”)

By now a well-respected Admiral, MP and member of the Privy Council, spending most of his time working at the Admiralty in London with weekends at home at Hatchlands, Edward returned unwell from sea one last time in 1760, when he was relieved of duty and sent home to rest, where Fanny nursed him constantly. Her friend Elizabeth Montagu wrote “The noble Admiral does not fight so well with a fever as he does with the French; he will not lie in bed, where he would sooner subdue it. Poor Mrs Boscawen is very anxious and unhappy about the Admiral, and indeed the loss to her and her children would be as great as possible.”

Edward died in January of 1761, with Fanny by his side. Fanny’s biographer again sums it up well. “Through all her past anxieties her courage had been sustained by bravely dreaming of the days when peace should at last be restored; but her cup of happiness had been smashed to bits at the moment she raised it to her lips.”

 

My day in a very different National Trust house…

September 28, 2013

Today I would like to take a break from telling you about life at Hatchlands Park, if I may, to tell you about my volunteering experience at a very different National Trust property – the Big Brother house.

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You may have heard in the news over the last few weeks about the National Trust opening this famous house in Elstree Studios to the general public for the first time ever. There has been quite a lot of controversy about it, but whether you agree with the decision or not, London director Ivo Dawnay puts it very well in the forward to the Big Brother house guidebook (yes, there’s a guidebook) when he says: “The Trust has always been about getting people into special places. And, like it or not (and we acknowledge some won’t), it is hard to dispute that this particular Palace of Varieties, housed in Elstree Studios but a genuine residence no less, is special to many.”

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So how does a House Steward from Hatchlands get to suddenly steward the Big Brother house? Well quite simply, a plea for help went out earlier this week from the London Project team (more on them later) and I just couldn’t resist! The house was only open for 2 days – Friday and Saturday – with guided tours running all day. Tickets sold out within hours of going on sale. My job for the day was essentially to steward the tours, make sure nobody got lost (intentionally or otherwise) and just be a helping hand. I also had one very special job which I will tell you about later!

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The tours I stewarded were all lead by Sean, a volunteer at NT’s Sutton House in Hackney. He was a fantastic guide – funny, knowledgeable, enthusiastic and friendly. Our visitors really got their money’s worth with Sean as their guide. (I’m sure the other guides were great too!) The tours themselves lead visitors into the camera runs that snake their way around the outside of the house, then into the house itself including the bedroom, garden, living room and all important diary room, then over to the production gallery where we saw how the show was edited and put together, as well as meeting one of the 27 voices of Big Brother, then finally down to the Bit on the Side studio for a quick look around. The tours were intended to last about 90 minutes giving us a half hour break between each one, but in reality each one took nearly 2 hours so it was pretty much non-stop, but seeing how much everyone was enjoying themselves more than made up for it. (And let’s not deny it, we were enjoying ourselves hugely as well!)

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Being inside the house was surreal. We entered through a back door and into the camera runs (where photography was not permitted, sorry) and there were all sorts of little nooks and crannies, secret doors, or passages leading into the house. I can’t really describe how bizarre it felt to be inside the house that you only ever see on TV. Everything inside the house was very cosy and nicely done (recently made a little bit more plush for the celebrity housemates) while everything in the camera runs looked a bit home made and basic, with notes up reminding the crew to wear dark clothes and be extra quiet.

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The most surreal place of all however, was the diary room. This was also my special job I mentioned earlier. When each tour group reached the lounge, it was my job to go and radio Big Brother and tell her we were ready. Then, one by one, she would call each visitor into the diary room where I was on hand to take a photo for them. In itself, this doesn’t sound too surreal, but it was. The first thing was the room itself. I had never really considered what it is the housemates are looking at when talking to Big Brother, but all you could see was this little camera in the corner of the room. It is also really hot in there with intense lighting. Our first visitor to be called in was hugely excited to be there, and I cheerfully took her picture and waited for the next person. But before they arrived Big Brother started talking to me! I’m standing in the diary room, and Big Brother is asking me to move a droopy balloon. It was just weird! For the rest of that first tour I felt really uncomfortable standing there knowing Big Brother was watching. This got much easier to comprehend throughout the day, as Big Brother was really quite friendly and chatty, but it was still bizarre. When we went over to the production gallery and met the face behind the voice, she was lovely – but when in the diary room I couldn’t bring myself to address her as anything other than ‘Big Brother’, and still found her slightly intimidating!

