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Gathering Dust – Monitoring Dust on the State Floor

With the House opening for a new season, after almost seven months closed, the welcome return of visitors and staff means higher levels of dust.

Collections Care Assistant, Amy, is therefore working on a programme of dust monitoring across the State Floor to highlight how frequently objects need cleaning, so the team can effectively allocate resources, and establish the impact high visitors numbers, the grass being cut, or rock salt in the Winter months has on the levels and types of dust found. On your next visit to the State Floor, well-trained eyes may spot some of the two types of monitoring stations.


A Microscope Slide placed on the State Floor

Microscope slides have been placed on flat polished surfaces to establish how many days, on average, before the dust build up obscures the glossy finish and needs gently removing. Whilst dust can attract pests and become fixed to the surface if it is left, frequent cleaning can also cause damage, especially to delicate surfaces or areas of existing damage.


A sticky dust monitor that has been placed on the State Floor.


Sticky dust monitors have also been placed around the State Floor. These are made from archival grade, acid free board, with double sided sticky tape, and are 2cm by 2cm to make them as small and inconspicuous as possible. After a variable amount of time the sticky dust monitors will be collected in and analysed under a microscope.


Over the past few months, Amy has created a reference guide with microscope images of all the textiles and fibres that can be found across the State Floor, as well as the floors, the Collections Care black jumpers, pollen and grass outside, and hair and skin flakes. When the sticky monitors are analysed under the microscope the guide will help establish what is causing the dust and whether any extra measures can be implemented to minimise the dust. Here’s just a few things that have been found under the microscope…


Dry Soot and Rainwater.

Underlay Fibres

and even a Booklouse !



Looking after Harewood’s 10,000 + books – Our Library Guardians

There are more than 10,000 books held within the 3 libraries – Main, Spanish and Old Library- at Harewood, collected by every generation of the Lascelles family and covering a range of different genres. A dedicated team of Library volunteers check the details of more than 11,000 books on the online catalogue, and adding extra information about their condition, contents, bindings, illustrations etc. This #VolunteersWeek, Kathy, Paul, Susan and Raymond take us through the work they do and what brought them to volunteering at Harewood. 

“It is interesting to imagine who has read the books over the years.”

Retired Librarian 

My name is Kathy and I am a retired librarian, working with a small team of 3 other volunteers to update the catalogue for the library collection at Harewood. We are checking the details of all the more than 11,000 books on the online catalogue, and adding extra information about their condition, contents, bindings, illustrations etc.

Many of the books are 200 to 300 years old, and some are rare and valuable. What makes them especially interesting are the personal histories shown in many of the books. They contain bookplates and armorials belonging to the member of the family who collected them. They often have inscriptions showing who gave the book as a birthday or Christmas present, or who presented the book to show their esteem. Sometimes there are notes in the margins, and occasionally some doodles (such as those where a member of the family was getting bored during a long church service). Some contain sketches done by members of the family.

It is a privilege to work with so many old and rare books. It is interesting to imagine who has read the books over the years. Some of them are in quite a fragile state, with covers loose or detached, leather deteriorating, spines becoming split and corners damaged. We have to be as careful as possible when we are cataloguing these volumes so that we do not damage them further. They have to be preserved temporarily by taping them together, and handling them as little as possible. Conserving these books properly is a huge and ongoing task, but one which is certainly worth doing.

“I very nearly said ‘no’ to an offer to work at Harewood; I am so glad I didn’t.”

Former British Library employee

When I left the British Library and the best part of thirty years spent cataloguing I didn’t want to catalogue another book and I very nearly said ‘no’ to an offer to work at Harewood; I am so glad I didn’t. I was worried about being ‘stuck at home’ on my own all day and every day through the long, cold and wet Yorkshire winters.

