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How time flies. We apologies for the lack of blogs latley. It is a busy time here as all our houses and gardens open. Now however, Mark councludes his short blogging stint by telling you how you can become a volunteer shepherd.

We have very recently set up a scheme for visitors to Reigate Hill in Surrey to help the wardens check the sheep and cattle that graze here.

The sheep and cattle help us by grazing the rare chalk downland habitat and stop it reverting back to scrub and eventually woodland. On the steeper slopes of the hill they are invaluable as it’s impossible to get any machinery on the slopes to clear the regrowth. We use Belted Galloway cows and Black Welsh Mountain sheep as these breeds thrive on grazing the poorer types of habitat found at Reigate and are also very friendly to visitors.

One of our newest recruits, Antonia, wanted to share her reasons for volunteering:

“I spend a lot of time looking for my Border Terrier Loki. I sit and wait patiently while he counts the rabbit population on the side of Reigate Hill and checks whether any small holes are really too small for a dog of his size and doubtful intelligence. It was on one of these occasions that I spotted the pink poster asking for volunteer stockpeople for the National Trust. I have a secret yearning to be a vet but haven’t the sheer animal vitality (excuse the pun) not to mention the brains to embark on the years of training. I’ve volunteered for animal charities but they always involve domestic pets. Here was my chance to get up close(ish) and personal with cows and sheep. The top of Reigate Hill is so beautiful whatever the weather and now I have a perfect reason to push myself up the side, rewarding myself with a brief one-sided chat with Billy and the girls, while I run an eye over them. It’s a great opportunity to get to know the animals and feel I am doing something worthwhile whilst enjoying myself.”

So if you interested in becoming a volunteer shepherd or even just want to find more about the scheme them please email Marc Russell at marc.russell@nationaltrust.org.uk or telephone us on 01342 843 225. No experience is necessary and basic training is given. You can volunteer as often as you like – even if its just every now and then – anything is a great help.

House Steward Sue Rhodes concludes her series on love, lust and romance at Petworth House on a happier note.

With wedding celebrations planned for 2011, I thought I would remember an important wedding at Petworth from 100 years ago.

In 1911 Lord Leconfield married Violet Rawson and the town celebrated in style. When the couple returned to Petworth, after honeymooning in Cranleigh, Surrey, they were greeted with such joy and warmth. About a mile out of town, as they drove to Petworth, they were met by about fifty tenant farmers and residents on horseback. They then climbed into a carriage drawn by a pair of horses, and were escorted into town.

On entering the town Lady Leconfield was handed flowers from the Petworth football, cricket, hockey and lawn tennis clubs. The horses were removed from the carriage and replaced by the Fireman from the local station who pulled the carriage through the streets of Petworth, with the Petworth town band leading the way.

The streets were decorated with flags and the family motto and filled with cheering crowds. In the market square the school children, Territorial Army and 230 employees of the Petworth estate wearing red, white and blue rosettes gave Lady Leconfield even more flowers.

The local Rector publicly welcomed the bride and groom, stating that Lady Leconfield was the first bride to be brought home to Petworth in 150 years. Lord Leconfield addressed the crowd, thanking them and said that it was the proudest moment of his life – even prouder than the actual moment he caught his first fox.

They then carried onto the house as the school children sang Home, Sweet Home, and entered amid rousing cheers and further celebrations.

Lord Leconfield and Violet prepare for a hunt - she was quite a character!

Petworth House has seen many family weddings over the years, even some very recently. This year the National Trust will be celebrating these with an exhibition called ‘Love is all around’, which highlights family and local resident weddings through the ages. Featuring textiles, mementoes, gifts and photographs, the exhibition will run throughout August.

Next week a new guest blogger will look at the National Trut’s work in the Surrey Hills.

This week, Sue Rhodes, from Petworth House, writes of another tale of love and lust that is tinged with sadness…

In his younger days the 3rd Earl of Egremont was known as a man of fashion. He was well travelled having made two Grand Tours between 1770 and 1772, and was also known for having a way with the ladies.

