What have sausages got to do with conservation?

Yes, you read that correctly. What have sausages got to do with conservation?!

Well, all will be revealed as you read on. After a textile conservation workshop which we held for our volunteers (more about that in a future blog post) we had to put away the objects that we had cleaned.

On our ‘to do’ list were the curtains that had previously hung in the Breakfast Room. Having water come down into the room after a particularly wet week last year meant that lots of the objects inside were moved quickly to a temporary home. The curtains had now been cleaned and it was time to rest store them.

The curtains are being stored in the Muniments Room until they are rehung for the open season, and it is important to rest them correctly to prevent any damage/deterioration occurring.

Manouvering the curtains

Acid-free tissue is placed on tables to create a safe surface for the material to rest on.

The curtains are put into place

Gorgeous golden material

The material used for the Breakfast Room curtains were designed and made after the fire at Nostell Priory in the 1980s. However, it’s just as important to conserve this material as it is our textiles that are much older in date.

And the sausages that are mentioned in the title of this post?

Well, to ensure that no permanent creases appear in the material as it rests in storage, we make sausages. However, these sausages are made out of acid-free tissue paper rolled up into a loose tube, or sausage, shape.

Rolling the tissue paper sausages

Creases and folds create weak points in textiles, and make them vulnerable to splitting and damage. Adding the sausages create rounded creases and lessens the chance of damage.

Arranging the sausages

Folding the curtains over the tissue paper sausages

The curtains will stay here until the new season, when we will rehang the curtains and reattach the pelmets.

I’m feeling quite hungry now, after all this talk of sausages!


Cleaning the Billiard Room Curtains

One of the tasks which is completed on a rolling programme (meaning it’s not done annually, but alternated with other items) is cleaning all of the curtains in the State Rooms.

This time it was the turn of the Billiard Room curtains! They are made from dyed cotton, and date from 1870-1930. There are three curtains in total, and comprise of floral printed ribbed cotton curtains and swagged pelmets held with rope tie-backs.

Cleaning the Billiard Room curtains

We have to put the scaffolding up to reach the top of the curtains as they are so high. This is a big job as we have to recruit many people (about eight) to help us move the billiard table so that we can put up the scaffolding, as the table is really heavy! We also take the opportunity to change the lightbulbs in the chandelier you can see, as usually we can’t reach it!

Cleaning the Billiard Room curtains

The curtains are cleaned with a low suction vacuum cleaner which has thin gauze tied around the nozze to stop material being sucked in. This gets rid of any dust which might harbour pests and contribute to the deterioration of the curtains.

Cleaning the Billiard Room Curtains

Talk about sitting down on the job!

Brightly coloured curtains

Usually the curtains are gathered up and tied back, but when we are cleaning them we have the chance to look at them closely. The curtains retain their bright colours of reds, blues, and greens because the amount of light falling on the curtains is relatively low.

Back of the curtains

Whilst the front of the curtains are beautifully patterned and coloured because people see that side, the back is very dull in comparison. This is purely functional, as if nobody sees the back, there is no reason to spend money on fancy patterns if they will just fade in the sunlight.

Back of the curtains

However, the back of the curtains can be interesting too. We can see the mechanics of how they are tied to the plasterwork. If you look closely, you can see two shades of pale brown. The darker is where part of the textile panelling was replaced during conservation work.

After two days of work, the final result is a great addition to the visual impact of the thousands of books which line the walls of the Billiard Room at Nostell Priory.

Finished Billiard Room curtains

The clean and finished curtains in the Billiard Room. Magnificent! Photo copyright National Trust / Robert Thrift.

Interior design – Nostell style!

Sometimes in National Trust houses we have the chance to move furniture around and alter the appearance of a room, to help visitors understand and appreciate the way a room would have been used when Nostell Priory was still a family home and working estate. We had such an opportunity with Nostell’s ‘Breakfast Room’. The room had previously taken part in Nostell’s Christmas opening, and had been decorated with a beautiful gold theme to match the yellow walls.

A gloriously golden Breakfast Room

The Breakfast Room is the home of Nostell’s famous painting The Procession to Calvary by Pieter Brueghel, signed and dated 1602. The painting has recently been moved to a different wall in the Breakfast Room (it was on the west wall whilst it was on display after the fundraising campaign to save it and keep it at Nostell, but has now been moved to its original position on the north wall of the room). And so it was time for the room to have a (mini) makeover!

