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Christmas at Sunnycroft

December 13, 2012

We are all busy at Sunnycroft preparing for our annual Christmas opening. The house is dressed for an Edwardian Christmas by the staff and volunteer team and this year looks to be another impressive festive feast. Mary and her team of florists create extraordinary Edwardian style arrangements for the Dining Room table and the Entrance Hall as well as the mantle-pieces, fireplaces and even the loos!

Sunnycroft flower arrangers

Sunnycroft flower arrangers

Joel our Gardener wrestles with the trees, a large one for the Staircase Hall and one for the Dining Room and one for the Conservatory, as well as running a Christmas wreath workshop while making the wreath for the front door!

Claire and a team of creative volunteers have made decorations such as orange slices and pine cone baubles and Sandra is rushing through the supermarkets to collect 30 oranges and cloves as well as traditional nuts and sugared almonds.

In the Tea Room Lizzie is busy ordering fruit cake, mulling apples picked from our garden earlier in the year and checking that all the mince pies will arrive on time. That’s just a few of the exciting jobs, not to mention Sheila organising carol singers and Alison from Rocking Horse Works in Tyrley ( fishing out an arraying of traditional toys for the East Bedroom.

Who’s for Turkey?

Of course Christmas when the families were at Sunnycroft were just as busy. Since Sunnycroft was completed in 1899 the house has seen many occupants, and many Christmases.

During the time that the Lander family were here there were often as many as 24 guests at Christmas! Carving for and serving so many people took a long time and the food was usually cold by the time it was eaten, especially for the children who were served last.

There were two turkeys, one carved at the long table by J.V.T Lander, and the other at the smaller end table by Aunt Doll.

Sunnycroft Christmas table

Sunnycroft Christmas table

Nan, the housekeeper, was highly regarded, and would eat Christmas dinner with the family. The maids would receive a three-penny bit and a new uniform ‘including apron and cap’ for Christmas!

Fun and Games

Christmas at Sunnycroft was quite a formal affair; children were to be seen and not heard, but it wasn’t all bad!

The children were given a pillowcase of presents at the end of their beds.

In the afternoon, the men played Billiards and the children were allowed to race around collecting the balls from the nets, and occasionally marking the score. This was the only time children were permitted in the Billiard Room!

Joans diary quote photoAt the end of the day, after the rich food, turkey dinner and Christmas pudding, Joan and her little sister Rachel sat on the kitchen table and were dosed with castor oil. Yuck!

Lander girls

Lander girls

by:  Claire Reeves, House and Visitor Services Manager


September and Michaelmas Traditions

September 6, 2012

The name September comes from the roman word ‘septem’, meaning seven. This is because it was the seventh month in the Roman calendar. The Anglo-Saxons called it Gerst monath (barley month) because this is the time of year when they would harvest their barley to make ale.

 St Michaelmas day itself is on the 29th of September. It is named after St Michael is one of the principal angelic warriors, protector against the dark of the night and the Archangel who fought against Satan and his evil angels. As Michaelmas is the time that the darker nights and colder days begin – the edge into winter – the celebration of Michaelmas is associated with insuring protection during the following darker months.

Michaelmas also is a day that marks the end of the growing cycle.  Traditionally this is when the Bailiff or Reeve would ask the Agricultural Tenants to settle their accounts with the manor

The custom of celebrating Michaelmas Day as the last day of harvest was broken when Henry VIII split from the Catholic Church; instead, it is Harvest Festival that is celebrated now.

At Sunnycroft our Michaelmas Fair follows the Harvest Festival theme with a celebration of fruit and vegetables grown in our garden. Michaelmas also gives us a chance to show the best of Shropshire’s locally grown and made produce with twenty stalls offering crafts, cakes and produce.

Apple press in action

As is in past years we will be borrowing Attingham Park’s traditional oak framed apple press. We will be offering an apple juicing service if visitors wish to bring large amounts of their own apples. Also this year we will also have a fairground style organ called ‘Rosie’ to further increase the fair’s atmosphere.

