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!

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What is it like working with the house team at Nostell Priory?

Guest blog post from Alice Matthews, a student placement in conservation who spent four weeks with the house team at the start of 2013. 

I really enjoyed working with the conservation team at Nostell.  Here is a bit of what I did.

From day one, I was thrown straight in cleaning some of Nostell’s numerous chairs and learnt lots of new cleaning skills. I can safely say that cleaning chairs will never be the same again!

Cleaning one of the chairs on the North Staircase

Throughout the weeks, I enjoyed exploring the parts of the house that you don’t normally get to see and was surprised at how much goes on behind the scenes when the house is closed.

Sorting out dust covers – they all looked the same!

It was great that Nostell was running conservation workshops while I was there which were great fun, slightly hectic, but also it was very rewarding to see how much work got done.

Gauze vaccuming a bedspread from the Peacock Bedroom

Insect hunting was an eye opening experience and I never realised how many different bugs lurked in houses.

The sausage making (of the tissue kind) was obviously one of the highlights of my placement. Always been a big sausage fan but this was new a variety for me!

Making acid-free tissue paper sausages to help store curtains correctly

The weather definitely made things challenging, not only getting there, but also working when it’s so cold. It did look very pretty though in the wintery weather and the view I got walking down the drive every morning made it worthwhile.

It was a pleasure to work with the team for four weeks and I just want to thank all the house team and volunteers for making me feel welcome. Thanks for the white gloves, I’m sure they will come in useful in the future!

Alice

Thank-you Alice – you were a real help and we enjoyed having you as part of the house team during your placement.

Good luck with your future career in conservation/heritage!

In which the team from East Riddlesden Hall lend a helping hand…

As you know, the National Trust is responsible for caring for hundreds of historic buildings and their contents, thousands of acres of countryside, and many miles of coastline.

It’s a very supportive network, and a great organisation to be part of. Properties, whilst independent, work with each other sharing skills, knowledge, and ideas to improve the way we care for and present our properties ‘for ever, for everyone’.

With this in mind, we invited the conservation team from East Riddlesden Hall to visit Nostell for the day. East Riddlesden Hall is a lovely 17th century manor house in West Yorkshire. You can find out more info about East Ridd on the National Trust website here: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/east-riddlesden-hall/

The plan for the day was to spend the morning getting to grips with Nostell’s winter clean, followed by a tour of the house, derelict servants’ quarters and extensive cellars. I’d also show one of their conservation assistants, Jackie, how to create a blog of their own in order to share stories about what they get up to at East Riddlesden. Skills-sharing is how we like to define it!

Jackie gets to grips with our Small Dining Room chairs

The team from East Riddlesden helped us begin this year’s winter clean. We divided into two teams, one to begin in the Breakfast Room and one to make a start in the Small Dining Room.

Vacuuming

Volunteer Lesley uses a piece of gauze to protect the chair cushion as she vacuums it. The gauze ensures that no loose pieces of thread or material disappear into the vacuum.

Nostell is a little behind in our winter clean programme because we have spent the past few weeks up scaffolding cleaning our historic plasterwork (more about this in a future blog post). So it was fantastic having willing helpers from East Ridd for a day – we managed to brush vacuum and cover all of the furniture in the two rooms. Many hands do indeed make light work!

Conservation work

Our second team, led by Angie, get to grips with the Breakfast Room

Dining table

We definitely worked them hard!

Conservation work

It’s a team effort to manhandle the dust cover which protects the Small Dining Room table – it’s very big!

Conservation work

Dust cover in place. Now the fun can begin!

After the strenuous morning, we rewarded the team with a tour of Nostell, including a behind-the-scenes look at our derelict servants’ attics and extensive cellars. We also took the time to show them how to create a WordPress blog of their own, as blogs are a great way to share aspects of the collections and their care which visitors don’t normally see (but find really interesting!)

Here is the link to the East Riddlesden Hall WordPress blog: http://eastriddlesdenhall.wordpress.com/

We had a great day – thank-you East Riddlesden!

