Spotlight on: Water

Agent of Deterioration No. 2 – WATER

Everybody knows that lots of water and buildings do not mix very well, as seen in the recent floods in various parts of the country. Therefore to stay topical, I thought this week’s spotlight blog post would be about a second agent of deterioration – water.

We don’t want any water spillages onto carpets or furniture inside Nostell!

The damaging effects of water are numerous and varied. They include: efflorescence (more commonly known as the creation of ‘tide marks’) and staining, swelling of objects through intake of water, corroding of material such as metals, objects coming apart through the dissolving of glues, cockling and buckling, disintegration (for example when water comes into contact with paper), warping, shrinking, and the presence of water can also encourage the growth of mould.

This water mark was made after a flower vase stood on top of the table for a number of years. The amount of fading is from continual watering of the flowers and subsequent leaks/spillages.

Water can be divided into three main ‘types’. First there are the huge masses of water (which we really really don’t want) such as a flash flood, a river overflowing or a bursting water main. There are also maintenance issues that are concerned with water, such as a roof leak, a plumbing mishap, or general spillages during work activities. Finally, there are what you might call the ‘environmental’ aspects, such as those to do with condensation, rising damp, and changes in relative humidity (the latter is the amount of water in the air, which is closely related to temperature). Relative humidity will be covered in a future spotlight blog post. All of these would encourage the growth of mould and the influx of a variety of unwanted little beasties and pests.

On the ground floor we have real flowers as they really bring the house to life and there is less of a conservation worry for the floors. They are arranged in what is known as ‘oasis’, which is a floristry tool which absorbs water and reduces the need for watering, thus reducing the risk of further damage by watering. On the state floor, we use only artificial silk flowers as there is a greater risk of damage to objects in those rooms.

On the flowers we do put out, we regularly check for petals falling (like in the above photo) as they can attract pests. Lillies are a particular problem as Deathwatch Beetles like to mate in them. Pollen stems need to be cut off before they can be put on display.

A few weeks ago we had a torrential downpour of rain. This had an adverse affect on one of our internal downpipes which was already partially blocked. The damp spread rapidly to the outer walls (see the photo below) and a few days later water started leaking into the Breakfast Room, which is one of the state rooms. Fortunately it was noticed in time and the mirror could be taken off the wall, cabinets moved and paintings re-homed, but the wallpaper got rather damp. It was a busy morning! We’re still waiting for it to dry out before we can put things back in their place. Regular checks of the humidity levels are being taken to ensure that things are going back to normal and that the other items in the room are not affected by the change. We’ve taken some more detailed photos of the incident to share with you in a future blog post.

Damp on the outer wall of Nostell

Protective plastic sheets and paper towels to soak up the worst of the wetness. These were rolled back so that the public could still enter the room.

Damp inside the White Room. This is on our ‘to do’ list, as it will be a big task to sort out the damp problem in the room. One for professional conservators and restoration people!

We hope that this post gives you some idea of why liquids (in particular water) are not allowed inside National Trust properties, and the damage that can be done by this agent of deterioration. This is not to say don’t stop drinking it for refreshment – it is, after all, Adam’s ale!



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