Spotlight on: Chairs for Children

“Children should be seen and not heard” – I don’t know whether or not this was ever a view held by the Winn family who lived at Nostell, but it seemed fitting as today’s post highlights the furniture at Nostell which was specifically made for children.

First up is a rather grand affair. It’s a Louis XVI style 18th century child’s open armchair with upholstered seat (or fauteuil) with tapered panel back and carved gilt frame. Ther’s also a rather nifty child’s footstool to match!

Louis XVI style child’s open armchair

To contrast with the above chair, the second example is much plainer. It’s a George III child’s mahogany open armchair with a drop-in seat covered with modern leather and squared legs. It’s inscribed ‘Lord St Oswald’.

George III child’s open armchiar

If you look closely you’ll see the keyhole-type shapes in metal at the front of the legs. This shows that there used to be a stand/footstool fitted to the front, which has been lost over the years.

Minus the seat – the ‘drop-in’ style of the chair means that the seat is literally ‘dropped in’ to the frame of the chair

Seat of the chair. You can see how the design of the seat is very simple, with a leather cover and padding tacked onto a board

Brush-vacuuming the George III chair during one of our volunteer conservation workshops

Next time you’re at Nostell, why not look out for these miniature chairs – just remember to look around at knee height!


Spotlight on: State Beds

If you read the National Trust magazine, then you will have read one of the articles in the Autumn 2012 edition. It’s an article about the huge variety of state beds within Trust properties, which got us thinking about the different styles of state bed we have here inside Nostell.

Today’s spotlight blog post brings together our state beds for a closer look at them – large and small! (You’ll see what we mean about small state beds when you reach the end of the post…)

The state bed in the Crimson Bedroom is incredibly striking, and was certainly created to impress as this room has always been used as a guest bedroom. It’s a George III ebonised and parcel-gilt four post bed with shallow domed canopy, close-covered with crimson silk on turned fluted front posts and block feet, with crimson brocade upholstery. There is a reason why the crimson material is still so bright and colourful…


Crimson Room state bed

…and the reason is that the material is modern! It was made specially for the Crimson Room bed when the room was damaged by the fire at Nostell in the 1980s. The design followed a drawing for the hangings of a bed in the Nostell archives. The state bed itself may have been desighed by James Paine, as we have drawings of a bed very similar to this one by Paine in the archives.

The State Dressing Room was originally designed to be the State Bedroom, and was meant to host the most important guests who visited Nostell. The room changed to being the State Dresing Room in the late nineteenth century, when a four-poster bed was put in the room next door (the present State Bedroom).


State Dressing Room bed

The bed in the State Dressing Room is a George III green painted and parcel gilt four poster bed. It was designed and made by Thomas Chippendale, and cost £54. The bed is upholstered in modern hand-painted chintz, because the original material was smoke-damaged during the 1980s fire. The State Dressing Room is a really good example of how whole rooms were made to match the bed – if you look carefully you’ll see how chair and stool covers have been made out of the same material as the bed hangings, to create a matching suite.

The grandest bed in the whole of Nostell Priory is the one in the State Bedroom. State beds were created so that if a member of royalty came to visit houses and country estates, the landowners had somewhere suitable for them to sleep. As royalty did not come to every house in the countyry, state beds were not often slept in. This meant that state beds became a status symbol, because if you could afford to buy a highly decorative bed which quite possibly may never be slept in, then you were indeed very rich! Thus, a state bed was often a way to show off your wealth to your friends and acquaintances. During a house party at Nostell in 1936, this room was slept in by the Duchess of Westminster.


State bed in the State Bedroom

Nostell’s state bed is a nineteeth century green painted and parcel-gilt lit a la polonaise with an oval fluted canopy and domed interior. It is covered in buttoned eau-de-nil cloth, with hangings of flower-printed corded cotton. The material is extremely fragile, and so the curtain and blinds in the State Bedroom are never opened in order to prevent deterioration due to light damage. It is a beautiful bed, and the domed top is rather impressive!

When you move off the state floor and up to the second floor of the house, the beds become less extravagant. (This does not mean that they are not beautiful, as I think they are much more pleasing to the eye, and are certainly more inviting to sleep in!)


