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Learning at Harewood : Effective learning leads to change, development and the desire to learn more.


Girl outdoors looking at grass with magnifying glass

As an educational charity, learning is a central part of the work of Harewood House Trust. Learning is wide ranging – it may involve the development or deepening of skills, knowledge, awareness, values, ideas and feelings. Effective learning leads to change, development and the desire to learn more.


The environment and living responsibly are key objectives at Harewood. My role at Harewood is to look at this in a variety of ways – through our permanent collections in the House, Garden and Bird Garden, temporary exhibitions and our learning offer for all ages. We are fortunate that our collections unite science and art, nature and culture, giving us endless opportunity to further awareness and encourage individual agency through our programmes. For example, birds and plants enable us to look at loss of habitat and the subsequent displacement or threat of extinction. Our teams collaborate with external partners in Education and the Charity sector to train the next generation of professionals and develop new research in species conservation and environmental sustainability. Providing access to in-house expertise is a key part of how Harewood House Trust can contribute beyond its walls and be a cog in the wheel of progress globally.


The Harewood Biennial returns in 2022. It looks at the role Craft has to play in the world today, rooted in 250 years of craft and making at Harewood. Next year’s Biennial, ‘Radical Acts: Why Craft Matters’, will showcase contemporary craftspeople, designers and brands investigating regeneration in their work. As the exhibition’s curator Hugo Macdonald writes, “We speak of sustainability but to sustain means to keep going and we’ve already gone too far.” Learning will respond to this theme, working in partnership with exhibitors to create new resources and activities that encourage awareness and care of our planet. The Biennial Symposium in May 2022 will provide a platform to share views on how Craft knowledge can help build a more responsible way of living as individuals, communities and societies. Finally, part of each Biennial is long-term research into Craft and the Sustainable Economy. We embarked on an exciting project in partnership with the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds in 2019 that we are delighted will continue next year.



-Hannah Obee, Director of Collections, Programme and Learning


In 2021, as in 1850: Christmas Trees at Harewood


This week, nine huge Christmas trees have been delivered to Harewood, ready to be decorated by our brilliant volunteers for the festive season. Seven will stay outside, but two will stand in the House: one in the Entrance Hall, one in the Gallery among Upon a Christmas Wish. Getting a 15ft Nordmann Fir through several 3ft-wide doors and rooms full of priceless furniture and interiors is certainly not a piece of (Christmas) cake…

But first, let us take you back a few weeks to 10 September. At Stockeld Park, a few miles from Harewood, two members of the Harewood House Trust visitor engagement team are traipsing back and forth in a field of thousands of Christmas trees. We’re wearing winter jumpers in honour of the occasion – choosing the biggest, bushiest trees to decorate Harewood later in the year – unfortunately it’s nearly 20°C and we’re roasting!

Christmas tree shopping
“Are those two the same height?”

We push on nonetheless, looking for several pairs of trees. We need good matches, as they will be standing in pairs at the Arch, the Courtyard and on the Terrace; we also need them as tall as possible, so they don’t get lost in the grand surroundings of Harewood. This is surprisingly difficult, and we definitely get our daily step-count in as we walk to and fro to find matching trees! Once we’ve picked a tree, it gets a reservation label, ready for felling and transporting to Harewood later in the year.

Labelled and reserved for Harewood

On Tuesday, it was time for a team of several staff to get two Nordmann Firs into the House.

Dust sheets were wrapped around each tree, then ratchet straps drawn around the bundle to reduce the width, but without snapping any branches. It was then a case of carefully lifting each tree through the front door (the easy, wide one) and then, for the Gallery tree, through several further internal doors, only three feet wide.

Many pieces of furniture and ornaments have been moved out of harm’s way, but it’s still a tense process for the House Collections team, as the tree squeaks past 250-year old wallpaper, paintings and mirrors. “My only consolation is that it’s been done this way since 1850!” laughs Rebecca, Harewood’s Assistant Curator and Archivist. “Even though it makes us really anxious, the process makes you feel linked to all the Harewood staff who have been through exactly the same emotions over the years.”