After the successful conclusion of the Brueghel fundraising campaign, the furniture was arranged so that visitors could walk around the room and see the picture up close. We wanted to keep this arrangement, so that visitors could really feel what it was like to live in the room. Being able to walk all around a room helps to bring it life, and there are many rooms at Nostell where the public are welcome to wander around the room (including the State Bedroom, Top Hall, Lower Hall, Butler’s Pantry, Museum Room, and the North Bedrooms).

Previous furniture that had been in the Breakfast Room over the years was amassed in the Top Hall, and we spent around half a day moving chairs, altering layouts, suggesting positions for tables, and deciding what furniture should be in the room and what should be relegated to one of the stores.

An army of amassed furniture ready to fill the Breakfast Room…

And the Breakfast Room is empty and ready to be filled!

The Breakfast Room ‘does what it says on the tin’, although such rooms were a relatively new feature in 18th century country houses. A lady who stayed at Nostell in the 1760s desribes the 4th Baronet’s morning routine: ‘It was his constant custom to rise early in the morning; in winter, long before daylight, and to kindle his own fire. His letters were usually written before the family breakfast, which was always exactly at nine o’clock and he afterwards gave audience to a crowd of various descriptions of person, in succession, who were generally waiting for his assistance and advice.’

Should the yellow armchairs go either side of the table? (The Brueghel is above the table)

Or should it be the green chairs instead? Do the armchairs (in the previous photograph) belong more in the centre of the room than the outskirts?

Unfortunately in April 1980 a fire gutted the Breakfast Room and destroyed many of the contents, therefore all of the furniture in the room was brought in after the fire. The flock wallpaper and yellow brocade curtains and 1980s replicas, made to measure after consulting 18th century accounts of the decor of the room.

Should the round table go in front of the fireplace? This looks alright but is unlikely to be where the family may have positioned it in the room.

This is a far better position for the table – it looks more natural, and helps to create a visitor ‘flow’ through the room, which in turn helps to protect the furniture in the room from accidental damage.

Finally after some hard work and creative thinking, we went from a bare room…

Empty room!

to an attractively styled room where visitors can wander amongst the furniture and imagine what it would be like to be lord of the manor!

Finished Breakfast Room, ready for visitors

I’d definitely like to have breakfast in the Breakfast Room – but would it be cereal, toast, croissants, kippers… the list goes on!


Spotlight on: Pianos and Curtains

In the Top Hall we have a walnut concert grand piano by Erard, dated 1865. Visitors are welcome to play it when they come to Nostell Priory – so come along and tinkle the ivories!

Today it was the piano’s turn to get a thorough cleaning and inspection, as it is too large to do on a day-to-basis when the house is open to visitors. Here’s a photo account of how it was done:

Brush vaccing the keys – it was too hard to resist playing a melody, so I did!

Checking inside the piano for mould, pests, dust etc – the lid is surprisingly heavy!

Cleaning the pedals

An unusual angle – examining underneath the piano for rust

It’s very dusty under here! As cleaning under the piano will take a long time to do properly, we are leaving it during the winter clean and will do it in front of visitors as part of our ‘Conservation In Action’ programme for 2012.

Even the piano stool gets a turn

All finished! Ready to come out from under the dust cover when we open to the public in March

We also made a start on the Breakfast Room today, and our spotlight here is one of a pair of bright yellow brocade curtains. The curtains are replicas, replacing the originals which were destroyed in Nostell’s great fire in 1980. Most of the furniture managed to be saved, but the curtains and wallpaper needed to be replaced. Despite not being original to the collection, the curtains receive the same care and attention as every other object at Nostell. Here’s how we clean the curtains:

As not all of the curtains are cleaned every year, Angie takes a dust sample. A thin piece of muslin is placed over the nozzle of the vacuum to see what the dust level is like on the curtain.

The dust sample – there’s a fair amount of dust on it so this curtain will be cleaned. You can see the strand of red thread – this is a piece from a visitor’s clothing which has lodged itself high up in the curtain folds, and shows why it is important to dust and clean regularly.

Lower away, Angie!

The curtain fully down. Once cleaned, it will stay this way for four weeks to let it rest. Then we’ll put it up and bring down the other one to repeat the process!

When seen up close, the brocade patterns are really beautiful

The back of the curtains are white in colour – after all, if you are inside you only want to see the stunning colours and patterns, and if the pattern was on both sides the side facing the window would quickly fade.

Carefully vacuuming the curtain

This was the first of our ‘spotlight’ blog posts, focusing on one or two items in detail. As we move around Nostell during the winter clean, we hope to post more ‘spotlights’ so that you can see how we care for different types of objects in the collection. If there’s anything that you would really like to see on the blog (whether it’s textiles, ceramics, metals or anything else related to Nostell Priory) then please get in touch! (See our ‘Contact Us’ page for details).