Monday, 25 May 2015

Meet the Volunteers

Over the past few weeks, you’ve heard all about the work that’s been going on in the House during our closed season. So we thought it was about time you met some of the volunteers who carry out this work! We have around 50 volunteers who regularly dedicate their time to helping with the running of the house, whether that may be as a Room Guide on our visitor tours, as a Conservation Assistant, or working on some of our other projects such as the inventory photography and transcribing Hardman’s diaries. What arguably makes our visitor experience so special is what all our volunteers have in common; a genuine love for the Hardmans’ House.

I find the property fascinating, even though I am not interested in the technical side of photography. I enjoy meeting the public, giving them a good experience and the camaraderie of the volunteers and staff. I’m constantly learning and sharing information!” - Rosaleen, volunteer since September 2004.

Mathew and Thomas carefully moving some of our picnic flasks to be photographed
Many of our volunteers have been with us since the house first opened its doors, with some getting involved even earlier, at the renovation stage in 2002. We have new recruits joining every year, each with their own skill sets and interests, ensuring that the house is in safe hands.

I’ve fancied participating in showing off and helping conserve historic properties for a long time – I particularly like this ‘city’ property. I started room guiding in the open season, and in the closed season, I’ve enjoyed the inventory marking, conservation cleaning and magazine archiving – all good!” - Mike, volunteer since 2010.

I have a lifelong interest in photography, so am familiar with much of the older aspects. I also spent two periods as an instructor whilst in the Police, so enjoy engaging with visitors in an informative and entertaining way.” - Alex, volunteer since September 2004.

Mathew checking his handy work in our temporary inventory photography studio
We all have different reasons for volunteering. As one of the younger members of the team, I’m on my gap year before starting university in September. Having practically been brought up in National Trust houses, I decided volunteering for one would be a great way to spend my time this year, developing new skills as well as my interest in photography. As for some of our other volunteers…

I decided to become a volunteer at the Hardmans’ House to contribute to the Trust’s efforts to preserve the building and also to meet new people.” - Hannah, volunteer since March 2015.

I’m a long standing National Trust member, and since starting my retirement, I wanted to give my free time to an organisation involved with conservation, buildings and the general public.” 
Jane, volunteer since January 2014.

Pam delicately cleaning a historic backdrop in the Studio
Volunteering can be a very rewarding experience for many different reasons. So what is it that makes our volunteers want to dedicate their spare time to working in the house every week?

Meeting the visitors on the tours – they often have contributions to make. Chatting with other volunteers is enjoyable. I can pick their brains about photographic techniques – many are much more experienced than I am!” - Jen, volunteer since 2011.

The volunteer atmosphere is very friendly and warm.” - Alan, volunteer since June 2014.
I like the flexibility of working here, and I just enjoy the opportunity to give something back. I hope to provide some added value to the work of the National Trust.” - Jane.
I enjoy meeting people, and working from my interest in photography and conservation. For example, when photographing the toys recently, I was fascinated by the size of the collection.”- Roy.

Roy cleaning the fragile 'Noah's Ark' plastic toy
And finally, what advice would our current volunteers give to any possible new recruits?

TRY IT! There’s plenty of support and friendship.” – Rosaleen.

Communicate with fellow volunteers. Don’t be shy, ask others if you’re unsure of anything.
- Tony.

Learn the ‘basics’ of each room, then keep reading, and learning, and listening to the longer serving volunteers. Always show enthusiasm for the subject, and try to involve/engage every visitor in the group.” – Alex.

There are lots of tasks besides guiding. You are sure to find something you enjoy.” – Monica.

If meeting some of our current volunteers has made volunteering for the Hardmans’ House sound like something you’d love to get involved with, then please get in touch! You can apply all year round, but please be aware, our room guides only work during our open season between March and the end of October. Conservation work however, has to be done all year round!

If you’d like a registration form or to find out more information, you can email us at or call us on 0151 709 6261.

Megan Thrift
Winter Conservation Volunteer
The Hardmans' House

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Snap Happy

So you’ve heard all about the kind of conservation and cleaning jobs we do over the Winter; now to tell you about one of our other projects!

A few years ago, the National Trust set up a new online system for managing each property’s collections. The aim is to get every object within every Trust property onto this Collections Management System (CMS). Bearing in mind that the Trust has over 300 historic properties across the country, with even smaller houses such as The Hardmans’ House holding 13,000 objects, it’s a bit of a mammoth task. It’s estimated that when the inventory is completed, it will contain over 1 million items. Much of the content that has already been uploaded has been made available to the public via National Trust Collections. Simply type in your search criteria and you’ll be able to find a whole host of historic artefacts at your fingertips. From 16th century bedsteads, to early 21st century toothpaste, we’ve got it all!

Search by property name, period of history or object type

One of the most important parts of the online collections system is that each entry has a visual representation to accompany its description. Having photographs of each object allows us to identify any visible damage or signs of deterioration. If the object is particularly valuable, it can also help to create a replica if it is lost, stolen, or becomes too fragile to be on public display. For the purposes of CMS, it’s useful just to be able to have a clear view of what the object you’re looking for looks like. The Hardmans’ House has around 10,000 objects already on CMS. However, only a small fraction of those have photographs to accompany their descriptions. So this Winter, we continued the task of producing these photographs, focusing on Hardmans’ collection of children’s toys that were used to entertain his younger clients, and some other fragile plastics.

Quite fitting: Our very own photo studio

A small studio was set up in our exhibition room, with proper lighting, tripods and backdrop. With the help of some camera savvy volunteers, we began photographing and recording each object ready for them to be put on CMS. The objects had to be carefully unwrapped and positioned to show the most detail. Photographs were then taken from each angle, and the inventory number, photo number, and photo description were then recorded on a concordance sheet. Thousands of photographs later, our work is almost complete, and these delicate 1950’s toys each have a digital record of their current condition.