We can infer that stress from the first reference to a Christmas tree at Harewood (that Rebecca has found so far), in the ‘Came and Went Away’ book – which was like a House visitor book, usually used to record all the family members and their guests arriving and leaving the house. It lists New Year’s Eve of December 1850, possibly referring to the tree being ‘taken away’, having been in the House through the Christmas period, though it may be that the tree was only in the House for one day. We do know that Christmas trees were popularised amongst the wealthy by an engraving that appeared in the London Illustrated News in 1848, of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their family stood around a Christmas tree. Harewood’s tree may well have been responding to this new fashion.

Reference to the Christmas tree in the Came and Went Away Book

“The Christmas Tree entry in the Came and Went Away Book was probably written by a member of staff like the Butler,” explains Rebecca. “Perhaps he decided to record the occasion of bringing in a tree because it was such novelty, and undoubtedly quite a physical (and messy!) challenge, just as we’re experiencing today.”

Despite the arduous process, in 1850 and in 2021 the trees were successfully brought in. They now stand ready and decorated, to be enjoyed by all the visitors to Harewood this Christmas season.


Book your tickets now to see Harewood’s Christmas trees and enjoy all the festive season has to offer.

From chopping up fruit in the morning to an afternoon in the office: A day in the life of Bird Garden Intern Joel

Joel with a Brown Lory on his arm

In August, Joel joined Harewood as a Bird Garden Intern. In our latest blog, he reflects on how he came to intern for Harewood, an average day on site and shares his plans for the future.

I’m Joel and I worked as a Bird Garden intern at Harewood in August. I grew up in and attended schools in East Leeds. This summer I graduated from the University of Leeds with a degree in Environmental science, which included a year abroad at Osaka university in Japan. My degree was centred around the interactions between the Earth systems and how human activity has and continues to impact the environment we live in.

During my studies at university, I volunteered at RSPB Fairburn Ings. This consisted largely of site management, ensuring that the reserve was suitable for both guests and wildlife. 

My ideal career would have a good balance of field and office work, perhaps as a consultant ecologist with a specialisation in insects. I would like my work to be centred around conservation, creating environments in which humans and nature can coexist.

The Plus Programme, part of the Access to Leeds scheme at my university, made me aware of this opportunity in an emailed newsletter. The plus programme gives extra support and opportunities as well as events to students from underrepresented backgrounds at Leeds University. The application process, as the first (of hopefully many) Bird Garden intern at Harewood, was straightforward. I just sent off my CV and attended a 30-minute informal interview. 

Joel cutting fruit

A typical day starts off with chopping up fruit and veg for the farm animals and birds. Then after clean-up and a quick tea break, it’s feeding time. Feeding the animals involves checking the enclosures and furnishings are in good condition and ensuring they have access to clean water. It is also important to check the condition of the animals and monitor their behaviours. Knowing individual animals, as well as typical behaviour for species, may indicate something- such as breeding or illness. Understanding this means a healthy and happy collection, as the keepers can act accordingly.

Joel sat at the computer

The afternoon sometimes involves a miscellaneous task, which ranges from cleaning out enclosures, monitoring animal introductions to moving bits and pieces about the bird garden. Then it’s to the office for some much-appreciated time off of my feet. Office work revolves around ZIMS, a zoo collection management software. ZIMS functions as a pseudo bird garden news, in which the day’s occurrences are reported. Animal movements, births, deaths, behaviours, vet reports, worming and weights all need to be recorded. Keeping records of the animals and their enclosures gives us a good knowledge base to refer back to. Then after that, it’s home time.