Painting of the 3rd Earl of Egremont

The 3rd Earl of Egremont

The 3rd Earl behaved no differently to most wealthy young men of his day, ‘taking women as frequently as they took snuff and changing lovers as often as they changed their linen.’ But the 3rd Earl pushed even the 18th century’s more liberal limits by installing his mistresses and children at Petworth. In 1813 Lady Bessborough wrote of Lady Spenser: ‘Nothing will persuade her that Lord Egremont has not forty-three children who all live in the house with him and their respective mothers; that the latter are usually kept in the background…’

Although the 3rd Earl reputedly spent his whole life chasing and catching pretty young women he did make one notable connection. In around 1784 he met Elizabeth Iliffe, the daughter of a teacher at Westminster School. She became his mistress; the relationship was to be a long-term one, resulting in seven children. The 3rd Earl installed her at Petworth, firstly as Miss Iliffe and later as Mrs Wydham. Elizabeth shared the 3rd Earl’s love of art; a painter herself she encouraged new talent and commissioned two paintings from William Blake (which still hang in the North Gallery). It must have been hoped that the 3rd Earl had finally found a women who shared his interests and he could be happy with. The couple married in 1801, 17 years after their relationship began, but unfortunately the marriage only lasted two years. Elizabeth left Petworth, sought a deed of separation and never returned.

Next week, Sue reveals the last in her series of romantic tales from Petworth House.

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Quotes from: George Obrien Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont; Benevolent paternalist or arrogant patriarch? (National Trust, 2001)

In a change to our planned blog-post, Matthew Tyler-Jones reports on one of the things that goes on behind the scenes while a place is preparing to renew the way it presents itself to the public.

I was part of a tiny,  priviledged audience at Batemans on Friday 19th October. Jon Boden, of Bellowhead fame and BBC2 folk singer of the year, visited  the Sussex home to record two of Rudyard Kipling’s poems, set to music.

Jon Boden (with the fiddle) sings while Duncan Miller watches for faults in the wax

Doing without the acoustic baffling and digital technology of a modern recording studio, Jon recorded The Way Through the Woods and a few verses of The Smuggler’s Song by shouting down a horn. At the other end of the horn a tiny needle scratched a groove into a rotating cylinder of wax. Though as Duncan Miller, the wax cylinder record expert and ‘producer’ of the tracks explained, the wax of the cylinder is in fact a sort of soap.

One of the challenges of making a wax record in a historic house in the autumn is temperature. For conservation reasons, the interior temprature of the showrooms at Batemans is kept close to the outside temperature. On that clear, crisp autumnal day the temperature inside meant that the wax was in danger of being too hard. Luckily the small audience of local residents, volunteers and staff soon warmed the room up to operating temperature.

The recording is part of Batemans’ Voices project, started after the team there discovered an old VHS tape containing a clip of Kipling speaking at to the Canadian Writers association. Visitors can now see that clip on an iPad in Kipling’s study, but we also wanted a more appropriate, atmospheric way to let visitors hear Kipling’s work. We know that Rudyard’s son Jack was given some cylinder records, so we can assume that there might have been a cylinder record player in the house. Edison Phonographs are more robust than modern electronics, so we were able to buy a suitable early 1900’s model quite cheaply. Duncan Miller had some original contemporary cylinder recordings of two Kipling poems turned into song: Danny Deever and the Road to Mandelay, so he made replica cylinders for us.

The two poems that Jon sang were published in Puck of Pooks Hill and Rewards and Fairies, two books written when Kipling lived at Batemans and set in the sounding countryside, and so they are particularly relevant to the place.

After a few of attempts to make a flawless recording without wax gumming up the needle Duncan took two versions of each song away. He will chose which is the best version to take a mould from and produce a hard wearing plastic version of each for us to to play to visitors.

Next week Crispin Scott, our Nature Conservation Adviser will be talking about what goes on in the natural world during the winter months.

Welcome to the first of our National Trust blog entries from the London and South East region.

Over the coming months a variety of experts from within the region will be blogging about their work and sharing their knowledge on a wide range of topics.

From wildlife experts to a historical paper specialist the National Trust in London and the South East has a wide range of specialist skills and we thought it was about time that we shouted about it.

Starting in November, as part of the annual armistice commemoration, Adam Walsh, our Collections Engagement Officer will be telling the stories of some of our places and their links to the First World War through items in our collection.

Britain declared war on 4 August 1914 and became involved in what became known as the Great War by the generation involved. Almost every family in the country was affected.

The war was not only fought on the battlefield but on the home front people were involved in the total war effort. It had a lasting effect on the memory of future generations.

Find out next week how two historic houses in Surrey, Clandon and Hatchlands, were used as auxiliary hospitals during the war and about the volunteer nurses of the VAD who worked there.