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!
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 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.
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!
Ok its getting quite exciting now! I managed to get funding for the first part of the project (see below), so things are going well…
The first thing to get sorted was the photo curtain. I worked with a company called Corvidae who did some impressive stuff at Knole, and I must say they were incredibly helpful and creative, and managed to create exactly what I wanted, even though I wasn’t entirely sure what it was that I did want! We haven’t hung the print yet, we’ll wait until nearer opening time, but that’s one thing ticked off!
The sink has gone in as well, courtesy of our regular local plumbers. Its not perfect but its miles better than the old modern one. They’re going to diddle it up a bit for us – find some old Victorian pipe brackets, build us an old fashioned draining board, and put a little curtain round underneath the sink – I think it will look pretty good by the time they’re done, and far less incongruous than what we’re used to!My own little bits and bobs are coming together ok too. I’ve put up my coat hooks, neatly by the back door with the old umbrella stand, and we’ve hung the housemaid’s apron there, looks good to me! I’ve also moved our old mangle and set up a little display with that, its gradually coming together. I also wasn’t quite sure what to do with the conservation display that was already there, but I had a bit of a play around this weekend and I think I’ve made it fit the space required quite nicely.
The last thing we’ve got coming for now is the information panel. For this we’ve used a local design company that we often go to, FDK. I am always impressed when I send them words and pictures and they send me back something pretty. I’ve seen the first couple of drafts of the design, and I’m really pleased with it – just a couple of little tweaks left to sort out. Remember those photos I posted of chandelier cleaning and the cellar? They were all taken by our supurb volunteer photographer James, and he very kindly came in to take some shots for the board, which are also great. I won’t reveal the design to you all just yet but it will look good when its in place, I’m sure.
The only thing we haven’t got sorted just yet is the little signs I wanted for each door – we might still get them but I haven’t quite got there yet. Even if we don’t get those in place for opening they can be added later. Generally I’m really pleased with how it is coming together, I hope everyone else will be too!
For those of you who already read the last blog, I’m still talking about the same thing. For those of you that didn’t, scroll down below this one and have a quick read. Don’t worry, I’ll wait. …. …. Right, are you all up to date? Is everyone sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…
So as hopefully you just read, we’re thinking about turning the colonnade back into a ‘servanty’ space. We’re never going to be able to make this 100% accurate, and in all honesty if we did, it would probably be empty, so what we’re going for here is giving the space a ‘servanty’ vibe.
Firstly, the posters and the leaflets will go. Let’s give up on this as a marketing space, as it doesn’t really work in that way anyway. The problem with that though, you remember the big new notice boards we had made? One of those hides a set of ugly light switches and plug sockets, so it would be better off staying. This is going to become our new information board all about the use of the servants spaces, hopefully with photos and floor plans – I’m working on a draft of the text at the moment.
As I mentioned before, we’ve also got all the old bells lining the passage, these are great, so deserve to be looked at a bit more. You know the sort of signs you often see under these bells, that say which room rang? Well we don’t have signs like that, but we thought we could use that style to point out what goes where. For example, the old Housekeeper’s room is now the National Trust office, so we can’t open it up as the housekeeper’s room, but we can put a nice sign on the door explaining what it was, and so on and so forth.
Next, the sink! When we put together the conservation display, we exposed a hideous modern sink unit that is used for flower arranging. We couldn’t get rid of it as we still need to use it, but we could replace it with one of those old fashioned butler’s sinks, wouldn’t that look better? Our regular plumber had a look last week, I’m just waiting for the price to see if we can do it.
The last ‘big’ problem, is what to do about the screen that blocks off the area not yet open. Does that make sense? Half the colonnade is open, the other half is still used for storage, and there’s not much we can do about that at the moment, so it is screened off with an ok-ish partition, with more conservation displays. One of our consultants had the brilliant idea of replacing this with a life-sized print of an old black and white photo we have showing this area when it was empty. I’ve got a quote for that and it’s really rather reasonable, so that will hopefully go ahead.
Lastly it just needs a bit of set dressing. I’ve got an old fire bucket ready to hang on the wall where the peg still is. We’ve got some old wooden chairs that look like the ones in the Downton Abbey servants hall, I’ve found some nice coat hooks on ebay that also resemble Downton (yes ok, a recurring theme) where we can hang our old housemaid’s apron…. And the list goes on. As I said earlier, it won’t be a completely accurate depiction of what the space should have been, but hopefully it will create the atmosphere we want. My last problem is that brilliant new lighting we put in a few years ago. It does the job and looks fine for what the space was at the time, but now we’re going ‘historical’ the lighting is a bit of a problem, but probably not one to be solved instantly, we’ll see about that one another time.
