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Sue Sharpe: In memoriam

Sue Sharpe

Whilst places like Harewood are built in stunning surroundings, feature beautiful architecture and remain as awe-inspiring as they always have, there’s one thing that truly makes a place – its people.

Harewood is blessed with its volunteers and staff members, some who not only love Harewood but make everyone else love it to, and the Trust was particularly saddened this week to learn of the passing of one such person who had a gift to draw people into Harewood’s magic – Susan (Sue) Sharpe who sadly passed away at the end of January.

It’s fair to say that Sue led a fun and rather glamorous life. Her late husband was the former England cricketer Phil Sharpe, and she herself was an ‘Air Hostess’ (she’d never allow the term cabin crew) in the air industry’s hey day – a role where she could excel by combining her welcoming charm and witty personality in huge style with great aplomb.

Sue with VE teamA chance occurrence in 2007 bought her into Harewood’s fold. Whilst visiting the House as a potential venue for her daughter’s wedding, she was unable to see one of the rooms due to interviews taking place for House Steward positions. Having told her husband Phil, he remarked that the role would have been right up her street, to which Sue picked up the phone to ask if she was too late. Of course, she wasn’t too late, and even if she was it’s fairly certain she would have talked whoever answered the phone around – the rest is history.

For many Harewood Members and visitors Sue was such a recognisable figure and someone who was repeatedly mentioned in visitor comments with overwhelming warmth and thanks. Latterly she was often based in Harewood’s Old Kitchen, where not a soul could pass without Sue learning part of their life story intermingled with a totally effortless imparting of Harewood knowledge. Everyone left Sue’s presence not only feeling that they had learned something new, but also like they’d made a friend. Sue became renowned amongst the team for causing visitor congestion because she’d engaged so many people in conversation or because she’d started a free impromptu talk, but not a soul could’ve minded waiting as by the time they reached her she would soon envelop them with her warmth. Sue was also part of Harewood’s tour team – needless to say a short introduction to the House would be an hour and a half minimum.

Sue at Prince of Monaco eventSue didn’t just bring the House alive to general visitors either, she often helped with education projects (a true Jackanory) or at events (meeting the Prince of Monaco being a particular career highlight for her), she volunteered in several roles and whenever there was an opportunity to learn more or be involved she would grasp it.

The staff loved her too, and Sue loved them, taking a keen interest in everyone and never forgetting a soul. She had a way of getting away with things that no one else ever would – hiding a tea thermos under her chair, arguing a point without you even noticing, writing her Christmas cards whilst on duty but in a way that you’d think it was part of the visitor experience.

Her generosity knew no bounds too, not least with her time. Her time was her gift to everyone, and sharing a moment with Sue made you feel special. Harewood will be forever in her debt and she will be sorely missed. Our thoughts are with her family – daughter Catherine and nephew Fergus who himself now works for Harewood House Trust too – and all her dear friends.

Sue’s family have set up a Just Giving page, in thanks to St Gemma’s Hospice for the care and comfort they gave Sue.

Sue Sharpe worked at Harewood from 2007 to 2021.

With thanks to Jackie Gascoigne & Aileen Larsen for helping to compile this tribute, and the many who have sent their memories and condolences to the Trust.

Sue with VE team

The Harewood Bees

In this month’s guest blog, Harewood Food and Drink Project take us through the important role that bees have to play in our ecosystem and creating a regenerative environment at Harewood, as well as introducing us to Beekeeper Martyn, who keeps bees on the Estate and produces Harewood honey, which features in many a HF&DP dish.

Why are bees important?

We have a number of schemes in place to encourage a strong presence of bees, which helps to create a healthy, rich ecosystem encouraging biodiversity and a balanced habitat where a wide range of species can thrive alongside one another. Creating incredible food experiences that work in harmony, or to the benefit of, the local environment, has always been one of the key cornerstones of HF & DP.

Bees play a vital role in our food chain, as they pollinate a significant proportion of the food crops that we consume. Many of our everyday favourite food and drink items rely on pollination by bees, including many ingredients that can be found on site at Harewood; tomatoes, strawberries, figs, blackberries, mulberries and raspberries to name a few, all rely on bee’s activity. Other global everyday favourites include avocados, coffee, chocolate, grapes, i.e. wine.

