Archive for the ‘Key people’ Category

Key people: The curator

April 5, 2010

Curator Sarah Kay carrying cutlery to the dining room at Attingham. ©NTPL/David Levenson

Curators are central to any decisions about acquisitions for National Trust historic houses. They provide the art-historical expertise to assess the importance and relevance of the objects being considered. The regional curators of the National Trust each advise on a portfolio of properties in a particular area of the country.

Sarah Kay and Peter Brears putting the finishing touches to the table setting. ©NTPL/David Levenson

Apart from acquisitions, curators also advise on the redisplay of the interiors. Every so often new discoveries are made about how these houses were used or arranged. At Attingham Park, near Shrewsbury, curator Sarah Kay recently organised the redisplay of the dining room. She worked with food historian Peter Brears to accurately recreate the look of a lavish Regency-period dinner. 

©NTPL/David Levenson

Rooms like these came into their own at night, seen by candle- and lamplight. At Attingham the matt Pompeian red walls, the red Turkey carpet and the mahogany doors create an enveloping sense of comfort. This provides the backdrop for the white chimneypiece, doorframes and tablecloth, and the gilded picture frames and ceiling.

©NTPL/David Levenson

But of course it is the table setting that is meant to be the centre of attention. The table was laid in accordance with service à la russe, which meant that the dessert course was in place in the centre of the table during the entire meal. This allowed the diners to admire the display of ornate centrepieces, hothouse fruits and intricate sugarwork.

Peter Brears with one of his recreations. ©NTPL/David Levenson

Peter Brears used a popular handbook of the period, G.A. Jarrin’s The Italian Confectioner, as a source for the various sugarwork shapes and the artifical meats and fruits. He also studied the contemporary French dessert moulds recently acquired by the Bowes Museum. A detailed account of the project was published in the 2008 National Trust Historic Houses and Collections Annual.

Key people: The property manager

March 5, 2010


Michael Smith, Property Manager at Croome Court. ©NTPL/Layton Thompson

In this post, the first in an occasional series about the people involved in the acquisition process, I want to feature the property manager. At the historic houses and estates of the National Trust the property manager more or less takes on the role that the owner would have had in the past – although, for better or for worse, he or she has to do without the deference and the priviledged lifestyle. 

Croome Court, Worcestershire, in its park designed by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

The content of the job varies enormously from property to property. A manager might run a group of small properties, or a large single property that includes an agricultural estate and perhaps even a village. At some properties the focus is on the architecture of the main house and its contents, while at others the garden or park might be the most important element. Different properties attract different types of visitors. 

Sian Harrington, Property Manager at Osterley Park. ©NTPL/Matthew Antrobus

But in all cases the property manager has overall responsibility for the running of the place: from car parks, ticket sales and building maintenance to tea rooms, volunteers and concerts. Because of their key role, people like Michael Smith at Croome Court and Sian Harrington at Osterley Park are always involved in the discussion about a potential acquisition. 

Osterley Park, Middlesex, with its portico inserted by Robert Adam into the earlier, Elizabethan house. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

Each acquisition is decided on its merits. The criteria to be considered include the intrinsic importance of the object, its relevance to the house and estate, whether it can be suitably and safely displayed, what its condition is and whether funds can be found to meet the costs involved.