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A night at the movies: Downton Abbey première

Walking down a red carpet will always be thrilling, but even more so last night at the Downton Abbey world première of the film in Leicester Square.

With the Earl and Countess of Harewood, I waited with bated breath to see Harewood on the big screen and it didn’t disappoint. From beautiful sweeping shots of the house outside, to gorgeous drawing room scenes with Princess Mary (6th Countess of Harewood), and the final ball scene with such glamorous costumes … The grandeur of Harewood was captured by moonlight for a final romantic scene, demonstrating just how beautiful Harewood is.

As a charity, filming always provides such a vital income stream, in order to keep the house and collections open. But it is also a juggling act as I am determined to try and keep as much of the house and grounds open to the public whilst filming commences. It does pay off though, as glimpses of Maggie Smith walking back to the Base unit of over a hundred people in our main car park, give visitors an unexpected treat!

You may notice that throughout the film, the characters pronounce ‘Har-wood’ as it would have been known at that time. Today we are all one ‘Hare-wood’ whether it is the village, house or family. The truth is also skewed for fiction as you see the relationship between the 6th Earl and Princess Mary unfold … it makes for a good storyline, but in reality we know there was actually a great deal of affection between these two. In over 170 boxes of Princess Mary’s personal letters, objects and diaries, which Harewood House Trust is now responsible for, the Earl refers to himself as Princess Mary’s little ‘owl’ (she loved these birds) and she was his little ‘canary’. We’ll be giving all of our visitors a very special glimpse into this personal archive in an exhibition in the house this autumn.

It’s a hard job of course (!) as we spent a rather glamorous few hours at the after-party chatting to actors Jim Carter (Carson) Kate Phillips (Princess Mary), to the Director and Producer and of course to writer Julian Fellowes. They all praised Harewood for its beauty and how well we managed the filming. The lavish scale and opulence of the film far outstrips the TV series.

As Julian Fellowes said, it has been ten years since the beginning of Downton and none of them could have predicted where it would lead. America is next as they all get on the plane next week to New York. In the meantime we’ve invited Kate Phillips back to Harewood to delve into her character’s life – Princess Mary, sister to two kings and a fascinating, thoughtful Countess of Harewood.

Photography © 2019 Focus Features LLC

Pest Busters challenge in an historic house

Pest_Control_FootstoolInsects, of all shapes and sizes, love country houses.

A Grade I listed building offers them their ideal home; lots of undisturbed, small, dark areas with old textiles and surfaces to feed from, and easy entry through old window frames and doorways. Outdoors they are not an issue but when they find their way indoors they use our collections as a source of food which can cause lasting damage. We call them pests.

One of the Collection Care team’s ongoing tasks is implementing an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) system with our Conservation and Technical Officer, Roger. We have pheromone and sticky traps in all the rooms of the House to help monitor pest activity, these are checked on a regular basis, but we also carry out rolling inspections of items that would appeal to pests. During these inspections you will find us crawling around with our torches checking carpets, curtains, and under chairs and sofas.

Rachel recently attended a course at the British Library with David Pinnegar, the pest management strategy adviser for English Heritage amongst others. Our knowledge on IPM has been updated and one of our latest endeavors is better identification of the pests we find, which we do using a microscope. It is important for us to know exactly what types of pests we are finding, so we can identify if they pose a risk to our collection, monitor vulnerable objects more closely for infestations, and take appropriate steps to eradicate any pests present before irreversible damage is done.

The pests that we come into contact with the most, carpet beetles, are only 2-3mm in length, making it hard to distinguish between the varying types without the aid of a microscope. Carpet beetles themselves won’t damage objects, however, their larvae, known as woolly bears, do. The woolly bears feed off the textiles leaving small holes behind, compromising the structure of the item. Textiles, especially organic ones, are very susceptible to pests, including carpet beetles and clothes moths, which can cause tremendous damage.

We recently found a woolly bear infestation in a calves’ foot stool, part of our natural history collection that is not currently on display. If we attempted to clear the infestation by vacuuming the calves’ feet, we would likely remove the fur and damage the stool. So instead we decided that the best course of treatment would be to freeze it, to kill off any pests living on or in it. We firstly removed any visible frass, the waste matter produced by the woolly bears, from the hooves of the stool, which are robust enough to sustain being handled unlike the rest of the calves’ foot. We then wrapped the stool in polythene and removed the air from the package using a vacuum. The stool was then placed in our conservation freezer at -180c for two weeks to eradicate the pests. It’s an ongoing task of monitoring for pests in an historic environment such as Harewood House!

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Behind the Scenes with the Collections Care Team – Big Jobs

Scaffolding_cleaning_HarewoodHouseThe Collections Care Team at Harewood House Trust is truly a behind the scenes team, ensuring that the museum-accredited collection is maintained to the highest quality of standards, with conservation and preservation at the top of the list.

In a series of blogs, we go behind the scenes with the Collections Care Team, this time looking at big and unusual jobs.

The team of three includes Jayne, Collections Care Officer, who has worked with the historic collection for 30 years, Rachel and Amy, Collections Care Assistants, who have worked at Harewood for four and two years respectively, to understand more about this vital part of the charity’s work.

What’s the biggest job you carry out?

