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Behind the Scenes

Rollerskates and giant crackers, childhood Christmas memories

LadyEmily_ShardportraitWhat was the atmosphere like in Harewood House when you were growing up in the run-up to Christmas? This is just one of the questions we asked Lady Emily Shard, daughter of the current Earl, David Lascelles.

We spent a lot of Christmas here when myself and my brothers was younger in the 70’s and 80’s.

We tended to spend much of the daytime in the Library. There would be a roaring fire (often with wet dogs drying out in front from a morning walk) and hundreds and hundreds of Christmas cards tucked between the books. I was always amazed that my grandparents could know so many people.

There would be a large and rambling family walk round the lake at some point. Although, having three children myself now, I am now sure getting everyone into coats and wellies and out the door took almost as long as the walk!

In the evenings we would tend to be upstairs in the private apartments – myself and my brothers shared the old nursery so we would play there, while the grown-ups got dressed up for dinner in the private dining room.

Do you have any particularly special memories of Christmas at Harewood?

Giant crackers and table decorations!

Our main Christmas dinner was held in the evening in the private dining room – the table was always laid in full glory with all the silver and glassware, with a Christmassy table centre to keep us children entertained. And after we had eaten, we would pull a giant cracker full of little gifts and party hats. In my memory it was around 10-foot-long and took everyone to pull it…looking back at old photos they were actually probably closer to 4-foot-long but the memories are magic.

Another powerful memory was the year myself and my brothers got rollerskates for Christmas! It was before the Terrace Galley existed and that space was open and flat and crucially since the weather was bad, undercover…we spent hours skating round down there, spinning round the columns and trying to avoid plummeting down the steps and into the doors to the parterre.

Was there and is there a lot of hustle and bustle at Harewood in anticipation of Christmas?

In my childhood it was mostly family members for Christmas itself, and the New Year gathering my grandparents threw always had lots of friends as well, so tons of people staying and lots of hustle and bustle. However, at that time the house was not open to the public during the winter, so many parts of the state floor were pretty shut down – festive celebrations tended to happen in the Library and private apartment. I am not clear how much of that was a self imposed ban for the children but I do not remember spending time on the rest of the State Floor, and certainly the less occupied bits of the house had a tendency to be jolly chilly!

Nowadays I think there is fantastic festive cheer all over the house at Christmas. We have so many committed staff and volunteers here and in the run up to the Christmas opening the whole place is a-buzz with preparations. As an educational charitable trust we have worked to open many more areas of the house that were little used when I was a child – this enables Harewood to welcome more people and gives us the opportunity to show even more of Harewood’s amazing past, present and future.

You can visit Harewood every day except Christmas Day and Boxing Day until Sunday 5 January. Find out more about the Christmas House here. 

Rocking into Christmas

NLYW-Harewood House Christmas Illumination

Date:20th November 2019.
Picture James Hardisty.

Amongst the many objects in Harewood’s collection, there are some that hold not just historic value, but emotional value too.

A children’s rocking horse is one of these items. It’s on display at the moment in the Main Library as part of  Harewood’s Christmas, A Night in the Mansion, in this family-focused room where it might just have been when the family lived here.

It’s a beautiful early 20th century wooden horse and was most probably a Christmas gift in 1927, from the 5th Earl of Harewood to his grandsons, George and Gerald Lascelles. It was purchased in the Leeds department store, the Grand Pygmalion, just at the junction of Boar Lane and Trinity Street.

There’s a detailed letter from Princess Mary to her mother that describes the family festivities that year:

“Our Xmas day went off very well. We went out to Hold Communion at 8 and then to Church at 10.45. Then we went for a walk. I unpacked some presents. After luncheon the children came down and my father-in-law gave them a rocking horse which they much appreciate. It snowed off and in the afternoon we did not go out. The children played downstairs for a bit. I opened my letters etc. After tea Robert Doyne dressed up as Father Christmas and brought the children presents as well as a large cracker. We spent a most cheerful day and evening. We had the Xmas Tree on Xmas Eve and the children very much enjoyed it….”

Find out more about Christmas at Harewood A Night at the Mansion

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Making Christmas…Davy & Kris take us behind the scenes

Harewood Christmas_TomArber_davykrisDavy & Kris McGuire created the mesmerising installation for this year’s Christmas experience, A Night at the Mansion. We delved behind the scenes on their creation…

What are the details around the technology you are using? Is it something specific?

We are mostly using pretty standard projectors, the type you find in conference rooms or home cinemas. And what is thrown at the wall are literally just movies that have been edited and rendered specifically for the surface we are projecting onto. If you were to see those films on a screen you’d be surprised how weird and non-sensical they look. They only come to life in combination with the fabric of the building.
The films are looped on tiny, almost credit card sized computers called Raspberry Pi which you can find in children’s hands in computer science classes.

How do you create the projections?