The Sunnycroft Michaelmas Fair takes place on 22nd – 23rd September 2012

by Joel Richards, Gardener

Hickory Dickory Dock

August 23, 2012

Although I have a number of widely varying weekly tasks at Sunnycroft, one of my favourites is winding the historic clocks. Considering it is one of the smaller National Trust property Sunnycroft actually has over 30 clocks and watches in its collection. Thankfully I don’t have to wind all of them!


Winding the Entrance Hall clock with the enormous key!

Four of the clocks in the house are running at present. They all have little nicknames and personalities based on their chimes and how well they keep time – I have become very protective of them over the years! Once a year a specialist conservator visits to check, maintain and service them. Each year she selects a different clock and takes it down to its component parts for a thorough clean – it’s astonishing that she knows exactly where all the tiny cogs go back!


As most of the clocks are eight-day clocks, winding takes place once a week on a Thursday morning. They are wound on the same day, ideally at the same time. I record any changes, and how well the clock is keeping time (how much time has been gained or lost since last week), and readjust them to the correct time.


My longest record for not having to adjust a clock was two months – I was very frustrated the first time it lost a minute and broke my streak! The clock in question is on the mantelpiece in the Billiard Room, and when the conservator first serviced it and got it ticking, she grimly said that “it’s not a healthy clock, it may not last the week”. I affectionately named it ‘The Consumptive Clock’ but over three years later it is still ticking away quite happily, and I should probably rename it “The Consistent Clock”!


Offley Lander’s daughter Rachel remembers that the clocks would be wound on a Monday, and guests at Sunnycroft would find that by midweek they would become out of sync. The midnight chimes on Sunday would last for at least half an hour and disturb everybody. I can testify that no matter how carefully you adjust them, they’re determined not to chime simultaneously!

Eight of the clocks are longcase grandfather clocks – the impressive Staircase Hall actually houses four of them! Thomas Offley Lander, owner of Sunnycroft from 1943 to 1973, was a keen clock collector and would often try his hand at maintaining and repairing them. The photograph shows Offley on the lawn, being helped to repair the clock by his granddaughter Joanne.


By Rebecca Farr, Assistant House and Visitor Services Manager

Ferns rock!

August 16, 2012

It’s easy to overlook the ferns in the conservatory – they’re tucked away beneath the staging and perhaps a little ‘upstaged’ by the lovely scented geraniums. But they are worth a closer look especially since Joel, the Head Gardener, and his volunteers restored the fernery earlier this year.

Inspiration to start the restoration began last summer after reading that Mary Jane Slaney and her gardener, Thomas Steventon, had won prizes for ferns at the Shrewsbury Flower Show between 1894 and 1906. But our fern area was looking a little sorry for itself and in need of some attention – perhaps we could improve the fernery and eventually even enter the Flower Show ourselves!

In December we took a trip to Tatton Park National Trust to check out their amazing fernery and to get some tips on fern growing from their Head Gardener. We also came back with one or two companion plants for our ferns!

Tatton Park Fernery

In January we set about removing all the rocks from the fernery (taking care to avoid damaging the existing ferns), weeding, adding new compost and returning the rocks. The rocks are an original feature of the conservatory fernery and include some interesting looking quartz and sandstone rocks and some that looked like they were from a roman temple!

removing rocks

temple rocks

In February we took delivery of some new ferns and planted them along with the companion mosses from Tatton Park. To finish we gave the staging ironwork a new coat of paint. All that remained was to put out an information board about ferns at Sunnycroft which you can see for yourself if you visit the conservatory.

ferns planted

Perhaps 2013 will see Sunnycroft ferns at the Shrewsbury Flower Show!

by Julie Moore, garden volunteer

Emergency salvage

July 29, 2012
This week I have been on an emergency salvage course in Smethwick with the wonderful West Midlands Fire Service. The course is designed and run by English Heritage for museum and historic house staff so that they understand what it is like for firemen to enter a burning building and also to get us to write practical rescue plans in case we have  fire or flood at the property (heaven forbid!).

The mock-museum used to train us

Part of the course involves getting suited up and going into a burning building to experience just how scary it could be. Museums choose priority items that we ask the fire brigade to rescue once it is safe and these are the kind of conditions they experience every day! Saraid Jones (Attingham Park NT) and I getting kitted up to go in!

Saraid Jones (Attingham Park NT) and I getting kitted up to go in!

