The time has come, sooner than any of us expected, for the blog of a Conservation Intern to come to an end. I’ve been sacked for being completely useless…
Only joking- I’ve got a job! I am off to work for the National Trust at the beautiful Mompesson House in Salisbury. This is absolutely fantastic and I cannot wait to start my new job; however, leaving Plas Newydd is very difficult. I have had an amazing time here: everyone has been so kind and supportive, I’ve made some great friends, and I’ve been given the skills and experience to begin my dream career with the National Trust. I know that it is better to be sad to leave than desperate to get away, but when I look out of my window at the stunning view across the Menai Strait to Snowdonia it breaks my heart a little to leave. I will greatly miss Anglesey, Plas Newydd and everyone here.
Alright, enough of that emotional rubbish- this blog is not just about me, its about Plas Newydd, so here’s a brief summary of what has happened in the last couple of weeks: We had a pancake party where families got to play games, toss pancakes, and design their own fantasy pancakes as well as tuck in to some pancakes they topped themselves. We’ve also returned to the Saloon wall the Ommeganck painting that was damaged in the 2011 flood and restored by Alan Bush. In further Saloon flood work we have been using an Archipress machine to remove the water from the books that got caught in the flood. Finally, we’ve had clock expert Sue Ford in to look at some of our timepieces that were in need of attention. Sorry for the brief nature of this catch-up, there are more details on our facebook, twitter, etc.
So, with that, my time writing about Plas Newydd comes to an end. It’s on to pastures new and I know I am going to love working at Mompesson House. It’s an eighteenth-century townhouse and was featured in the Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility film (I’m getting ever closer to my fantasy of being in a Jane Austen novel). I might even keep on blogging from Mompesson, so watch this space.
For now, goodbye. I’ve really enjoyed creating my blogs and I hope people have enjoyed reading them. Never before did I think I would put so many pictures of myself in a fleece on the internet.
So long and thanks for all the follows!
Last week the Plas Newydd team headed to the north coast of Anglesey to visit Cemlyn. Cemlyn is a North Wales Wildlife Trust reserve and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The reserve land is owned by the National Trust and includes a large lagoon which is separated from the sea by a naturally-created shingle ridge known as Esgair Gemlyn. Cemlyn is notable for a variety of wildlife and sea birds, and is a really beautiful place. We all had a great day out as we visited the team on the north coast; they took us for a walk, showed us the sights and made us some delicious chilli in one of their cottages. Here are a few photos from the day:
If you want some more info on Cemlyn visit the website: http://www.northwaleswildlifetrust.org.uk/cemlynwebpages/cemlynindex.html
Behind the scenes part two: the cellars. I talked about the cellars when I wrote about our Halloween event, but I thought I would show you them not decorated with cobwebs and witches; they are still very interesting and a little spooky.
The first room you enter in the cellars is the muniment room. This was once the servant’s kitchen and the big kitchen table is still here.
Now it contains a lot of letters, cards and books belonging to the current Lord and Lady Anglesey, as well as documents and objects relating to the National Trust’s time at Plas Newydd.
Further into the cellars you find even more old National Trust storage.
This was once food storage areas and workshops, and some of the fittings from those days are still here.
The 5th Marquess apparently kept over 1000 bottles of wine in the cellars- sadly the wine is all gone, but some of the wine racks remain. Some of the bottles belong to Lord and Lady Anglesey and have been down here for a long time.
We are currently trying to fill the wine racks with empty prop bottles to show what it would have been like in the mansion’s heyday. Anytime one of our staff or volunteers finishes a bottle of wine at home we ask them to donate it to the cellar, and we seem to be quite good at making contributions…
In an area that would once most likely have been storage for food we now keep old suitcases that belonged to the family.
There are four levels of cellars underneath Plas Newydd, and we now move into the deeper (which means darker, colder and damper) parts of the cellar. The lowest floors of the cellars date back to the 16th century and so probably belong to a house that stood where Plas Newydd stands now. The original house was knocked down and Plas Newydd (which means “new mansion” for all my non-Welsh speaking readers) was built. So the deep cellars are the oldest part of the building, and come complete with stalactites, a well and a bricked up room. So it all gets a little spooky!
There’s also a passage to the underground docks, but that isn’t safe for us to explore.
Hope you enjoyed these glimpses of backstage at Plas Newydd, and look out for behind the scenes tours this season.
There is often a lot more to National Trust properties than what the public get to see, and here at Plas Newydd there are a whole host of rooms behind the scenes; so I thought I would write a couple of blogs giving a backstage tour, starting with upstairs.
Firstly, our offices: here is where the House Team hang out.