My favourite parts about being the Bird Garden intern was the practical experience I gained, as well as the knowledge the team shared with me whilst doing this. I enjoyed learning about the behind-the-scenes aspects of managing a zoo. What works best isn’t always simple and straightforward, when working with animals your approach has to be tailored to the individual. Seeing and learning about this process surprised me and was super interesting. The team was always happy to share their knowledge with me and answer any questions I had. Feeding the animals was also really fun. The Striated Caracaras and Andean Condors were good to feed, as they are very keen feeders, albeit a bit intimidating. The Brown Lorries were very entertaining to feed too, and I loved that as I spent more time with them during working here, they began to trust me more, to the extent that they make it difficult for me to leave their enclosure without them on me. It was also a bit disconcerting saying hello to them, and having them answer me back! 

After I finish this internship, I will be learning to drive so that I am able to find a job as a graduate ecologist. Working at Harewood has certainly enhanced my skill set and will definitely aid me in my search. 

A Photographic Tour of the West Indies

an old photograph of the Barbados Coast


In 1906, the Lascelles family set sail in their yacht, the Dolores, for a several month-long holiday to the Caribbean. Accompanied by domestic staff and a crew of 14 men, the family visited at least six West Indian islands on their island-hopping tour: Barbados; Trinidad; Grenada; Martinique; Dominica and Jamaica. 

Photograph of The Dolores Boat

The Dolores

Photograph of the Crew of the Dolores

The Dolores Crew



Unusually, the trip is known to us only through photographs – those taken by Florence, the 5th Countess of Harewood – who was a keen amateur photographer, and who compiled and annotated her photographs in albums. The photographs that document the family’s West Indian trip show that they often visited popular tourist destinations, though the family also visited several of their estates in Barbados. 


Two centuries earlier, Edwin Lascelles, builder of Harewood House, had been born on the island of Barbados. This country became the epicentre of the Lascelles family’s business interests in the West Indian sugar trade, a trade that thrived on the systematic and brutal exploitation of trafficked Africans. At its peak, Edwin owned or managed a total of 24 West Indian sugar plantations, which included over 3000 enslaved individuals. These individuals were considered chattels (property that was not land), having been stripped of their rights and identities, and forced to work under brutal conditions. 


Following the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, many of the Lascelles family’s remaining estates were sold off, though by 1906, the Lascelles family still had possession of four plantations in Barbados – Fortescue, Thicket, Mount and Belle. The 5th Countess took a small number of photographs of Mount and Belle, capturing some of the individuals who most likely lived and worked there during the 20th century. Further research is needed to understand more about the plantation’s workforce and management during this period. 

The Mount Estate, Barbados (Owned by the Lascelles family from 1780 – 1974).

View of Bridgetown, Barbados












During their stay in Barbados, the family also visited its capital, Bridgetown, which had, during the 17th and 18th centuries, been a British trading port for sugar and enslaved Africans. Henry Lascelles – father of Edwin – had once been the town’s Collector of Customs, which had enabled him to invest in every aspect of the 18th century sugar and slave trades. The family also visited a number of nearby landmarks, such as Cole’s Cave. During the 19th and early 20th century, Cole’s Cave was (and remains to this day) a popular destination for tourists, known for its underground rivers and geological features. The cave was also known to have been a refuge for escaped enslaved individuals during the 18th century.

Photographs taken whilst on an excursion to Cole’s Cave, Barbados.

Photographs taken whilst on an excursion to Cole’s Cave, Barbados.












From Barbados, the family travelled south to Trinidad, then back north to the Windward Islands. During this part of the journey, the Dolores navigated past St Vincent – an island with a territory smaller than the size of Leeds. This was a deliberate route that enabled them to return George ‘Bertie’ Robinson – the Lascelles family’s footman, who had been brought to Harewood by the 5th Earl and Countess following one of their previous trips to the West Indies – to his country of birth. Bertie had accompanied the family on their trip, presumably fulfilling his role as footman until disembarking for St Vincent. One of the 5th Countess’ annotated photographs identifies Bertie (and a large trunk) being rowed to shore in a small boat. The intention was probably to drop Bertie off on St Vincent where he would remain, however archival records document that he made his way back to Harewood independently. Find out more about Bertie Robinson’s story here. 