In we all go – you couldn’t see anything. I would usually wear glasses but couldn’t for this – it was pitch black!

It was a great chance to work as a team and to meet people from other organisations.

Here was the exercise dealing with flooding – highly relevant! We had to make dry areas for mock museum objects and assess their needs and help them dry out. A fireman was pumping water through a hose at us at 100 litres per minute!

Here am I manically packing objects that had been recovered from the fire which were dry. The objects are listed and packed until potentially they could go back into the ‘museum’

This was quite a different week to a normal one at Sunnycroft! I now need to do lots of work to get our salvage plan up to speed – but fingers crossed we won’t ever have to use it!

by:  Claire Reeves, House and Visitor Services Manager

July in the garden

July 19, 2012
The benefits of a higher than average rainfall this summer is balanced out by several negatives. The shrubbery has put on huge amounts of growth which needs taming, and the hedges have shot up. Luckily help is on its way in the form of  a working holiday who are due to come armed with loppers and bow saws to tackle the job. They will be staying at Big Mose base camp on the Dudmaston Estate and working for five days at Sunnycroft at the end of July.Also it has been nearly impossible to cut the grass in the dry this season without leaving big clods of grass clipping all over the lawn. Even the new brush attachment that is designed to scoop up the grass has struggled to cope with the volume of water we have experienced over the last few months.Our hardy regular garden volunteers have battled on regardless of the forecast; this has sometimes resulted in them going home at the end of the day soaked to the skin even when wearing waterproofs. Luckily this does not seem to of put them off and they return each week with an even stronger determination to get the job done regardless of the weather.

On the plus side the garden is looking lush and green with no signs of sun scorch or wilting and we have saved hours of time by not needing to water the vegetable garden!

Joel Richards, Gardener

Gone Fishing

June 28, 2012
Copyright NT Sunnycroft

The Norwegian “Fishing” Bent Wood Tine Box

On top of a chest of drawers in the Turret Landing at Sunnycroft is an unusual-looking wooden box with a more unusual story behind it! This is what is generally known as the Norwegian Fishing Box, and it played a big part in highlighting the significance of the textile collection at Sunnycroft.

When it was opened in 2008, and a large bundle of crumpled fabric removed, an eagle-eyed curator realised the significance of what was inside – part of the largest collection of domestic Leek embroidery in theUK, believed to be worked by Granny Hunt. Although we don’t know for certain why Sunnycroft has so much Leek embroidery, it was quite the find! The embroidery has gone on to feature in exhibitions at Sunnycroft and at Macclesfield Silk Museum, as well as appearing in several publications; and its survival is due in part to its safe (although somewhat crumpled) storage in the dark of the fishing box!

Copyright NT Sunnycroft

Some of the Leek embroidery at Sunnycroft

Despite the box being used to store embroidery, and its status as a fishing box, its original purpose was entirely different! Its official name is a tine (pronounced “teen-ah”) and it originated in Bergen, Norway. These tines were skilfully hot poker-decorated. In Norway, examples of these boxes have been unearthed in the remains of Viking ships dating from 840 AD. They were used to store valuable possessions, and later used as food storage or lunch boxes! Sunnycroft’s example was made between 1880-1885.

Traditional tines are constructed of a thin piece of bent wood that is laced together with some type of tree root. The sides have two vertical posts cut with notches that are used to hold the lid on – these can be gently eased to allow easy removal of the lid.

Although it has been said that the box was given to Offley Lander as a gift, we have no evidence for this other than family legend. However, although we are not 100% certain how the box came to be at Sunnycroft, it now seems that the most likely owner was Muriel Lander (nee Hunt). Around 1908 she went on a cruise to Norway with her parents (Granny Hunt of the Leek embroidery fame!) and her step-brother on the RMS Dunnotar Castle – as Muriel was 21 in 1907 we wondered if perhaps the cruise might have been a late birthday treat! It seems very plausible that she brought the tine box home with her then.

Copyright NT Sunnycroft

The Passengers on the Dunnotar Castle, on a cruise to Bergen, Norway 1908.

However the box ended up at Sunnycroft, we are glad that it did – who knows if all that embroidery would have survived to the present day?

By Rebecca Farr, Assistant House and Visitor Services Manager