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!


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!

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!


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!

Lord Effingham Leaves the Billiard Room

One of our largest paintings moved to a temporary new home a few weeks ago! Why did he go away, you might ask?

As part of the National Trust’s care of the objects in our collections, we send objects which need it away for professional conservation and cleaning. The large portrait below has been transported away and will return (hopefully) looking much brighter.

The painting that has gone away for conservation is called ‘Portrait of Charles Howard, Lord Howard of Effingham, 1st Earl of Nottingham’ by Daniel Mytens the elder. It dates to 1620.

Lord Effingham on the wall of the Billiard Room

Lord Howard was commander-in-chief of the English fleet against the Spanish in 1588. The picture is what is known as a ‘swagger portrait’, intended to show off the wealth, power, and social status of the sitter. The subject would usually be standing and the painting would be hung high up in a room to make the viewer ‘look up’ to the painting, whilst the figure in the portrait can look down and masterfully survey the room.

Today’s blog post shares the process of taking such a large painting off the wall, out of Nostell, and away for conservation.

Carefully manouvering Effingham down onto the floor. He was very heavy!

Beginning the packing process. Many layers of tape, acid-free tissue and bubble wrap will be added to thoroughly protect the painting for the journey

The painting is packed in what’s known as ‘soft wrap’. ‘Hard wrap’ is when a solid structure (such as a wooden crate) is used to home an object for transportation. As Lord Howard isn’t going too far, then soft wrap is fine for this journey

Taking down Lord Howard has revealed a problem – the wall behind shows flaking paint. This will need to be checked out by our buildings team, as it could indicate a problem with the wall (for example, the wall could be damp)

Here comes the hard part – negotiating the painting around the bannisters, through Nostell, and out into the awaiting van

A tricky point

Going down!

Watch your heads!

Almost there…

Into the van…

And we’re done! Hopefully the painting will be back with us in a few months

A close-up of the stern face of Lord Howard of Effingham

I wonder what Lord Howard will think of his temporary home for the next few months? Judging by his expression in the above photo, I think he’ll be much happier when he returns to Nostell! We look forward to seeing Lord Howard back where he belongs.

Thank-you to the outdoors team, who helped with the move of Lord Howard out into the van.

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!

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.


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!

Don’t look down!

When visiting stately homes and beautiful mansions, we always marvel at the wonderfully crafted furniture, the architecture of the house, the wallpaper, the number of books in the library, and imagine what it would have been like to live there.

However, what we often forget to do is look at what we are walking on! Inspired by this really good post from the house team at Knole – http://knolenationaltrust.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/whats-beneath-your-feet/ – I thought we would focus on what your feet walk on when visiting Nostell Priory.

When we thought about which floors/carpets to include in this blog post, we realised the huge amount of different coverings and carpets that there are inside Nostell. We hope you enjoying looking at a few in more detail, with the photos below. (If you click on a picture it will enlarge it so you can have a closer look.)

And remember – next time you visit Nostell, don’t forget to look down, do look down!

Stone floor

Stone ground floor

Throughout the ground floor there is a stone slate covering. This is now worn away and cracked in many places, which reflects how thousands of visitors over the years can damage even the strongest of materials. Having stone on the ground floor is purely practical, as it is on the ground floor where all of the dust and debris from outside would have landed when the family used the Lower Hall as the main entrance.

Additionally, the ground floor was the servants’ domain, and would be where the servants at Nostell would have hurried around doing dirty jobs. Carpets would have become far too grubby!


Crimson Bedroom carpet

I’m a fan of the carpet in the Crimson Bedroom because it really matches the objects in the room, and has a warm red tone which compliments the curtains and bed hangings (which were reproduced after the fire in the 1980s). It is a Feraghan wool carpet with a multiple striped border, made at some point in the nineteeth century.



When you visit Nostell, you’ll probably have noticed the long carpet that follows the visitor route through most of the rooms – this is known as the ‘drugget’. This carpet gets vacuumed every day, as the drugget is where a lot of the dust and dirt which visitors bring in lingers. Nostell’s drugget is a two-tone crimson floral wool pile carpet with an arabesque foliate design and a border along each edge. It was made in the late twentieth century.

