Second visit to Powis
On 14th January we made a college trip to Powis Castle. Shortly after arrival, we were treated to coffee and biscuits in the staffroom.
The staffroom at Powis is my favourite room out of all the rooms in this magnificent building. It is chintzy, comfy, and warm. It is in the servant’s part of the castle. It has pealing wallpaper from the 1950s or 1960s, the three-piece suite hails from the 1980s and looks like it was made out of bridesmaid dresses from Four Weddings and a Funeral, and it also sports a very comfy but tired looking blue sofa with two sizable bottom-shaped dips from years of tea breaks. It also contains a small gas fire that hisses and pops contentedly as it warms. And the biscuit tin is labelled with: ‘do not open – contains moth poison’. What is not to love?
After coffee (decaf) we were treated to a tour of the building and its many fabulous rooms and objects. Our tour guide, Will, was passionate about the castle and told of many interesting anecdotes about the objects in the castle such as the painting of an 160-year-old man, the huge painting worth millions that would be too heavy for burglars to carry out without being spotted, the table that needs a crane to lift it, the ghost butler and the Roman statue of a cat that may or may not be Roman.
The purpose of this visit was to give us the opportunity to be inspired for our art project on the castle. I had already made one visit to the castle as a National Trust visitor but this visit allowed me to gain some insight into the behind-the-scenes running of the building.
I got my inspiration partly from the people we met (a handful of volunteers working to keep the castle and its contents ticking during the winter) and the objects Will showed us in the castle. I wanted to find out more about the wider army of absent workers and volunteers and what draws them to the castle. Will, our guide, confessed that he left a very well-paid London job to work for a much reduced salary in a castle on the edge of Wales (he concluded that sleeping in the country next to a castle was preferable to sleeping under his desk in an office). The ‘book cleaning’ ladies we met on our tour (during the winter they clean the books in the library with hoovers attached to plastic bread bins) told me how many years they had been cleaning the books for. Apparently it can take as long as it takes to paint the Fourth Bridge to clean all of the books, give or take the odd year.
Everyone we met on that day seemed so energetic yet so calm. I wanted to know more about them. They seemed so knowledgeable about the castle and its contents. I wanted to know, what did they like the most? What did they feel connected to? What objects did they regard as partly their own?
After the tour I took my digital camera around the gardens. It was a lovely way to end that first visit.