The Harewood Bees  

A couple of years ago we were approached by Martyn, after he’d attended one of our events. He asked if he could keep his hives on Estate land. In exchange, a couple of times a year, he’d drop a box of honey jars off to the estate office for us to use as we wish, usually around 50 jars. For HF & DP there’s nothing that inspires us more than meeting those who are masters of their craft. Martyn’s knowledge, dedication, care and love for his hives acts as a reminder of why we love what we do and how inspiring our surroundings are.

We sell the honey with 100% of proceeds being put towards buying wild flower seeds which we plant close to the hives. Planting a variety of bee friendly wild flowers helps to improve the health of the bee colony, enhances the flavour and yield of the honey and helps to create a richer, more balanced and biodiverse ecosystem here at Harewood.

We have a number of other schemes in place across the estate to encourage a thriving bee population; through the preservation of orchards, planting of 25 hectares of flower rich margins on our arable farms and we’ve adopted a 3-year hedge cutting regime to maximise flowers and blossom.

The Taste of Harewood

Since we set up HF & DP, we’ve been trying to answer the question “What does Harewood taste like?”. It’s possible that Martyn’s honey is the purest representation that we’ve found yet, or indeed, probably ever will.

A honey bee hive requires several hectares of flower rich habitat for it to thrive. The location of Martyn’s hives means that the bee colony will gather pollen from all over Harewood’s landscape, from a wide range of flowers, before returning to the hives.

When Martyn harvests his honey, we end up with 100% pure honey. This means that absolutely nothing is added, exactly as nature intended.

Each batch, even each hive, will have its own unique flavour, never to be replicated, dependent upon what’s flowering and in season and what crops are growing nearby. If you’re one of the lucky few who manage to get a jar, let us know what flavour profiles you can pick out, tell us, what does Harewood taste like?

Whenever a new batch of honey arrives, Josh and our kitchen team will eagerly start writing menus and dishes using Harewood honey, inspired by it’s incredible flavour and provenance.

A big thank you to Martyn for allowing us to tell his story and to Claire McClean for the photos.

Josh Whitehead’s Honeycomb Recipe

Honeycomb is a great addition to many different puddings, giving sweetness and crunchy texture. Break it up and use to garnish ice cream, cake or chocolate. It’s also delicious half dipped in melted chocolate and left to set as a homemade Crunchie bar!

Ingredients

  • 320g Caster Sugar
  • 130g Honey (Ideally Harewood Honey, but a good quality runny or wildflower honey will also be fine)
  • 360g Glucose Syrup
  • 80g Water
  • 50g Bicarbonate of Soda, Sifted

Begin by adding all of the ingredients, bar the bicarb, in to a heavy based tall saucepan with the honey, water and glucose on the base of the pan.

Lightly grease a metal container and put to one side.

Heat the mixture on a low heat, gently stirring with a whisk until combined, then increase to medium high. Cook the mixture until it reaches 148 degrees on a food thermometer.

Take of the heat and vigorously whisk in the bicarbonate of soda for two seconds to mix well, then, being very careful as the mixture will be very hot, pour into the greased container and leave to set. At this point it’s very important not to aggravate the honeycomb as it can collapse, leave it to set at room temperature for one hour, not shaking or moving the tray.

Now you have the perfect addition to enhance any dessert !

 

 

The doors may be closed, but the work continues in the House…

Have you ever wondered what happens behind the scenes whilst the house is closed?

Winter is one of the busiest times of the year for the collections team. Every year when the house is closed to the public we undertake much of our annual deep clean. This year is no exception, as despite only being able to open the house for a short period in 2020, the collections and the house itself still require essential checking and cleaning. As an Accredited Museum with a designated collection we need to constantly monitor for any signs of damage or deterioration.

Each room is cleaned from top to bottom using conservation brushes and special vacuum cleaners; we even have our own scaffold tower so we can reach the ceilings. The collections care team are specially trained to use these and while they are cleaning they check for any signs of deterioration or pest activity. Some areas such as ceilings and curtain pelmets are done on a rolling programme as they don’t get as dusty as the areas lower down and we don’t want to cause damage by over-cleaning. We begin with the East Side of the house before Christmas and once the decorations come down it’s time to start in the rooms on the West Side.

 

The before and after… a half-cleaned mirror !

Each object in the room is also checked and cleaned using specialist equipment. Usually we would undertake this work with the help of a team of skilled volunteers but in order to ensure we are working within Covid guidelines we have had to stand them down this year and the staff are keeping socially distant.

