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Collection Protection

Old Spectacles and case

You can’t touch it, taste it, hear it or smell it, but without it we wouldn’t be able to see. Light; it is one of the elements that causes the most damage to a museum’s Collection. As a museum we are responsible for caring for the items in our Collection, displaying them for the public and making sure that they are protected from potential irreparable damage…and to do this we need your help!

Light: the facts.

  1. The speed of light is 299 792 458 m/s or 670,616,629 mph, fast enough that if you travelled at the speed of light you could go around the World 7.5 times in 1 second.
  2. Without light there would be no life on Earth.
  3. Light is electromagnetic radiation and our eyes can only see a certain portion of light, this is called visible light.

Both visible light and ultra violet light, which the human eye can’t see, cause damage to organic items within our Collection. Visible light causes objects to fade. UV light does this too at a much faster rate whilst also degrading the item on a molecular level.

Embroidery in John Ray Room closeup, Jennifer Habart, 18.01.2015

We have a collection of tapestries, like this one, that needs our protection 

We can stop this by limiting the amount of light that gets to the objects. The best way to do this is to keep them in a dark box so no light could get to them. Unfortunately this would make us a very boring museum as there would be nothing for our visitors to see. So we need to use blinds to block light hitting objects when we are not open to visitors, put UV filters on our windows to eliminate UV light getting through and to replace our existing light bulbs with LED bulbs that don’t emit UV light.

What will this cost?

1 LED light bulb = £3.50
1 window pane UV filter = £4.50
1 window UV filter = £54
1 window blind = £95

And how many do we need…?

76 light bulbs
162 window pane filters
7 window blinds

Can you donate today to help with our Collection Protection?

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Propagating our John Ray roses

John Ray Rose

We have a rare rose in our gardens. It is named after the ‘Father of English Botany’ John Ray and we believe that it is the only example left in the country. With this in mind we have taken up the challenge of attempting to propagate this beautiful and fragrant rose. This blog tells the beginnings of our attempts…

The best time to propagate roses is from new growth, however we did not want to wait until the spring so we have decided to try our luck with cuttings created when we cut back the roses this autumn, ready for the winter. We have 6 plants in total in our gardens and want to make sure that we have new plants to replace any that we may loose and so wanted to start the process as soon as possible.

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Step One : How we took the cuttings
We made sure that the cuttings were taken from this year’s growth and were about 25cm in length. Making sure that we cut below a bud at the base and above the bud at the shoot tip. We then removed all of the leaves except the one at the top. The cuttings are then placed in a glass container half filled with water making sure that the ends without leaves are in the water.

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Step Two : The Waiting Game
The cuttings will stay in the water for anywhere between 1 and 3 months. So far they have been in the water about a month and we are starting to see signs of new growth at the shoots. When we start to see growth at the ends in the water, in terms of the beginnings of roots, we will know that they are ready to plant on into soil. We will update you with the progress of our cuttings throughout the winter.

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You may notice that there are a few less cuttings now than we had to start with, that is because some haven’t grown and they have dried out. So far we have had a 50% success rate which we are very pleased with and we are hoping that these cuttings will survive the winter and be ready to pot into soil in the earl spring. Then we should have lots of new John Ray rose plants ready for the gardens and maybe ready for sale in our new nursery. Come and visit us in the spring to see for yourselves how they are getting on…

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It’s all in the planning

We host a lot of events here at Middleton Hall, and the biggest one of the year is our Christmas Food & Craft Market.  But what exactly goes into the planning of an event like this…?

2 days, 49 stall holders, 45 volunteers, 2 members of staff, 62m of Christmas lights, 25kg sweet chestnuts, 152 colouring pencils, 3 Christmas Trees, 102 roadside posters, 26 bottles of mulled wine, 14 Christmas wreaths and a weekend of lovely early winter weather…oh wait the weather is the one thing that we can’t arrange!