The day I come here is often the best day of the week as I become a working person again, I get up early, dress smartly(?), and have a peaceful commute as I am able to leave home later than most people and the roads are quieter. I work in pleasant surroundings with friendly colleagues, no pressure, and the feeling that I am doing something useful again. As we only work in the mornings of our one day a week, I often stay at Harewood in the afternoons in summer, walk in the gardens, or sit and read. I love the Himalayan garden most of all. I previously worked in an anonymous office building on the edge of an industrial estate — here the house and gardens provide an exceptional environment. All this is of course conducive to better mental health in this age when we have suddenly discovered its importance.

“The rewards of working with congenial companions, in overwhelmingly beautiful surroundings, with such an amazing collection of books, and, crucially, no deadlines or statistics to achieve, have been enough to keep me at Harewood ever since.”

Library Volunteer since 2013

In 2003 I responded to an advert sent to the British Library asking for volunteers to join a team working on a new Library Project at Harewood House. I was due to retire shortly and this was a perfect opportunity for me to continue working with books as I have done all my life. I was told that there were already two qualified librarians, transferring records from the existing 20th century card catalogue onto a database. This was the first phase of preparing an on-line catalogue of all the books in the three libraries on the State Floor.

Coming to Harewood was an opportunity to immerse myself in a worthwhile project, helping to secure the future for a valuable and remarkable collection of largely rare books. The rewards of working with congenial companions, in overwhelmingly beautiful surroundings, with such an amazing collection of books, and, crucially, no deadlines or statistics to achieve, have been enough to keep me at Harewood ever since.

During the pandemic we unfortunately had to suspend activity for a while, but I am glad to say that we are now back at Harewood, though we have to work on different days and in different locations. We shall no longer be working as the tightly-knit group we were before, but we shall do our best. I don’t mind working on my own, but I do enjoy being in the libraries, surrounded by beautiful furniture and books and able to chat from time to time with staff, volunteers and visitors.

We do still get asked why we are not wearing white gloves when we handle such precious books, but we tell them that experts consider that bare hands are safer and more sensitive than gloves and thus do less harm.

“I began having ‘Wow’ moments, when a hand written document from a member of the Royal Family or famous people writing to the various Earls dropped from the pages.”

Retired Dentist 

This retired dentist decided there was more to life than teeth. And so, having helped Special Needs children to read and then joining the Leeds University Library as a mover and shelving assistant for six years ending in Special Collections working with important documents, I discovered that Harewood House needed volunteers. I spent two years talking to visitors about the house and its history, all the time looking enviously at the library books and wishing I could get involved with them. Then, lo and behold, I was invited to join the team. My first job, which lasted six years, was to list all the books in the Bazaar Room and the shelves outside the offices and in adjacent rooms.

In came boxes and boxes of books spanning the various ages of the house, from religious volumes to children’s books and novels galore. There are also many years of hand-written weather books of Harewood. I began having ‘Wow’ moments. These were when a hand written document from some member of the Royal Family or famous people writing to the various earls dropped from the pages. I spent the next nine years creating catalogue cards for each volume with author, title, publisher, date of publication and a number. About 3,600 of these books have been entered on the data base and are being archived in detail.

Volunteering for Real World Experience

This #VolunteersWeek, Megan takes us through a day in the life of a Bird Garden Volunteer and how volunteering at Harewood is contributing towards her qualifications. 

My name is Megan and I’m one of the Bird Garden volunteers, I have always had a huge love for animals and I’m currently studying to gain a CMZAAV qualification (Certificate in the Management of Zoo and Aquarium animals) which requires that I volunteer to gain real world experience. I feel incredibly lucky that I’m able to do this at Harewood and work with some of the most amazing animals. My personal favourites are the Humboldt penguins which I’ve learnt to identify, such as Beaky who many of us have a huge soft spot for. Many of my course studies are based on the animals in the collection such as researching their behaviours to further understand them, including how we care, protect and save them. I’m currently working on a project observing Brown Lory behaviours to understand how much they interact with visitors.

A day in the bird garden starts off with preparing the food for all the 50 species of birds – this means a lot of dishes! Once the food is prepped its time to feed and check they are all looking healthy, we do this by just keeping an eye out for any unusual behaviour. Once everyone’s fed, a lot of my time is spent tending to the bird enclosures, often weeding and cleaning. The best part for me is scrubbing down the penguin pools, it’s quite a smelly job but I love it!