This year we’ve also been undertaking an inventory audit and making sure that all the objects are marked with their own unique number. Each mark is made in a specific way so it doesn’t damage the object. It’s best to do this type of work at the same time as the cleaning so we only handle the object once, reducing the risk of accidental damage.

Here we have been cleaning a pelmet so have taken the opportunity to sew on a label at the same time.

During the lockdown we also need to be on site to keep an eye out for any leaks, monitor the environment and to regularly check for pests throughout the house including the attics.

There are a number insects which would enjoy munching their way through the collections if we let them, woodworm and carpet beetle are the most widespread across museums and historic houses. They like organic materials, particularly wood and textiles which make up most of the collections.

Igor The Palm Cockatoo

Meet Igor, the Palm Cockatoo.

Igor’s beak was slightly off-centre. Since parrots’ beaks continue to grow throughout their lifetime, they usually wear them down either by chewing on branches or hard items such as nut shells, or by rubbing the lower mandible against the upper mandible which makes a rasping noise (which makes Nick, our Bird Garden Manager, cringe)! Because Igor’s beak was not straight, it ran the risk of not wearing down evenly: sadly an overgrown or mis-aligned beak can cause problems for parrots as it hinders their ability to feed themselves or their chicks properly. They may also have issues climbing and moving about naturally.

 

In order to give Igor the best chance in life, the vet was recently called out and fortunately (for Igor !), his beak was not severe enough to need a brace. Instead, the vet carried out a beak trimming procedure; an operation requiring anaesthetic. We are very much hoping that since he is a young bird who is still growing, this minor beak trim will allow the beak to correct itself and straighten out. If these problems are caught early enough they can usually be relatively easy to solve. In the picture above he is showing off his newly trimmed beak.

 

Operations such as these go hand-in-hand with caring for living collections such as those found at Harewood. Our annual vets bills are in excess of £15,000, that’s around 400 Individual memberships every year.

 

Igor is the first palm cockatoo to be hand raised at Harewood. We removed him from the nest at seven days old, as chicks have not recently been surviving with their parents during the last couple of breeding seasons. After four months of hand feeding the chick, he is now fledged (able to fly)  and almost fully weaned onto his adult diet. He will go on to play an important role in European breeding programme for this increasingly threatened species.

 

It’s Snow Laughing Matter – A Bird Garden Winter Update

Our Burrowing Owls in the snow. Picture by Francesca from our Bird Garden Team.

Last week saw West Yorkshire covered in snow, with Harewood forced to close to visitors due to the weather. In this blog, our Bird Garden Manager Nick Dowling explains how our feathered friends deal with the cold temperatures. 

Although most of the species we keep in the Bird Garden are cold hardy and well acclimatised to the Yorkshire weather, the recent low temperatures and snow have meant that some of the tropical birds such as the cockatoos and brown lorys have been making good use of their heated sheds. The flamingos have also been shut into the boat house while the lake has been frozen. Although naturally they are able to live at high altitudes and survive extremely low temperatures, a combination of long legs and slippery surfaces can cause problems for flamingos, so for their safety we keep them inside until the ice has melted.

Two of our Kookaburras enjoying (?) the snow. Photo by Francesca.

Another potential problem caused by the lake freezing are visits from foxes who travel across the ice to snoop around the bird garden at night. Keepers have the tiring task of breaking ice around the chain ferry and Capability boat jetties to ensure there is no easy access route for potential predators. Unfortunately our mother and son red crested turaco did not have the sense to roost indoors so our keepers Abby and Peter have had to use gentle encouragement and shut them in their warm house on an evening!

 

A frosty Penguin Pool ! Photo by Francesca.

Although from the Atacama Desert of Peru and Chile, the Humboldt penguins are quite content in the snow and often the younger members of the colony will chase snowflakes as they fall.  Due to the freezing cold currents in which they swim, as well as the cold desert nights, Humboldt penguins are well adapted to cope with the cold despite their status as a tropical penguin species. They have a layer of blubber under their skin for added insulation, as well as two layers of thick densely packed feathers for waterproofing and further protection against the cold.

 

Our Andean Condor isn’t too sure what to make of this snow…Photo by Abby, a member of our Bird Garden Team.

 

Some more feathered friends were out and about in the snow last week : 

A Greater rhea and Alpaca out for a snowy walk. Photo by Francesca.

Our Satyr tragopan standing out against the snowy backdrop with its bright feathers. Photo by Francesca.