An adorable velvet stuffed dog

A doll in lederhosen

An electric motorcycle racing game

However, we’ve only just scratched the surface of our collection! We’re hoping that with the success of this project, we can extend it later on in the year to include other areas of the collection. If you feel like inventory photography is something you’d like to be involved with, or you’d like more information on how to get involved with some of the other work we do, then please get in touch with a member of our team. You can email us at or call us on 0151 709 6261.

Megan Thrift
Winter Conservation Volunteer
The Hardmans' House

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Busy bees behind the scenes

It’s week two of our Winter conservation blog series, here to provide you with an insight into what happens behind the scenes at the Hardmans’ House. This week we’ll be finding out what our volunteers get up to during a normal Winter at 59 Rodney Street. I’ll be running through what’s been happening in the house regarding our conservation and cleaning regime...

Speke Hall, South Range
Even before the house shut its doors at the start of November, a team of eager volunteers began an intensive two day training course in preventative conservation held at Speke Hall. To ensure the safety of both the collection and our volunteers, it’s important that it’s not only new recruits that take part in the training. Even our most seasoned volunteers came along to refresh their skills ready for the Winter. This makes it a great opportunity for new volunteers to find out more about the property they’re going to be working in, and to meet their future co-workers. Items on the agenda include conservation cleaning, health and safety training, inventory checking, inventory marking, object condition reports and object handling – all of which have to be covered by the end of the two days.

A winter volunteer, Tatiana, gently dusts the stairwell
Conservation cleaning is a little bit different to your average household clean. Its aim is not just to keep the objects dirt/dust free, but more importantly, to do as little damage to them as possible in the process. The equipment it uses may seem basic, but avoiding the use of modern chemical cleaners and scratchy materials is very important. We use soft pony hair brushes for delicate items and ceramics, and hogs hair brushes for more robust items such as pieces of furniture. The dust is swept into lint free cloths so that it doesn’t escape back into the room only to settle again. Specialist ‘museum vacs’ with controllable suction are often used for heavier dust, and for cleaning drapes and curtains.

A dedicated and steady handed volunteer inventory marking

Inventory checking involves working through each item in the house, and using its unique reference number to determine whether it’s in its rightful place based on the inventory database. If an item doesn’t have a reference number, then it must go through the inventory marking process. This mark must be easily removable, so that it doesn’t damage the object, and it’s important that the right method is chosen. Here’s an example of a code that might be used for one of Mr Hardman’s cameras:

National Trust. Rodney Street. Scientific Instrument. Number 133

We can also use the code to look up whether the item has been given a condition report in the past. These reports are used to track the deterioration of each artefact over time, and also to provide a description of the object in case it is lost, stolen or accidentally damaged.

Matthew is busy inventory checking our Ground Floor Office

For our new volunteers (myself included), your first Winter can be a bit of a learning curve! There’s a lot of new information to take in, and skills to be learnt, but there’s no denying it’s a very enjoyable experience. If becoming a Winter conservation volunteer sounds like something you’d be interested in, then get in touch!

Megan Thrift
Winter Conservation Volunteer
The Hardmans' House

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Our Winter Works

It's March! Spring is on its way, and more importantly, The Hardmans’ House is coming out of hibernation. Edward and Margaret’s doors re-opened to the public yesterday (Wednesday 18th), and we look forward to fascinating a new wave of visitors with the Hardmans’ life story over the coming months. We’re kick starting the year by running a series of blog posts giving you an insight into what happens in the house between November and March. What you might be surprised to hear is that in many ways, the 5 month period in which the house is closed, is busier than when we’re open to the public!
As much as we love the Hardmans’, they did have a tendency of never throwing anything away. Although this means we have a gloriously detailed collection to be put on display, it also means that there are around 13,000 artefacts that must be checked and monitored each year – no matter how small they may be! To put this into perspective, Speke Hall our neighbouring Trust property, has a mere 7,500 objects, despite its mansion house proportions. If you’re interested in seeing what intriguing objects we’ve got squirreled away in drawers and cupboards, you can view our collection online at, just search under 59 Rodney Street to find out more!
Over the Winter, our team of staff and volunteers dedicate their time to ‘putting the house to bed’. All renovation and conservation works have to be completed before the open season, so it can be a bit of a race against the clock to get everything done in time! The exhibition must be taken down and put back into storage, fitted dust sheets must be brought out to cover the furniture, and the whole house must be cleaned from top to bottom. We’ve also had some more adventurous projects to keep us on our toes this year. Our longcase clock has been restored along with many other of Mr Hardman’s watches and clocks. An inventory photography project got underway, with a studio being set up in the exhibition room to begin the mammoth task of providing online visual records of our collections. There were fire safety works to be done, dry rot in the skirting boards to see to, windows that had to be replaced, as well as having to reorganise and track the contents of the cellar after the woodworm infestation of last year. All in all it’s been a very busy Winter!
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been drawing the works to a close, ready to put everything back in its rightful place for opening. Our wonderful new exhibition ‘From Street To Studio’ has been installed and the contents of the cellar have been brought back and put in their original positions after being in ‘deep freeze’ for several months.
If you’re interested in finding out more about what we’ve been up to at The Hardmans’ House, keep an eye on our Facebook page for updates from the blog. Or even better, come talk to our volunteers and see for yourself! Tours will be running Wednesdays – Saturdays, 11:00am – 3:30pm, why not book a place today?

Megan Thrift
Winter Conservation Volunteer
The Hardmans' House