Carrying out the winter clean in the Gallery stands out as one of the biggest jobs on the care calendar. Scaffolding must be put up in order to check and clean the wooden Chippendale pelmets, and also to reach the tops of the mirrors, which is quite a big job. No pressure or weight can be put on these items whilst they are being cleaned. Checking and cleaning the Chippendale lantern in the Red Staircase also take significant work, as it has to be carefully wound down from the roof, which is over three floors above. It is very fragile, so requires a full team effort to get it down and back up again. This year Lord Harewood’s two dogs were very interested in what our team was up to as we tried to complete this task.

What’s the most unusual job you’ve carried out?

As a team we often look at each other and remark “Our job is so strange”, but to recall specifics is quite hard. However, having to construct our own extra-long Henry hoover pole to clean flies off a decorative glass skylight springs to mind. As does dismantling the theatrical snow drift set from Christmas 2018, from which we all still have glitter in the pockets of our uniform. Or maybe it’s cooking the batches of rabbit skin glue that we use when cleaning and consolidating the giltwood – we now know a good batch when we see one.

What products do you work with?

As you can imagine, with such a large and varied collection we require a number of products. Our cleaning equipment ranges from products that most people will be familiar with, a Henry hoover, Brasso, furniture polish, and microfibre cloths, to more specific tools such as pony and hog hair brushes, Vulpex, and rabbit and fish skin glue. We have also had training to be able to work safely with chemical cleaning products, and often make our own products by combining items (safely), such as PV (parfait and vinegar) cloths, which are great for removing sticky fingerprints from wooden surfaces.

If you would like to keep up to date with stories and news from Harewood House, please follow us on social media @HarewoodHouse

Behind the Scenes with the Collections Care team – props and more

ChippendaleChairs_harewoodHouseThe Collections Care Team at Harewood House Trust is truly a behind the scenes team, ensuring that the museum-accredited collection is maintained to the highest quality of standards, with conservation and preservation at the top of the list.

In a series of blogs, we go behind the scenes with the Collections Care Team, this time looking at props and more.

The team of three includes Jayne, Collections Care Officer, who has worked with the historic collection for 30 years, Rachel and Amy, Collections Care Assistants, who have worked at Harewood for four and two years respectively, to understand more about this vital part of the charity’s work.

What equipment would people be most surprised to find in your workshop?

Perhaps our new microscope, which we plan to use to help us better identify any pests we find in our insect traps and when carrying out our pest checks. Or perhaps the women’s opaque denier tights that we use for straining lumps out of our rabbit skin glue?

What task would people be most surprised to find you carrying out?

People usually get the biggest shock when they enter a room and we’re all on our hands and knees with torches pest checking a carpet or under the Chippendale chairs! Every inch of all the carpets has to be examined for pests including carpet beetles, which love to live in dark undisturbed places and generally are only around 2-3mm in length. However, people would probably be shocked to hear how much involvement our team has in any filming that takes place within the House. As well as clearing any rooms being used of furniture that isn’t required during the filming, or isn’t accurate to the time period that the show or film is set in, we have to pest check every prop before it is brought into the House. Our role doesn’t end once the props are in and filming has begun. From there we have to oversee the filming and equipment that has been installed in the House, to make sure none of our collection is damaged by accident, because sometimes it’s hard to spot a prop from an authentic Chippendale, especially after a long day of filming.

You can keep up to date on the latest news and stories from Harewood on our social media channels @HarewoodHouse

Behind the Scenes with the Collections Care Team – Training

Rocking Chair in the Library_HarewoodChristmasThe Collections Care Team at Harewood House Trust is truly a behind the scenes team, ensuring that the museum-accredited collection is maintained to the highest quality of standards, with conservation and preservation at the top of the list.

In a series of blogs, we go behind the scenes with the Collections Care Team, this time looking at training and the best parts of the job.

The team of three includes Jayne, Collections Care Officer, who has worked with the historic collection for 30 years, Rachel and Amy, Collections Care Assistants, who have worked at Harewood for four and two years respectively, to understand more about this vital part of the charity’s work.

What training have you had?

We are a small but very knowledgeable team. Jayne, who heads up our team, has recently celebrated her 30th year working with the collection here at Harewood. If Jayne doesn’t know the answer to a question it’s probably not worth knowing! All three of us, however, have been trained to care for a variety of materials including giltwood, book consolidation, integrated pest management, condition assessing, and the cleaning of paintings to name a few. Our interests range beyond collection care too, with degrees held in both history (Amy) and archaeology (Rachel).

What’s the worst part of the job?

Dealing with a moth infestation in part of our taxidermy collection stands out from this week. It’s currently sat in our conservation freezer at -18 degrees centigrade, to ensure the infestation is properly dealt with. Although polishing the brass entrance step in the winter when it’s raining, comes a close second.

Do you have a favourite item in the collection?

Unique items such as a mechanical bird currently in storage (which still works) and the rocking horse which was used during the 2018/19 1920’s Christmas display, are amongst our favourite items. The latter belonged to the 7th Earl, George and was used by him as a child. There’s always something new to marvel within our collection when we’re carrying out our rolling programme.

You can keep up to date with all our stories and news on social media @HarewoodHouse