Extreme Conservation In Action!

Some of the most labour intensive jobs the house team undertake at Nostell are the ones which (thankfully!) are on a rolling schedule and take place every few years. One of these tasks is the cleaning of the ornate plasterwork (which is in almost every room inside Nostell!)

A lot of this work went on in front of the public, with us high on the scaffolding and visitors down below – meaning that it really was extreme conservation in action!

Below is a photo diary of the work that was involved in cleaning the historic plasterwork of the North Staicase and landings.

Boards ready and waiting to be turned into scaffolding

Foam to protect us from the bars when walking underneath the scaffolding

Scaffolding on the North Landing ready for us to clean the high plasterwork

Who’s this handsome fellow?

Plasterwork faces on the ceiling

Eagles feature a lot in and around Nostell, as an eagle was the symbol of the Winn family

This one has rather a large nose!

And this one looks angry!

Piles of equipment ready for cleaning the plasterwork – vacuum cleaning, brushes, smoke sponges…

The first step is to brush vacuum the plaster (gently use a hog’s hair brush to flick dust into the nozzle of a vacuum)

Next step is to use a smoke sponge (made out of vulcanised rubber) to clean the plasterwork

As the smoke sponge gets dirty, we trim it with scissors to get down to to a clean part

Working hard!

If any stains, mottled patches or mould is found, we wash it off gently using cotton buds and a mixture of white spirit, water and washing-up liquid.

The door frames are not forgotten either!

Julie gets stuck in to the brush vacuuming

View from above

After three weeks of hard work, the plasterwork was fully cleaned. And the best part is that it’s five years until the work will be done again!

Muniments Room Conservation

One of the most striking rooms inside Nostell is the Muniments Room. It was the main hub of the house and would be where the Estate Steward would have controlled the papers and documents that organised the running of the house and wider estate. ‘Muniments’ could be anything like maps, wage slips, receipts, notebooks, and archives of the Nostell estate. Nostell’s Muniments Room is noteworthy because of the surviving interior fittings and cupboards, which were made specially for the room.

Today it was time to give the Muniments Room a good clean and sort out, in order to open up the room to visitors. Previously, the room had been a ‘holding space’ for some furniture that is now in the Breakfast Room. Now the furniture is out and we looked forward to visitors being able to come into this room. It’s often the more functional rooms that servants would have used that people are interested in.

Drawers in the Muniments Room cupboards

When we began the winter clean for this room, we found mould growth in most of the drawers. We left them out on the floor for a few months to thoroughly dry out all of the mould to enable us to remove it. Dry, inactive mould is much easier to remove than moist, active mould.

Preparing the work space

We start by cleaning off the more obvious marks of dirt and substances that are in the cupboards

Occasionally we have birds which fly down the chimney and into the Muniments Room, like this jackdaw! We caught it with a combination of sheets and a basket, before letting it free into the parkland. We are looking into putting caps on the chimney to stop the birds inadvertantly coming in. We had two jackdaws in as many days!

An unfortunate addition to birds flying around in the Muniments Room…

…which is carefully wiped off with warm water. Some people have all the difficult jobs, sorry Angie!

Lots of debris had come down the fireplace and needed to be vacuumed up.

The drawers were put back in after we had taken off the mould growths.

One of the most beautiful cupboards lies behind this door. It’s behind the door to keep the room looking symmetrical, as there is a door at the opposite side of the room. Nostell was designed to be a symmetrical house.

Original labels survive on some of the shelf compartments…

…including some which are in French! These could date from when Sabine lived in the house (the Swiss wife of the 5th Baronet), or could be an indication of how French was a language for the educated and showed good taste and education.

Here is how the room looks for visitors completely empty so that they can wander around and look inside some of the cupboards.

A job well done!

The Muniments Room  is now ready for the public to go in and enjoy! Hopefully in the future we will recreate it as a ‘working’ muniments room, with replica documents and objects for visitors to look at.

Ellie

Textiles and Mould

Housekeeping Training Blog Post No. 3

A key element of National Trust properties are textiles. These come in many forms, from curtains to clothing to wallpaper to furniture to bedclothes to tapestries – the list is endless. So it’s important for us to know how to care for textiles, and equally as important to know how to identify different materials, know of their construction, and how to recognise different types of textile deterioration (for example general wear and tear, pests, light damage, water, inherent structural damage). The photos below show some of the activities that we took part in during the Housekeeping Study Days course.

Examining samples of cotton and linen, learning of their construction and uses

Identifying water damage on bed clothes

Identifying materials and problems to textiles – this photo show silk, pest damage, wool, and in the very bottom right hand corner we looked at an example of inherent deterioration of silk due to the unstoppable oxidisation of the dye

Demonstrating how to clean a chair with a gauze when vacuuming to protect the tapestry material – upholstered furniture is one of the most common items of textiles in a National Trust property

Regular readers of Nostell’s conservation blog will know that we have already had a recent outbreak of mould in our museum room that we had to deal with. The mould session on the housekeeping course was very succinct and informative as to how mould spreads and how it can be cleaned away.

An unusual way of showing how a mould spore spreads, with a knitted mycelium and pipe cleaner fruiting spores!

Equipment used when removing mould, including nitrile gloves, masks and brushes

If you’ve been following our blog you’ll have seen how the housekeeping course covered specific topics that are concerned with country houses, yet the sessions were general enough to be relevant to every National Trust property, and indeed houses in general. The next blog post will see us having a sneaky peek inside Blickling Hall (where the housekeeping study course was held) when the house was closed over the winter period.

Ellie

A Meeting with Mould

After a routine inspection of the rooms, we have discovered mould lurking on some of the objects in the Museum Room at Nostell. This tells us that the atmospheric conditions in the room must be wrong, as too high humidity could lead to damp conditions and subsequent mould growth.

Mouldy hole punch

Mouldy book

Our first task was to leave the cabinets open for a while to allow air to circulate in the room and try to dry out the mould. We opened all of the cases in the room, to be on the safe side and prevent further mouldy conditions occuring.

What’s this peeping out from inside a case?

After consultation with our Regional Conservator, we then emptied the affected cabinets, transferring the objects to a different room in Nostell. This will allow the museum room cases to be fully cleaned, and the mould will hopefully dry out so that it can be removed. (Dry, inactive mould is easy to clean, but damp, active mould is more difficult and can lead to smearing and staining of the object the mould is attached to).

Claire moves the items carefully so that mould spores are not distributed to other parts of the building

We had to wear special masks so that we didn’t breathe in the mould spores, and two types of gloves (a white cotton pair – really to keep our hands warm! – and a green latex pair so that we do not come into contact with the mould). It’s very important, because if you have asthma or allergies the mould can increase the problem and cause a reaction.

Unseen hazard of wearing masks and glasses – I could hardly see!

We laid all of the objects from the museum room cases on tables covered in acid free tissue paper. Hopefully when we return to the items the mould can be treated and removed – watch this space! We also recorded the condition of items so that in future, we know what happened, where they were moved to, and what treatment was given.

Tables covered in mouldy – and not mouldy – objects from the museum room

Recording the findings

Hopefully we can prevent any more mouldy moments in the Museum Room at Nostell in the future!

Ellie