In which the team from East Riddlesden Hall lend a helping hand…

As you know, the National Trust is responsible for caring for hundreds of historic buildings and their contents, thousands of acres of countryside, and many miles of coastline.

It’s a very supportive network, and a great organisation to be part of. Properties, whilst independent, work with each other sharing skills, knowledge, and ideas to improve the way we care for and present our properties ‘for ever, for everyone’.

With this in mind, we invited the conservation team from East Riddlesden Hall to visit Nostell for the day. East Riddlesden Hall is a lovely 17th century manor house in West Yorkshire. You can find out more info about East Ridd on the National Trust website here:

The plan for the day was to spend the morning getting to grips with Nostell’s winter clean, followed by a tour of the house, derelict servants’ quarters and extensive cellars. I’d also show one of their conservation assistants, Jackie, how to create a blog of their own in order to share stories about what they get up to at East Riddlesden. Skills-sharing is how we like to define it!

Jackie gets to grips with our Small Dining Room chairs

The team from East Riddlesden helped us begin this year’s winter clean. We divided into two teams, one to begin in the Breakfast Room and one to make a start in the Small Dining Room.


Volunteer Lesley uses a piece of gauze to protect the chair cushion as she vacuums it. The gauze ensures that no loose pieces of thread or material disappear into the vacuum.

Nostell is a little behind in our winter clean programme because we have spent the past few weeks up scaffolding cleaning our historic plasterwork (more about this in a future blog post). So it was fantastic having willing helpers from East Ridd for a day – we managed to brush vacuum and cover all of the furniture in the two rooms. Many hands do indeed make light work!

Conservation work

Our second team, led by Angie, get to grips with the Breakfast Room

Dining table

We definitely worked them hard!

Conservation work

It’s a team effort to manhandle the dust cover which protects the Small Dining Room table – it’s very big!

Conservation work

Dust cover in place. Now the fun can begin!

After the strenuous morning, we rewarded the team with a tour of Nostell, including a behind-the-scenes look at our derelict servants’ attics and extensive cellars. We also took the time to show them how to create a WordPress blog of their own, as blogs are a great way to share aspects of the collections and their care which visitors don’t normally see (but find really interesting!)

Here is the link to the East Riddlesden Hall WordPress blog:

We had a great day – thank-you East Riddlesden!


What’s that smell?

Historic houses are full of smells. What smells, you might wonder?

Well, historically there could be smells of polish from servants busy polishing shoes and riding boots, kitchen delights of baking and roasting wafting through the air, perfume and lavendar water from a lady’s dressing room, an aroma of sherry drifting from an open decanter in the library, cigars after dinner, fresh washing from the laundry, smoke from the fires, mothballs and fur coats, scented flowers from the garden, and wet dogs running through the hallways. And… rotten eggs.

Rotten eggs?

The explanation must be that the conservation team have been doing some work at Nostell which resulted in such a smell pervading visitors’ nostrills. So, what were we doing? Our work table might give you a clue…

Work table ready for an afternoon’s hard graft!

We were cleaning the silver! Did you guess correctly?

We clean our silver once a year, and the product we use is Goddard’s Silver Dip. The dip removes all of the tarnish that accumulates over one year’s exposure to air and the elements. It’s the silver dip which smells! It works by removing sulphur from the silver surface, which removes the tarnish and leaves a bright silver finish. It’s the sulphur that gives off the eggy odour!

Today’s task was to clean the silver centrepiece which sits on the State Dining Room table, and is a focal point for the room.

It’s a Victorian candelabra with a tricorn base, dated 1830-1870, with grape, cupid, and vine motifs. Here it has been decorated with red, white and blue for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

The centrepiece separates into different pieces. This meant we could clean it as a team (and it would be a lot quicker than one person doing it by themselves!)

Here’s what we did!

