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Behind the scenes at Fairfax House in York

PUBLISHED: 00:00 17 June 2019

Hannah Phillip takes time out to enjoy Fairfax House in York with her dog Pip

Hannah Phillip takes time out to enjoy Fairfax House in York with her dog Pip

Richard Doughty Photography. www.richarddoughty.com

Hannah Phillip, The director of Fairfax House in York celebrates ten years of fashion, flutes and unmentionable French fancies

Hannah’s passion for historic fashion was ignited in Australia and has grown in strength since she moved to YorkshireHannah’s passion for historic fashion was ignited in Australia and has grown in strength since she moved to Yorkshire

People have been known to travel a fair old way to enjoy the Georgian splendour of Fairfax House, but few have clocked up more than 10,000 miles (give or take) to get there.

But that's precisely what Hannah Phillip did in 2009 when she gave up her job managing the National Trust of South Australia's historic flagship mansion, Ayers House, in Adelaide to become director of Fairfax House on Castlegate in York.

She arrived a decade ago determined to build on the Georgian gem's fascinating history, architecture and collections and, in the years since, has brought her own vision, ambition and expertise to bear to make it, arguably, one of Britain's finest heritage townhouses.

Hannah with the Hindley telescope – part of her 2013 Keeping Time exhibition – created by eminent York clockmaker Henry HindleyHannah with the Hindley telescope – part of her 2013 Keeping Time exhibition – created by eminent York clockmaker Henry Hindley

'What a rollercoaster it's been with many lows as, of course, there must be, but so many tremendous highs,' said Hannah. 'The greatest privilege and thrill in equal measure has been the wonderful opportunity I was handed ten years ago; the challenge to stamp my own mark on this exquisite townhouse, to take it forward in every way and to help bring it the attention it justly deserves.

'We often say that we punch above our weight at Fairfax House, and I like doing just that. Best of all though has been the absolute pleasure of working with so many people. My team are exceptional in every way. Our volunteers have a dedication and passion for this house that makes me immensely proud and it is a joy to work with them. And, of course, there are so many people connected to the house that help and support us time and time again. We have an enormous amount to be proud of.'

She, too, can enter her second decade at the helm with her head held high, knowing visitor numbers have increased during her tenure, the museum has achieved official accreditation (in 2011) and that the York attraction has gained an enviable reputation for delivering dynamic events and ground-breaking exhibitions taking in all manner of topics from weird and wonderful Georgian entertainments and luxury shopping to Jacobite rebellions and the fascinating intricacies of timekeeping.

Fairfax House in Castlegate, YorkFairfax House in Castlegate, York

Hannah has travelled the length and breadth of the UK seeking out special objects on loan and establishing vital new partnerships with more than 100 museums, institutions and collectors, including the V&A and The Royal Collection.

Among the many sensational objects to have come to Yorkshire on loan in the last ten years are the Precision Number 2 clock by John Harrison (the greatest name in timekeeping), which had never been on public display before, a porcelain flute that belonged to King George III, the Duke of Wellington's boots and an ivory sex toy from a French convent.

A quick bite to eat – Georgian styleA quick bite to eat – Georgian style

Hannah's passion for historic fashion - a flame lit by the extensive collection of stunning 19th and 20th century gowns at Ayers House - has continued to burn brightly in York. It started with Dress to Impress: Revealing Georgian Fashion in 2010 and has since taken in Georgian accessories and the rise and fall of the Georgian heel. Her fifth fashion-centric exhibition - The Georgian Edit - opens at Fairfax House next month.

Among her other 'greatest hits' have been the much-loved Fairfax House After Dark performances (now in their ninth year), which shine a light (as it were) on after-hours life, and the biennial Silver Screen Festival, which looked at scene-stealing animals earlier this year in Animalia, which included a screening of Hitchcock's iconic feathered frightener The Birds.

Hannah has packed a lot in to her first ten years, so what's left to do? Lots, apparently; starting with a major new project - 'Seeing Fairfax House in a new light' - which promises to be the biggest transformation the property has undergone in more than 35 years, reproducing the serene beauty of natural daylight, without its usual damaging side-effects, to showcase the historic interiors and reveal the true colours and textures of the time.

Safe to say, she's not planning on putting her feet up - on a claw-footed Georgian foot stool or anywhere else - anytime soon. 

For full details of what's happening at Fairfax House, visit fairfaxhouse.co.uk.

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