Genius Loci

Genius Loci

Originally referring to the presiding protective deity or spirit of the place, in contemporary usage, ‘genius loci’, refers to a location’s distinctive placeness, that is its past, current and future essence. In place making, the intention of creating place is embedded in evoking a deeper and more intuitive relationship between people and the places they inhabit.

So I have been cogitating on “Spirit of (the) Place”, me and several others if truth to be told.  It occurred to me as a lapsed scientist to go check the data and see what that says of Sop. Had a few problems finding said data but in the end found a couple of articles one of which was a submission to a learned architectural journal.

Once I had managed to decipher the polysyballic morass, which was no doubt intended to clarify and remove the curtains of ignorance, I came to the following conclusion: there is no easy definition of SoP.

All the articles agreed that a place could have its own spirit but that like Schroedingers Cat it would be changed or interpreted (or both) by its observer.  The one thing they all agreed on was ambiguity. While SoP could exist on its own, say in a wooded glen next a babbling brook exuding peace and tranquillity, that SoP is changed by how it is perceived and by the personality and desires of the observer.

If a tree falls in a forest and there is nobody there to hear it does it make a sound?

So what to me is the SoP of the Wimpole Estate?

This picture to me evokes the Spirit of Place.You decide what it means for you.
To me it’s the view of the house and being on a Shire drawn carriage on a sunny day and the way that all coalesces into a tingle up the back and a feeling of secure pleasure.

I was going to write more about the driving courses but I will save that for later and leave you to enjoy the house and the horse

Room with a shoe

Wimpole_Shoe (C) NT

If you’ve read earlier posts on the blog you will know all about our cabling project, but one discovery you might no be aware of is our seventeenth Century shoe, found under the floorboards.

The shoe was found by an asbestos contractor, Darren, it is a gentleman’s shoe, which remarkably had lain undisturbed for over 200 years.  The shoe we think dates to the mid-1700s and would have originally been fastened with a buckle. It would also have had a low heel that appears to have been lost.

When our Project Conservator Mary Luckhurst spoke to me she said  “The burying of shoes in walls and under floors was a well practiced method to ward off evil spirits. This shoe was found under a floorboard directly in front of a window, presumably to stop any evil spirits entering the house through it.  Shoes were usually concealed in this way during alterations to a house.”

The 1st Earl of Hardwicke commissioned the architect Henry Flitcroft to reconfigure the Hall in 1742, so it’s possible the shoe was hidden at this time.  It is very common for concealed shoes to be well worn. 

IMG_0126Shoes can show a lot about their owner, including the foot shape and even abnormalities in the foot. This appears to have given rise to the belief that they contained the spirit of their owner.  This shoe shows the last wearer had a pronounced bunion and it does make you think how he would have hobbled about, maybe the servants helped him!

The six month cabling project at Wimpole has involved removing floorboards on each of the floors, which gave us a great opportunity to see what had fallen beneath the floorboards over many years, if not centuries, including more recent items such as Skittles wrapper, I wonder who ate those and posted the wrapper between the boards?

DSCN6618As well as plenty of dust and the Skittles wrapper, some of the other 320 artifacts found during the project include, letters, sewing items, food, children’s toys, animal bones, pieces of wallpaper and newspaper cuttings, offer a glimpse into another era.

Some of the artifacts including the seventeenth Century shoe, will be on display in the Documents Room at Wimpole Hall from Saturday 1 March 11am-5pm, so come and see what archaeology has lain undiscovered under our floorboards.



Go Team Textiles!

By Neil Smith: Forestry/ Conservation Volunteer

Hello all, thought I’d contribute to the conservation blog and give you a taster of how I help in the Hall. For those of you out there who don’t know who I am my name is Neil Smith; one half of the textiles team, part of the current re-cabling project. I also volunteer in the forestry department but thought the re-cabling project would be a good opportunity to branch out! Puns aside, if you’ve been round the Hall in the last month or so and noticed the curtains wrapped up in white Tyvek and wondered what that was all about then read on…

Maggie and myself; directed of course by Mary Luckhurst, have been working from top to bottom protecting the drapes from the ongoing work. I’ll keep things brief here but the extended version will appear on my own blog very soon (preferably before Christmas!). If I manage to pique your interest and not send you to slumber land here is the link:

neil smith pic

Anyway, on with the show so to speak.

This week it was just Mary and I doing the textiles as Maggie had been taken ill. First off were the lovely curtains in the Yellow Drawing Room as seen here (left). The task here was to create Tyvek bags to fully protect the curtains. Sounds easy? Put it this way, I was glad Mary was able to help me as it’s definitely a two person job! Something I came to realise that afternoon when I was making more bags on my own!

