Tuesday saw Vicki (Assistant House Steward) and Sue (Conservation Assistant) tripping down the back steps from the Manor laden with Ergo vacuum cleaner, an impressive array of brushes and cloths and a camera and light meter reader for good measure. Their mission – to clean Charles Wade’s cottage prior to the final Tea and Tour event of the season on Friday – and to multi-task by taking some photos for the blog and carry out routine light readings.
The tours are an opportunity for visitors to enjoy a slap-up afternoon tea and an exclusive insight behind the scenes in the cottage where Mr and Mrs Wade lived. Mr Wade never intended to live in the Manor house; that was for his collection the humble Priest’s House was to be his home. Normally visitors would only be able to peek in the sitting room and bedroom over partitions, so in effect the cottage is a set of rooms with barriers which are not cleaned as part of the daily routine. When we do clean, there is always plenty of dust, together with cobwebs, spiders and other pests small and large to contend with.
Mr Wade’s friend Richard Kayll writes of the sitting room in 1930: “A painted wooden cat, a leather porter’s chair, spits, bundles of old umbrellas racked overhead, glass apothecaries’ jars reflecting sharp points of light from polished steel and brass. This room of Rembrandt half tone and shadow differed from anything I expected”
Nothing much has changed, indeed this description is helpful in guiding us to the Spirit of Place we want to create – nothing too polished, glints in the shadows, a strangely homely collection of paraphernalia. However, so many objects on display present their own housekeeping problems and it can take quite a while to remove the dust from surfaces covered in the curious items that were once commonplace in cottage kitchens. The stone steps leading up to the old copper are strewn with wooden butter and biscuit moulds and in amongst these, if we are very lucky, we will discover a dead mouse – cue shattering of Rembrandt scene with girly shrieking! There are always lots of dead woodlice to be vacuumed up too – no doubt they come from the crumbly stone walls and damp flagstones.
On, then, up and down more wonky stone steps, to Mr Wade’s workshop, where similar challenges face us in surfaces totally covered in tools, old tins, craft projects in progress. As with the rest of the cottage, space is tight for wielding vacuum cleaners but as it is a workshop you might expect a degree of sawdust and grime. The semi-circular paned window is a magnet for cobwebs covered in stone dust whipped up by the fierce Cotswold wind, which can form thick ropes only too quickly. Not wishing to gender stereotype, but the gentlemen do love this ‘man’s den’. The back of the door is thrillingly thick with paint where Mr Wade experimented in the creation of the shade ‘Wade Blue’.
Out of the front door and more steps lead us up to Mr Wade’s bedroom (Griffon), Mrs Wade’s room (Unicorn) and the bathroom. ‘Griffon’ appears to be the largest of the cottage rooms perhaps because it is not as full of artefacts as the two previous rooms, although what is there is hardly conventional bedroom furniture. The high beamed ceiling is too difficult to reach on a routine clean and will have to wait until the closed season. The dust loves the flat expanse of the top of a large desk – we try to keep on top of this sort of ‘fur coat’ even if we are pressed for time. The room is dominated by a golden altar-like chest, and a magnificent crucifix, made by Mr Wade, reaching up into the rafters. We have plans for this feature in the future, funds willing, hoping to softly light the altar and reveal the wonderful workmanship of the crucifix.
A small door in the corner of Mr Wade’s bedroom leads to the room he called ‘Unicorn’, which was Mrs Wade’s room. Avoiding concussing ourselves on the low beam and door lintel (perhaps Mrs Wade had this problem, too?) we negotiate more steep stone steps to descend into what was until recently a forlorn storage space. The manor team have only re-instated it in recent years. Only paper ephemera and an old blue hat remained of Mrs. Wade’s belongings so we had good fun collecting the kind of objects a fashionable (in the 1940-50’s) woman might own, bearing in mind her love of travel and highlighting the collision between her modern world and his determination to preserve the past. Now the sunlight filters pleasantly through soft muslin curtains and one can imagine Mrs Wade sipping tea and flicking through her latest cruise brochure. Our visitors are often curious about Mrs Wade and on the tour this is a good room to stop and chat about her.
Unicorn is quickly cleaned and we advance bravely on to our final stop: the bathroom. With all the recent media on the National Trust tours of the Big Brother House, I wonder what the ‘celebs’ would have made of Mr Wade’s spartan but functional bathing arrangements. No high jinks in the Jacuzzi here but instead a queue in the cold for the only bathing and toilet facilities on the property, with the added frisson of the possibility of an attack by the pet peacock. Today, the spiders have done their worst. The bath is their playground and they have spun a zip wire from the tip of a carved angel’s wing to the beam above, where it catches the light from the cobwebby window. I feel rather mean, spoiling their fun. But for us, just one last photograph, the light levels are noted and our work is done. Time for lunch.