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

State Dressing Room – Conservation in Action

We’re very keen to share our conservation work with visitors, so that they can see the ‘behind the scenes’ work that we do to look after Nostell Priory and its collection. With this in mind, as part of our new ‘Conservation In Action’ programme, a lot of our conservation work is done in front of visitors so that they can have a look and ask questions when they see us around during their visit. Visitors especially like seeing us working along the main visitor route in the state rooms on the first floor, and moving from a room which is pristine to one which is chaotic with stepladders, vacuums, brushes, and lamps strewn about! This week is was the turn of the State Dressing Room, which was ready for a deep clean.

Angie talks to a family about the conservation work they are seeing

Julie vacuums the carpet with a special low suction vacuum cleaner

The State Dressing Room all messy with equipment everywhere

Nostell’s State Dressing Room was originally designed by James Paine as the main State Bedroom where the most important guests would stay. A four-poster bed was introduced to the room next door in the late nineteenth century, and what was the State Bedroom became known as the State Dressing Room. The wallpaper (see the photograph below) was supplied by Chippendale in 1771, and had a brightly coloured pattern of a multitude of birds in bright pinks, blues, and greens on a white background. It is now much faded.

We have to get into the smallest of spaces. I’m in between the State Dressing Room bed and the wall, in order the clean the dado rail in the alcove

Julie cleans the fireplace – let’s hope she isn’t sucked up, Mary Poppins-style!

The fireplace is quite intricately moulded, and has to be cleaned very thoroughly as fireplaces are where pests like to lurk

When cleaning the floorboards underneath the bed with a dolly mop there’s only one thing for it – get as low as possible!

View under the bed when cleaning

Dirt accumulated from one half of the floorboards underneath the State Dressing Room bed. We use removeable cloth heads for the mops, so that they can be washed easily. It took three of them for the floorboards to be completely cleaned!

The feet of the bed aren’t actually on the floor – there is a second set of feet behind them with castors on so that the bed can be rolled, rather than lifted as it extremely heavy!

The ‘Dome Bedstead Japan’d Green and Gold’ was specially designed for the room, and cost £54. It was made with ‘its feet posts as Near as posable together to give as much room as posable to pass by’. Chippendale did not supply the fabric, which may have been bought earlier by the 4th Baronet. The current material was made for the National Trust in 1982 after smoke from the fire which gutted the Breakfast Room damaged the existing Edwardian material.

Let there be light!

Drum roll… and we have a finished, clean State Dressing Room. Who knows which room we’ll be found in next?

Clean and tidy State Dressing Room – a job well done!

Ellie

Conservation in Miniature – Part Two

And now for Part Two of our Conservation In Miniature blog post, showing how we put together a replica dolls’ house room filled with conservation tools and equipment as part of an exhibition in the Museum Room. The miniature room has now been created, and in this post we’re installing it. (If you really can’t wait to see what the finished conservation in miniature dolls’ house looks like, scroll down to the end of the blog post and click on the image to enlarge it).

Conservation equipment put out ready to install in the dolls’ house. See the tissue paper hats (used to keep dust and dirt off ceramics and other small objects over the winter season) and the miniature vacuum cleaner!

Curtains and a window have been added to the display box – notice the double blinds which have been made. There is a cream sun-blind (used when the house is open and full sunlight is shining in to help prevent fading) and the dark green blind, which completely blocks out sunlight

Furniture is set out very carefully. See the miniature stepladders, which we use to dust high up picture frames and reach the tops of curtains and four-poster beds

The conservation in miniature dolls’ house all set up and in position. Just need to clear away those empty boxes!

A close-up of some of the detail in the dolls’ house – foam book rests, felt mats and tissue paper hats with a roll of tissue paper and scissors ready to be used

I also designed and wrote interpretation for the exhibition, so that visitors can read about what we aimed to show with the conservation in miniature section of the exhibition

And here it is, finished and in one of the exhibition cases in the Museum Room at Nostell. On the bottom shelf we explain about the nine agents of deterioration that conservation assistants battle against (more on those in future blog posts), the top shelf holds a display of different conservation equipment, with explanations of their uses, and the middle shelf is where the Conservation In Miniature dolls’ house is.

The finished creation…

Completed dolls’ house, but one thing is missing…what is it? (Click on any of the pictures to enlarge them)

I needed to add one more item to the far right hand corner of our miniature dolls’ house room to complete it, can you guess what it is? 