Simply put (or as simple as I can make it) we cut a length of Tyvek and fold it in half. When the bag is in place the curtain sits in this fold with the rest of the Tyvek running up the back and front of the curtain.

In between the folds of the curtain we place acid-free tissue sausages to pad out the folds to prevent possible creasing of the material.

With the sausages in place the two ends of the bag are then folded round and tucked into each other to fully enclose the curtain. A specially created draw string at the top of the bag is pulled tight (but not too tight) to secure it in place.

neil smith pic2

A couple of extra strands of tape (or in this case, Tyvek) are used to prevent the two ends from unravelling, usually tied middle and bottom of the bag. Hey presto! A fully bagged curtain ready for when the contractors move in to do their work. The photo right shows the completed piece.

I should also mention we do diversify occasionally and roll some carpets, it’s not all curtains!

With the Hall being wrapped up for Christmas this year it’s been a bit too and fro with the materials. I had to borrow the only remaining roll of Tyvek from the lovely volunteers wrapping all manner of things ready for the next two weekends!

So a big thank you goes to the ladies for keeping me out of mischief and managing to carry on with the curtains!

Unfortunately Mary was preoccupied with other jobs in the afternoon so I pushed on by myself.

Moving clockwise from the entrance hall, which had already been spruced up by the house staff, eventually found me in the Long Gallery (I think! If I’m wrong you’re welcome to correct me).

One thing that was noticeable bagging the curtains that afternoon was the effect of light damage on the curtain material as seen in the photo below. I know that Julia (Conservation Assistant at Wimpole) is working on a side project to monitor the light levels in each room to see how it affects materials.

neil smith pic3It may be difficult to see from the picture but there is a stark contrast between the lighter fabric on the edge to the true red of the material itself. Hopefully the results of the light survey will highlight the problems of light in a grand Hall like Wimpole.

Thanks for reading and hopefully you’ll be hearing more from us soon!

Some Discoveries…

Some fantastic finds under the floorboards last week!

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Here Mary and Barbara are busy with the floorboards, and some really interesting finds made their efforts very worth while!

At the top of the main staircase, just outside what was the old nursery, were these delicate finds…


Assistant House Steward, Steph Parsons, was talking me through the objects. All items are ivory, there are two knives, and a selection of counters, some of which you can see above. To give a rough idea, they are roughly the size of a two pence piece. The smallest knife here looks tiny enough to perhaps belong to a doll, and the slightly larger one could have been a child’s. They are both quite plain, not too fancy. You can almost picture a small child posting little counters and dolls toys through gaps in the floorboards! I wonder if mum ever found out!

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DSC_2570Steph has been researching the counters, they had coloured paper on one side and different geographical locations on the other. For example, ‘Division of Canada’ or ‘Islands of America in the Atlantic Ocean’ as we can see in the picture. If they belonged to a game, Steph reckons there could have once been a map with them as well. She believes the pieces date from around the 18th or 19th centuries. Look at the shape of the ‘s’ in the place names. Has anyone ever seen or heard of a similar game? We’d really like to hear any ideas on how it was played.


Remember that colour matching exercise that was taking place downstairs (here)? Well here are the results in action…

Wimpole pics 1 020James here, is painting in the new smoke detector heads and wires. The new additions have to blend into every surface they cross. This means James has to match the paint of the heads to the ceiling…


but also the wires have to match the wall they pass and the skirting they cross as well. Not only is this all colour change, but the texture of the surfaces have to be matched as well, for example the replicating of a stippled effect.

With all this re-cabling the Chancellor’s bedroom, one of the first floor show rooms is all packed away and storing items safely.

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But it’s not just inside the main rooms of the house that gets all the attention.

DSC_2550This is a wonderful view of the dome, above the ceiling of the Yellow Drawing room. Rob is busy re-wiring in this picture, and it’s not often we’d get to see the dome from this angle!

Did you come to Wimpole Wrapped last weekend? If not, never fear, it is on this weekend as well! Have a look Here and Here for information.


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These are some sneaky peeks at what went on behind the scenes there. Some spray painting of pineapples on the left and on the right protective flooring being laid. And yes, the guy at the back there, is indeed wearing an elf hat! Come along on the 14th or 15th to see why all this was happening…

Wimpole Wrapped!

Farm wrapped2

Plans are underway for our ‘Wimpole Wrapped’ Christmas this year. Red ribbon is appearing estate-wide as this year’s theme is extending outside and in…

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A peek at the main entrance into the Stable Block and Ticket Office.

Wimpole Wrapped

Have a look at how Wimpole is protected during the winter; from the conservation inside the Hall to the care of Home farm and the gardens as well. It will be taking place this weekend, the 7th and 8th of December; as well as next weekend, the 14th and 15th of December. Click the link above for more info on our events page.