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The Team at the Hall start planning for our Christmas Market way back in April. April is a long way out from Christmas you may think but the beginning planning stages do really start 227 days before the Market actually takes place. Marquee hire and booking Santa in start this early to make sure that they are both available, they get booked up quickly so we have to make sure that we are prepared! Then the focus can turn to organising the stall holders and making sure that those that want to come have a place.

In the days leading up to the Market the final preparations are done, the tables laid out, the marquee put up, Santa’s Grotto is decorated and all of those little things that make the day run smoothly like direction signs for our visitors and wifi code handouts for the stall holders who use card payment machines are all ready. Even with the best planning some things still go wrong, if I had one wish it would be that the Georgian owners of the Hall had built the walls a little thinner so that the wifi connection would be more reliable, which is why I will rely on cash rather than cards this weekend.

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So if you want to escape the Black Friday Weekend crowds why not visit us instead? We are really proud to support local food producers, artisan crafters and small businesses and would love it if you did too. Whether you are looking to stock up on edible Christmas goodies or find that perfect Christmas gift that the High Street just doesn’t stock, or even just to visit Santa, make sure that you stop by between 10am and 4pm this Saturday and Sunday.

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Without our volunteers we wouldn’t be able to put on an event like this, they kindly give their time so that all the money that we take can be put back into the Hall in order to continue restoring and maintaining our lovely buildings and grounds. Thank you to everyone that will help us over the weekend, you do such a wonderful job and always with a smile!

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Best friends to play star crossed lovers

Misnomer Theatre are putting the finishing touches to their performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet which they are performing here at the Hall this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Alex is back again to tell us a little bit more about what is going on…

“Romeo and Juliet follows the story of two lovers caught up between their feuding families, and the leading actors are played by best friends Neil Lucas and Olivia Shepherd, who met just last year when they played alongside each other in the Tamworth pantomime.”

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Neil said: “In the last twelve months we have worked together on three different shows, and we always seem to end up as lovers! We are also working together as Aladdin and the Princess in this year’s pantomime, so fate seems to be bringing us together on the stage.

“To play the part of Romeo has been exciting and challenging and I’ve loved working with the rest of the cast. We have become so close throughout this process and I’ve learned so much.  Middleton Hall is the perfect place to be doing this and it’s not hard to imagine yourself being from a different time period when you’re here.”

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Neil is a hairdresser and runs Alter Ego Salon just off Buckingham Road, while Olivia works at Tamworth Castle, as well as being a drama teacher and Local Councillor for Fazeley.

Olivia said: “I’ve always wanted to play Juliet, it’s such an iconic part and one I can really get my teeth into. It’s fantastic working with such a good local cast, who are mainly made up of members of the local community, some of whom have never been in a Shakespeare play before. It’s an exciting challenge and we can’t wait to get to Middleton Hall next Friday and get started.”

Romeo and Juliet has tickets available for Sunday 8 November at 1pm and 7pm, with limited availability for Saturday 7. The opening Friday night is now completely sold out.

 

Tickets are £12 and include a complimentary drink on arrival and tea and coffee in the interval. They can be bought from the Tamworth Tourist Information Centre on 01827 709618 or from www.MisnomerTheatre.co.uk.

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Vic the Vicar swaps sermon for stage

A Tamworth reverend has a very special marriage to organise this November – between two of the world’s most famous lovers. Vic Van Den Bergh will swap the pulpit for a stage at Middleton Hall when he becomes Friar Laurence for three nights in a special production of Romeo and Juliet.

Vic said: “When I was asked about playing such an iconic character as Friar Laurence, my first thought was, ‘Why not?’. After all, if we don’t take the opportunities that come up we’ll never know what we’ve missing out on.

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“That said, the task of learning lines and then making them work (and remembering them again) when you’re interacting with the other characters and is really hard work. I never thought drama was easy, but I had no idea of the hours of learning, rehearsing, and rehearsing again or of the tightrope one walks playing a character on stage – and yet, when it comes together the story, the language and the cast members bring about something quite sublime!”

