Going Underground!

Some days it feels like I just can’t get away from work! The other week I went to Poole’s cavern with a friend and found out that it has some unexpected links with Hardwick Hall.

I have always loved exploring caves and I really enjoyed attempting my caving badge with scouts (until the abseiling down a waterfall in the dark that is *shivers*).

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Poole’s Cavern was a much more sedate exploration of a cave complex, no harness or helmet needed! The caves were beautifully lit and the tour guide was very interesting, coping well with a large tour full of children but still fitting in lots of fascinating facts and answering all our questions. He even took the time to tell us more about the cavern on the way back.

The cavern have had some famous visitors in its history, including Mary Queen of Scotts who visited the cave in 1582 while she was under the ‘care’ of the Earl of Shrewsbury. While she was visiting Mary embraced one of the natural pillars of the cave and kissed it, claiming who ever kissed it would have good luck. However given how things ended up for her I opted not to try it!

Mary's Pillar

Mary’s Pillar

Prior to it being opened as a show cave intrepid explorers would have to crawl through a hole to get into the cavern. However in 1853 the owner decided to open the cavern to the public, so created a new entrance that was slightly more accessible, by blowing it up with dynamite!

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This owner was the 6th Duke of Devonshire, also known for cutting up tapestries and turning beds into throne canopies at Hardwick Hall! For many years the cavern was lit with gas lamps, which I think is a completely mad idea but never lead to any dramatic incidents, amazingly.

The biggest stalagtight in the cavern is known as the flitch of bacon. Apparently it used to look more pig like before explorers discovered the big sparkly rock hanging from the ceiling and snapped the end off! Honestly it could make you cry.

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The Flitch of Bacon

Further into the cavern there are stalagmites nick named poached eggs, for obvious reasons. There are some stalagmites that are now dead, because people have been touching them. The oils on people’s hands have coated the top of the stalagmite and will prevent it from growing any further. They also turn black, a perfect example of how damaging touching can be, not only in historic houses.

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The Poached Eggs

At the end of the cavern there was a beautiful sparkly rock. It was very interesting and the guide pointed out different parts that looked like different animals, including a swan and a dog. I couldn’t capture the stunning sparkles on my camera so you will have to go in person to truly appreciate how beautiful it is.

Sparkly Rock

Sparkly Rock

After our trip underground we had a wander around Buxton and found a craft fair in the park. I bought a beautiful frog pin cushion, combining two of my favorite things, frogs and sewing! I also had some very good luck in the charity shops too, a very successful day out all round!

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My frog!

My frog!

A lovely birthday in Leeds

It was my birthday at the end of March and what better way to spend my birthday than at one of my favorite ever museums, Leeds Royal Armouries!

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That banner is made of chainmail btw!

Leeds Armouries has always been one of my favorite places to spend the day; family days out, watching the joust with cousins, to getting the £1 summer holidays bus deal from Huddersfield, spending hours there with so many of my favorite people. I even used the museum as a case study in one of the essays I wrote while I was at uni.

Pretty amour

Pretty amour

Even though I have been many times before I always managed to spot something new that I had never noticed. And there are so many fascinating and pretty things there, I don’t think I could ever get bored.

The famous Hall of Steel

The famous Hall of Steel

It has been a few years since I last visited so I was really excited to go back, especially as my good friend has just started working there too. We did nearly get a little lost because in the intervening years the area around the Armouries has sprung up, it’s almost unrecognisable but thanks to those trusty brown signs we found our way.

My very lovely little brother indulged me all day so we spent hours in the Armouries, with a little pizza break halfway through at the convenient Pizza Express right on the doorstep! I got to re-visit the elephant armour I have always loved, that originally came from Powis Castle!

Elephant!

Elephant!

I love the interactives in the War Gallery, including holding swords, pulling bows and a quiz on different types of weaponry (which me & Jake aced!). Behind one of these interactives is also a video that I love to watch, a man in a full suite of armour doing a cartwheel!! The video is to prove that it can be done but I just keep imagining my friends who own similar get ups attempting it and the outcome probably not being quite the same. I can tell you one thing, I wouldn’t even attempt it for fear of seriously injuring myself and whoever I landed on top of!

Jake playing with one of the interactives

Jake playing with one of the interactives

So much of the collection at the Armouries is not only functional but also really beautiful. I love that something made for such a practical and often not very friendly purposes is also an object of beauty.

More pretty armour

More pretty armour

A slightly random little detail I liked where the stands for the guns in the upper section of the war gallery. The display focuses on WW1 and showcases the evolution of weaponry throughout the conflict, very interesting. The stands for the guns are metal hands, showing how the items would have been held, a really clever idea.