Peacock Bedroom bed

In the Peacock Bedroom is an early Victorian bird’s eye maple bed, shown in the above photograph. Some of the other furniture in this room (wardrobe, desk, dressing table, mirror) were designed to match the bed. The drapes would definitely have been necessary to hang around the bed to keep the draughts out, as the North Bedrooms are very very cold!

The two photographs below show two further four-poster beds in the North Bedrooms which we are researching to find out more about them. The rooms were slept in until the very late twentieth century by the family, and have relatively modern hangings. In the first photo (the Big North bed), you can see how high the bed is off the ground – it’s the highest at Nostell. A small set of mahogany steps would have been used to get onto the bed, which have unfortunately been lost. These days you would need to take a running jump!


Big North Bedroom bed


Blue Bedroom bed

What is particularly interesting about the Blue Bedroom bed is that the fabric of the bed hangings were modelled on the fabric of one of the beds in Nostell’s Dolls’ House. Other pieces of furniture in the room were also modelled on those in the Dolls’ House. Look out for a future blog post where I’ll compare the two rooms in more detail.

We think that the beds in the North Bedrooms are much more inviting to sleep in than the grand state beds shown previously!

However, it’s not only the main house at Nostell that boasts state beds – the Dolls’ House does too! The interior of Nostell’s Dolls’ House is decorated in the mid-eighteenth century style, and contains almost all of its original furnishings.

Bed in a Dolls' House

Dolls’ House Yellow Bedroom bed

The Yellow Bedroom bed is possibly similar to what the Crimson Bedroom looked liked when Nostell was built (1735 onwards), as the Crimson Room used to be known as the ‘Amber Room’. Unlike the human-sized state beds, the ones in the Dolls’ House are only around five inches high!

Bed in a Dolls' House

Dolls’ House Red Bedroom bed

The Red Bedroom in the Dolls’ House has undoubtedly the grandest miniature state bed (and comes complete with a grand lady, too!)

Although it’s unlikely that our Dolls’ House was definitely modelled on Nostell Priory, it’s fun to find similarities between the rooms. However, the Nursery Bedroom (below) in the Dolls’ House was the inspiration for the Blue Bedroom inside the main house. The fabric provided inspiration for the bed hangings and curtains, the dressing table and mirror were copied, and so was the colour scheme for the walls. Even the fire place is uncannily similar!

Bed in a Dolls' House

Dolls’ House Nursery bedroom

We hope you’ve enjoyed this spotlight tour of Nostell’s state beds. Which is your favourite state bed at Nostell? Let us know!

The House Team

Spotlight on: National Trust Blogs

Over the past few months there has been a surge of interest in ‘behind the scenes’ aspects of life in National Trust properties. This in turn has led to the creation of lots of really good blogs to fuel this interest. The blogs engage and inform people all over the world about what we do, how we do it, and the background/history of the objects and buildings in our care.

As Nostell’s conservation blog has had a mention in the Autumn 2012 edition of the National Trust magazine (page 57), I thought we had to share some other NT blogs that are being written at other properties all over the country.

This week’s blog post shares with you some of my favourite blogs that I enjoy reading.

If you click on each screen shot it will take you to that particular blog.

Happy reading!

Mount Stewart – Conservation Project

 The Knole Conservation Blog

Attingham Park

NT Treasure Hunt

Montacute House

Rob’s Blog @ Dyrham Park

Fletch the Perchcrow – Wordsworth House

Beningbrough Hall and Gardens

Petworth House and Park

Charlecote Park: Uncovered

NT Calke Abbey

These blogs show the variety of work that goes on in and around NT properties, from large scale building projects to academic research to conservation to gardening to exhibitions. Maybe they will inspire you to come and visit us! Which is your favourite blog?

If you think I’ve forgotten a really good blog, please let me know!


Spotlight on: Physical Forces

Agent of Deterioration No. 3 – PHYSICAL FORCES

One of the most visual agents of deterioration is that of physical forces, and is perhaps the foremost agent which springs to mind when we are asked not to touch things in historic houses. Although we are trying to make our collections more accessible and engaging to visitors, hopefully this blog post will show you why sometimes it is in an object’s best interests to leave well alone if possible.

The main effects to objects are shock, vibration, abrasion and gravity. Often these effects are unintentionally inflicted upon objects.