"This is Big Brother. Would Mark please come to the diary room..."

“This is Big Brother. Would Mark please come to the diary room…”

This is what the housemates see on the other side of the diary room!

This is what the housemates see on the other side of the diary room!

I could ramble on for hours about things around the house that I found interesting or exciting, but hopefully this has just given you a flavour of what it was like. There are no firm plans to open up the house again in future but we’ll just have to wait and see. The London Project has been set up by the National Trust to give our members better value for money for their membership in and around London, while also trying to branch out and bring in new audiences that previously might not have felt that the National Trust was for them. I hope we have achieved that to some extent this weekend. Everybody I spoke to was really positive about their experience, and was pleased that the NT had done it. You can find out more about what the London Project team have planned at http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/london (including a ride to Hatchlands on an old Routemaster bus) and you can (and should) follow them on Twitter @NTLovesLondon

I had an absolutely fantastic day, but next time, I promise to return to talking about Hatchlands!

Our new art gallery

August 31, 2013

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The house at Hatchlands has a great many fine paintings, but this summer we transformed the old stable into an art gallery to rival the Tate! Visitors of all ages have been contributing and below is just a very small selection of my favourites… including one by a fine young artist who has now given up art in favour of blogging – and alas, gave up being 24 a few years ago as well!

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Do you believe in fairies?

July 6, 2013

Something quite magical happened this Spring at Hatchlands Park. Our bluebells came out and were as stunning as ever, but this year they were joined by a host of bluebell fairies loitering throughout the woodland.

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The fairies arrived in response to some comments we had last Spring. Last year we developed an imaginary map of the parkland featuring things you might have been able to find if you have an active imagination. The map featured things like the Twisted Tree of Good Luck, and the home of Albus, our albino squirrel (he is real, not imaginary, but we had to guess where his actual house was) but also included the playful warning “Beware the Bluebell Fairies.”

The whole idea behind the map, as I say, was to use your imagination – but we did have some visitors disappointed that they couldn’t find any bluebell fairies, so we decided over this winter to see if we could make contact with a friendly colony of fairies that might come and visit the woods for us. It took some doing, as our Park and Garden Manager Sue had quite a specific idea in her head of what type of fairy we were hoping to attract, but we couldn’t quite find them anywhere until Kerry, one of our hard working volunteers, offered to make outfits for them.

Kerry spent months collecting and stitching and returned in the Spring having recruited 15 stylish fairies that could spend a few weeks at Hatchlands. It was touch and go for a little while as the bluebells were very late, and we were worried that they wouldn’t come at all before the trees came into leaf and the bracken grew up, but thankfully we were wrong – when the bluebells finally came they were lovely, and lasted a good long while this year due to the changing weather conditions. The bluebells arrived just in time for the first May Bank Holiday weekend, as did the fairies.

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Instantly the fairies became the subject of a lot of comment. We always like to gather visitor feedback at Hatchlands to see what you think we’re doing well, and what we could do better. For most things we do we would like to receive a lot more feedback, either positive or negative just to give us a rounded view, but straight away the fairies started getting more feedback than most things we do. It ranged from overwhelmingly positive to incredibly negative. Descriptions ranged from “Beautiful”, “awesome” & “inspired” to “excruciating” and “macabre”.