It’s a dust cover! I spent a few hours carefully creating a template and sewing together a miniature dust cover for the grandfather clock in the corner. All large objects at Nostell have their own personal dust cover made to measure (by our wonderful volunteers) which covers them up during the winter closed period and prevents them getting dusty and dirty.

And there we go – one completed Conservation In Miniature dolls’ house. We hope that it inspires you to come to Nostell and take a look at the exhibition, or perhaps have a go at making one yourselves!

Ellie

Conservation In Miniature – Part One

Here at Nostell Priory we’ve recently completed the installation of an exhibition in the Museum Room which focuses on all of the conservation work that we do to look after the property and contents. One of our most treasured exhibitions is also in the museum room – our wonderful Dolls’ House. When we were designing the exhibition we were inspired to use the dolls’ house as a model for part of it, which we have called ‘Conservation in Miniature’. I thought we’d use this blog post to share with you how we created our miniature dolls’ house.

Nostell’s historic dolls’ house, which is just under 300 years old!

Our aim was to create one room of a dolls’ house, and then furnish and decorate it as though it was undertaking the same deep winter clean that the actual rooms in Nostell are subject to each year. This included making miniature dust covers, book rests, tissue paper hats, vacuums, white gloves, shoe covers and other types of conservation equipment. It’s a way of really engaging people with the intricacies of conservation, on a miniature scale which captures the imagination and is memorable. Here’s how it was done:

First we had to build the dolls’ house display room, which was ordered and arrived flat-packed. I also measured up the walls and floor so that we could cut carpet and wallpaper that was the correct size.

We needed wallpaper with a small pattern which would complement the small size of the furniture to go into our dolls’ house display room

The display box was built up after the wallpaper and carpet were stuck on

The basic dolls’ house display box, ready to be filled with miniature furniture and (more importantly) a range of miniature conservation equipment

We chose a dining room setting as the best with which to display a range of conservation techniques. The main furniture in the room was ordered from the internet.

Smaller objects were bought from specialist dolls’ house shops to furnish the room, including miniature books, ceramic vases, and brushes. It’s amazing what you could find in the shops!

And then the fun began – making all of the conservation tools! Here I cut out felt mats which we place underneath objects to prevent scratching of surfaces (particularly wooden table tops)

Making replica foam book rests (out of a sponge!) Foam book rests help to support books when they are been used/looked at for research. It means that pages won’t come loose from spines and the boards and spines aren’t subject to excess pressure.

I tried to recreate the smallest of details to make it as representive of a room in a National Trust property as possible – including a drugget (long robust carpet that marks out the visitor route) and kickboards (long pieces of shaped wood which separate the visitor route from areas in a rooms which can’t be entered). Kickboards are better than traditional stanchions (upright poles with ropes hanging between them) as kickboards are lower and less obtrusive, letting visitors really feel that they are ‘in’ a room.

Protective corners on a miniature painting, and a roll of bubble wrap ready to help wrap it up for transportation. The painting is a scaled-down copy of Angelica Kauffmann’s ‘The Artist Hesitating Between the Arts of Music and Painting’. I wanted something in our replica dolls’ house room which was specific to Nostell Priory

Shoe/boot covers (to stop mud, dust and dirt from being tracked into the carpets) were made from actual cut up boot covers! I also made light meters (blue wool dosimeters) and pest traps. The more conservation equipment that we could replicate to put into the room would help to show how busy National Trust properties really are over the winter period!

With furniture established in the conservation in miniature dolls’ house, it was time to furnish the room properly with all of the conservation equipment made and put it into the display cabinet (the fun part!)

Join us in the Part Two blog post about our Conservation In Miniature exhibition to see it all come together…

Ellie

It’s time for a spring clean…on a tiny scale!

One of the universally favourite items within the collection at Nostell Priory is our Dolls’ House. Nostell’s dolls’ house is one of two important 18th-century doll’s houses within the National Trust (the other is at Uppark House). Our dolls’ house was made for the Winn family (who lived at Nostell) around 1735, which was when the current Nostell Priory was being built. Traditionally, it’s thought to have been built by a young Thomas Chippendale, who was born at Otley, which is only a few miles away from Nostell (which sadly can’t be proved – but it would make a great addition to Nostell’s fabulous collection of Chippendale furniture, one of the largest in the country). The decorating and furnishing of the dolls’ house was done by the Lady Susanna Henshaw, the wife of the 4th Baronet at Nostell (who built the present main house).

