A bit of spit and polish

Unlike cleaning silver (which really smells), cleaning the rest of the metalwork at Nostell is much better, as the wax smells lovely and harks back to the days when housemaids would give a ‘bit of spit and polish’ to metal to clean it on a regular basis. Nowadays, we clean our metalwork once a year.

Poker with flambeau finial

Nostell has a very large collection of fire irons (pokers, tongs and coal shovels). We invited our volunteers along for a day to share with them the skills and techniques used to conserve our metalwork. Having the volunteers with us for a day was fantastic, as it meant we got all of the metalwork in the house cleaned!

In this blog post you’ll find out how we go about cleaning our metalwork. Steel, iron, brass, copper – you named it we cleaned it!

Blue nitrile gloves

Blue nitrile gloves are worn to protect the metal from the sweat, chemicals and grease that exist on our hands.

Metal brush (top) and hog’s hair brush (bottom)

Brushes we use include the metal brush (top) which is used to buff up larger items (particularly copper kitchen ware) and the hog’s hair brush (bottom), which is used to gently brush dust into the nozzle of a low-suction vacuum cleaner.

Low suction museum vacuum cleaner

Goliath lamp – an absolute essential when it’s winter and the house is dark!

Steel wire wool for getting rid of rust

We use the finest steel wool to gently rub away any rust that may have formed on the metalwork.

After the fire irons have been brush vacuumed and de-rusted, we can wax them using Renaissance wax and cotton wool.

Renaissance wax for the fire irons

Metalwork duster/buffer

Once an object has been waxed, we can buff it up using a blue duster (above). An important rule with metalwork is that ‘whatever you put on, you must take off!’ The aim is to buff away the wax residues.

Hard at work waxing the fire irons

Volunteers get to grips with a fender

Thanks to all of the volunteers who came on the metalwork conservation workshop – it was a really good day!

Cleaned and sorted fire irons. Hopefully they will go back into the right room!

We also had a big sort out and inventory of the fire irons, as over the years parts of sets have been moved and swapped to different rooms. After a lot of head scratching, ee managed to arrange them in their correct sets and put them back in their correct rooms. Job well done!


I Spy With My Little Eye…

A few months ago, one of the regular readers of the Nostell Priory Conservation Blog requested that we have a post focusing on the escutcheons and handles that are a feature of our furniture. Escutcheons are the metal fastenings which surround the keyhole of a door, for a combination of protection and/or decoration.

More than happy to oblige, I spent some time walking around Nostell and taking photographs of some of the more interesting examples. Most were supplied by Thomas Chippendale.

It’s amazing what you see when you take time to look!

Prizes if you can guess which pieces of furniture they are from! (No prizes really…)

The three below hail from the Crimson Bedroom. They are a great example of how something so small can be quite beautiful.


Carved brass escutcheon

Chinese cabinet

Chinese cabinet escutcheon

Drawer handle and keyhole

Ornate handle and escutcheon combination

From the chinoiserie furniture in the State Bedroom come the two examples below. The escutcheons are rather insignificant when you look at the lacquer decoration surrounding them. I particularly like the leopard/cheetah!

Chinoiserie furniture

Chinoiserie handle and escutcheon


Chinoiserie cheetah/leopard, and escutcheon

Delicate double round handles in the Saloon, no escutcheon around the lock. Maybe this drawer wasn’t used very often? It’s from a beautiful lady’s writing table.

Writing table

Lady’s Writing Table

I’m sure you can guess the object below…



Below is the super small door handle on the false door in the Library. It would have to be unnoticeable so that it wouldn’t detract from the overall effect when the disguised door was closed.

False door

Library false door handle

Also in the Library, the huge writing desk…

Writing desk

Chippendale writing desk in the Library

The lower cupboards around the room also have no escutcheon (see below). This could be so that visitors’ attentions focused on the wealth displayed in the shelves upon shelves of books, rather than on other little details.


Library cupboard

The Medal Cabinet, with a military row of vertical drawer handles:

Cabinet drawers

Medal Cabinet row of drawer handles

What’s this piece of furniture, with no escutcheon around the lock? The picture next to it might give you a clue…


John Harrison longcase clock

It’s the John Harrison longcase clock! John Harrison is the gentleman in the photo to the left of the clock. Did you guess correctly?

An absolutely gorgeous ecutcheon below, extremely elaborate and decorative!


Elaborate Chinese escutcheon

And finally, for something completely different…

LionRoar! This chap is carved around the very large keyhole of a wooden chest. The whole chest is intricately carved, interesting to examine, and very heavy to move! It dates from the late 17th century.