Wooden floor

Wooden floor in the Top Hall

The floor in the Top Hall is an interesting one. When visitors enter the Top Hall, there are plenty of well-deserved ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ over the ornate Robert Adam plasterwork, the size of the room, and the extensive view down the vista at the front of the house. However, when visitors look at the floor, there is usually no comment (that’s if people actually look at the floor!)

I feel quite sorry for the Top Hall floor, made from oak floorboards. This is because this floor was not meant to be walked on. Yes, you read correctly!

A drawing from 1776 shows that the intention was to create a striking white and brown marble pavement floor which would reflect the ceiling pattern like it does in other Robert Adam houses such as Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire. The photograph below shows the floor of the Great Hall in Ham House in Surrey, which has a floor similar to that planned for Nostell’s Top Hall.

Great Hall at Ham House

The Great Hall at Ham House, Richmond upon Thames, Surrey. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond


Breakfast Room carpet

The Breakfast Room carpet is a modern light beige felt carpet, laid after the fire at Nostell in the 1980s. It’s very simple, and reflects the simplicity of the room. The Breakfast Room is currently a ‘free flow’ room (meaning that visitors are able to walk all around the room) so we wanted something robust and long-lasting. The corner of a rug that you see is one brought in especially for people to walk on, and isn’t a historic rug.


State Dressing Room carpet

The photograph above shows how delicate the carpets in our collections are – you can see where the seam has split and the carpet is wearing thin. This carpet is in the State Dressing Room, and is a green flowered seamed Brussels wool pile carpet, made at some point between 1850 and 1950.

We hope you’ve enjoyed looking in detail at some of our carpets inside Nostell – which one is your favourite?

The House Team

What are you doing?

‘What are you doing?’ was a common question asked when the conservation team were up in the Blue Bedroom working on the ceramics collection.

Suggestions included that we were painting, restoring, cleaning, washing, touching up, or gluing objects together. A few perceptive visitors worked out what we doing. Now that we’ve excited your curiosity, we’ll tell you what we doing…

Equipment for inventory marking

Equipment set out for today’s job…

We were inventory marking! Did you guess correctly?

Inventory marking involves clearly marking objects with an identification number.

Ceramic bowl

Objects to be marked included small and delicate ones, and large and heavy ones like this ceramic bowl. Usually we marked them on the bottom, so that they are unobtrusive and don’t spoil the aesthetic ‘look’ of each object

Collection of ceramics

Ceramics ready to be marked. We had our own complex organisational system at our headquarters, which was the Blue Room bed!

Inventory marking is important for a number of reasons. If an object has an identifcation number, it allows us to keep detailed records about it. For example, we can note when objects are sent away for professional conservation. It allows us to add notes about routine checks to an item’s condition report. It helps with locating an object’s whereabouts, and help with security records, in case of any damage, loss, theft, or insurance. Inventory marking also assists us to identify objects that might be of interest to researchers, scholars and National Trust staff by having object records collated in a collections management database.

Staff member inventory marking

Hard at work inventory marking

Ceramic pot

Inventory marking gives us the opportunity to examine the items as we inventory mark them. This piece is a Pyramid food warmer, invented by Samuel Clarke in the late 19th century. It would originally have had a contraption underneath it that would hold a tea light or a candle. They were often used to wean children off breast milk by heating up milk, or to heat up water.

Black ink pen

Writing the numbers with the ink pen was difficult due to the contours and awkward shape of some of the objects we were marking

Small paintbrushes

Small paintbrushes were used to apply the different layers used in the inventory marking process. No surprise that many people thought that we were painting! We were, in a roundabout sort of way…

It’s quite fiddly work, but satisfying to tick items off a list when they have been inventory marked! Just a couple of hundred more items to go…

What do we use cotton buds for?

What do we use cotton buds for? You might be surprised to learn that we use them to help conserve some our precious furniture here at Nostell Priory.

Cotton buds are useful as they are very soft and very small, making them perfect to get inside the nooks and crannies of furniture to clean away the dirt, dust and grime that is attractive to pests and which aid an object’s deterioration. They are also cheap to acquire, which is another bonus!

Cleaning with a cotton bud

Cleaning the gilt decoration on a cabinet in the Tapestry Room with a cotton bud

One of our conservation tasks was to clean the two large cabinets in the Tapestry Room.