And just like Nostell Priory itself, the dolls’ house gets its own spring clean once a year. We did this in front of the public as it was a great opportunity for them to see, learn, and ask questions about our work.

Julie gets ready to vacuum out one of the rooms of the dolls’ house (the furniture of the room about to be done has been removed – we don’t want any piece disappearing up the vacuum!)

The cleaning itself is relatively simple, but great care is needed due to the size of the objects. We don’t want to lose anything! It’s really a scaling down of the work involved in cleaning the main building and contents at Nostell. For example, each object will be carefully dusted, checked for damage or deterioration, and the fabrics will be vacuumed (with a special museum-grade low-suction vacuum cleaner). 

We set out tables in front of our work area so the public could get a close up view of the conservation cleaning, whilst protecting the dolls’ house

Carefully brush vacuuming the velvet curtains

When the house is open to visitors, the dolls’ house is covered with a large glass pane, to ensure that visitors can get a good view of the inside (and there are steps for our smaller visitors to be able to see the top floor rooms). The glass has the added effect of reducing the amount of dust and dirt entering the doll’s house, reducing the need to clean it more frequently. Infrequent cleaning also means that we are less likely to lose any of the contents – as some of them are very small indeed! It also fits in with a rolling programme of annual cleaning which takes places across the whole of Nostell Priory – after all it’s a big house, there are lots of objects to clean and conserve.

Each item is individually brushed to remove dust and dirt before being placed back inside the house, including this ceramic vase and lid

Wearing white gloves when handling the larger pieces of dolls’ house furniture to ensure no accidental damage is done. For some of the really tiny items (we have tiny glass goblets which are about 1cm tall) we don’t wear gloves, as the chance of them slipping out of our hands and being lost or broken is too great

Each item in the dolls’ house is of exquisite quality and craftsmanship. This drop leaf table even has hinged legs so that they can be folded away if required

The craftsmanship of all of the furniture and accessories suggest that it was made for adults to admire, rather than for children to play with. For example, in the photograph below there is a cabinet which is in the drawing room. The cabinet is never open whilst the dolls’ house is on show to visitors, so when it is cleaned we look at in detail to make sure there are no pests or signs of deterioration. It’s inlaid with ivory and because the inside rarely sees sunlight the colour has been preserved very well, including the ornate artwork on the drawers. Wonderful! Visitors really enjoyed seeing the inside of the cabinet. 

Cabinet in the drawing room, inlaid with ivory

Vacuuming the floors with a special low suction, museum-grade vacuum cleaner

Rugs and carpets in the dolls’ house are vacuumed with a gauze over the top, to stop any loose threads being sucked in

Aside from the Chippendale connection and the fact that the building of the doll’s house is contemporary with the building of Nostell itself, what is amazing is the detail of all of the accessories. The tableware is made of hand blown glass, all of the silver is hallmarked, all of the fireplaces were copied from James Gibb’s Book of Architecture (dated 1728), a table in the parlour has real wrought-iron brackets and a marble top, and the walls in the drawing room are decorated with contemporary French prints. 

Hallmarked silver tea service

Each individual piece is examined, cleaned, and placed back in its original location

The silver spoons are only as long as the end of my finger!

Carefully placing the tea service back into the drawing room

Julie shows some of the star pieces of the dolls’ house to interested visitors

Most of the dolls are made of wax, but the cook (shown here) is made of painted wood. Some people suggest that the cook is made from wood to signify his lower status in the household than the other dolls, which is an interesting theory

Delicate hand blown glassware in one of the rooms

There we have it – a clean and dusted dolls’ house. We especially enjoyed talking to the public during our conservation work on the dolls’ house, as this is definitely one of our favourite jobs to do at Nostell and we love to share it with visitors!

Beautifully clean dolls’ house – at least until next year!

We arranged for some journalists and photographers to come and photograph us cleaning the dolls’ house, which is great publicity for Nostell and will hopefully encourage more people to come and see the dolls’ house for themselves. Articles were published in The Yorkshire Post, the Yorkshire Evening Post and the Wakefield Express. Here is a link to one of the articles that was also published on the newspaper’s website:

Spring clean for Nostell Priory dolls house – Top Stories – Yorkshire Evening Post

Happy reading!

