A look back at 2020 by the Cragside team

It’s safe to say, 2020 has been an odd year. As we welcomed visitors to Cragside at the beginning of the year, we never envisioned that Covid-19 and a UK-wide lockdown was coming just weeks down the line. Flights were cancelled, holidays postponed, Zoom was the way to catch up with friends and family as everyone stayed at home. We united, we clapped for carers and we worked together to defeat a threat that we couldn’t see.

It was to be the National Trust 125th birthday, with celebrations planned across the country which never happened as properties and places closed to restrict the spread of the Coronavirus. But behind the scenes at Cragside were a group or people who kept coming to work during the pandemic to continue to protect the historic House and landscape, ready for when visitors could return.

Some members of the team who remained working while the gates were closed have reflected on their time, having found highlights from this unusual year.

Clara, Property Curator – The Deep Clean at the House

“I really missed the visitors coming into the House – the House seemed empty without the usual hum of people exploring the corridors - but with the doors closed we had the chance to get into areas that are tricky to clean when we are open. We were able to take all the objects out of the Library to clean the ceiling using hog-hair brushes and museum vacuums on teletowers – delicate work that is hard to do when we have visitors.

We were also able to make headway on cleaning the Billiard Room. This room is very popular with visitors as they can usually enjoy a game of billiards on the original table that the Armstrong’s purchased in 1895. This is also a thoroughfare to other areas of the house when we’re open – with the closure we had the opportunity to move the billiard table and surrounding furniture to wax the floors.

I started at Cragside in August 2019, so as a fairly new member of the team, the closure gave me a great opportunity to really get to know every nook of the House, and I greatly enjoyed having the chance to be really hands on.”

Cragside on TV - A visit from George Clark

One of the highlights for the whole team was when George Clark and a film crew came to Cragside to film a behind-the-scenes look at National Trust properties and places across England and Wales.

“George was really enthusiastic about Cragside, telling us many times that Cragside was his favourite property, which we are all extremely proud of. His enthusiasm for the estate came across in bounds during the broadcast and we were delighted to work with him and the crew back in May.” said John, General Manager.

George Clark had a tour of the House and estate and interviewed Clara, Property Curator, to discover more about the House, its arts and crafts design, architecture and Lord Armstrong’s use of water to generate hydraulic power and hydroelectricity. The programme National Trust Unlocked aired in September.

“It was a brilliant advert for the site and great fun” added Clara.

A team pulling together

The estate covers 1000 acres, and with a small team, everyone could be spread out in different areas so that essential tasks could be carried out. This meant that every morning there was an update meeting where everyone stood at 2m distances apart. Often this happened in the Visitor Centre Courtyard in the sun; not a bad way to start the day.

Due to Covid restrictions and lockdown, staff presence on site was limited, and comradery and a passion for getting things done kept the team going.

During the summer, the flower beds in the Formal Gardens needed some attention. The spring flowers had died back and weeds were beginning to show in the soil, so members of the team spent a few days up there, armed with towels and gardening gloves to cultivate the beds and make sure that the weeds didn’t take over.

General Manager, John also worked alongside the on-site Ranger to help clear the Carriage Drive. During this time, he used the sit-on-mower to keep the verges neat and tidy – cutting the edges and blowing leaves and vegetation off the drive to stop them from seeding and to protect the tarmac for when we reopened.

Wildlife on the doorstep

John commented “The estate was so quiet – the quietest since before 1863 when Armstrong bought the land to make it his home.”

This had an impact on the visibility of the estate’s wildlife. Each morning the team were greeted by a family of rabbits who were munching on the grass around Tumbleton Lake. Deer could be seen meandering across the car parks and rock gardens, and red squirrels were spotted running through the woodland more regularly. The air was filled with the sound of tweeting birds and when a family of geese took up residence on the lake - chicks soon followed.

Rhododendron season without visitors

Around May every year, the estate’s annual Rhododendron display bursts into bloom. Lasting just a few weeks, this is one of Cragside’s busiest times for visitors. Car parks are usually full and there is a buzz of activity in the air as people take to the 40 miles of footpaths to see this impressive display. This year, nature didn’t stop, and the Rhododendrons came and went – but there were no visitors.

Paul, Facilities and Services Manager said: “I am often out on foot around the estate, keeping checks around the Visitor Centre and House. It was really strange not seeing visitors this year. Seeing the display around the carpark without any cars is something that will stay with me. On the plus side, I was able to get really close to the Rhododendrons, walk the paths and enjoy seeing the estate covered in pinks and purples.”

Looking forward…

2020 has been a unique year, but also a year for getting things done that are often difficult to get around to when the doors are open. It has brought us together as a team, as we have collectively worked through all of challenges. We are proud to have kept the estate going, and we are delighted to have been able to welcome visitors back to explore once again. We’re hoping for a return of some normality in 2021 and look forward to welcoming you all throughout the year.