We hope you’ve enjoyed having a closer look at some of the details on the furniture here at Nostell. If you have any requests for future blog posts, please let us know and we’ll write one for you!

What’s that smell?

Historic houses are full of smells. What smells, you might wonder?

Well, historically there could be smells of polish from servants busy polishing shoes and riding boots, kitchen delights of baking and roasting wafting through the air, perfume and lavendar water from a lady’s dressing room, an aroma of sherry drifting from an open decanter in the library, cigars after dinner, fresh washing from the laundry, smoke from the fires, mothballs and fur coats, scented flowers from the garden, and wet dogs running through the hallways. And… rotten eggs.

Rotten eggs?

The explanation must be that the conservation team have been doing some work at Nostell which resulted in such a smell pervading visitors’ nostrills. So, what were we doing? Our work table might give you a clue…

Work table ready for an afternoon’s hard graft!

We were cleaning the silver! Did you guess correctly?

We clean our silver once a year, and the product we use is Goddard’s Silver Dip. The dip removes all of the tarnish that accumulates over one year’s exposure to air and the elements. It’s the silver dip which smells! It works by removing sulphur from the silver surface, which removes the tarnish and leaves a bright silver finish. It’s the sulphur that gives off the eggy odour!

Today’s task was to clean the silver centrepiece which sits on the State Dining Room table, and is a focal point for the room.

It’s a Victorian candelabra with a tricorn base, dated 1830-1870, with grape, cupid, and vine motifs. Here it has been decorated with red, white and blue for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

The centrepiece separates into different pieces. This meant we could clean it as a team (and it would be a lot quicker than one person doing it by themselves!)

Here’s what we did!

We don’t actually dip the silver into the silver dip, as this would remove too much of the surface. We apply it carefully with cotton wool buds. This ensures we only use a small amount at a time, and can get into the nooks and crannies of the ornamentation

We also use soft bristle toothbrushes for larger areas that don’t have intricate decoration

The colour co-ordination of clothes and nitrile gloves was not intentional, honest! We wear nitrile gloves with all metalwork to stop grease from our hands transferring to the objects, which could result in deterioration (and unsightly finger prints!)

Once the silver dip has been applied, we then rinse it in warm water and dry it off. Rinsing it off doesn’t tarnish the silver, don’t worry! With metalwork, it’s important that whatever you put on (in this case, the silver dip) we also take off

The intricately detailed parts are dried with pads of cotton wool

You can really tell the difference between parts which have been cleaned and parts which haven’t!

Making progress on the arms of the candelabra

Some of the silver cleaning team, hard at work. It’s great having the opportunity to talk to visitors about our work as we are doing it, as it helps them to understand the process of conserving a historic property. Others just wanted tips on how to clean their own silver!

Beginning the main stem of the candelabra. Top downwards seems to be the easiest way to go!

Looking pretty good – not long now!

The finished result! The bottom part looks more tarnished than the top – this is because over time some of the tarnish becomes too deeply ingrained to clean off. Who knows what food may have been spilt on it in the past?

Back where it belongs on the centre of the State Dining Room table, looking as magnificent as ever!

And if you came to visit us at Nostell the day we were cleaning the silver, we can only apologise about the smell!



Housekeeping Training Blog Post No. 6

Metals. Hard, cold, dull, inanimate – yet shining, malleable (at a high temperature!), practical and decorative at the same time. Nostell has a good collection of kitchen copper which is in need of a clean, so we were looking forward to finding out about how to treat and care for metals during the housekeeping course. Metals should be very rarely dusted, and so other treatment is needed to care for them. Here are photographs of some of our activities:

Techniques for moving a large metal object correctly, in this instance a kind of large metal barbecue!

Polishing copper – the golden rule is ‘whatever you put on, you have to take off!’

Cleaning, polishing, and waxing metal pokers

Having a go at cleaning silver with a silver cloth

Hardworking National Trust employees cleaning iron and polishing copper at the metalwork session

Applying Autosol cream to cotton wool to polish some kitchen copper. It’s very important to wear nitrile gloves whilst handle metals, as grease and dirt from fingers would speed up deterioration of the metal

The metalwork part of the housekeeping course was particularly good as it was very much a ‘hands on’ session, and showed how humble pokers and copper pans are as important as ornate silver salvers and candelabras. Cleaning the metalwork at Nostell will be easy now that we have the skills to do it!