Ellie

Blickling Hall, a sneaky peek

Housekeeping Training Blog Post No. 4

The location of the National Trust’s housekeeping study days course for its employees changes each year. Past venues have included Lyme Park, Treasurer’s House and Felbrigg – the property is in a different region each year to give a greater number of employees from different areas the opportunity to attend. It also means that we get a sneaky peek at other National Trust properties when they are closed for the winter! We thought we’d share with our blog followers a few glimpses of Blickling as we saw it.

Glorious view of the formal gardens in front of Blickling’s striking exterior

Blickling Hall is a Grade 1 listed Jacobean house in Norfolk designed by Robert Lyminge, one of only a handful of known architects of this period. It has connections to the Boleyn family, and is thought to have been Anne Boleyn’s (second wife of King Henry VIII) birthplace and childhood home. In the mid eighteenth century the Norwich architects Thomas and William Ivory added new apartments and remodelled the interiors of the house. Now, Blickling remains much as the Ivorys left it. It holds one of the National Trust’s most important collections, and has the largest library.

One half of Blickling Hall’s main split staircase in the entrance hall

The rooms at Blickling looked much like Nostell, with most items covered up with dust sheets over the winter

Staircase repairs at Blickling

Peeking at the marvellously preserved crewel work on some of the bedclothes at Blickling

Unveiling the cabinets hiding beneath some of the dust covers

Peeping behind a secret door in the wall to look at the servants’ stairs. The servants’ stairs meant that the servants wouldn’t be seen by the family as they did their daily chores unless absolutely necessary

Having a sneaky look inside some of Blickling’s cabinets, which are not always as grand on the inside as they are on the outside!

Revealing the detailed model pagodas

Garden walk at Blickling

Blickling Hall was a great venue for the course – large enough to hold about one hundred National Trust employees and with a big enough collection to enable sessions on many different types of object conservation (which we have shared with you over the last few blog posts). It was fantastic to see a very different property to Nostell, and learn how it is cared for. We must also mention the tea room staff at Blickling, who provided us with lovely food on the days we were there. We only wish that we had a longer time to explore the extensive grounds and lake, although we did manage a quick walk around the formal gardens!

Ellie

Spotlight on: Toilets!

It’s not only the glamorous state rooms and impressive entrance halls which have to be cleaned and cared for at Nostell, as we have to do the toilets too! On the main visitor route through Nostell two bathrooms are entered – the Crimson bathroom and the State bathroom (so named because they are joined to the Crimson Bedroom and State Dressing Room respectively). The bathrooms were the focus of today’s winter clean, and are also the focus of today’s spotlight post!

We use the same set of equipment for the bathroom suites as we do for the other rooms – vacuum, pony hair and hogs hair brushes, white gloves, and record sheets. If anything, the bathrooms are some of the most important rooms to clean, because their white colour means that they show up the dust a lot!

Even the toilet bucket needs cleaning! There was some damage to the wicker handle which was recorded on the form, so that we can keep an eye on it and move the location of the bucket if necessary.

Just like some of Nostell’s grander furniture, the items in the bathrooms (for example towel racks and chairs) also have specially made dust covers.

The gilding on the fireplace is carefully brush vacuumed, with a soft pony hair brush.

Angie gets to grips with one of Nostell’s many toilets – it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it!

This is a similar-ish toilet to Nostell’s, but this one is in Blickling Hall in Norfolk, where some of the housekeeping team were sent away to get training on different aspects of conservation. Our training course will feature in some upcoming blog posts, so that you can see how we learn to care for the National Trust’s fantastic properties!

You’ll be relieved (sorry!) to know we’ve finished with the bathrooms now, and will be moving on to other rooms in the mansion. We hope you’ve enjoyed seeing work in one of the more unusual rooms of the house!

Ellie

UPCOMING HIGHLIGHTS ON THE BLOG: posts on how housekeeping and conservation staff within the National Trust are trained to care for historic objects and buildings, secrets inside some of the furniture, and much more… As ever, if you have any particular requests for what you’d like to see, get in touch!