So hopefully this gives you an idea of the plan. The next stage is to actually do it! I’ll let you know how we get on, or don’t, as the case may be!
When I started this blog, my plan was to give you a bit on an insight into the behind the scenes running of Hatchlands. I don’t think I’ve really done this as well as I planned, so I thought I might try something a little different. I’ve got a project in mind that I would like to do before we open again next Easter, so I thought I’d take you through this project step by step. As I type this, I have no idea if the project will even happen, it might get completely scrapped a month from now, but hopefully I can tell you how far I get, and if it doesn’t work, why not?
So, to set the scene, we have a little space at Hatchlands called the colonnade. That probably doesn’t mean much to most of you – it didn’t to me before I started here – but for those of you that have been here, it is the rather uninspiring hallway as you leave the house. You probably don’t remember it. When I first came here five years ago, let’s be honest, it was a fairly awful space. The lighting was very poor, and not usually switched on, it had a line of chairs against one wall, and two miss-matching notice boards, one of which was attached to a rather ramshackle home-made leaflet stand.
One fine day, chatting to my former colleague, the lovely Jenny, we decided we needed to try and clean this area up a bit. We got lighting replaced with more effective lamps that were activated by a motion sensor, we scrapped the leaflet stand (I think it ended up on the gardener’s bonfire) and commissioned three matching notice boards, with leaflet holders built into them. We also removed the chairs, moved the existing furniture around a bit, and found some rather nice window seats in storage that we could let people sit on. It certainly brightened up the area and looked rather stylish – we were going for “smart hotel lobby” in our thinking. Unfortunately the space is not only the exit to the house, but also the entrance to the concerts, so our new layout didn’t quite work in practical terms so compromises were made and I’ll admit I was never very happy with the end result, but it was better than it used to be certainly.
Some time later, maybe it was the following year, a newer esteemed colleague, Ari, returned to the eternal question of how to make the colonnade more interesting. He had lots of good ideas, but the one we went with was putting a conservation display in the area previously used for storage, up around the corner. So we set about clearing out that corner, got some decorating arranged, and our conservation assistant Tora spent several months researching and pulling together things for her display. If you haven’t seen it, you should come and look – it’s rather interesting, and hopefully reveals some of what goes on behind the scenes before the house opens each morning, and when we close for the winter.
All the improvements we’ve made are great, but it still isn’t quite there. The space just doesn’t really look right. So our thinking now is to return to how it used to be – no not the grotty chairs and notice boards – historically how it used to be. The colonnade is actually a service passage that linked the old kitchen, servants’ hall and housekeeper’s room together, and gave quick and quiet access for servants into the main part of the house. None of these working areas are still around, but we’ve still got the passageway and the bells used to summon the servants, so the new plan is to rethink this area and present it exactly as it is – the servants’ passageway.
Plans are afoot, I’m gathering quotes, buying stuff on ebay as I always do, and gradually pulling together a plan. This blog is already long enough, so I’ll tell you about the plan in more detail next time, and give you an update on how we’re getting on with it…
Over the last few years, as you may have gathered, the National Trust has been trying to open up new spaces, letting people ‘behind the ropes’ and into areas that have never been seen before. At Hatchlands we decided to take that challenge, and experiment with taking people down into the cellars beneath the house.
Initially, we weren’t sure it was going to work. Architecturally, the cellars are interesting, but there were many issues. Did we really have enough to tell people? What about the damp? The overhead pipes? The uneven floors? The answer was fairly simple – it all adds to the experience. Yes, we could show you a nicely painted, well-lit cellar, but isn’t it more fun to go down in our hard hats with lanterns and poke about, dodging cobwebs where you can, and watching your footing now and then? So that’s what we decided to do.
As far as I know, the cellar has never been open to visitors before. Over the years several generations of Hatchlands staff had taken advantage of this fact and dumped all sorts of junk down there… most of it not particularly interesting or worth keeping. We had the fairly unpleasant job of clearing out the largest sections of the cellars and fixing a few broken windows ready to make them suitable to look around. We left some of the junk, and actually added a little bit more, creatively, to set the scene. But we still need a bit more of a story…
Well it just so happens that during the war, Hatchlands was home to a convent school who were evacuated from Croydon. They slept in the servants quarters, had lessons in the main rooms, and – lucky for us – they sheltered in the cellar during air raids. That gave us our angle, and we set about creating our mini air-raid shelter in one corner of the cellar. It’s not a faithful historic recreation, but with some bits and bobs from ebay and a healthy dose of creativity, lit by flickering candle light rather than our harsh fluorescent bulbs, we hope it creates the atmospheric setting we’re aiming for.
