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Sussex National Trust employees discuss their unusual occupations

PUBLISHED: 10:41 10 April 2014 | UPDATED: 10:43 10 April 2014

Sarah Foster and the Uppark dolls house - Photo by National Trust

Sarah Foster and the Uppark dolls house - Photo by National Trust

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From Medieval archery to jelly mould conservation - here, two National Trust employees discuss their unusual line of work

Lance Woodman - photo by National TrustLance Woodman - photo by National Trust

Costumed interpreter - Bodiam Castle, nr Robertsbridge, East Sussex

Bexhill-on-Sea resident, Lance Woodman knows all about dressing to impress when it comes to his job. He started work at Bodiam Castle three years ago as a costumed interpreter, spending his days dressed in period costume and talking about what life would have been like for his ‘character’ in the castle’s medieval heyday.

“I’m normally based in the castle courtyard for most of the day, dressed as a forester or baker” explains Lance. “When the castle is busy, I do a ten-minute presentation every hour. Subjects range from how to make the perfect loaf of medieval bread to comparing a crossbow to a longbow.”

When not busy with presentations, Lance and his team answer people’s questions, listen to their stories and help bring the castle and its past to life for visitors. Lance’s favourite part of the job is seeing the visitors enjoying their time at Bodiam Castle and being able to interact with so many different people.

“One minute I might be talking to a six-year-old about dragons and the next I’ll be chatting to a retired professor of medieval studies about arrow loops,” says Lance. “I hope they both get something out of meeting me – I know I get a lot from meeting them.”

Lance started off by shadowing volunteers at Bodiam Castle as they led educational tours to learn about the castle and its past as quickly as possible. He also read (and continues to read) lots of books and papers about the period. It is crucial for the team that their knowledge remains as extensive, accurate and up to date as possible.

So would he recommend a career as a costumed interpreter? “Absolutely. If you like history and are happy talking to people and performing, it can be a very satisfying job. If you want to get into it, you might consider volunteering at a site like Bodiam Castle first, to build up your skills, knowledge and confidence.”

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House manager - Uppark, South Harting, West Sussex

Many little girls are the proud owners of a doll’s house full of intricate details and beautiful furniture, but very few get to carry on looking after such delightful items into adulthood. However, Sarah Foster is one of the lucky ones - not only is she in charge of the stunning nine-roomed 1730s doll’s house on display at Uppark, but she also cares for the rest of the magnificent 17th-century mansion in her capacity as house manager.

Sarah heads up a team of four staff and 130 volunteers. Together, they look after the house and its contents, from arranging repairs and overseeing conservation projects to cleaning the contents and having input into specialist events and displays.

No two days are ever the same for Sarah. “I start the day by catching up with my emails. I might then move on to taking down some paintings that need to have conservation work carried out, or having a meeting about future events or special exhibitions. The afternoon could be spent guiding a group around the house, or I could be up to my ankles in water if the courtyard has flooded after heavy rain!”

Sarah has always had an interest in historic houses and she lives locally, with an easy 20-minute daily commute. She was fascinated by Uppark, following local media coverage of the devastating fire that took place there in 1989 and the subsequent restoration work that took place, and jumped at the chance to work there when a vacancy arose.

Sarah’s love for Uppark has never left her. “When I arrive at work, I walk down a peaceful drive through a tree lined garden with only the sounds of the birds to keep me company; no one could ask for a better start to their day!” She enjoys all aspects of her work, but confesses that the doll’s house is her favourite artefact, and she loves the routine of cleaning and caring for it.

“As house manager, I get to do the yearly checks and clean this magnificent object that was the inspiration for Queen Mary’s doll’s house at Windsor Castle. I love the fact that its contents were all made using the same skills required for full-scale furnishings. So, the silver has tiny hallmarks, and the paintings are real oil paint on canvas.

“There’s nothing more satisfying than taking out the intricate dolls, cups and pieces of furniture from one of the little rooms, cleaning it and very carefully putting it back again - all in the name of work!”

The National Trust, as a leading conservation organisation, provides in-house training to all its house teams. Everyone attends a housekeeping course, where they receive giving training on how to care for different types of objects and the fabric of 
the buildings. 
Courses also run on specific issues, such as pest and bug identification or how to roll an historic carpet correctly.

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