Harewood is a fantastic place to volunteer, there is nothing better than being in the great outdoors with nature surrounding you. I am always happy to see visitors enjoying themselves and embracing a passion I hold so closely.

‘I am more confident and feel part of a family at Harewood’

“…volunteering has really made a massive difference to my life…”

Sam has volunteered in the gardens at Harewood for six years. “I wanted to share my story as volunteering has really made a massive difference to my life, I am more confident and feel part of a family at Harewood.”. Twelve years ago Sam suffered a head injury which left him with long term mental and physical health problems. Sam listened to a Monty Don Audiobook which discusses the healing power of gardens and gardening. Often in pain as a result of his injury, these words are really meaningful to Sam. Working in the fresh air, surrounded by stunning scenery and nature, Sam can be himself.

He also takes great pleasure in interacting with the visitors, sharing stories of the work he is involved with. Hearing visitors say how much they love visiting the Walled Garden makes his day and motivates Sam to continue to play his part in supporting the Grounds and Garden Staff and Volunteer Team.

This year Sam and his fellow volunteers have been working in the Walled Garden on the “no dig project”. Initially creating pathways and raising beds, then covering them with carboard or biodegradable carpet underlay, to minimise digging, suppress weeds and retain moisture.

Sam is a keen photographer and maintains a weekly photo diary to help him recall the work he does. His diary now runs to 1100 pages!

Harewood’s ‘Open History’

Harewood featured in at ITV documentary – ‘Has George Floyd Changed Britain’ – as charitable trust launches Open History programme continuing to explore its history and combat racism.

A year on since George Floyd was murdered, Sir Trevor McDonald and Charlene White examined how the UK has reacted to his death, its effect on the Black Lives Matter movement and ongoing conversations about racism in a one-hour documentary aired on ITV this evening.

David Lascelles, Earl of Harewood, spoke of what he, the Countess of Harewood and Harewood House Trust have done to address the estate’s heritage, commenting:

‘I think it’s a period of history that as a nation, we’ve not come to terms with properly. I think that, until we do, a lot of the divisions, a lot of the conflicts, can’t be resolved until we understand our history properly.’

The Trust and the Lascelles family have been at the forefront of acknowledging the estate’s colonial past for over 25 years. Being transparent about colonial history and ensuring the Trust hosts much-needed, and sometimes difficult conversations is vital to calling out racism, and to forging new connections with visitors and the communities of the cities and countryside around.

In the past, Harewood has commissioned artists of diverse heritage from Sonia Boyce to Rommi Smith, and openly engaged in discussions concerning its roots in the Lascelles family’s links to the Atlantic Slave Trade which culminated in a year-long programme of events to mark the Bicentenary of the Abolition of Slavery in 2007, notably featuring Geraldine Connor’s Carnival Messiah. 

The Trust continues this commitment to promoting and celebrating equality, diversity and inclusion, and to combating racism. It is central to Harewood’s programming aims, to working with its staff and volunteers, and working with the communities in and around Leeds and West Yorkshire.

2021 UP+OPEN:

Harewood’s Open History programme engages audiences with the urgent issues of our time, engendering empathy and understanding of these issues in order to celebrate diversity, whilst bringing Harewood’s colonial past into greater focus.

Launching on 12 June, Heritage Corner brings its unique brand of insightful Black History Walks to Harewood following the success of regular events in Leeds City Centre. In a walking story – A Storm at Harewood, stretched across the House and Grounds – Joe Williams and Vanessa Mudd explore inspiring black history and hidden connections to the splendours of Harewood in an imaginative, fun and family-friendly way through the guise of Pablo Fanque and his wife. Fanque, Britain’s first recorded circus owner of African heritage, brought his circus to the Harewood area in 1847. His circus pantomime was based on a plantation narrative, Obi, or Three Fingered Jack, which unusually places an African rebellion leader as hero and was very popular as a play in London’s West End for over two decades.