For example, the photograph below shows a detail from the corner of one of the pier tables in the Top Hall. Look carefully at the arm and shoulder – it has recently been restored as the paintwork had been rubbed off, showing the different layers underneath.

Carefully restored paintwork on one of the tables in the Top Hall

The restoration makes it look as if the figure has always been in perfect condition. Yet this has not been the case…

Look at the picture below, which shows the damage that repeated rubbing had inflicted upon the carving and paintwork. This was caused by a number of factors, all human related. The positioning of the tables are such that when a wedding is held in the Top Hall, visitors come in and brush against the tables. In the past, visitors have also tried to use the figures as hooks to hang their handbags and coats on! After a few years, you can easily see the physical damage caused.

Damage caused by physical forces

Physical forces can be cumulative and occur over time (as seen above) or can be sudden and dramatic, such as dropping an item and breaking it, or larger disasters such as earthquakes.

Effects of physical forces include scratches, dents, holes, rips, tears, and breaking. Below are various photographs of objects at Nostell Priory which have suffered from physical forces. See if you can find a connecting factor between all of the images!

Scratches and a rip on the surface of the billiard table – too enthusiastic a player, perhaps?

Close up of the tear in the baize on the billiard table

Wear and tear at the top of the spine of books in the library. This is why you should be very careful when taking books from shelves!

Indentation in the Top Hall floor. It’s possible that this was caused by a high heeled shoe initially, and has increased over time.

Sofa in the State Bedroom. This was caused by a small child who started plucking stuffing from the arm before he could be stopped. We’ve placed a covering of netting over the corner to prevent idle hands continuing the damage!

Base of one of the lamps in the State Dining Room. Due to the natural low positioning of the base, it has gained lots of chips and scratches over the years. These have possibly come from shoes kicking against it, things being dropped on it, children playing near it, who knows?

Below is a photo of the servants’ stairs. In this instance, it demonstrates a case of physical damage that is not all doom and gloom! The repetitive movements of servants running up and down the stairs for many years has worn away the stonework, creating curved steps rather than flat ones. However, rather than being a case for restorers to repair any damage, the changed look of the stairs adds to the character and history of the house, and gives it charm.

Finishing on a happy note – not all physical forces are bad! The worn away stone steps bring the house alive and show the years of ‘upstairs downstairs’ that have taken place at Nostell.

Did you guess the connecting factor – that’s right, it’s us, humans!

It’s often noted that the worst threat to historic objects are humans, and this is probably true. However if we are careful how we treat them there is no reason why we can’t enjoy these collections for many years to come.


Spotlight on: Water

Agent of Deterioration No. 2 – WATER

Everybody knows that lots of water and buildings do not mix very well, as seen in the recent floods in various parts of the country. Therefore to stay topical, I thought this week’s spotlight blog post would be about a second agent of deterioration – water.

We don’t want any water spillages onto carpets or furniture inside Nostell!

The damaging effects of water are numerous and varied. They include: efflorescence (more commonly known as the creation of ‘tide marks’) and staining, swelling of objects through intake of water, corroding of material such as metals, objects coming apart through the dissolving of glues, cockling and buckling, disintegration (for example when water comes into contact with paper), warping, shrinking, and the presence of water can also encourage the growth of mould.

This water mark was made after a flower vase stood on top of the table for a number of years. The amount of fading is from continual watering of the flowers and subsequent leaks/spillages.

Water can be divided into three main ‘types’. First there are the huge masses of water (which we really really don’t want) such as a flash flood, a river overflowing or a bursting water main. There are also maintenance issues that are concerned with water, such as a roof leak, a plumbing mishap, or general spillages during work activities. Finally, there are what you might call the ‘environmental’ aspects, such as those to do with condensation, rising damp, and changes in relative humidity (the latter is the amount of water in the air, which is closely related to temperature). Relative humidity will be covered in a future spotlight blog post. All of these would encourage the growth of mould and the influx of a variety of unwanted little beasties and pests.

On the ground floor we have real flowers as they really bring the house to life and there is less of a conservation worry for the floors. They are arranged in what is known as ‘oasis’, which is a floristry tool which absorbs water and reduces the need for watering, thus reducing the risk of further damage by watering. On the state floor, we use only artificial silk flowers as there is a greater risk of damage to objects in those rooms.

