The secret workforce

Restoration work at Castle Drogo

Behind every National Trust estate lies a secret workforce keeping everything (and we mean everything) looking shipshape. From the carpenters and bricklayers to those turning their hands to installing new biomass boilers; the Direct Labour (DL) teams protect our historic buildings for present and future generations to enjoy.

Historic buildings stand as tall, majestic pillars of our past, silently reminding us of a life that went before. Despite their aging walls and - on some occasions - leaking rooves, they still dominate their surrounding landscape with an air of wisened authority. If walls could speak, what intriguing stories would they tell?

They hold a place in our hearts too. From childhood memories of learning to ride your bike in the parkland, to marriage proposals and treasured family days out - it’s the experiences in these special places that make up life’s rich tapestry.

Family walk in Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire.
Family walk in Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire.

Keeping to tradition 

Protecting places is our bread and butter, and among some of these special places are buildings. As an independent conservation charity, we preserve historic buildings forever, for everyone, using traditional crafts and skills.

Every historic building is as unique as you are and so needs individual love and attention, as well as specific skills to help conserve or restore it. 

Stone-mason restoring a garden wall.
Stone-mason working on a garden wall

Traditional skills include:

  • Stone-masonry
  • Carpentry
  • Plumbing
  • Joinery
  • Building
  • Decorating
  • Lime plastering
  • Bricklaying
  • Restoration 


At Killerton Estate, Devon, the Direct Labour (DL) team has an impressive 200 years of combined experience, ranging from apprentices learning traditional carpentry, lime plastering and building restoration techniques, to those who have been working with the National Trust for a heart-warming 50 years.  

Out of sight

Although rarely seen by the public, our secret workforce silently maintain and restore all of the estate buildings, from grand stately manors, to the farmhouses and barns.

At Killerton, they make their own paint using a historic technique dating back to the Roman times. Clumps of raw lime is bought in from local sources, which they then mix with other ingredients, such as fats, chalk and ochre found on the estate. The ochre gives all of the estate buildings their distinctive mustard colour.

Budlake Post Office on the Killerton Estate. Ochre used in the lime plaster gives the properties their distinct yellow colour.
Budlake Post Office on the Killerton Estate. Ochre used in the lime plaster gives the properties their distinct yellow colour., that served the community until 1976

Alongside this, 'stone quarried on the estate is used for building repairs and renovation', says Bill Baker, Head of Killerton’s Direct Labour Team. With nearly 50 year's experience under his belt, Bill oversees 250 cottages and 50 farms, as well as Killerton House itself.


A day in the life of...

Our Direct Labour teams are the backbone of all that goes on in the estate’s wider network. From crafting original sash windows, making cob bricks, plumbing in 500 year old buildings, refurbishing a farmhouse or installing new green energy systems; no two days are the same.

They're responsible for hundreds of properties, carefully helping to reveal the significance of places and ensure that their special qualities are protected, enhanced, understood and enjoyed by present and future generations.

Conservation work being carried out on the Orangery at Tyntesfield, Somerset.
Conservation work being carried out on the Orangery at Tyntesfield, Somerset.


We couldn’t do it without you

Looking after and celebrating our country's most beautiful places helps keep them alive for everyone to enjoy now and for future generations to laugh, learn and play the same way we do today.

We couldn’t do the conservation work we do without the help of our members, supporters and volunteers. Thank you for your support.