Last Friday we held our annual Post Season Meeting. It’s an opportunity to get all (or as many as possible) together and thank them for all the time and energy they put into Cragside.
This year around 110 volunteers attended to hear presentations from Cragside staff across all departments, as well as regional NT staff. It’s a chance to let them know all the things that have gone on during the season, which maybe they hadn’t been involved with or aware of.
The highlight of the day is obviously the lunch, which is provided by the Cragside catering team. They do a marvellous job, providing both hot and cold food in abundance which is all hand prepared by them.
The day ends with presentations from John O’Brien, Cragside General Manager, to long serving volunteers who hit milestones such as 5, 10, 15, 20 years.
Here are some photos from the day:
We’ve had a hectic two days here at Cragside. John, our regional conservator, and the whole house team have been carefully removing an enormous piece of Hancock taxidermy from its stand, and removing the glass case.
Initially the idea of doing the whole operation was to replace the glass in the case as it seemed to have deteriorated to a point where we were worried about the atmosphere within the case. There was some kind of build up of grease and dust on the inner surface of the glass which we did not think would come off but as it turned out a good clean with vinegar solution has brought it up nicely. We have made the decision not to replace it after all. Hurrah.
It was a most complicated operation as the case was so large and extremely heavy, Paul (House Manager) first had to build a scaffold rig with a chain hoist. Yesterday morning we slid the stand out of its position on the Gallery and in front of the scaffold where the case was attached using straps (and some dubious looking knots) to the hoist.
With a person at each corner to ensure it came off the stand straight, Paul began to lift it off its stand. Once the weight was off the stand we slid the stand out from under it and lowered it down to the floor for part 2 – removing the glass case from the actual bird.
We hit something of a stumbling block when the glass case did not appear to want to come off the way we expected it to. This meant much additional lifting of the case looking for fixings. We had been right the first time however, so with the (careful) application of 4 of our feet and some elbow grease we managed to prove it would come off. Cue the glass lifters being fixed to the sides of the case. The hoist was then (with yet more dubious knots) attached to the glass lifters and up the case went sans bird.
Rather than lifting the case completely off the bird straight away, we were advised to put it up on blocks and allow some air flow through it, just in case there was anything poisonous used in the taxidermy. It was common for taxidermists to use arsenic among other things while creating taxidermy, not something we wanted to come into contact with! We left a fan running to increase the airflow and then went for a cuppa (of course).
When we went back we removed the glass case completely, John and Paul slid the bird into a safe area out of the way of the work. The case was rested on two heavy duty stands with enough gap to get a person in under it. Paul went in first and gave it a quick clean, which proved that the issue was not serious enough to warrant replacing the original glass. I then went in and gave it a more careful clean with vinegar solution. I also gave the interior brass a coating of wax to protect it.
By late afternoon the case was ready to go back over the bird and so began more knot tying and hoisting. Bird back under glass, we then turned our attentions to the stand which the bird sits on. It is veneered and some of the veneer around the bottom was lifted and loose. John used a special glue and a terribly technical ripped bit of cardboard to fix the veneers, and then ply wood and clamps were added over night until the glue was dry.
This morning John removed the clamps and we were able to start the process of getting the bird back on the stand. More hoisting ensued and pretty quickly it was as if it had never been touched…except for cleaner
Last Thursday Philip and I had to empty a display cabinet at the back of the Japanese Room. We are working at allowing visitors some way into the room, as they are not yet able to get beyond the door. To make this possible we need to move an original carpet back and under the display cabinet which will clear the area we hope to allow visitors in to.
I have never paid much attention to the small items in the cabinet, but getting them out was so much fun. They are the cutest things!
My particular favourite is this small (only about 2 inches tall) man whose neck extends and tongue pops out! I’ve taken a series of photo’s to show exactly what I mean:
We closed our doors for the last time this season on the 3rd November. That gave us 13 working weeks to deep clean every object, piece of furniture etc and then get it all back in its rightful place ready for opening our doors again in the February half term.
I was on holiday the first week we were closed but while I was away the others cracked on and had cleaned and packed away the Entrance Hall, Butlers Pantry and Kitchen corridor by the time I got back.
This week began with an event for our volunteers which we call “Behind the Stanchions.” For a couple of hours we remove the barriers in the rooms, switch off the alarms and allow them unrestricted access to room they wouldn’t usually get beyond the doorway of.