The handy stands

The handy stands

Though the collection at the Armouries obviously has a large part to do with war and violence the Armouries take an admirable stance on educating about the importance of peace, with several displays talking about work being done to end war and violence. I find the most shocking and interesting gallery is their ‘Self Defense’ gallery where they include a display of weapons handed over during a weapons amnesty in Leeds. It is a very emotive display and I thinks it sends a really powerful and important message.

More pretty things

More pretty things

The self defense gallery shows items used for personal protection throughout the ages, including this little piece that I have always liked for just how over the top it is. It is an Apache Revolver and combines a gun, knuckle duster and knife. Talk about over kill!

Ouch!

Ouch!

We also discovered on our visit that there was some conservation work happening live! I was very excited about this and dragged Jake off to see it.To tie in with the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo the Armouries are cleaning and restoring the model scene of the battle. There is a post about the work on the Royal Armouries Blog with some fantastic photos of the detail of the pieces!

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It looks like a project that you could really get stuck into, a long haul but very rewarding in the end I’m sure. The whole thing is being cleaned but some of the lead figures have corroded. Where this has happened limbs might be missing so conservators are remodeling pieces and restoring the figures. It sounds like very delicate work on a tiny scale! Conservator Cym was kind enough to pose for a photo for me with the sections she is currently working on. Each section is about one meter squared in size and there are ten in total. Keep up the good work guys and thanks for sharing!

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The gallery that often comes closest to being my absolute favorite (it’s a very tight competition) is the Oriental gallery, for the amazing beauty and craft in so many of the objects. This gallery also has some really fascinating videos to watch, so we spent a lot of time in here. I just love the attention to detail that has gone into making these objects so ornate.

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Beautiful stirrups

This coat of plates also features some amazing embroidery. It is an 18th Century Chinese Cavalryman’s Brigandine, pretty and practical.

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And there are sparkles on these handles encrusted with mother of pearl. Beautiful!

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I already can’t wait for my next visit, to see what changes between now and then and discover something else I’ve never spotted before. Quite jealous I can’t be there for the amazing Easter joust this weekend but I’ve been working. Well . . . there is always next year! All in all an awesome way to spend my birthday!

More cleaning!

For the last few weeks we have been settling back into the open season, it’s surprising how much you forget when routines change! Now we are open and back in the swing of things we are cracking on with the Deep Clean.

Whilst Hardwick was closed we managed to get most of the Top Floor deep cleaned. It is really important that we do rooms like the Long Gallery and High Great Chamber while we are closed as we need to use scaffold to reach all areas, and we can’t use this sort of equipment when visitors are in. We also got most of the Ground Floor cleaned as we needed to before we could install the interpretation for this years exhibition prior to opening.

The scaffold tower in the High Great Chamber

The scaffold tower in the High Great Chamber

The only rooms we did not clean on the Top Floor while we were closed were Mary Queen of Scotts Room and the Blue Bedroom. We deliberately left these as they are smaller rooms we can clean while we are open. I really enjoy working when we are open, so we can talk to the public about how we care for Hardwick’s collection. My job would hold so much less appeal if I couldn’t share my work the way we do.

In The Blue Bedroom

In The Blue Bedroom

People are always so interested and amazed as the amount of work that actually goes into looking after historic properties, and I think it’s really important we do tell people! It gives visitors an opportunity to see what their membership fees do, where the money for that trip to the gift shop goes, or what buying that cheeky slice of cake means to us ( as if people really need another excuse to buy cake!). That is why for the next two months we will be focusing on cleaning the Middle Floor in front of our visitors!

I always seem to notice something new when deep cleaning a room, even though now this is my third time cleaning these rooms! Like these feet peeking out from underneath the Blue Bed!

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It was the turn of the Top Floor over-mantles for a Deep Clean this time round, so I cleaned the alabaster over-mantle in the Blue Bedroom by dusting it with a hogs hair paint brush. It depicts the wedding of Tobias and Sarah from the biblical story of Tobit, as story Bess must have been fond of because we also have a table carpet telling the tale.

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Whilst I was cleaning it I noticed this masons mark hiding right at the top. I love spotting these marks and it made me think about the person who created this amazing piece of art so many years ago. I wonder what they would think if they could see us still taking care of it today.

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I also got to have a close look at this lovely leather studded chest in the Blue Bedroom. I have a soft spot for pretty boxes and would love to have this in my house (if there were room!). The crowns once had blue silk in the spaces, such wonderful attention to detail.

