This autumn we’re carrying out some repairs and redecorations to our house. If you visit us in September and early October you’ll see scaffolding along the west front of the house. You’ll also see some scaffolding in the courtyard where we’re carrying out essential repairs to the chimneys right at the top of the house.
This is all part of a rolling programme of repairs to make sure that we keep the house looking beautiful. This type of programme ensures that any repairs to the fabric of the building will be picked up before they become a problem. We are committed to preserving this historic building as well as the collections inside it. You’ll probably see this sort of thing happening a lot in National Trust places up and down the country. We’ll do this front of the house this year, then over the next few years we work our way round the different faces, have a few years off then start all over again! This is the first time the west front has been done while I’ve been here (it had just been done the year before I started, I believe) so I’m looking forward to the most striking part of the house all looking shiny and new again. We’ve also flagged up a few problems which will have to be planned in for the future. Did you know that the six windows facing you down the right hand side of the house (if you’re looking towards it) are all fake? There’s a reason behind that which I’ll save for another day, but they’re not visible from the inside of the house at all – which makes repairs to them a little bit tricky, so lucky that they’ve been identified as a problem now, ready to sort them out over the next few years.
When you head around the back of the house, you’ll see more scaffolding in the courtyard. This time we’re fixing a chimney. Earlier in the year it became apparent there was a problem with it, so scaffolding was put up in the courtyard to catch any small bricks that might fall (but we’re pleased to say it hasn’t!) and we sent up a drone to do a survey of all the chimneys and rooftops. I have to say that was great fun watching that fly around, and the pictures we’ve got from it are quite something!
You might think it’s odd that we don’t wait until the property has closed at the end of October. Unfortunately this type of work always needs to take place in the warmer September weather. It’s important that the paint and the mortar has a chance to dry and we can be certain that all jobs are completed before autumn frosts begin. If you’re visiting us this time of year, hopefully it won’t detract from your visit. We’ve got lots going on inside the house to make up for it, like our musical tours and candlelight opening. Check our website for details, and come back again when we’re all finished to see for yourself the results for yourself!
If you’ve visited Hatchlands, you’ll probably know that we have lots of paintings in the house. In fact if you’ve been in the house at all, you couldn’t fail to notice! One painting, which is in the first room you visit, is particularly striking, and people often ask about her. This is Catherine Cobbe, an ancestor of our tenants, daughter of Thomas and Lady Betty Cobbe. Catherine Cobbe made her society debut at Dublin Castle in 1777, where she was described by Lady Louisa Conolly as ‘not so beautiful as, but vastly in the style of’ Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Curiously, to achieve her stunning figure, the young Miss Cobbe used to hang herself from an iron staple fixed to a the ceiling, so that her maid could lace her bodice as tightly as possible!
Catherine was appointed one of the Bedchamber women to Princess Caroline following her marriage to the Prince of Wales, later George IV. She was dismissed from this position however, as the Princess feared Catherine was much too friendly with one of the Prince’s former mistresses. Also in the Drawing Room are portraits of George IV, and his mother Queen Charlotte, which brings me nicely on to where I went last weekend!
About five years ago I attended a National Trust conference, where one of the speakers was a representative from Historic Royal Palaces, telling us all about the refurbishment project that had taken place at Kew Palace (among many other exciting topics!) It has been on my list of places to visit ever since, and I finally made it last weekend.
Kew Palace is situated within Kew Gardens. Entry is free to the Palace, the royal kitchens, and Queen Charlotte’s Cottage, but you do have to pay the entry fee to get into Kew Gardens before you can get to any of these places. I think my favourite of the three was Queen Charlotte’s cottage, where she would sit and have picnics, overlooking the wild kangaroos hopping about outside, isn’t that just brilliant? Visiting Kew Palace then tries to put you almost inside the head of Queen Charlotte, as she tells you about all her (many) children, and you wander around the bedrooms overhearing snippets of conversations between the royal family. It is nicely done – simple but effective. I could tell you lots more about it, but I don’t want to stray too far from Hatchlands!
In short, a visit to Kew Palace lets you find out a bit more about the people behind some of those paintings hanging on our walls. I will try and find other places to visit that might do the same…
Over the August Bank Holiday weekend I attended a service in Guildford in honour of Captain Francis Grenfell, one of Hatchlands’ very own war heroes.
Francis Grenfell and his twin brother Riversdale were born at Hatchlands in 1880 while their parents rented the house. If you want to find out what the owners of Hatchlands, the Sumner family, were up to at this time, and why they were renting out the house, you can read all about it in a previous blog post.
The service was part of a nationwide movement to honour those who were awarded the Victoria Cross during the Great War, with a plaque unveiled in each of their home towns. As Captain Grenfell was born here at Hatchlands, just outside of Guildford, I met up with representatives from Guildford Borough Council some time ago, and collectively agreed that it would be nice to honour him in Guildford town centre rather than just at Hatchlands, where his plaque will be seen by many more people hopefully for many years to come. Captain Grenfell was apparently the third soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross during the Great War. This service, 100 years to the day later, would have been one of the first of its kind happening up and down the country, so it was an honour to be there representing Hatchlands and the National Trust.
From the day’s Order of Service:
Captain Grenfell was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery while helping to cover the withdrawal from Mons, the British Army’s opening battle of the First World War, on 24 August 1914. Twice wounded and brought back home to recover, each time he returned to the Western Front. Francis was killed in action at Hooge in the Ypres salient on 24 May 1915; he was 34 years old. His Regiment carried his body 5 miles out of the lines, to bury him in Vlamertinghe churchyard, today a site of reflection and tranquillity.
King George V wrote to the twin’s guardian and uncle: “The Queen and I are grieved beyond words that your gallant nephew has fallen in battle. I was proud to give him his nobly earned Victoria Cross and trusted that he might live to wear it for many years. Our heartfelt sympathy.”
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.
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.
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!
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.
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…
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.”
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.
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.”
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!
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!)
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.
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!
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!