We follow the same process that other film makers follow: You start with a vision and a story. Then a scriptwriter comes on board and writes all the dialogue, for Harewood we commissioned Christina Lewis. Then you cast your actors and you film them. In our case we mostly shoot them in front of green screens or with a very uncomfortable, weighted helmet/camera contraption on their heads (to film their eyes and mouths in a very particular way). Then you edit and comp that footage into what we call projection mapping kits. What we do differently from traditional film makers is the next step. We don’t finish here but we take those footage kits and splash them onto the wall where we map every pixel to the right spot on the chosen projection surface. This last process takes place in situ and it’s the reason why we stayed 3 weeks at Harewood prior to the opening.

How hard was it to line up the projections with the porcelain and the ceiling for example, it’s so precise, how is this possible?

As projection mapping artists you know the right tricks and softwares to help with pulling and pushing pixels into the right direction. It’s neither easy nor hard, it’s a technique you’ve got to learn. What is hard is making sure that the projections stay in place after you’ve mapped them, especially in buildings where you can’t drill into anything. When projectors heat up their focus can change and the projection can go wonky. If your projection surface (for example paper in different humidity conditions) has a life of its own the mapping can lose its precision. If audiences touch or kick projectors they can dislocate the mapping. So that part can be much more nerve wrecking and time consuming than lining up the projections initially.

What’s different/special about what you do from a tech perspective?

We think that we bring something special to projection mapping through our background in dance and theatre. We think in characters and stories whereas a lot of projection mapping artists think primarily in audiovisual effects.

The music was commissioned – can you tell us what the brief was and who you worked with?

We worked with a brilliant composer called Spesh Maloney (one visitor asked whether we had used Händel or Haydn for the porcelain figures!) and we briefed him by either describing what we need or sending him musical references. For A Night at the Mansion it was a mix of describing the atmosphere we wanted to create for each room, suggesting instruments, asking for a mood (a melancholy mood for the gallery figures for example), filming one of us ‘singing’ the idea we had in our head to our phone camera and sending the video to Spesh (don’t ask to see this please) and sometimes Spesh would just send a track as a suggestion from his side. Towards the end of the install Spesh joined us in the house and mastered each sound to fit the acoustics of the room. That’s when the portraits got a slight musical backing track for example – to disguise the musical noise bleed from the music in the room next door.

How long did the project take to create, aside from the installation?

We started with technical site visits at the end of July and then went more or less exclusively until the opening. So 4 months, whilst gently keeping other projects cooking on the side.

Find out more about Christmas at Harewood: A Night at the Mansion here

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Looking after the books at Harewood

HarewoodChristmas_Spanish_LibraryNow when you visit this library you can see the incredible Christmas display, focused entirely around books and their pages.

Book consolidation is part of a rolling programme of conservation projects for the Collections Care team. When Harewood closed to the public at the end of October, the thousands of books in the three libraries were a primary focus for conservation and care. For three weeks each morning, we collected books from the Spanish Library, making sure to note what shelf they were from. Then each book was lightly dusted off using a shaving brush (as these are curved just like the outside edges of a book) into a hoover covered with gauze. Any books that had corners that were delaminating were then placed on a book support, to take pressure off the spine and binding.

They were then glued using Rex Prepared Paste before being held together with a silicone coated paper (which doesn’t stick to the prepared paste), cardboard squares and a clamp overnight, to ensure that they dried straight. The glue was also used to consolidate any leather that was starting to delaminate. Once they had dried any books with leather bindings were polished using Marney’s Conservation Leather Dressing, before their conservation entry was updated on our database and returned to their correct shelf.

With over 11,000 books on the State Floor, you can see why their consolidation has to be carried out as a rolling programme!

You can read more about the Spanish Library. 

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Of Landscape and Literature, pause for thought with head gardener, Trevor Nicholson


Having always loved words, especially literature relating to landscapes, plants and gardens, I was delighted to accept an invitation from the Ilkley Literature Festival, to speak at their reception for the Festival Friends at the Ilkley Playhouse in October.

Throughout the 25 years I’ve worked at Harewood, shaping and re-planting the gardens and engaging with all the different elements within them, studying literature has given me a rich insight into the stylistic and cultural history of gardens, as well as a deep appreciation of landscape.
Poetry has been an important source of inspiration for me, as well as a guiding light, especially in the making of Harewood’s Himalayan Garden. This garden, with its meandering paths leading to a Buddhist Stupa, flowery glades, rocky slopes, stream and waterfall – all surrounded by a borrowed wilderness of tree tops stretching far beyond its boundary – evokes a scene in a Himalayan valley.

At an early stage in my musings about the potential future development of this special part of the gardens, a poem by Li Po made a lasting impression:

You ask me why I dwell in the green mountain
I smile and make no reply for my heart is free of care
As the peach blossom which flows downstream and is
gone into the unknown
I have a world apart that is not among men.

Probably as a result of formative wanderings through the ruggedly picturesque landscape around Teesdale, I felt an empathy with the ethereal charm of this garden many years ago, even before discovering Li Po’s beautiful poem, in which he describes his feeling of total peace and perfect solitude whilst dwelling in a mountain retreat – a natural world, entirely removed from city life.

From its creation by the 6th Earl of Harewood and Princess Mary in the 1930’s and their connections with the great plant hunters, to the present Earl’s building of the Harewood Stupa in 2004 and botanical journeys to the Himalayas to inform the cultivation of a new plant collection, the story of this garden is a fascinating one and continues to evolve.

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