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Something most visitors do not get to see is the amazing painted detail on the black wicker chairs in the Mary Queen of Scotts Room. They are covered in painted flowers and gilded decoration. This means they are very delicate and we have to take great care not to damage the detail any more than time already has done. We gently brush the dust off with our softest brushes, with bristles made from pony hair.

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Now we’ve finished the Top Floor we are racing through the Middle Floor so if you are visiting in the next few weeks you might get a chance to see us in action!

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On the Middle Floor

Textile excitement at Eyam Hall

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This week I was drafted in to help cleaning some of the more delicate textiles at Eyam Hall. Eyam is a beautiful house and gardens in the Peaks that the Trust have taken guardianship of nearly two years ago. As they are still quite a small team and in our property portfolio staff from Hardwick offer support in a variety of ways, including looking after some of the more fragile items in the collection.

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I last visited Eyam on a beautifully sunny day so being there on a very misty day while there was snow on the ground gave the Hall a different feel. Very mysterious and atmospheric. It was so cold even the pond was still frozen!

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While we where there we cleaned the amazing Crewel Work bedspread that Eyam have in the Oak Bedroom. The bedspread was apparently made for Elizabeth Wright around the time that Eyam Hall was being built in the 1680’s. It features amazing colours and wonderful images of exotic birds, beautiful flowers and highly decorated leaves that I just loved!

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I was in my element, getting to see this wonderful embroidered work up close. Thinking about skill and hours that must have gone into making this bedspread, and the hangings to match, make me so please we can care for this amazing piece so people can continue to admire it for years to come. And the carved wood of the bed frame complements the elaborate embroidery nicely.

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We also took a look at the Tapestry Room, taking a sample of the dust on the tapestry nearest the door to see how the increase in visitor numbers has been affecting it. Since it is a small room even if they have less visitors than Hardwick to dust will build up faster as there is less room for it to disperse. Since there will be many more visitors now the Trust are running Eyam it is something we need to monitor closely. The tapestry room is lovely, it makes me feel very at home!

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With Eyam Hall being a family home for many, many generations the collection rather eclectic with some really interesting objects. Some of my favorites included this stuffed moose, and these steps in the library, which double as a chair!

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The House has real character, we got to sneak up to the top floor and see some of the rooms not open to the public, and there were these curious windows. There are several different types of windows throughout the building, which I thought was rather unusual.

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I also love the detailing around the house, like the carved finials up the stair case, with little hearts in the center.

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As another perk of being a staff member we got a sneak peek into the a little building in the garden, which will be opening to the public at weekends. The use of this building, situated in the garden, has been debated.

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Until recently it was known as the Gardener’s cottage but it has been discovered that is was originally used as a Banqueting House, where dessert would have been eaten after a meal. Although it is only a little room, it is full of character and atmosphere, and curious items.

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I really enjoyed my day at Eyam, and we have planned to go back and do some more work there soon. I love my work, and it is really nice to have a little day out and get a chance to do what I love in another beautiful location!

Random January

We have been working really hard to get ahead on the Deep Clean so we have plenty of time to install our exciting theme for this year! And thanks to our brilliant team we are doing really well, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t still had time to appreciate the beauty of the objects in the collection we care for.

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There are so many instances when I just stop what I am doing, distracted by something I have never noticed before or a view that I want to try to take a photo of, like the chair back above. It is one of the most modern fabric in the Long Gallery but I just thought it looked so interesting looking down the back of the chair, and angle we don’t usually see when we’re open.

I love noticing this that we can’t usually see, like going up the ladder to dust the top of a tall cabinet. Once we had removed the dust we could see that it has a beautifully inlaid design.

The top of one of the cabinets in the State Withdrawing Room.

The top of one of the cabinets in the State Withdrawing Room.

Another great thing about the Deep Clean is getting to look inside the furniture we clean. We found this elaborate design on the underside of the lid of a chest in the Needlework passage.

The inside lid of one of Hardwick's chest.

The inside lid of one of Hardwick’s chest.

Whilst we were cleaning the same area I spent a bit of time looking at the magnificent wine coolers that sit on the window sills in the passage. They often get a lot of comments from out visitors are they are quite unusual.

One of our 2 German wine coolers

One of our two German wine coolers.

They are ceramic pieces with designs that show people drinking and being merry, with gilded are detail over the scenes.

These figures appear to be having a jolly time

These figures appear to be having a jolly time.

It was only when I was dusting them that I realised what the figures on top of the lid were actually doing – they’re pressing grapes! The lid does remind me a little of the Schoner Brunnen, Beautiful Fountain, that I saw on my travels in Nuremburg.

