Housekeeping Training Blog Post No. 1
One of the questions conservation assistants are frequently asked is ‘how did you learn to care for the objects in your collection?’ A lot of our knowledge and skills is acquired by on-the-job training and conversations with other housekeeping staff – this has the benefit of training that is specifically tailored to our own properties. However, the National Trust also runs a ‘Housekeeping Study Days’ course for its employees to receive formal training about our conservation work. This is a great course which teaches us methods of looking after the sheer variety of objects and materials which are owned by the Trust, whilst giving us the opportunity to meet fellow workers from different properties all over the United Kingdom.
Two of Nostell Priory’s staff attended the Housekeeping Study Days course this year, at Blickling Hall in Norfolk. The next few blogs posts will follow our progress on the course, the sessions that we attended, and the skills that we learnt. Enjoy!
After a previous afternoon of theory, which covered conservation and agents of deterioration (more on the latter in a future blog post), the next day we travelled by coach to Blickling Hall, and attended sessions which included pest management, ceramics conservation, and furniture. Hence today’s blog post title of ‘Bugs, Pots and Wood’!
Here’s a taster of what we discovered:
Pests are a big problem in National Trust properties, so we had a session dedicated to identifying them, monitoring them, and recording their activity levels in our properties. At the top of the above photograph you can see a piece of wood which had been subject to a woodworm attack – this helped us to learn the signs of woodworm infestation. We will put up more blog posts about pests in the future.
During our wood and furniture session, we found out about the different varieties of gilding and the process to make gilded frames. We had the opportunity to hold some gilt leaf in our hands, which is incredibly light and easily destroyed!
Above is a beautiful sofa that we used to demonstrate the correct way of lifting and moving furniture. It’s not simply a matter of lifting and shifting – the route has to be carefully planned with obstructions removed and doors propped open. Lifting straps could be used, depending on the fragility and the type of furniture. It’s important for people of the same height to move furniture together, so the object remains the same distance above the ground – this is particularly important if moving an object up the stairs to ensure that the object is evenly balanced.
An interesting exercise in the furniture session was when we were presented with a scenario of a display and had to discuss what was right and wrong, and what changes needed to be made. Of the scenarion in the photograph above, one of the main issues was the flowers which were too large for their vase, too near the portrait and had no protection beneath it (flowers in themselves are not a problem, we just need to take care that pollen is removed – particularly on lilies which are attractive to death watch beetles – and that there is no risk of water spillage onto the furniture that the flowers are on). More issues include lack of protection of the furniture surface underneath the vases and photographs (possible scratching, maybe put a felt mat under the vases and move the photographs elsewhere) and the suggestion that the objects were too near the entrance to the room, which means there is more possibilty of them being knocked over.
Almost every National Trust property has some form of ceramics collection, and so we were taught how to handle different sizes and shapes of ceramics, clean them, and pack away broken fragments (a vital skill so that nothing is lost!)
An important point to consider is not only how to care for the ceramics but also how to display them – we looked at a selection of displaying equipment both old and new, and looked at their strong and weak points, and what would be most likely to protect the object.
As you will see in forthcoming blog posts, the course is very fast paced, detailed, and covers a lot of ground quickly. We both came away knowing a great deal more about conservation than we did before, eager to put our skills into good use at Nostell. We hope that you’ll enjoy following our progress throughout the course as we put up new blog posts.