What are you doing?

‘What are you doing?’ was a common question asked when the conservation team were up in the Blue Bedroom working on the ceramics collection.

Suggestions included that we were painting, restoring, cleaning, washing, touching up, or gluing objects together. A few perceptive visitors worked out what we doing. Now that we’ve excited your curiosity, we’ll tell you what we doing…

Equipment for inventory marking

Equipment set out for today’s job…

We were inventory marking! Did you guess correctly?

Inventory marking involves clearly marking objects with an identification number.

Ceramic bowl

Objects to be marked included small and delicate ones, and large and heavy ones like this ceramic bowl. Usually we marked them on the bottom, so that they are unobtrusive and don’t spoil the aesthetic ‘look’ of each object

Collection of ceramics

Ceramics ready to be marked. We had our own complex organisational system at our headquarters, which was the Blue Room bed!

Inventory marking is important for a number of reasons. If an object has an identifcation number, it allows us to keep detailed records about it. For example, we can note when objects are sent away for professional conservation. It allows us to add notes about routine checks to an item’s condition report. It helps with locating an object’s whereabouts, and help with security records, in case of any damage, loss, theft, or insurance. Inventory marking also assists us to identify objects that might be of interest to researchers, scholars and National Trust staff by having object records collated in a collections management database.

Staff member inventory marking

Hard at work inventory marking

Ceramic pot

Inventory marking gives us the opportunity to examine the items as we inventory mark them. This piece is a Pyramid food warmer, invented by Samuel Clarke in the late 19th century. It would originally have had a contraption underneath it that would hold a tea light or a candle. They were often used to wean children off breast milk by heating up milk, or to heat up water.

Black ink pen

Writing the numbers with the ink pen was difficult due to the contours and awkward shape of some of the objects we were marking

Small paintbrushes

Small paintbrushes were used to apply the different layers used in the inventory marking process. No surprise that many people thought that we were painting! We were, in a roundabout sort of way…

It’s quite fiddly work, but satisfying to tick items off a list when they have been inventory marked! Just a couple of hundred more items to go…


Are you being served?

One of the most iconic rooms in any stately home/country manor is the dining room. Here in Nostell Priory we have two – the sumptuous State Dining Room and the charming Small Dining Room (which is still used occasionally). To help bring the property to life, we lay out the dining service on the table so that the whole spectacle of stately dining can be seen by visitors. Which means only one thing…it’s time to lay the table!

One of the continuously changing aspects inside Nostell is the main State Dining Room table. Recently, it’s been transformed into a sweet shop at Christmas, and has been a feast of bright colour for Easter. You’ll see a future table display being created step-by-step on this blog – but we won’t tell you what event it’s for just yet….

Sweetie shop with hand decorated gingerbread men

Colourful at Easter

Once these displays have been taken down we reset the table as though a banquet is about to be held. (I admit, it’s one of the really fun tasks that we enjoy doing!). Here’s some entertaining pictures of how we do it, beginning with the tablecloth:

Bare wood. Some people prefer seeing the wood rather than a tablecloth, but the tablecloth allows us to decorate the table with less fear about scratching the surface

Nostell’s state dining room table was probably made by Gillows of Lancaster, and dates from the early 19th century. It definitely wasn’t made for Nostell’s dining room, as when it is fully extended and all of the leaves are added, it’s longer than the whole room!

Bringing the tablecloth over…

And it’s on! Phew

Once the tablecloth has been smoothed and has no creases, we begin putting out the full dinner service, for all eight place settings. The mahogany dining chairs date approximately from the 1740s – which means that they predate a lot of the actual house! They have claw-and-ball feet, and records tell us that they have always been situated in this room.

Lots of knives, forks and spoons!

A multitude of glassware

Beautiful gilded creamics, and our rather regal centrepiece

I wonder what delicious food would have been put into all of the dishes – what would you put in, if you had the choice?

Concentration in Action

The centrpiece in the above and below pictures is a Victorian silver plated candelabra with a tricorn base with elaborate foliage and grape vine motifs, dated 1830-1870. It has six arms and a central basket, and brings a sense of height and elegance to the table, in addition to helping to centre the symmetry of the place settings. 

If you look carefully you’ll see circles of brown felt underneath the serving dish which Claire is about to put down. We use felt so that gilding or paint isn’t scratched off by the rough undersides of other ceramics, and so that accidental damage doesn’t occur. It also means that the table can be decorated with layers of ceramics, making it much more visually interesting.

Sparkling glassware really sets off the place settings, and we have glasses for red wine, white wine, and port too!

After an afternoon’s hard work we were finished, with a beautiful set dining table ready for visitors… a feast for the eyes, if not for the stomach!

The finished result…

Nostell Priory’s State Dining Room Table


Bugs, Pots and Wood


Housekeeping Training Blog Post No. 1 One of the questions conservation assistants are frequently asked is ‘how did you learn to care for the objects in your collection?’ A lot of our knowledge and skills is acquired by on-the-job training and conversations … Continue reading