Vic arrived in Tamworth in 2003 and is currently based at St Francis’ church on the Leyfields. He is very popular in the community and is a chaplain to many organisations, including Staffordshire Police, Sea Cadets, Air Cadets, National Memorial Arboretum and the British Army. He is also a member of Tamworth Street Angels and is a keen blogger, keeping everybody up-to-date on his twitter feed @VicTheVicar.

Vic continued: “When you think about Romeo and Juliet, it’s a play that has it all: family feuds, fighting, flawed relationships, over the top friends, love interests, a balcony scene and a well-meaning Franciscan Friar – how fitting that I’m at St Francis’ church!

“Move all this to the wonderful setting that is Middleton Hall and you know that this is going to be something special – let’s hope I can live up to those around me. All right Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close up!”

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Romeo and Juliet has four performances at Middleton Hall from Friday 6 to Sunday 8 November, with a matinee on the Sunday. Tickets are £12 and can be bought from the Tamworth Tourist Information Centre on 01827 709618 or by buying online.

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Nature Club – Small Mammal Surveys

We have recently started a Nature Club here at the Hall, as we hope to catalogue all the varied species of wildlife that live on our Estate. With all of this information we can look after and improve their habitats whilst sharing our knowledge of them with our visitors. Over the year there will be a series of guest bloggers telling you all about their specific area of interest and expertise. 

Small Mammals by Bob Williams

If you look carefully you can see evidence of the larger mammals that we have on site, from their homes dug into the ground, foot prints and you can even watch the rabbits and Muntjac deers in the fields. Our smaller residents don’t leave such easily seen trails so we have to find different ways of discovering which different species we have on site. We use small humane traps that we fill with food and hay. The traps are set in early evening and then collected early the next morning. None of the animals are harmed and all are released back to the same point that they were found.

Flower Meadow John Ward, Bob Williams & Alan Carlin doing a Small Mammal Survey, Joanna Habart, 13.10.2015

This morning we were checking the traps laid last night on the border between the Flower Meadow and the reed bed of the Lake. This area of the Estate is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, or a SSSI, as it is an important site for breeding birds, wildflowers and moths and butterflies. We were hoping to find some Water shrews this morning as this is their preferred habitat as it is semi-aquatic and so like to live close to water. We found one! but had to take precautions when freeing it from the trap as Water shrews unusually among mammals have venomous saliva which they use to stun their prey. Even humans can feel this if the teeth break the skin so we had to be careful and keep our fingers out of the way.

Water Shrew as part of small mammal survey in the flower meadow and lake border, Joanna Habart, 13.10.2015

Water shrew- Neomys fodiens

Earlier in the week we conducted another survey along a stream’s bank and in woodland and found a few other different species. We found several Wood mice and Field voles and took pictures and kept a record of what we found and where we found them, along with a description of the sex and age of the little critter. We are going to conduct these surveys each year and keep a record of them so we can keep a track over time of the species we have here and make sure that we are properly maintaining their habitats.

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Field vole – Microtus agrestis

The surveys that we have been conducting are not proper scientific surveys as these would entail marking out grids and putting out numerous traps in defined positions. We have been conducting a general survey to start with just to find out what we have and will hope to conduct a more thorough one in the future. Our next ones are planned for April 2016 to see how the change of season changes the small mammal populations on site. If you would like to get involved please get in touch and join our Nature Club!

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A Visitors View

Our Blog is written by many people, our volunteers, our Nature Club, visiting Theatre Groups and now also one of our visitors. So far this year we have welcomed thousands of visitors to the Hall on our Open Days and Event Days and on our Heritage Open Day Tony was one of these visitors.

Tony writes for a website called Weekend Notes which gives readers a chance to find out about fun and interesting things to do in the places that they live. We are very pleased that we qualify as a fun or interesting thing to do and are grateful that Tony has shared his article with us, so we thought it only fair that we share it with you too. Here are a few excerpts and pictures from Tony’s article as he has kindly given us permission to reproduce them in this Blog. For the whole article a link will follow at the end of this page.