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On Wednesday last week it was museum selfie day and in between snow chaos and running around getting things done I manages to snap a quick pic with Arbella, the lady who will be the center of this years theme! The new interpretation has been arriving and key players have been moving around, it is all shaping up for opening in just over a week. While we have still got a HUGE amount to do I am so excited by what is already in place and can’t wait to see the finished product!

My museum selfie

My museum selfie

Although I imagine after a week of installing interpretation, uncovering everything we’ve deep cleaned, briefing volunteers and doing the final dust by the time we are ready to open we will all be fit to drop! What we are doing this year is quite different to anything that has been done at Hardwick before so we are all anxious that it goes well, but I have a great belief in the minds behind the plan, and the muscles putting it in place. I’m sure it is going to be fab!

I got to do something else very exciting, and very unusual this week. I was invited back to my university, The University of Worcester, to talk to the current Archaeology students about how I got my job in the heritage industry! I was so pleased to be asked, it is a huge compliment for your lecturers to look at you as an example of someone who has gone on to be successful. There were several of us Worcester graduates there, which made it a really nice little reunion and I got a chance to catch up with my lecturers as well.

Beautiful Worcester.

Beautiful Worcester.

For the most part we all had similar advice to give the students; work hard, volunteer and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, seizing opportunities that come your way, or creating your own! If you want to know a little bit more about how I got to where I am today I wrote a blog post about it a while back: link here. Hopefully I will be able to go back next year and for many years after, talking about my career journey, wherever it takes me!

Christmas Highlights!

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My Christmas was very busy this year, full of all the things I love; work, sweet things, crafts, family, friends and glitter! Here are a few highlights from my festive season! This year we spent even longer getting Hardwick Hall … Continue reading

Fire & Flood!

In December I attended a three-day residential course all about planning and dealing with emergency situations. I had heard about this course when I was a LTV at Powis and it sounded really interesting and quite exciting so I was hoping to be able to attend it. Happily enough this year my wish came true!

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The course focuses on creating an Emergency Salvage Plan for historic properties and heritage sites should something happen like a fire or a flood. We did a bit of knot tying, which took me back to my Scouting days, learnt about the different roles people would need to play in an emergency situation, had talks from the emergency services.

We were also taken through several practical exercises ,and newsflash, if your property floods you are going to get soggy shoes – at the very least!! The training was based in West Brom at a Fire Services Academy, complete with working ‘hot house’ which can be set to simulate a real fire situation.

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On the first day we got to wear the full protective outfit and breathing apparatus that Fire Fighters wear in real situations. Wearing all this we went into the training house when it was full of smoke. It was so disorienting walking through rooms we had never been in before in almost total dark whilst being totally cut off from our surroundings by the protective clothing we were wearing.

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I have such a huge respect for Fire Fighters and how they do their jobs under such incredibly difficult conditions! The Fire Fighters that were training us were very helpful, I felt all fingers and thumbs in the protective clothing but they helped us to kit up and made sure all our breathing apparatus was working.

The session I think will come in most useful for me was the objects first aid session. We were taught all about the most effective way to dry out wet items, to clean them if they can covered in soot or ash. It is much more likely that I would have to deal with drying out objects, with flooding potential from burst pipes or leaking roofs. Objects rescued from a fire situation would also most likely be wet from the fire services attempt to put out the fire.

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Because of all of these reasons we were shown ways to turn every day objects into drying stations and wind tunnels. In a serious disaster where many objects were damp some could be frozen. This would keep them in stasis until you had the capacity to defrost and deal with drying them out. Space is very quickly taken up when drying out objects so freezing things may be the only option. I could see the situation quickly becoming too enormous a task to handle otherwise.

The practical scenario was a real eye opener, seeing just how quickly 20 people suddenly turned into there being no one around. Everyone got so busy so quickly! I was in charge of communication and welfare and spend the exercise running around making sure everyone was ok, that they had a break, that messages were getting passed on and no one was getting too stressed or cold.

The fire service did an amazing job in listening to what we needed, and getting the priority items out of the building. Then the salvage team were able to go in with the fire fighters after they had checked the building. Very quickly objects were coming out thick and fast and the team doing the first aid had their work cut out for them.

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Documenting the objects was particularly challenging, especially as we didn’t know the collection which would obviously be different in our own properties. As the objects were coming out so quickly we often didn’t get chance to ask which rooms they came from, or if we did we lost track. This did cause a bit of an issue, but one that could be solved after the fact when all the objects were in the salvage area.

The exercise worked very well in showing us what the pit falls and challenges of a scenario could be, so we can try to be prepared. The course also made me see how well prepared Hardwick is, we have a very comprehensive Emergency Salvage Plan and carry out regular exercises with the local fire brigade. We are having a salvage exercise at Hardwick next month which I am very grateful for as I will get the opportunity to see Hardwick’s plan in action! Whilst I do now feel quite prepared should the worst happen, but it also makes me pray that I never need to put this particular training course into action!