On the flowers we do put out, we regularly check for petals falling (like in the above photo) as they can attract pests. Lillies are a particular problem as Deathwatch Beetles like to mate in them. Pollen stems need to be cut off before they can be put on display.

A few weeks ago we had a torrential downpour of rain. This had an adverse affect on one of our internal downpipes which was already partially blocked. The damp spread rapidly to the outer walls (see the photo below) and a few days later water started leaking into the Breakfast Room, which is one of the state rooms. Fortunately it was noticed in time and the mirror could be taken off the wall, cabinets moved and paintings re-homed, but the wallpaper got rather damp. It was a busy morning! We’re still waiting for it to dry out before we can put things back in their place. Regular checks of the humidity levels are being taken to ensure that things are going back to normal and that the other items in the room are not affected by the change. We’ve taken some more detailed photos of the incident to share with you in a future blog post.

Damp on the outer wall of Nostell

Protective plastic sheets and paper towels to soak up the worst of the wetness. These were rolled back so that the public could still enter the room.

Damp inside the White Room. This is on our ‘to do’ list, as it will be a big task to sort out the damp problem in the room. One for professional conservators and restoration people!

We hope that this post gives you some idea of why liquids (in particular water) are not allowed inside National Trust properties, and the damage that can be done by this agent of deterioration. This is not to say don’t stop drinking it for refreshment – it is, after all, Adam’s ale!


Spotlight on: Highlights of Nostell Priory

A few months ago saw the launch of the National Trust Collections website. The website holds details of almost every item within the National Trust and all of our properties. It means that you can see what treasures we hold in our properties from the comfort of your own homes!

Here’s the all important link: You can also see highlights from individual properties, including Nostell. These ‘highlights’ are what are considered the foremost pieces in a property’s collection.

To see all of Nostell’s highlights together, follow this link:,-West-Yorkshire-(Accredited-Museum)/1

Can you guess what we’ve included in the highlights of Nostell Priory?

We have chosen a mix of paintings, furniture, and a cabinet. The highlights are listed below (in no particular order). If you click on each link it will take you to the web page for that particular object, so you can read about it in more detail. Don’t forget to vote in the poll at the bottom of the page for your favourite highlight!

1. The Hongs Bowl

Hongs Bowl

2. The Dolls’ House

Dolls’ House

3. Lady’s writing table

Lady’s writing table

4. Medal Cabinet

Medal cabinet

5. John Harrison clock

John Harrison clock

6. Barometer


7. Brueghel’s The Procession to Calvary


8. Lockey’s Sir Thomas Moore and his Family


9. Hugh Douglas Hamilton’s Sir Rowland Winn, 5th Bt (1739 – 1785) and his Wife Sabine Louise d’Hervart (1734 -1798) in the Library at Nostell Priory

Hugh Douglas Hamilton

10. Hogarth’s Act 1, Scene 2 of The Tempest by William Shakespeare


Do you agree with our highlights? You may have your own favourites from Nostell that you would like to see included. Let us know! Vote in the poll below and find out if your favourite object is the same as everybody else!

So go on, check out the links to have a look at our collections online – it may inspire you to come and see the objects in real life!


Spotlight on: Dressing Tables

For this ‘spotlight’ post I decided to focus upon two items that are included in Nostell’s ‘open cabinet’ plan. A lot of the most interesting cabinets and cupboards at Nostell Priory can’t be open all of the time for visitors to see as they are too fragile, and would be at risk of damage if left open constantly (from such agents of deterioration as dust, wear and tear, light, humidity, and sadly theft). The ‘open cabinet’ system involves a set number of these really unusual pices of furniture which are opened on rotation for visitors to see.

I thought we’d have one spotlight item for the ladies, and another spotlight item for the gents – and both happen to be similar items! They are both dressing tables, the first is a lady’s dressing table and the second a distinctively masculine one. Both pieces were created by the famous furniture maker Thomas Chippendale.

Lady’s Dressing Table, in the State Dressing Room

It’s a George III green and gold lacquer lady’s dressing table, with a serpentine hinged and divided top. If the conservation team are in the room when visitors are in the State Dressing Room we often open the top to show them the inside…

…which looks like this! It’s a mahogany divided interior, resting on cabriole legs. As the cabinet would not be left open on a regular basis, the inside wasn’t painted and decorated like the outside of the table. There is a pin cushion in one of the compartments, and you can see Julie holding one of the original glass bottles, which may have contained perfume.