At the farm, a huge 20ft Christmas tree has been put up in front of the great barn and Steph Turner, one of the Farm’s Experience Officers has said that it’s the first time the farm will have its tree positioned there. She has said that they’ve gone wrapping mad at the farm; buildings, trees, hay bales and even some of the tools are being decked out in ribbon.

Farm wrapped1

Farm wrapped3


Here on the left is the Cart Barn, and its brick pillars are all wrapped and ready. On the right are some hay parcel presents, the animals will be pleased!

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Even the tractor is getting involved!

Wimpole pics 1 042Some of the buildings are being wrapped like giant presents, and Steph has said that there’s a few more big surprises that we’ll need to look out for too!

It’s an innovative way to do Christmas and she thinks it’s a great way to show off the brilliant conservation work across the estate, that everyone gets involved in, throughout the winter months.


Here we can see Barbara wrapping the dividing ropes inside the Hall.

While, below, Hilary prepares the chairs.

Hilary wrapping up a chair

The Gardens are having their fair share of wrapping too! The trees throughout the Pleasure grounds have been decorated, plus the Walled and Formal Gardens too.

The Walled Garden

The Walled Garden

The Formal Gardens

The Formal Gardens

And Of course the Stable Block tree; looking very magical thanks to Meg Hewett, one of our wonderful volunteers.


Come and visit Wimpole this weekend or next to see more of the festivities! Everybody has been working really hard to make it a great experience for everyone!


Keep it Clean

Grand Dining Room

Grand Dining Room

The re-cabling is a really big project at Wimpole, and certain measures have to be taken to keep the Hall safe while it’s happening.

The Grand Dining Room

The Grand Dining Room

Here, in the Grand Dining Room, scaffolding was constructed in order to hang protection over one of the important paintings. The material used is called Tyvek and is a waterproof fabric made from polyethylene fibres. It’s very light, but strong too.

Protective covers are to be found all over the Hall but normal duties must continue in the hall as well.


Below, we can see our Conservation Assistant Julia vacuuming for the Winter Clean.

The deep clean of the Hall takes place in the Winter when there are less people around and longer periods of time can be devoted to it; it is essential to the conservation work. Julia is removing the dust from one of the chair cushions in order to prevent it from wearing away at the fibres of the fabric. The vacuuming itself is done through a nylon gauze. This is the same for all the textiles and it just prevents abrasion to the fabrics that are being worked on.

All sorts of things go on behind the closed doors of the Hall in winter. One important aspect of maintaining Wimpole, is to ensure all the records are up to date.

Lesley Hoskins Red RoomLesley Hoskins 2

Meet Leslie Hoskins! She has been looking at the wall paper throughout the Hall. She’s been taking photos, and taking samples. She’s dating all the old wall paper for the Hall team and contributing her knowledge to the sample records that they keep.

Yvonne Lewis has also been hard at work…

Yvonne Lewis

Yvonne Lewis

Yvonne is the Assistant Libraries Curator and has been busy cataloguing a new acquisition of books and papers owned by the 4th Earl of Hardwick who lived in the Hall during the 19th Century, from 1834 for nearly 40 years. He was an Admiral and known affectionately as ‘Old Blowhard’ because of his naval background. The documents include his Great Exhibition catalogue of 1851 and Navy lists for 1796, ’97 and ’98. Navy lists are a document of those who were serving on each of the Navy’s ships and these particular ones are not held in any of the National Trust’s libraries! So it’s a pretty important task!


Behind the scenes at Wimpole, more disruptions inside the Hall, taking place in order to keep the cabling project on track…


Here, on the left, Mary Luckhurst is taking down one of the chandeliers, so that electrician, Rob (on the right) can drill through the ceiling. The cables will later be fed through.

The Fine Arts Services are a specialist company who are called in to move important furniture that is too heavy or delicate for the house stewards to try and move alone.

Fine Arts Services

Fine Arts Services

They were asked in for one day last week to help out. There were a number of really heavy tables, each with a marble top, that the team had to move from one side of the room to the other, in order to make way for the floorboards to be removed for the cables.

These wooden boxes you can see in the photo were constructed especially for these tables. The flat marble tops had to be removed from the tables first, and then placed along the back side of the box. There’s a special area there for them, where they are drilled in safely by another piece of wood. The table itself was then put in the front section of the box and the whole lot could be moved together to a different part of the room for storage. Very clever! Assistant House Steward Steph Parsons said that the Fine Arts Services team were so efficient in moving the tables that they spent the rest of their day at Wimpole, helping out in other areas of the house as well.

Meanwhile, upstairs….


The cabling project is taking place from the top of the house downwards. So here in one of the flats upstairs, where floor space was already cleared, the floorboards are up and work is already in progress. Everyone is working really hard in the Hall at the moment to get this project done, and it’s all coming together really well!