Isla recently joined us at Arundells for some work experience before heading off to Uni. We have loved having her around and she will be greatly missed, but hopefully we can lure her back in the future. Read Isla’s account of her time at Arundells below.
I started volunteering at Arundells after emailing on a bit of a whim. Faced with three months of empty summer holidays I was looking for an opportunity to occupy myself and hopefully get something useful out of it. Ideally, linking to me going on to study History at the University of Leeds in September. I looked up every historical place in Salisbury and Arundells was the only place that really stuck out as being very welcoming to new volunteers. The information was all there on a beautifully designed web page, all I had to do was send an email. So I did. I went in not expecting much, maybe helping out with room stewarding once or twice a week, although the thought of having to learn all the information about such historically dense, artifact-filled house did mildly terrify me. But when I later on received an email from Annie that had attached to it a colour coded schedule complete with three columns and descriptions of everything I would be doing, I realised that this would be a lot more interesting than I could’ve originally hoped for.
I started off with an ill-fated research project that involved making a digital version of The Hawkings’ Diary, a meticulous journal kept by Kate and Robert Hawking detailing their restoration of the house in the 1960s. However, the original diary belongs to Salisbury Museum and due to Covid regulations forcing them to limit access to their archives the project was unfortunately put on hold. But there was soon another equally exciting job that needed doing – laminating information packs! (The repetition can actually be quite relaxing after a while so I still enjoyed myself.) The activities kept coming after that; a little bit of room stewarding covering tea breaks and some accosting visitors to force them to do a marketing survey. I even dragged two of my friends along to help me waitress at the volunteer party where we accidently made enough Pimm’s for a small village to drink. I was also tasked with making a children’s treasure hunt as well as an information sheet on ‘Famous Arundells Dinner Guests’ which I probably spent far too much time designing to look all pretty.
One of my favourite tasks was writing my own historical blog post about Isabel Arundell (the great-granddaughter of James Everard Arundell who gave the house its name) and her husband, international explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton. I discovered a copy of her autobiography online and found it fascinating to have a window into a long-dead Victorian woman’s life and see so many similarities in the candid way that she writes to our lives today. From intense and beautiful descriptions of the places she travelled to, to extracts on how she criticised her own looks, ‘I fretted because I was too fat to slip into what is usually called “our stock size,” and my complexion was by no means pale and interesting enough to please me’, even if the mention of visiting a phrenologist a few paragraphs later did serve as a stark reminder of our differences.
I also enjoyed getting the chance to do some curatorship/conservation work and learn about what it takes to keep the several hundred artifacts in the house in pristine condition. Safe from dust, dirt, mould, and any creepy crawlies that like munching on ancient books and curtains. Getting up close and personal with one of the model ships in the entrance hall to clean the grime off of it was definitely a highlight despite the stress of trying not to get tangled in the intricate rigging and bring the whole thing crashing to the floor. I also had fun tying to dodge spiders when cleaning out the wine cellar and even found some cigars given to Heath by Fidel Castro. Painting the ‘Heath the Soldier’ exhibition room came as a change of pace as I got to be a bit messier, the paint roller was a bit more fun to use than cotton swabs. The events are also especially fun to volunteer at, if not for the amazing performances but also spending time with the other volunteers.
I’ve met some really amazing people here and heard some really wonderful stories whether they’re about the artifacts in the house, what Edward Heath was like at home, or maybe more personal topics. I’ve really had a fantastic time and am truly lucky to have had such a brilliant experience which of course wouldn’t have been possible without Annie, Jess, Ivan and Kate who put up with me invading their office space for two months and have been nothing but lovely and supportive. Thank you for having me.