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!

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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!

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.

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

Dust, Carpets and Books

Housekeeping Training Blog Post No. 2

One of the main enemies that National Trust properties fight with on a daily basis is cleaned away, but always comes back with a vengeance. It can be found high and low, from cornices to flagstones, and that enemy is…dust!

Dust sample of just one day’s dirt from Blickling Hall, collected from vacuum bags

Dust is a subject which was mentioned in almost every session during the housekeeping course – namely, how to get rid of it. It can be very scratchy and gritty, and is composed of many things from soil, grit, skin, hair, which makes it not very welcome at National Trust properties. When left for a long time without cleaning, dust can begin a process called ‘cementation’, where the dust actually sticks to the objects it has landed on. This cemented dust can be very difficult to completely remove and can stain, discolour, and scratch the objects underneath. We examined the properties of dust, how to remove it using vacuum and different types of brush (for example pony hair, goat hair and hogs hair), and what sort of objects we should wipe on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis (flat surfaces from about knee to shoulder high acquire the most dust and so should be cleaned daily, but items in cabinets get the least, and so can be cleaned less often).

Another session was about carpets and rugs – after all, most properties have some form of carpet somewhere inside! Skills learnt include the beating of smal carpets:

Modern day carpet beaters, much like a table tennis paddle, just a bit floppier (yet still rigid to beat away the dirt)

More intricate carpet skills were also taught, including how to roll a carpet or large rug for transport or storage:

How to roll a carpet: equipment includes a large piece of pipe to keep shape, and acid free tissue paper to separate each layer

When the carpet is large it can require three or more people to roll it so that no creases are made and it stays in line

It’s very important to roll a carpet with the direction of the pile, so as not to pull or put stress on the weave. Therefore, at the start of the rolling process our very first task is to identify and mark the direction of the pile so we know whether it is symettrical or asymmetrical, and in what direction the weave goes.

Carpet with a symmetrical pile

A further session was on book and paper conservation. We’ve written a few blog posts about how to clean and repair books on Nostell’s conservation blog so hopefully readers should be aware of some of the work that we do! On the course, we were taught correct techniques of removing books from shelves (no grabbing at the top of the spine, please!) and how to display books, check for pests, handle books, tie them together in case the covers were coming loose, and examine the hangings and fastenings of paper items in frames for weak points. It was especially useful for Nostell, as we have an extremely large book collection in the library.

Demonstrating the proper technique for removing old books from library shelves

The Long Gallery at Blickling, which holds the majority of their book collection

And so ended another day jam-packed full of conservation demonstrations and the sharing of knowledge – a little of which I hope that we’ve shared with you today. Happy reading!

Ellie

How do the library books get cleaned?

Answer: with much patience, hard work and dedication. A love of books is also a must!

Scaffolding up ready to get books from the top shelves

Our volunteer book cleaning team were in today, to work their way through the library books. It’s an ongoing programme which has been going on for the last ten years! The team taught me the processes involved with caring for the books so that the collection will last for many more centuries and future visitors.

Once a book is selected and brought to the work area in the Billiard Room, a low suction vacuum cleaner is used to suck away excess surface dust on the book covers. There is a piece of gauze netting which is placed over the head of the vaccuum to stop large bits of loose material (which can be repaired) from disappearing into the machine. Then a shaving brush is used to brush dust off the top edge, fore edge, and tail edge of the books.

Terry uses the shaving brush – but not for him!

The cover is then lightly brushed with a pony hair brush, in the direction away from the spine and off the edge. Soft dusters can be used on covers to remove dirt very gently – dusters can also buff gilded patterns/pictures on covers, but not pressing so hard that the gilding is rubbed away. The book can then be opened, resting it on a foam book rests so as to not strain the binding and spine of the book. The inside pages are then examined, and loose bits of dust, dirt etc are brushed out using the pony brush. Each book is assessed individually – books that are in good condition can have most of their pages brushed, yet books that are in poor condition are usually left until they have been repaired by a professional conservator.

Carefully brushing the pages

Believe it or not but Terry is not wearing a butcher’s apron in the picture above – the stripey aprons are specially made from soft cotton, so that if a book accidentally touches against you it touches something soft and non-abrasive, and isn’t damaged (which it might be if rough material comes into contact with the book).

Smoke rubbers are used to remove any finger marks and general dirt from the pages

Using the smoke rubber

If any damage is found in the books whilst cleaning (e.g. the spine is becoming detached, cover slightly peeling away etc) this is recorded and the information passed to the in-house book repair team (we’ll meet them in the blog another time!) If the books are very badly damaged then they will go away to a professional book conservator’s workshop to be repaired and returned to Nostell at a later date. The book cleaning team meticulously record what work has been done to each book, what needs to be done, any significant features in the books, etc – they are extremely organised. And they have to be, as there are approximately 7000 books in Nostell’s library and billiard room combined!

After a book has been cleaned, if necessary (to protect the book from coming apart at the binding) it is tied with two thin lengths of specially dyed material (at Nostell we have a dark brown and a dark khaki green) which blend in with the library colour scheme, and so does not destroy the ‘look’ of the library for visitors to the house.

Jill carefully ties a book together

Once the team have finished working with a book, it is put back on the shelf, and the process is repeated 7000 times for each book in the library. When they have finished cleaning all of the books there is only one thing for it – to start all over again from the beginning!

Ellie

Is it a ghost…?

G-g-g-ghost!

Welcome to a spooky start for Nostell Priory’s Conservation In Action Blog, but no, it’s not a ghost –  it’s a marble statue of the goddess Diana, complete with her own personal dust cover! We’ve begun the winter clean of the Lower Hall here at Nostell, and each object is provided with a white cotton cover tailor made to protect it until the house opens for you to visit in March. We used hogs hair brushes and a vacuum cleaner to suck away the dust before covering Diana up for the closed season.

Cleaning Diana

We use a range of equipment to clean to Lower Hall furniture, shown in the picture below. Left to right: duster, furniture brush, hogs hair brush, pony brush, pencil (essential for recording!), and record of monitoring sheet (to note down what conservation work was done and any condition changes in the item). The black blob at the top is the vacuum head.

Equipment

 

Conservation Quiz Time!

Can you guess what piece of furniture is under each of the dust covers below? Good luck!(Answers below each photograph).

Chair

Grandfather clock case

Spinning wheel

Piano and stool

How many did you manage to get right?

It’s a nightmare sorting out which dust covers belong with which object – luckily most (but not all) have identification labels!

Successfully putting on a dust cover

We hope that you’ve enjoyed reading this first blog post from Nostell’s conservation team, and that over the coming months you’ll get a deeper understanding of the ‘behind-the-scenes’ work that we do on a daily basis.

If you click on any of the photographs they will transport you to Nostell’s very own Flickr webpage, which contains photo albums of everything and anything to do with Nostell Priory & Parkland.

And if you have any questions or comments about anything you see here, please get in touch via the details on the ‘Contact Us’ page.

Keep an eye on the Events page for details of conservation activities and events throughout the year, including tours, demonstrations, and talks. We hope to see you soon!

Until then, happy reading!

The Nostell Priory conservation team.