“Bertie landing, St Vincent”.

Finally, the family headed westwards to Jamaica. Jamaica was one of the leading sugar producers in the world during the 18th and early 19th centuries. It was also the location of 8 of the Lascelles family’s historic estates, which together had a total acreage of over 20,000. The 5th Countess’ photographs show that the family took a ride on the now abandoned rail line between the town of Bog Walk in the Parish of St Catherine and Port Antonio on the northeast coast of Jamaica. The rail line was built in the late 19th century to enable the easy transportation of goods, such as bananas and citrus fruits, for shipping. The rail line passed through the town of ‘Harewood’ (which had its own station – ‘Harewood Halt’) that took its name from the nearby Williamsfield plantation. Williamsfield had been one of the largest former Lascelles sugar plantations, which had been worked by almost 300 enslaved individuals. No doubt the Lascelles family stopped off during their sojourn along the line to visit the Jamaican town that had taken (or perhaps been given) their name – whether they understood the full and lasting impact of their family’s business interests on the island and its inhabitants beyond historic place names is unlikely. 

Images taken from the Bog Walk to Port Antonio railway



Images taken from the Bog Walk to Port Antonio railway











The 5th Countess’ photographic record of the Lascelles family’s 1906 Caribbean tour offers a rare visual glimpse into the life and landscapes of the West Indies in the early 20th century, however it is one that is undeniably nuanced and idiosyncratic. Florence’s images are framed by her perspective as a wealthy White British tourist and landowner, one that was both aristocratic and female, and who also had a family history that was intertwined with that of the region and its people. 


View the full album of photographs and explore more about the Lascelles family’s 1906 trip to the West Indies here.

Arboriculture in Action

If you’ve visited Harewood this week, you’ll have seen that part of the Lakeside Walk is closed as some arboricultural work is done on a beautiful beech tree on the path.

Arboriculture – or the cultivation, management and study of trees and shrubs – is a constant feature of life at Harewood, with thousands of trees within the grounds that need careful attention for the tree’s health and for visitor safety. This beech is rotting, so it’s being reduced by 40% to keep it standing and alive for many more years.

The beech from the other side of the lake – the tallest tree in the centre of the image.

Examining the beech tree

This particular tree is a beech, Fagus sylvatica, approximately 300 – 350 years old. Toadstools (which are the fruiting bodies) of the fungus Pholiotus, ‘Shaggy parasol’, which grows on rotten wood, began to appear on the tree, which prompted us to look deeper into the tree’s physical state.

PiCUS tomography measures sound waves as they travel through the tree. The solidity of the wood dictates how fast they travel, allowing us to see a cross section through the stem.

The brown on this tomograph shows good healthy wood; green is wood in transition; and purple & blue shows rotten/dead wood. A tree can still be very stable if it has at least 70% brown around the outside, but as we can see, our beech has gone beyond this point.

This is a resistograph, showing the results of drilling into the root buttresses with a very fine, long drill. The amount of resistance the drill encounters gives an idea of how solid the wood is, up to a metre’s depth.

A further proof of the tree’s internal rooting is the Ganoderma fungus, ‘Beech heart-rot’ – this has just started to show on the surface, and has caused the dead wood inside.

Reducing the tree

We were advised to reduce the height of the beech by 40%. This reduces the weight that needs to be borne by the rotting stem, as well as mitigating the ‘wind sail’ effect. The smaller tree should stand for many more years; without the reduction, we might have seen the tree fall across the path within one or two years.

Arborists who have taken care of Harewood’s trees for many years are on site this week. They have rigged up an ‘English Reeve’, a rope system, between our beech and a large tree a few metres down the path (requiring around 500m of rope!). This will allow them to move the cut branches at canopy level, then drop them onto a clear section of path, to avoid damaging any smaller trees under the beech.

The beech with its rigging

The view across the lake may look slightly different, but we’re glad that this work will keep a beautiful tree standing for years to come.