A day in the life of Petworth House and Park

They say it takes all sorts, a statement certainly true of Petworth House and Park in West Sussex. It takes the varied expertise and dedication of the whole team to keep this amazing mansion, not only open, but interesting and engaging for all our visitors. We are moving away from our traditional stately home image, and on to bigger and brighter things. From banister brushes to hidden attics read on for a sneak peak at what goes on behind closed doors.

© Petworth House - Petworth House

It’s an early start for the House Team, by Sue Rhodes - House Steward, Collections and Visitor Services

Every morning before the House opens at 11am the team has to clean, tidy and ensure the House is presented in the best possible way. Our backpack vacuums are an essential piece of kit, as well as our chamois leather and banister brush. By the time our volunteers start arriving at 10.30am the house is looking beautiful and the team is in need of a sugar fix! One more thing to do before coffee, the volunteer briefing. This is a chance for staff and volunteers to chat and find out the plan of action for the day ahead. Once everyone is informed it’s down into the House for what we are all here for…opening the front door and letting our visitors in!

After our well-earned coffee break, it is at this point where the team splits and we all have our separate roles to do. Jacky, Anna and Judy carry on with conserving and caring for the collection, while Peter supports the volunteers and visitors within the House. Tom, Andy and Sue continue with a variety of tasks, from ensuring all systems and maintenance checks are completed, liaising with academics and other art organisations to developing new interpretation, we have just launched our new children’s guide book ‘Paintings, potions and copper pots. A potter around Petworth’, which has proved very popular.

 An eventful mid-morning with the Visitor Services Team

No two days are ever the same for us, one day we are meeting with advertisers and updating websites, the next carting chairs, tables or art materials to various locations for the next event. Today, amid this year’s packed events schedule we are looking to 2012, using our evaluation (for ideas on creative evaluation see my last blog post ‘Evaluation with a twist’) to make sure we respond to what visitors want. The ideas are as creative as ever, some link to Petworth’s history and the colourful characters who lived here, others make the most of our outdoor space and offer visitors something different, an experience you might not traditionally associate with the National Trust.

We are also busy preparing for our next event (see our website for all our current events). And of course, preparation has started for our participation in Heritage Open Days where we will be offering the chance to go behind the scenes to discover our hidden attics and stables. In addition, a first for Petworth House, visitors can join a walking tour to the Petworth Cottage Museum, once lived in by Mrs Cummings, a seamstress for Petworth House; it is just two minutes into the heart of the town. 

Getting outdoors with the Garden Team, by Gary Liddle - Head Gardener

In the afternoon we are often found edging, dead heading and clearing leaves in the Pleasure Grounds, we have 30 acres of Pleasure Grounds and 700 acres of Parkland designed by ‘Capability’ Brown, to look after. We plan our days carefully ensuring any potentially noisy work gets done on closed days, so the grounds remain tranquil for visitors. As well as maintenance, the team is constantly looking at ways to improve the grounds, and are currently busy planning a re-design of the herbaceous boarders.

A team effort

As you can see, a lot goes on behind closed doors to keep heritage alive and interesting, not only at Petworth House, but across the National Trust and across evey place involved in Heritage Open Days. So when planning your Heritage Open Days trip, keep an eye out for fun interpretation that re-designs the traditional, and exciting or unusual events that bring a historic building back to life.

Petworth House and Park and Petworth Cottage Museum are open free of charge for Heritage Open Days on Saturday 10 September. For details follow the links.