Ok, so the offices are a little bit magnolia and dull, but the history of how they came to be plain and official looking is interesting. In 1949 the Merchant Navy training ship HMS Conway was moved from Birkenhead to the Menai Strait out of fear it would be bombed. The 7th Marquess, who was suffering from a few financial worries with regards to the upkeep of Plas Newydd, agreed to rent part of the North Wing of the mansion to the training ship. So this part of the building became accommodation for the cadets during their terms on the shore, and thus it ceased to be the servant’s quarters and family rooms that it had previously been.
So there is a good reason for the institutional feel of the offices, and our property manager Nerys has attempted to brighten up the staff room…
Upstairs again is more of the same décor-wise. This floor now contains our stores rooms, although it was originally servant’s quarters and some of the children’s rooms. It then became dormitories for the Conway cadets and the sleeping compartment dividers still exist.
In the 1960s a new building was built for the use of HMS Conway just down the Strait from Plas Newydd. In 1968 Cheshire County Council, under whom the HMS Conway training was organised, decided to adapt this area into an outward bound centre for children. This part of Plas Newydd remained in the hands of the council until 2005, when it became the National Trust’s.
We now use this part of the house for our conservation store rooms. This is where we keep our supplies and equipment for cleaning and caring for the house and collections.
The Ryan Room is where we currently store the fantastic collection of military uniforms, given to the property by Colonel Ryan, which are sadly not out on display at the moment. One day I promise to write a blog just about the military collection here.
We have a large furniture store, where we place furniture too delicate to be out around the house. We also store other large objects in here, like paintings we aren’t displaying and also a model church made from a hatbox by Rex Whistler, which had been away at a specialist conservator.
In one room we currently have a theatre backdrop by Whistler, which was on display downstairs, but had to be moved to make room for the furniture taken out of the Saloon after it flooded in 2011.
There are other pieces of Saloon furniture finding shelter in the stores, like the curtains and the chandeliers.
One of my favourite rooms in the stores contains the Ceredigion handling collection- a whole load of vintage clothing and accesories that we are allowed to wear! This is where our outfits for the 1930s weekend came from.
Next time I’ll give you a tour of behind the scenes downstairs. We are hoping to offer guided tours of these behind the scenes areas during this open season, so check the website for more details.
One of the most delightful aspects of the winter clean is getting to have a really good look at some of the furniture and objects that remain closed to view for most of the year. We need to clean and examine every bit of our collections to protect them from deterioration, but this is also a great opportunity for me to learn new things about certain objects. Whilst cleaning small items in the Octagon I saw a Canton lacquered box that sits on a table in the room opened for the first time and was surprised to see that it contained lots of little boxes and trays, all beautifully designed.
It is an octagonal Canton lacquer box from around 1820, sat on clawed feet and decorated in red and gold with pagodas and Chinese scenes. Inside there are 3 rectangular boxes, 4 shaped boxes and six rectangular trays; two of the trays have a playing card decoration, two are decorated with Chinese scenes and the other two have a foliate decoration, one of which has ‘GAME’ on the centre of the tray.
After admiring how pretty the box’s contents were, we began to wonder what they were used for. It would seem the box’s contents were designed for some sort of game, but just what that game would be we don’t know. Were there cards? Were there playing pieces kept in the boxes? I’ve attempted to research online the box and the sort of game it might have held, but haven’t had any luck finding any answers. So if anyone out there could tell me more, I would love to hear from you!
Just thought I would share this interesting little object with you all.
I’m sure everyone is sick of hearing about the weather and seeing pictures of the snow, but Plas Newydd looked so very pretty all in white that there was “snow-way” (bet you’re all sick of snow puns too!) that I wasn’t going to share our photos. So here’s a gallery of how the winter weather made one of the most beautiful places in the world even lovelier for a few days:
Everything in every part of our rooms gets cleaned in the winter and so in our tallest rooms, the Gothick Hall and the Music Room, we need to reach the high up picture frames and the ceiling cornicing; no ladder is tall and stable enough to reach and so we have to build a scaffolding tower.
The conservation team set about building the highest scaffolding tower that we could. I have not received official scaffolding training and so I was unable to help with the building of the tower, but this did leave me free to take lots of photographs. I am OK with heights, but I still was quite glad I didn’t have to climb up it. It is built one platform at a time: once one platform is built someone climbs on to it and is passed the parts for the next platform, and then it becomes a sort of scaffold relay with someone on each platform passing parts upward.
Once the tower was built Alex, who had the fun task of being atop the scaffolding, could begin cleaning the cornicing at the top of the Gothick Hall and the gilt frame of ‘A Butcher’s Stall’, painted by Frans Snyders (1579-1657), a big painting showing a butcher’s stall with dead animals and birds, including deer, hares, herons, peacock, snipe, curlew and songbirds.
So the fun of the winter clean continues.