So, when you can you see the cellars, I hear you cry? Well we’ve done a couple of trial runs, and now we’re ready to take you down into the murky depths. We’re starting off this coming Tuesday, 11th September, at 12pm. Click here for further details. If this week is a success, we’ll keep going!
Due to the nature of the space, if you come on one of our tours you will be asked to wear a hard hat and carry a battery powered lantern, and there are a few health and safety issues to keep in mind, so we’ll only take you down in small groups. If you want to come along, either give me a ring on 01483 226163 or just reserve your spot on the day when you come along.
I’m looking forward to seeing you!
This year at Hatchlands we are trying something a little different. Maybe you spotted it in the Surrey Advertiser today? We’ve paired up with Artifice, a local theatre company who perform classical plays in period settings. We kicked off our team-up in April, when the lovely Artifice players spent the afternoon strutting around Hatchlands in period costume, performing extracts from a Georgian comedy, The Way to Keep Him, which (bear with me here), was written for David Garrick, who was in fact a friend of Fanny Boscawen, the original lady of the house here at Hatchlands.
I must say, and I’m not being biased, that it was great fun. Catching snippets of the plot unravelling around the house was hugely entertaining, although quite frustrating that I kept catching the same scene and wanted to see more, as I was flitting around the house in a completely illogical order. Hopefully our visitors would have not got the same thing too many times, but, like me, have been frustrated enough that they didn’t know what happened next! Why, you ask? Well because then in the evening, once the house was closed, Artifice performed the whole thing from start to finish in our lovely Music Room. Finally I found out what was going on!
This Sunday, 20th May, we take a little leap forward from Georgian comedy and land in Jane Austen territory, as Artifice return to perform ‘Reading Histories and Drawing Pullets’, a Jane Austen ‘masterclass’ written by Kate Napier to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Sense and Sensibility. This time you won’t be able to catch any of the play itself during the afternoon but I hear rumours there might be a few people around in period costume. You’ll have to come along at 6pm to see the full thing. Tickets are available now from the Guildford Tourist Information Centre on 01483 444333 or there might be some available on the door, but booking is advised to avoid being disapointed!
I’m a bit disapointed myself that I won’t be around this weekend, as I really do think having these performances in the house really brings the place to life, which, as luck would have it, is one of the National Trust’s top priorities for the next few years. If you’ve read my blog before you know all about my thoughts on having a bit of fun with our history and trying to liven things up a bit. Our partnership with Artifice ticks a lot of these boxes as far as I’m concerned, I hope you will be able to come along and see for yourself.
But don’t worry – if you can’t make it this Sunday you haven’t lost your chance. Artifice will be back with Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband on 17th June, then returning with The Way To Keep Him again on 15th July. Hope to see you there!
I’ve talked on here about the “visitor experience”, telling the story, getting our history across, and all of that sort of thing. That is all excellent stuff, and incredibly important, but on the other side of things, surely many of you are thinking that the National Trust is first and foremost a conservation charity and that is where we should be putting our focus?
For the last few years, we have had an excellent Conservation Assistant in post here at Hatchlands, and in all honesty she was so good that I let my focus slip away from conservation and have spent more and more time on things that I’ve told you about before. Again, all very important, but I thought it was about time I shift my focus back again. Over the last several years the Trust has been carrying out something called the “Conservation for Access toolkit” across as many of our properties as possible, designed to identify how well we are currently meeting the conservation needs of our houses and collections, and how we can balance “sustainable access”, which is pretty much NT jargon for looking after the house while still allowing people to see it.
Hatchlands actually came out rather well in this exercise, and no major issues were identified… or at least nothing that we didn’t already know about. There were of course however several recommendations of what we could improve, so I’m now spending my time working my way through that, and putting various plans into place. The first thing I hope you might start noticing is how shiny our floors start to look… but don’t comment on that just yet as it might all go horribly wrong! Other things include the level of light control in the house (without making it too dark for visitors), and the conservation challenges that come from being a lived in house and not an environmentally controlled museum.
Hopefully it is nothing that we can’t handle, and I would very much like to be able to say in a few months time that we have got it all under control, or at least know where we’re going wrong. With a lived in house we’re never going to meet the ideal standards unfortunately, but we can do everything reasonably possible to balance the care of this house with the unusual amount of use it gets. Wish me luck!