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A Shaw Thing!

March 20, 2015

Each year National Trust place’s run a raffle for which the money raised at that place is doubled by the National Trust and then goes towards a special project at that place. This year at Cragside we are raising money for the Bee Room. Andrew Sawyer, Property Curator at Cragside tells us more:

Front Elevation

Lord and Lady Armstrong gave the job of designing their dream home to the architect Richard Norman Shaw. We plan to reopen the Bee Room, above the north arch of the house, to display his plans and ideas for Cragside. Help us make this room a showcase of the Armstrong – Shaw collaboration that created this extraordinary place.

Norman Shaw worked on Cragside over a fifteen year period and the house has a higgledy-piggledy appearance because of that. It is a house that evolved over time, constantly incorporating Lord Armstrong’s ideas and technology. Shaw was never given free rein at Cragside and it was collaboration with the owner Armstrong that results in this extraordinary creation.

Central Tower

The Bee Room has been chosen to tell this story as it gives the brilliant opportunity to look into the courtyard of the house to view the architecture from the windows. Its elevated position, straddling the north archway, gives a new perspective on the house and its design. The room will be flooded with natural light on both sides, revealing the brightness Cragside’s interiors would have had when the house was first built and lived in.

Copies of Norman Shaw’s detailed plans and intricate drawings will be displayed in the room, to show and tell, from his own hand how the house was designed. This work from a vanished hand tells us so much about the planned layers, dissecting the house into slices of development, some of which you see and some you don’t. Shaw’s letters home will surprise and delight the readers of today as they did the recipients of the past and reveal more about his visits here.

We want to build access platforms at the windows so everyone can take a peek into the courtyard and view the architecture of the buildings that surround it. The room will be designed as a place to sit and relax on the journey through the house. To see how the house was built and imagine how it all happened.

Roof Line

Almost Open

January 23, 2015

The days are really racing by now, it feels like we just got back after Christmas but that was three weeks ago now and we are almost at the point of beginning to open up the rooms and set up the displays ready for opening to visitors on February 14th.

The first 9 days we are open is the Northumbrian school half term week. We open the property for free during that week, but as it’s so early we only open the ground floor of the house. While our visitors get to see some of the most historically important rooms like the Library and Dining Room, we will be beavering away upstairs getting the last rooms uncovered and set up.

This season we aim to have new children’s trails for each school holiday period as well as a varying range of family learning activities, to encourage families to return to Cragside numerous times over the year and experience the estate through the seasons.

The whole house will be open from February 24th. During term time we run school visits up to 1pm at which point the house opens to the public, but during school holidays and weekends the house opens from 11am. To check our opening times for the specific date you’d like to visit, please visit our website

Looking Forward to 2015

January 9, 2015

We’ve been back at Cragside after our Christmas break since Monday of this week, so I thought maybe now would be a good time to look ahead at what we have planned for 2015.

The headline news will of course be the return of the Dining Room carpet from the textile conservation studio in Norfolk. We expect the carpet to return around the end of March, although it will not be unrolled any earlier than April 20th, after the school Easter holidays.

We are also having a new drugget made for the Dining Room (a drugget is the carpet that visitors walk on, which sits on top of the original carpet) which will involve the newly conserved carpet being photographed and the image printed on a room sized mat. This will mean that although visitors won’t be able to walk on the original, they will at least see all the work that has gone into conserving it.
When the company who will do the photography can fit us in will also have an effect on how soon the room can be completely reinstated. I’ll keep you updated as we know more details of this.

We will also get the Slave Girl back from her trip to America and London where she was loaned to take part in an exhibition on Victorian sculpture. We expect her to return in May to take up her usual position on the main stairs.

The property raffle last season raised almost £12,000 to put towards light control. We hope to have these new measures in early on in the season to improve the visitor enjoyment as well as the conservation of the collection.

I can’t think of any other planned works for 2015, although there will no doubt be some unplanned ones as we go through the year!

Dining Room Carpet Update

December 29, 2014

You may remember a post earlier in the year about the conservation work which was about to take place on the Dining Room carpet. If you missed it then you can check it out HERE.

carpet full view

The carpet has now been at the Textile Conservation Studio in Norfolk for almost 10 months and as we’ve recently been down to see it being worked on and get a progress report, it seemed a good time to update you all on the work that has taken place so far and what is still left to do.

  • The first task for the conservation team at the textile studio was a through clean. The carpet had been extensively vacuumed front and back before it left Cragside, but a deeper wet clean and “tamping” (a process of agitation which loosens dirt caught deep within the pile) was needed. The team took time lapse images of this work being carried out which we hope to be able to share on the blog soon.
  • Old adhesive repairs made with shellac and latex have been removed.
some of the adhesive repairs removed from the back

some of the adhesive repairs removed from the back

  • conservation work has begun on the pile to catch in loose threads and make good any poor quality previous attempts at filling in the most worn sections. Where any previous repairs are unobtrusive and not causing any undue stress on the original carpet, the conservators have recommended that they be left. Initially it was expected that the carpet would require 10-15 different colours of yarn to be hand-dyed to match the carpet. The studio have now dyed yarns in more than 70 colours to suit the way the carpet has faded in different areas!
a few of the hand dyed yarns

a few of the hand dyed yarns

  • The underside of the carpet is having a new linen tape (about 4 inches wide) to stabilise the edges.

We are still hoping to have the carpet back at the end of March, although the full reinstatement of the room may not be for some weeks after that depending on our opening hours over the school holidays around then.

Slave Girl

December 18, 2014

In the middle of the 2014 season we loaned out a bronze sculpture by John Bell which we know as the Slave Girl. She was loaned to the Yale Center for British Art in Connecticut for an exhibition titled Sculpture Victorious: Art in an Age of Invention, 1837–1901.

Martina Droth, Curator of Sculpture for the YCBA said “One of the reasons we were so eager to borrow this work is because we wanted to juxtapose it with a related statue, the Greek Slave by Hiram Powers – this is an extremely famous American work which was shown at the Great Exhibition 1851. John Bell’s statue appears to have been made as a direct response to the Greek Slave, commenting directly on the American slave trade, a subject that Hiram Powers evokes but does not explicitly address.”

While Hiram Powers’ statue is very familiar in America, John Bell’s Slave Girl (or American Slave as is apparently her official title) is virtually unknown and forces the exhibition’s audience to reconsider the Greek Slave.

The sculpture has now completed her time at YCBA but will travel with the exhibition to the Tate Britain in London, before finally returning to Cragside mid-2015.

Slave Girl at YCBA

Slave Girl at YCBA

LUX – art at Cragside for 2014

May 26, 2014

LUX – an art exhibition for 2014 at Cragside, begins on Tuesday 6th June. There will be a number of pieces across the estate and in the House which have a theme of light and innovation to fit with out property theme this year, Bright Ideas.

Dan Fox, one of the artists whose work will be displayed in the House as part of LUX has made a video to show the work in progress, which I thought would be nice to share as a preview of the exhibition.


Easter Holidays

April 14, 2014

It’s the Easter school holidays here in Northumberland, so the House is open from 11am-5pm every day until Tuesday 22nd April.


We have several activities for children planned, including the Science Quest (available from the gift shop, £1), the Bright Ideas house quiz (available from House reception, 50p) and the Easter Egg trail (available Good Friday-Easter Monday from the Visitor Centre between 10am & 3pm, £3) with a Cadbury’s chocolate egghead on completion.


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