I spent Monday afternoon in a meeting with a fantastic group of volunteers who are updating the room information folders which the Room Guides use to answer visitors’ questions and further their own knowledge of the history of the family and the rooms.
On Tuesday I got my first real taste of Winter work when we began to pack away the Library. We started by cleaning & wrapping all the small items and putting them away I the three large cupboards on the south wall of the room (on top of which our famous cloisonné lamps sit, the first in the world to be lit by hydro-electricity). We then cleaned and covered the furniture so that the next time we can get in there we’ll be able to do the high level cleaning.
Today (Wednesday) we have no electricity. I’m writing this blog post by hand in my notebook to type up and post on Friday. I’m in our staff tea room where we’ve lit a fire and are working by the light of head torches. Philip has managed to source a battery operated iPod dock so we’ve got Wham wailing Last Christmas. Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up!
The hydraulic lift at Cragside was added sometime between 1870 and 1880. It worked from the basement area known as the Jigger Room, up to the second floor. This was a total journey of around 9 metres.
I think it’s interesting to note that the lift was not for the family to use, it was installed to make the servants work easier. It meant they could take visitors luggage, coal and hot water to the upper floors without having to carry these heavy items up many flights of stairs.
The lift was suspended by a chain in a shaft. The lift was moved by the action of the ‘jigger’ which consisted of a moveable ram working in a fixed cylinder. Both the ram and the cylinder have sets of pulleys at their ends.
When water was let into the jigger from a reservoir able the House, the pressure forced the ram out and moved the chain over the system of pulleys. This raised the lift. When water was let out of the cylinder the lift was lowered. The jigger magnified the limited movements of the ram, which only needed to move 1.5 metres to take the lift right to the second floor.
The hydraulic lift was replaced by an electric lift in the 1950s, which is still in use today, enabling wheelchair users to access the first floor.
The real problem with swapping store rooms around is that we are incredibly short of space, it’s just not possible to totally empty one room and then fill it with the contents of the other.
For the last 10 days we’ve (‘we’ being me and Philip, who I’ve roped in) been playing a living game of Tetris, trying to fit as much of the contents of the less full room into a corridor shelving system, so that we could move enough pictures to be able to take out the room dividers from the old picture store.
I smiled sweetly at Dick and Phil, the regional building team to remove the dividers for me, which they did super quickly and without complaint, even though it turned out to be a bigger pain than it originally looked to be. That left us with a bit more room for manoeuvre in there, we got a set of storage shelving put up and managed to move a few crates in. It’s a start.
The new Picture Store is looking much more promising; we’ve adjusted the shelving that was already in the room to accommodate crates of smaller pictures. In the old Picture store there was no room for shelving as well as the dividers, so crates were all over the floor making access to the larger pieces difficult.
Now I need to fashion some black-out blinds so that I can hang some light-sensitive watercolours on the newly placed dividers, and then it’s just leg work to bring each large frame up to its new home.
I do keep having small crises of confidence, suddenly worrying the new room is in fact no bigger than the old one and it is all a waste of energy. I’m sure it will be worth all the hassle when it is finished.
People often ask where the maids would have slept. The arrangement was a little different here to many country houses, which would have traditionally accommodated the servants in an attic space. At Cragside we have two towers, one which accommodated female servants and another which accommodated male servants.
The male quarters were in the tower which now has visitor toilets on the ground floor, with one medium-sized store area above, but the tower is mostly unusable / derelict.
The female servant’s rooms were in the “Central Tower”. As you enter the house and pass through our reception area, you face a wooden staircase. This staircase leads to many more, in an almost spiral fashion and narrowing all the time, to the maids bedrooms and living areas. At Cragside each servant had a room of their own and each room had either a heating pipe or fireplace for heat. By modern standards it may not sound like anything special, but at that time it was one of the best living arrangements a servant could hope for.
Anyway, the reason I’m telling you all this is that all the female servant’s bedrooms are now used for storage of our collection not being displayed in our show rooms. Each store rooms are organised according to their contents, so we have a Picture Store for paintings and other framed pictures, a crate store for small objects which are wrapped and packed carefully in crates, several furniture stores etc.
The current Picture Store is a small room, which had some MDF dividers to provide extra hanging space, was a real squeeze. I decided to swap it with another room which is larger and had a lot of wasted space. It sounded like a good idea when I suggested it…
To be continued