Joe Williams, Director of Heritage Corner, comments:

‘We aim to enhance positive engagement and discourse on race and social cohesion from a shared heritage perspective. Excluding shame and blame by intent, the aim is to inform and engender pride and hope for all visitors.’ 

Harewood have teamed up with Leeds-based DSRG (the Diasporian Stories Research Group) to bring to life the story of Harewood’s first known black member of staff, George ‘Bertie’ Robinson, who travelled with the 5th Earl and Countess from St Vincent to Leeds aged 13 to work for the Lascelles family. The display, Bertie Robinson: The Footman from St Vincent, shown on the State Floor from 17 May, is the first in an annual series which will celebrate and share the histories of people of African descent with Yorkshire connections throughout history. Bertie lived at Harewood from 1893–1922. Letters, diaries and photographs chart his life, as well as exploring the Lascelles’ links to the West Indies in the early 20th century, the impact of colonialism on St Vincent, and attitudes in Britain towards people of colour at that time.

On 26 June an exhibition by glassblower Chris Day will open in Harewood’s All Saints’ Church as part of a brand new Craft Spotlight series. The series provides a platform for emerging makers of diverse ethnicity. Inaugural artist Chris Day creates work to open conversations around Black history including the Transatlantic Slave Trade and under-representation of makers of diverse heritage in the craft sector. 

Hannah Obee, Harewood Director of Collections, Programme and Learning, comments:

‘A report published by Crafts Council prior to our 2019 Harewood Biennial, Useful/Beautiful: Why Craft Matters, stated that 96% of professional, full-time crafts people identified as White British. We had already decided this lack of diversity would be a key subject for debate – Craft Spotlight now acts as a consistent response to this lack of racial inequality in Craft.’


As part of the British Museum’s Where We Are programme, Harewood continues its long-standing relationship with the Geraldine Connor Foundation to work on a joint project with young people who define themselves as from the African diaspora. ‘Harewood is my House’ will see a group of ten young people define what they consider arts and culture, identify barriers to engagement and create a response that addresses a local need identified by them.

As a first step in Harewood’s action plan to increase diversity and inclusion, the Trust is prioritising local children of colour experiencing obstacles (financial and societal) to accessing Harewood’s collections and the site. This begins with reaching out to schools through free online teaching resources beginning with Bertie Robinson: The Footman from St Vincent.

The Trust also works with partners Bradford Prevent to develop free resources for use in Bradford Schools, funded by the Home Office. By sharing Harewood’s involvement in the slave trade, wider conversations around Black Lives Matter can be opened with students and upskill teachers to address diverging viewpoints through discussion.


Looking to the future, the Trust’s commitments as part of its continuing discourse around Harewood’s heritage and its responsibility to combat racism is something which it approaches through its programming in order to build engagement, empathy and understanding. 

A performance project with Leeds Playhouse is currently in development, future artists to feature in Craft Spotlight are in discussion and Harewood is looking ahead to the next subject in its series uncovering prolific Yorkshire figures of African descent, amongst other conversations.

Harewood is continuing to review its Learning Strategy and Plan to make explicit its commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion. Consultation with local young people, teachers and the wider community will shape our Learning offer to fit their needs so our collections are open to all.

The Trust also believes that empowering its staff to feel confident in having conversations about racism is paramount in combating racism. Every member of the team has undertaken unconscious bias training and is invited to regular all staff talks with guest speakers on such topics, and three company-wide working streams – People, Place and Programme – focus on how equality, diversity and inclusion are central to Harewood’s values.

Jane Marriott, Trust Director comments:

‘It is vital that we continue to call out racism and discrimination, that we use Harewood as a safe place in which to have open conversations and to bring communities together. Harewood can provide the knowledge and understanding of difficult histories, including our own, and it will lift-up marginalised voices, promoting equality, diversity and inclusion. 

‘Our commitment to being open and transparent about Harewood’s past has led to the creation of our Open History programme in 2021. This programme will engage our audiences with the urgent issues of our time in order to engender empathy and understanding so that we can truly celebrate the diversity of our society today.’

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