The mirror comes out to rest at an angle, so that hairstyles can be seen, jewellery admired, and general preening occur! This dressing table matches a set of chinoiserie furniture which is in the State Bedroom.

Gent’s Dressing Table, in the Crimson Bedroom

The gent’s table is a more sedate affair. It too is a George III mahogany dressing table, this time on reeded (not cabriole) legs. There is a concave-fronted cupboard below the top drawer. When the top drawer is opened we see…

…this! A fitted drawer with compartments and a green baize-lined shelf (possibly for writing). When the baize shelf is pushed back and the drawer compartments opened, the contents are revealed…

…and here they are! There are cut-throat razors, a shaving brush, two spherical pomade pots, two dainty glass bottles with silver covers, and (believe it or not), a tongue scraper!

A close up of the drawer, complete with an array of contents considered necessary to make a gentleman groomed and presentable to his peers.

As ever, if you have a wish to see a particular object/room/painting/style/thing to do with Nostell Priory on the spotlight blog posts (or indeed any of our Nostell Priory Conservation Blog posts) then send us an email or leave us a comment – we’d love to hear from you!


Spotlight on: Light

We in the conservation business are continually fighting on a daily basis with what is known as the Nine Agents of Deterioration. I thought it would be good to have a series of ‘Spotlight’ blog posts in the coming months to share what the nine agents are, their effects, and what we can do to prevent them taking their toll on Nostell Priory and its collections. You might be surprised to discover that most of the Nine Agents are what you also fight against when doing your own housekeeping!

Agent No. 1 – LIGHT

Light (or radiation) is one of the most obvious enemies of historical objects – everyone has seen things which have faded which were bright and colorful when first made but are now a shadow of their former self. The damaging effects of light come from both ultraviolet (UV) and visible light, and cause disintegration, fading, darkening, and yellowing of the outer layer of organic materials and some coloured inorganic materials. These are usually irreversible changes. We measure visible light in ‘lux levels’, and there are limits for what we consider the maximum level of light that should fall on an object. It is 50 lux for highly light sensitive materials (such as paper, watercolours, wallpaper, carpets), and 200 lux for moderately light sensitive materials (such as oil paintings and stone).

At Nostell there are a number of things that we do to reduce the effects of light attacking our property and the collection inside. Every window has a UV film on, which completely blocks out any harmful UV light coming into the rooms.

We measure the light levels in rooms on a yearly basis. On the two photographs below, there are little squares of card with blue patches – these are called ‘blue wool dosimeters’. They contain pieces of a special grade blue wool, and are left out for one year in places where we especially want to monitor light damage. When the blue wool fades, the amount of fading is measured with a spectrophotometer by a specialist conservator. If the wool is fading too fast, we know to move the object in question, or further reduce the amount of light coming into the room.

Blue wool dosimeter on the billiard table

Blue wool dosimeter on the dado rail below one of the tapestries

We place the dosimeters at varying points of distance from windows – the top photo’s dosimeter is fairly close to a window, and so we would expect some moderate fading. This blue wool directly above, however, is at the far at end of the room away from the windows, and so should hopefully show almost no fading at all over one year

Double blinds are also used to control the light levels. The dark green ones are the ‘blackout blinds’, and are lifted when the house is open to visitors. The pale cream ones are the sun blinds, and they are adjusted throughout the day to compensate for the movement of the sun. This prevents direct sunlight from hitting objects. Ideally, the double blinds should allow less than two per cent of the light falling on them to go into a room.

We’ve also recently taken delivery a conservation frame which focuses on UV light. Half of the frames has a UV-resistant coating, and one half doesn’t. When the beads are moved across the frame, they remain white when under the UV film, but turn pinky red when exposed to UV light in the section of the frame which has no UV coating – a kind of ‘sunburn’, you might say. The photo below shows the effect of UV light on the beads. It’s hoped that by looking at this frame, visitors will understand about our fight against light.

UV bead conservation frame


Spotlight on: Toilets!

