Don’t look down!

When visiting stately homes and beautiful mansions, we always marvel at the wonderfully crafted furniture, the architecture of the house, the wallpaper, the number of books in the library, and imagine what it would have been like to live there.

However, what we often forget to do is look at what we are walking on! Inspired by this really good post from the house team at Knole – http://knolenationaltrust.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/whats-beneath-your-feet/ – I thought we would focus on what your feet walk on when visiting Nostell Priory.

When we thought about which floors/carpets to include in this blog post, we realised the huge amount of different coverings and carpets that there are inside Nostell. We hope you enjoying looking at a few in more detail, with the photos below. (If you click on a picture it will enlarge it so you can have a closer look.)

And remember – next time you visit Nostell, don’t forget to look down, do look down!

Stone floor

Stone ground floor

Throughout the ground floor there is a stone slate covering. This is now worn away and cracked in many places, which reflects how thousands of visitors over the years can damage even the strongest of materials. Having stone on the ground floor is purely practical, as it is on the ground floor where all of the dust and debris from outside would have landed when the family used the Lower Hall as the main entrance.

Additionally, the ground floor was the servants’ domain, and would be where the servants at Nostell would have hurried around doing dirty jobs. Carpets would have become far too grubby!

Carpet

Crimson Bedroom carpet

I’m a fan of the carpet in the Crimson Bedroom because it really matches the objects in the room, and has a warm red tone which compliments the curtains and bed hangings (which were reproduced after the fire in the 1980s). It is a Feraghan wool carpet with a multiple striped border, made at some point in the nineteeth century.

Carpet

Drugget

When you visit Nostell, you’ll probably have noticed the long carpet that follows the visitor route through most of the rooms – this is known as the ‘drugget’. This carpet gets vacuumed every day, as the drugget is where a lot of the dust and dirt which visitors bring in lingers. Nostell’s drugget is a two-tone crimson floral wool pile carpet with an arabesque foliate design and a border along each edge. It was made in the late twentieth century.

Wooden floor

Wooden floor in the Top Hall

The floor in the Top Hall is an interesting one. When visitors enter the Top Hall, there are plenty of well-deserved ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ over the ornate Robert Adam plasterwork, the size of the room, and the extensive view down the vista at the front of the house. However, when visitors look at the floor, there is usually no comment (that’s if people actually look at the floor!)

I feel quite sorry for the Top Hall floor, made from oak floorboards. This is because this floor was not meant to be walked on. Yes, you read correctly!

A drawing from 1776 shows that the intention was to create a striking white and brown marble pavement floor which would reflect the ceiling pattern like it does in other Robert Adam houses such as Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire. The photograph below shows the floor of the Great Hall in Ham House in Surrey, which has a floor similar to that planned for Nostell’s Top Hall.

Great Hall at Ham House

The Great Hall at Ham House, Richmond upon Thames, Surrey. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Carpet

Breakfast Room carpet

The Breakfast Room carpet is a modern light beige felt carpet, laid after the fire at Nostell in the 1980s. It’s very simple, and reflects the simplicity of the room. The Breakfast Room is currently a ‘free flow’ room (meaning that visitors are able to walk all around the room) so we wanted something robust and long-lasting. The corner of a rug that you see is one brought in especially for people to walk on, and isn’t a historic rug.

Carpet

State Dressing Room carpet

The photograph above shows how delicate the carpets in our collections are – you can see where the seam has split and the carpet is wearing thin. This carpet is in the State Dressing Room, and is a green flowered seamed Brussels wool pile carpet, made at some point between 1850 and 1950.

We hope you’ve enjoyed looking in detail at some of our carpets inside Nostell – which one is your favourite?

The House Team

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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.

Ellie

Stonework

Housekeeping Training Blog Post No. 7

As well as considering the conservation of more immediately recognisable objects within National Trust properties such as books, textiles and furniture, the housekeeping study course also covered what could be conceived of as the fabric of many buildings – stonework. This included things like stone floors (often forms the flooring of entrance halls and ground floors) and stone busts (a large number of properties have stone statues and busts). This part of the course was really fun – it’s rare we get the chance to put substances on marble slabs and have a go at trying to remove them! The photos below show a taster of what we got up to.

Sacrificial marble slab where we were taught how to remove different substances, including ash, lipstick, mud, boot polish, olive oil, and red wine (which you do pour white wine over after sponging it up to remove it – it’s not a myth!)

Removing ash from the marble slab

We were also shown how to safely transport and carry a stone bust. Here’s what you do:

The stone bust has a bin which it will travel in, lined with a soft blanket to prevent damage. When the bust is in the bin it is much easier for two people to transport together than if one person was carrying it alone

Putting the bust in the bin, nestled in blankets

Two of the group carrying the bust through the room, having made sure that the route was clear and any obstructions removed

Bust safely transported to the other side of the room and lifted onto a table

A similar technique is used when transporting a stone slab across the room, in a safe manner to protect ourselves and the object. It is upright which makes it easier to handle, and is carefully slid off the table with a blanket for protection, before being placed on the ground upright, resting on some wooden blocks

Stone sculptures in the gardens have protective plastic covers put on them over the winter period to stop deterioration caused by wind, rain, and snow

And that was the end of our housekeeping study days course 2012! We hope that you’ve  liked following our progress during the course, and enjoyed getting a view of how the National Trust conservation staff all around the UK are trained to look after the properties and objects in our care. You should recognise us putting these skills into use at Nostell Priory in some of the upcoming blog posts!

Ellie