“I visited Middleton Hall as part of the Tamworth Heritage Open Day on September 13, during which there were displays by a Napoleonic era re-enactment group.”

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Tony mentions something that we don’t mention enough, The Peel Society. We are really proud that they call Middleton Hall their home and if you haven’t heard about them before I shall let Tony introduce them… “The Society was founded in 1979 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Metropolitan Police Force, founded by Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, who lived at nearby Drayton Manor, home to the Peel family from 1790 to 1925. The unique collection of Peel memorabilia also focuses on Sir Robert’s two other great reforms – the Catholic Emancipation Act 1829 and the Repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 – while the Police Museum houses a collection of police memorabilia including a display of old truncheons, uniforms and even a police rattle used before the invention of the police whistle in the 1870s.”

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Follow the link below to read Tony’s summary of the history of the Hall, the best summary we have come across in a long time. The article is also full of some lovely photos and points out the bits of the Hall that as a visitor you should definitely try to see. Thank you again for sharing this article Tony and we hope that the tale of your visit inspires others to visit too.

http://www.weekendnotes.co.uk/middleton-hall-tamworth/

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“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”

At Middleton Hall it would seem…but we shall leave it up to Alex from Misnomer Theatre to explain more. 

Group Shot Inside (002)

There were mixed emotions as the cast of Romeo and Juliet stepped through the doors of Middleton Hall for the first time on Sunday. We are made up of professional, semi-pro and amateur actors from the local community, and some of our ensemble had never even seen the inside of the beautiful Great Hall before, yet alone uttered a rhyming couplet from the Bard in front of an audience. Some of us were excited, others entered with more trepidation, and a few were just downright nervous, as the gravitas of this project suddenly hit them.

Shakespeare is a writer we are all familiar with – in many ways he’s a part of modern culture. Likewise, Romeo and Juliet is possibly the greatest love story ever told. No pressure then?

But the moment the costumes were on, it was like we had been transported back to the 16th century on stage at the Globe. The cast jumped into life, delivering their lines with aplomb, and duelling with vigour. It made me quite proud to see, as some of our members started the process quite out of their comfort zone, and they are now effortlessly reciting prose and strutting around like they’ve been a Capulet or a Montague all of their lives.

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Lady Capulet scolding Juliet and the nurse

Another delight to see is the age range of our ensemble. The youngest is 15, and the oldest is 75, but they all work together and help each other out like one big happy Shakespearean family! And we really are a cross-section of society, with a hairdresser, a councillor, a clown, a radio presenter and even a real vicar as part of the cast!

For me, this is my second Shakespeare production at Middleton Hall, the first being in the walled garden around four years ago, but it is the first to be performed within the great hall itself. The audience gets taken on a journey, and the action takes place from all angles, so they will be looking up, down, left and right.

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Alex as Mercutio

There are definitely some stars in the making in Misnomer Theatre. None more so than Davut Sebastian, a Midlands boy who commutes from his new home in London to be part of this special production. He plays the fiery Tybalt, who bursts onto stage with a magical blend of charisma and anger which keeps the audience on the edge of their seats.

The balcony scene between Romeo and Juliet also proves one not to be missed, with a real passion and affection which should move even the hardest of heart to believe in love at first sight.

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We rehearse two or three times a week, and the closer we get to November the more excited we all get about performing in this beautiful setting.

Tickets are starting to sell fast, so you can buy them now from the Tamworth Tourist Information Centre on 01827 709618 or from www.MisnomerTheatre.co.uk or the middleton hall website.

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August News from the Gardens & Grounds

Almost all the summer flowers are coming to the end of their displays, the fruit in the orchard is ripe and the leaves are starting ever so slowly to turn, it must be time for autumn.

We will begin to start the process of ‘putting the gardens to bed’ for the winter, which will involve mulching the flower beds to ensure a brilliant display next year, mowing the lawns for the last time, picking all of the apples, pears and damsons that are currently weighing down their branches and generally getting ready to start our winter projects.