Haddon Hall at Christmas!

Happy New Year everyone!

I hope everybody had a lovely December, I was so busy with work and friends and family that I feel like I need another Christmas break to recover!

I had a lovely day out to near by Haddon Hall which was decorated for Christmas, and it was beautiful! The hall dates back to the 11th century and is currently owned and occupied by the Manners family, lucky people!

Haddon Hall

Haddon Hall

I had never been to Haddon before, and I really look forward to visiting again. The decorations were lovely and there were real fires throughout (very jealous).

Fire!

Fire!

The decorations were mostly traditional greenery that fits with the interior decor of the hall. It looked really nice, still managing to stand out in the rooms and make our visit feel very festive.

The Main Hall

The Main Hall

I especially loved the Peacock themed decorations in the Long Gallery! It is the sort of room that makes people go ‘Wow’ when they see it, myself included.

The Long Gallery

The Long Gallery

Peacock Tree

Peacock Tree

The Long Gallery was themed with Peacocks because it features on the Manners family coat of arms. They are beautiful birds anyway, and I am especially fond of them now as they remind me of my time at Powis.

A peacock carved into the wood of the Long Gallery

A peacock carved into the wood of the Long Gallery

Another tree I really liked was the on where visitors were invited to write their Christmas wishes on tags and hang them on the tree. It had a really good effect and I thought it looked very classical against the tapestry backdrop.

The wishes tree

The wishes tree

It was an amazingly beautiful day, really sunny (yet still freezing!) and that just added to the beauty of Haddon’s lovely grounds. The rooms were light and the sun made some really interesting effects where it was streaming in through the windows.

Sunshine

Sunshine!

Sunshine on the dining room table

Sunshine on the dining room table

I was also really taken with the interesting windows at Haddon. They are all wibbly (technical term) and reflected the light so delightfully.

Haddon's windows

Haddon’s windows

The Chapel was especially atmospheric, decorated with greenery, music playing, candles burning and full of smoke from the incense burning. We spend a lot of time in there, absorbing the atmosphere and admiring the paintings on the walls.

The Chapel

The Chapel

In the courtyard at Haddon

In the courtyard at Haddon Hall

Across the courtyard from the main hall is a little museum displaying objects found in the hall. It has a really interesting, eclectic collection, with pretty pieces of glass, nice keys and even a piece of Hardwick matting!

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I would really recommend a visit to Haddon, it is a stunning property with real charm, especially on a nice sunny day when you can fully appreciate not only the beautiful interiors and manicured garden but also the building itself within its amazing location.

Back to the Deep Clean!

November has been a very busy month, and when we have not been decorating for Christmas we have been getting stuck back in to our Deep Annual Clean! As with last year we have lots of other projects scheduled over the winter so getting all we need to done will be an interesting challenge. But in the mean time I have been enjoying having some time with the objects.

One clean, one Dusty

One clean, one Dusty

We start our Deep Clean on the top floor in the High Great Chamber where I have been cleaning the Farthingale Chairs. These chairs were supposedly designed so that ladies wearing Farthingale Petticoats, with large hoops underneath their skirts, could perch on them to rest between dances.

Some of the embroidered detail on the chairs

Some of the embroidered detail on the chairs

These chairs have stunning 16th Century embroidery on them, featuring flowers and insects. They match the Canopy I had the opportunity to clean last year.

The High Great Chamber Canopy

The High Great Chamber Canopy (before cleaning)

As well as chairs we have stools and two throne chairs, which have really interesting scenes on them in beautiful gold-work.

The back of one of the Throne Chairs

The back of one of the Throne Chairs

Embroidered Deer

Embroidered Deer

To remove the dust I used a mixture of techniques. We use an adjustable suction ‘Museum-Vac’ with crevice tool attachment through bridal netting and using artists brushes as we were trained by the Textile Conservators last year. The brushes work better on certain areas because the can remove strands of clothing fibers that have landed on the velvet which would otherwise be left underneath the bridal netting.

One of the Throne Chairs

One of the Throne Chairs half way through cleaning

I also used the brushes near the metallic embroidery, this removed the risk of the metal threads getting hooked on the bridal netting and pulled. However the bridal netting method is better for the rest embroidery, it is so delicate that the brushes could cause damage by removing any loose pieces.

I love the Deep Clean because we get a chance to really look at the objects we care for, and they are such amazing and beautiful objects. It is one of my favorite things about this job!