We don’t actually dip the silver into the silver dip, as this would remove too much of the surface. We apply it carefully with cotton wool buds. This ensures we only use a small amount at a time, and can get into the nooks and crannies of the ornamentation

We also use soft bristle toothbrushes for larger areas that don’t have intricate decoration

The colour co-ordination of clothes and nitrile gloves was not intentional, honest! We wear nitrile gloves with all metalwork to stop grease from our hands transferring to the objects, which could result in deterioration (and unsightly finger prints!)

Once the silver dip has been applied, we then rinse it in warm water and dry it off. Rinsing it off doesn’t tarnish the silver, don’t worry! With metalwork, it’s important that whatever you put on (in this case, the silver dip) we also take off

The intricately detailed parts are dried with pads of cotton wool

You can really tell the difference between parts which have been cleaned and parts which haven’t!

Making progress on the arms of the candelabra

Some of the silver cleaning team, hard at work. It’s great having the opportunity to talk to visitors about our work as we are doing it, as it helps them to understand the process of conserving a historic property. Others just wanted tips on how to clean their own silver!

Beginning the main stem of the candelabra. Top downwards seems to be the easiest way to go!

Looking pretty good – not long now!

The finished result! The bottom part looks more tarnished than the top – this is because over time some of the tarnish becomes too deeply ingrained to clean off. Who knows what food may have been spilt on it in the past?

Back where it belongs on the centre of the State Dining Room table, looking as magnificent as ever!

And if you came to visit us at Nostell the day we were cleaning the silver, we can only apologise about the smell!


Decorating for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Here at Nostell Priory we’ve got into the Diamond Jubilee spirit by decorating the State Dining Room! Our theme was ‘street party’ and we had lots of fun dressing the table as though it was about to receive guests for its own Jubilee party. Most of the decorations were prepared and put in place in front of visitors, who enjoyed the transformation of the room.

We’re going to share the Jubilee decorating process with you in this blog post, and perhaps inspire you to have your own Jubilee fun!

Prepare to see a LOT of photos! As ever, feel free to comment on our pictures, and maybe share your own with us?

Preparing to make paper chains

House team and visitor services working together to make the chains

Many lengths of chains, carefully measured for the correct length. At first we stuck them together with the stickers that came with the paper chains, but a day later a lot had unstuck so we had to staple them instead!

Readying the decorating materials!

Setting out the paper plates and napkins, all bedecked with the union flag

Who could resist – after all, we were setting up for a party!

Positioning folded napkin mitres inside the glasses

Placing jubilee-themed cards onto the side tables

Meringues and cherries, mmmm!

As befits such a house as Nostell, masquerade masks would be worn at this fictional indoor street party, to give it an air of elegance!

Who can blame us?

We each picked our favourite masks to try on…

…even Maurice!

Red, white, and blue streamers on the backs of the chairs

Artistically arranging streamers on the table

Jubilee decorating team!

Hanging up the paper chains

Carefully hooking onto the centrepiece

A street party wouldn’t be right without some party food!

Jam tarts, bourbon creams, party rings, custard creams, you name it we have it!

Positioning slices of Battenburg cake

Straws, napkins, and red wine (what else?) in the glasses

Our flower ladies Jennifer and Dorothy set to work on the flower arrangements

Golden urns and delphiniums

Dorothy inserts ‘spiral ting ting’ to make the arrangements seem like fireworks spiralling up into the sky

Maurice adds the finishing touches with an expert eye

Finished golden urn, two of which will be on the back tables in the State Dining Room

For the flowers in the centrepiece (the ‘epurne’) the flower ladies used a ‘frog’, which ensures that the flower arrangements don’t move

Jennifer adds the final few red roses (note the red, white and blue theme to the flower displays – all in keeping with the Jubilee theme!)

And we were finished! The final results are in the five photographs below – we hope that you like them. The decorations within the State Dining Room are a fun addition to the Diamond Jubilee feeling sweeping the country.

Come and visit us and have a look for yourself!

Dramatic floral centrepiece

House of cards

Masquerade party

A feast for the eyes as well as the stomach!

Marvellous! (And lots of fun to decorate, too!)

Enjoy the Jubilee bank holiday weekend!


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