The first is known as the ‘Flemish’ cabinet, and is a tortoiseshell and ebony cabinet on a stand. It has eleven drawers surrounding a central cupboard, and is framed by columns. It dates from 1670 – 1700.

Cabinet in the Tapestry Room

‘Flemish’ cabinet in the Tapestry Room

Examining a cabinet in the Tapestry Room

We shine a bright lamp at the cabinet to examine for pests, any mould, woodworm holes etc so that we can check its condition

Cleaning a cabinet in the Tapestry Room

White gloves are worn to protect the tortoiseshell, ebony, and gilt from the oils and grease on our fingers.

Once the ‘Flemish’cabinet was completely clean, we moved onto the second cabinet in the room. This is the ‘Golle’ cabinet.

Cabinet in the Tapestry Room

The Pierre Golle cabinet

The Golle cabinet is made out from ebony, marble and marquetry. It’s thought to be made by Pierre Gole in France. It has twenty-four various-sized drawers  (both visible and secret drawers!) which surround a central cupboard enclosing a mirror-lined and stepped interior. The cabinet is panelled with light brown marble imitating buildings in landscapes, the borders inlaid with brass and pewter scrolling foliage and plaques and painted to imitate marble. It is sat on giltwood paw feet. The cabinet dates from 1670-1700.

Pierre Goll’s cabinet was an heirloom of the d’Hervat family, and was brought to Nostell by the 5th Baronet’s Swiss wife Sabine in 1781 as part of her dowry.

Cabinet in the Tapestry Room

The front of the cabinet is magnificently decorated, and when you open the drawers you can see the bare wood. The craftsmanship behind the beautiful exterior can be appreciated.

Cabinet in the Tapestry Room

Elaborate brass escutcheon on one of the drawers on the Golle cabinet. It is decorative rather than practical, as the drawers would probably not have been used often and the wood surround would not need as much protection from rough key usage than door locks may need. Look out for a post on Nostell’s wide variety of escutcheons soon!

Cleaning a cabinet in the Tapestry Room

Work in progress

Eventually we finished cleaning the cabinets. We did the work in front of the public as part of our conservation in action programme, and they really enjoyed seeing the cabinets illuminated, as usually the Tapestry Room is kept slightly darker to preserve the tapestries which hang on the walls.

We hope you enjoy looking at the cabinets when you visit Nostell!

How do you roll a carpet?

If you’ve visited Nostell Priory in the past year, you’ll know that visitors are able to walk around the Breakfast Room to get a better look at Brueghel’s The Procession to Calvary and the other paintings and furniture in the room. To enable this, we moved the original carpet in the Breakfast Room and replaced it with one which could take the wear and tear of thousands of visitors walking over it each week.

It’s the original carpet that we were cleaning and rolling up today. It’s a Fereghan fine wool small carpet with an all-over repeated stylized pattern in the centre with a hook motif, and a black ground border with stylized motifs in stepped compartments, and fringed ends. It dates to the 19th century.

Cleaning a carpet

First the carpet is cleaned using a low suction vacuum cleaner. A gauze is placed in between the carpet and the vacuum to prevent fibres being sucked inside the vacuum. Ideally we would lay the carpet on the floor, but as the Muniments Room had a dirty floor we put it on a table to ensure no dirt/pests accumulated on the carpet

Close up of a carpet

The carpet is then examined to identify the direction of the pile. Carpets should always be rolled in the direction of the pile, so that the fibres and material are not crushed.

A carpet with tissue paper on it

Acid-free tissue paper is placed on the carpet, so that when it is rolled up the carpet is protected from squashing against itself, the tissue will hopefully prevent deterioration, and it will make the carpet an unsuitable home for pests.


Rolling a carpet

More acid-free tissue paper is added as the carpet is gently rolled up at a steady pace. We have to make sure that the fringe of the carpet is not crushed in the process of rolling

Fully rolled carpet

A final covering of tissue paper is put over the top and tucked in at the ends to make it secure

Carpet in a store room

The fully rolled carpet in its temporary resting place until it is given a new, permanent location

There we have it, a rolled carpet now safely in storage. Job done!