Clearly they were becoming marmite. It was wonderful to have so many visitors (young and old) enjoying spotting the fairies, but clearly we needed to act quickly to respond to those who couldn’t stand them. Opinions in the office were divided – should they stay or go? A compromise was agreed, and the garden team spoke very politely to the fairies and convinced them to spread themselves out a bit. Some moved to our woodland adventure area – Wizard Wix’s Willow Warren – while others lined the route to the bluebell woods, only leaving a few in Little Wix Wood itself. We still had complaints after this but far fewer, while the positive comments kept rolling in, as they were no longer seen to be detracting quite so much from the natural beauty of the bluebells.

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It was easy to understand both sides of the argument. For many of our visitors the fairies were great fun and really brought the place alive. For others they were too gimmicky and spoiling the natural environment. Nobody can deny however what a good job Kerry did on the outfits! When the bluebells finally gave up, so did the fairies. The very next day we had disappointed visitors hoping to have seen them.

Will they be back next year? That remains to be seen. We love to try new things, and this seems to have gone down well with our family audience, but not with everybody. We will have to weigh up the feedback from both sides and have a serious think about what to do. We would love to hear from you whether you liked them or not. Do you want to see them back or was once enough? Please let us know, we really want to hear from you!

I’ll let you into one last little secret. One of the fairies hasn’t left Hatchlands at all. She’s sitting on my desk in the office next to a meerkat, a Dalek, the Queen and Cheryl Cole, where she seems to be quite happy.

Project completed!

April 26, 2013

We got there. It took a while and at times I thought it wasn’t going to be ready, but the colonnade was more or less how I wanted it by the time we opened on Good Friday. If you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, scroll down and read the last few posts to see my project in progress!

I’ve shown you my housemaid’s apron and slightly revamped pests displays below, but we have succeeded on most of the other bits. Remember I told you my photo curtain was ready? Well I hadn’t quite worked out how we were going to hang it. My first preference is always to try and do things myself, I’m a little bit controlling that way – so I actually tried to hang the printed image with an extra-long shower curtain rod. Bad idea – just didn’t work. Obviously I needed our excellent local handymen (who were also building the draining board.) In they came, and fit a wooden beam across the ceiling with hooks on to hang the print – but what hadn’t we checked? Was the ceiling level?! No, it certainly wasn’t – 2 inches higher at one end than the other, so the curtain was hanging but the image was decidedly on the wonk. Slightly crestfallen I resigned myself to opening at Easter with a wonky image, but hey, I thought by about the Tuesday before Good Friday that we’d have no image there at all. But no, our handymen came through again, and returned on Thursday to construct a made-to-measure thingie to fit to the ceiling, creating a completely level beam to hang the curtain from – problem solved!

Curtain hanging!

Curtain hanging!

Information panel in position

Information panel in position

The draining board didn’t present any issues, and I think it looks great, hope you agree! The information panel went in, explaining what the space used to be, and I’m rather pleased with that too. Next came something I hadn’t really planned on at all. We started clearing out the events store down in the stables – full of arts and craft activities and forgotten projects from the last couple of decades perhaps! In the process of sorting, Genevieve our Events Organiser decided she didn’t really need the big cupboard down there. It looks like it was quite possibly taken out of the kitchen when that was all done up in the 1980s, so I nabbed it for our servants passage. It is possibly a little large, but looks like it belongs, and has meant that our flower arrangers still have a good space to work even after I took away their work surface! Problem I didn’t even realise we had – solved!

The conservation display back in position

The conservation display back in position

Sink with shiny new draining board

Sink with shiny new draining board

The only thing I haven’t quite managed to pull together in time for opening was the additional signage I wanted for the doors. Time and budget ran out, but I did manage to get these temporary little signs that cover some of what I wanted. They’ll do for now, I hope.

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So there we have it! I hope you have enjoyed reading about this project from the start of my ideas to actually pulling it off. This one went remarkably smoothly. Some of my ideas never happen at all, some turn out completely differently to how I had imagined them, but this one has worked out ok. Let’s see what I can come up with next!

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