One of these projects will involve starting the process of next year’s compost creation. We have built three new compost bays this year with part of a legacy left to us by one of our volunteers. Margaret loved the gardens here and is largely responsible for how they are laid out today, she also knew the importance of good compost, so although not especially glamorous the compost bays will be a lasting legacy to her influence here and will ensure that the gardens stay as she enjoyed them.

compost bays

Another job on the list this month was the cutting of the Hornbeam hedge at the front of the Hall. It is a mammoth task and took our Head Grounds Manager and a team of 5 volunteers a whole day to complete. The Hornbeams were planted around 30 years ago and recently the volunteer who was responsible for planting them as saplings came back to see how they had grown and to check that we were still taking good care of them. Needless to say he was very happy with the progress and how well they had grown into the shape that he originally envisaged. The link below is a video of our volunteers hard at work on this task.

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In May I saw a pair of Great Crested Grebe performing their amazing mating dance on the lake, but since then nothing.  Then on the 26th August I saw a female Grebe on the lake with three chicks.  This is a bit strange as breeding season is usually April to June, so these chicks are a bit late, but it is great to see them. The wildflower survey continues and an interesting plant has been recorded across the estate – The Pineapple Weed or Wild Camomile.  The plant exudes an aroma of pineapples when the flower heads are crushed.  They are edible and have been used in salads and for making herbal tea.  It is also medicinal and can help upset stomachs, infected sores and fevers.

Wild Camomile

As we move into September there will be hopefully even more to see around the Grounds and next month’s news.

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Nature Club – Bats in the Attic

We have recently started a Nature Club here at the Hall, as we hope to catalogue all the varied species of wildlife that live on our Estate. With all of this information we can look after and improve their habitats whilst sharing our knowledge of them with our visitors. Over the year there will be a series of guest bloggers telling you all about their specific area of interest and expertise. 

Bats by Bob Williams 

Five known species of bats can be found in the grounds of Middleton Hall.  The largest in number are the Brown Long Eared Bats which, we are fortunate to know, roost in the attic of the Hall.

Brown Long Eared bats (Plecotus auritusare about 4 – 5.5cms long and hunt for insects on trees rather than those flying, and usually fly at the end of dusk. Not easy to see as they are in amongst the tree branches. The next most numerous bat in the grounds is the Pipistrelle both the Common (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) and the Soprano (P.pygmaeus). Our smallest bats, being not much bigger than the top joint of your thumb.  These can be found mostly in the open glades down the nature trail, although some can be found flying around the outbuildings.  Daubenton’s  (Myotis daubentonii) a medium sized bat  but still only 6cm long can be seen in fair numbers feeding on insects over Middleton Lake, with possibly Leisler’s (Nyctalus leisleri) feeding higher up at the tree tops. There are also Noctules (Nyctalus noctula) our biggest bat at 8.5cms, flying above the trees on the nature trail, their favourite prey being the larger moths that also live here.  There are possibly other Myotids in the vicinity, but as the echo location calls of these all sound similar to each other, it is difficult to distinguish between them with out serious analysis of their calls.

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Image: Common pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) courtesy of Mnolf

Many people consider bats as a nuisance but we would be in a sorry state without them, a pipistrelle for example will eat as many as 3000 midges in a night, and all British bats are what is known as an indicator species, this means the number of bats present in an area indicate the quality of the environment. Some  people think they are rodents, but nothing could be further from the truth, they are actually closer related to us than rodents, they don’t damage buildings by gnawing the timber like rodents can. Generally they don’t carry disease although a very few can carry a version of rabies, but not the type that is dangerous to humans.

They are a very interesting and fascinating species of animal, one that overall is in danger due to habitat loss and the use of agricultural chemicals.

If you would to like more information about these tiny animals then join us at Middleton Hall on the evening of the 28th August for our bat talk and walk.

The video clip of a Brown Long Eared Bat was taken in the attic of the hall using an automatic infra-red trail camera.

 

 

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