It’s not only the glamorous state rooms and impressive entrance halls which have to be cleaned and cared for at Nostell, as we have to do the toilets too! On the main visitor route through Nostell two bathrooms are entered – the Crimson bathroom and the State bathroom (so named because they are joined to the Crimson Bedroom and State Dressing Room respectively). The bathrooms were the focus of today’s winter clean, and are also the focus of today’s spotlight post!

We use the same set of equipment for the bathroom suites as we do for the other rooms – vacuum, pony hair and hogs hair brushes, white gloves, and record sheets. If anything, the bathrooms are some of the most important rooms to clean, because their white colour means that they show up the dust a lot!

Even the toilet bucket needs cleaning! There was some damage to the wicker handle which was recorded on the form, so that we can keep an eye on it and move the location of the bucket if necessary.

Just like some of Nostell’s grander furniture, the items in the bathrooms (for example towel racks and chairs) also have specially made dust covers.

The gilding on the fireplace is carefully brush vacuumed, with a soft pony hair brush.

Angie gets to grips with one of Nostell’s many toilets – it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it!

This is a similar-ish toilet to Nostell’s, but this one is in Blickling Hall in Norfolk, where some of the housekeeping team were sent away to get training on different aspects of conservation. Our training course will feature in some upcoming blog posts, so that you can see how we learn to care for the National Trust’s fantastic properties!

You’ll be relieved (sorry!) to know we’ve finished with the bathrooms now, and will be moving on to other rooms in the mansion. We hope you’ve enjoyed seeing work in one of the more unusual rooms of the house!


UPCOMING HIGHLIGHTS ON THE BLOG: posts on how housekeeping and conservation staff within the National Trust are trained to care for historic objects and buildings, secrets inside some of the furniture, and much more… As ever, if you have any particular requests for what you’d like to see, get in touch!

Spotlight on: Pianos and Curtains

In the Top Hall we have a walnut concert grand piano by Erard, dated 1865. Visitors are welcome to play it when they come to Nostell Priory – so come along and tinkle the ivories!

Today it was the piano’s turn to get a thorough cleaning and inspection, as it is too large to do on a day-to-basis when the house is open to visitors. Here’s a photo account of how it was done:

Brush vaccing the keys – it was too hard to resist playing a melody, so I did!

Checking inside the piano for mould, pests, dust etc – the lid is surprisingly heavy!

Cleaning the pedals

An unusual angle – examining underneath the piano for rust

It’s very dusty under here! As cleaning under the piano will take a long time to do properly, we are leaving it during the winter clean and will do it in front of visitors as part of our ‘Conservation In Action’ programme for 2012.

Even the piano stool gets a turn

All finished! Ready to come out from under the dust cover when we open to the public in March

We also made a start on the Breakfast Room today, and our spotlight here is one of a pair of bright yellow brocade curtains. The curtains are replicas, replacing the originals which were destroyed in Nostell’s great fire in 1980. Most of the furniture managed to be saved, but the curtains and wallpaper needed to be replaced. Despite not being original to the collection, the curtains receive the same care and attention as every other object at Nostell. Here’s how we clean the curtains:

As not all of the curtains are cleaned every year, Angie takes a dust sample. A thin piece of muslin is placed over the nozzle of the vacuum to see what the dust level is like on the curtain.

The dust sample – there’s a fair amount of dust on it so this curtain will be cleaned. You can see the strand of red thread – this is a piece from a visitor’s clothing which has lodged itself high up in the curtain folds, and shows why it is important to dust and clean regularly.

Lower away, Angie!

The curtain fully down. Once cleaned, it will stay this way for four weeks to let it rest. Then we’ll put it up and bring down the other one to repeat the process!

When seen up close, the brocade patterns are really beautiful

The back of the curtains are white in colour – after all, if you are inside you only want to see the stunning colours and patterns, and if the pattern was on both sides the side facing the window would quickly fade.

Carefully vacuuming the curtain

This was the first of our ‘spotlight’ blog posts, focusing on one or two items in detail. As we move around Nostell during the winter clean, we hope to post more ‘spotlights’ so that you can see how we care for different types of objects in the collection. If there’s anything that you would really like to see on the blog (whether it’s textiles, ceramics, metals or anything else related to Nostell Priory) then please get in touch! (See our ‘Contact Us’ page for details).