A Hardwick update

I know it sounds like all I’ve been doing recently is gallivanting round Trust properties and not actually doing any work at my own but that’s not the case, I promise we have been as busy at Hardwick as ever.

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We have totally finished the Deep Clean of the show rooms, with the Below Stairs rooms the last ones we tackled. We moved the huge wooden tree trunk that the mortar stands on in the corner of the kitchen, and found a bit of a mess underneath, mould, dust and a few creepy crawlies.

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This is why it is so important we move objects every year, because who knows what could be happening underneath them! Luckily it wasn’t too difficult to get cleaned up and I kept it laying on its side to dry it out.

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Meanwhile we have had quite a few guests over the past couple of weeks, film crews, authors and even the National Trust Council! While this meant a long day and late night for us it is always nice to get to show our property off, especially as we were stationed in the attics. I met some nice people and had some very interesting conversations.

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We are also starting to get busier, and unfortunately the more visitors we have, the more incidences of wandering hands. One of our objects that gets touched the most is the coral bed in the Paved Room, because we don’t often have enough volunteers to man that room. I guess it’s just too tempting but every time someone does touch anything they leave a trace of oil from their fingers on it.

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This oil builds up and will end up corroding metal, staining textiles and blemishing surfaces. Not to mention the physical damage that can be done to objects when people keep touching them! We try not to have too many notices reminding people not to touch but we decided we needed another one to protect this beautiful bed, especially while we’re busy.

Occasionally we have enthusiastic experts come to Hardwick to take a closer look at items in our collection. Sometimes this is very easily done, and sometimes accessing them is a little trickier. Recently we were asked for two pictures, and they just happened to be the ones at the top in the corner of the alcove.

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Getting them down with a ladder was not as simple as we first though, so we took a different route and built our small scaffolding to get them back up again. Now we just have to wait to hear what conclusions the experts have come too.

The next visitors we had were a film crew from America filming a documentary about Arbella. They were very efficient to work with, getting all the filming done in one day. This included an interview with our resident Arbella expert, House and Collections Manager Nigel Wright. I’m looking forward to watching the DVD they promised to send. It’s quite a buzz to look at footage or photos and know that you were stood just out of shot observing and assisting with the whole process.

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We had to change a light-bulb the other week, something that should not be a big deal, but in a big room really is! So we got out the big ladder and I went up to see if I could reach, but I couldn’t. Luckily for us we have a very tall colleague who was willing to come up and help us, and so the lights are back on in the High Great Chamber.

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We have also have mirrors installed in the gardens to tie in with the Arbella exhibition we are running this year. The mirrors are in pretty ‘gilded’ frames and have quotes on them relating to Arbella’s life.

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They work really well, sitting in the borders glinting in the sunlight and drawing people over to discover them. On a sunny day they look so lovely!

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We also did a little spring cleaning of the Arbella exhibition inside; we cleaned the paintings currently on display in the High Great Chamber. Because these paintings are now displayed on a slight angle they gather a lot more dust than they did hanging on the walls of the Long Gallery.

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We were just going to clean the frames, but while we were doing so noticed how dusty the canvases were, so we decided to clean them too. To do this we use a very soft, wide brush and gently brush the dust off the canvas into our hoovers.

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Getting to the top of queen Elizabeth’s frame was a little tricky, we couldn’t get close enough on a ladder so Claire came up with the ingenious method up sneaking up behind her with a brush, while I directed her disembodied hand from the front.

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I love that there are always new things to discover at Hardwick, and one beautifully sunny day one of our volunteers mentioned something about the Elizabethan drains. Me and Claire got very excited about this, we had never heard about these drains before, let alone that you can go in them! So we went on a little team trip to the building in the corner of the gardens to see them.

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Hidden under a very heavy trap door is the entrance to the old drains, with one tunnel heading under the house, and the other down the hill towards the motorway. For this visit we just had a sneaky peek into the drains, which are brick-built and tall enough to walk in. We’ll save the actual exploration for another day perhaps. So many things still to be discovered!

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Hope you’ve enjoyed this little update, proof that I am still working hard and not just swanning about the country visiting one Trust property after the other. Having said that the next few post are going to be about my visits to another few NT houses!

Middle Floor done and dusted!

Throughout spring the House Team have been busy Deep Cleaning the Middle Floor, and many of our visitors have been able to see just exactly what it takes to care for a collection like ours!

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The Deep Clean begins in November and is carried out over most of the year, with a few other projects and distractions in between, but this year we have got through it in record time!

A ‘Deep Clean’ as opposed to a daily or weekly clean, means almost every item in the rooms will get some TLC, starting at the top and working our way down to the floor. This is a really good opportunity for staff and volunteers to check the condition of all of our objects, making sure nothing has deteriorated over the year.

View from my ladder

View from my ladder

We also get the opportunity to clean items that can only be cleaned once a year, like fragile textiles or gilded furniture. These are the items on which we can really see the year’s dust build up!

On the top floor our Deep Clean requires a scaffold tower, but on the Middle Floor as it’s not so tall we can get away with just using our tall ladder.

Tall Ladder, Small Room

Tall Ladder, Small Room

It was a little tricky in some of the smaller rooms to fit us and our equipment in and move the furniture around us, but we managed. One of the smallest rooms we have to clean is the Cut Velvet Dressing Room. Going up the ladder in here means we get up close with the painting that hang at the top of the room, which are seldom spotted from the visitor route. We also see the little details, like the ‘ES’ monogram on the carving over the window.

The Cut Velvet Dressing Room

The Cut Velvet Dressing Room

Not Bess' period, but still her house

Not Bess’ period, but still her house

The ceramics in the Cut Velvet Bedroom were particularly dirty this year, so we decided to wash them as well as dust them. However this requires a little more delicacy that I would use to wash the dishes at home.

Ready for pot washing

Ready for pot washing

In need of a good clean

In need of a good clean

When we wash ceramics we use only a very tiny amount of water, with one small drop of sensitive washing up liquid in. We apply the water with a cotton bud, working in tiny circles to remove the grime. It is a very effective method and the results afterwards were sparkling!

Much better

Much better

Carefully does it

Carefully does it

It’s always great to get a closer look at the objects in the collections, not just to give them a through condition check but also because we often notice things we have never seen before. This year when I uncovered one of the chairs in the Drawing Room to clean underneath it we noticed that the chair itself actually reclines!

Evelynn's favorite chair

Evelyn’s favorite chair

We have been told by one of our Oral History interviewees that this was Duchess Evelyn’s favourite chair to sit and sew in, and maybe that was why.

The mechanism

The mechanism

Another thing I had never noticed before in the Drawing Room was the Cavendish serpents on the lead windows. I’ve not spotted these in any other rooms yet, but I could just be looking straight through them to the lovely view outside!

The Cavendish Serpent

The Cavendish Serpent

The frame of Duchess Evelyn’s portrait was also particularly dusty, with a lovely arrangement of cobwebs on. Because the frame is gilded we can only clean it once a year, any more and we would risk wearing away the fine top layer of gold. Because of this, when we do get to clean it, it is always a very satisfying job!

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I also got the opportunity this year to dust all the objects stored inside our beautiful Dutch Marquetry Cabinet. Most of the ceramics in this cabinet are Chinese including even a Ming dynasty piece, so I was very, very carefully when moving them.

The cabinet of ceramics

The cabinet of ceramics

In order to have both hands to work with while cleaning the ceramics I fashioned a ‘hoover holder’ out of a plastic box. It was not quite as neat as I hoped but it did the job and meant I had one hand to hold the brush, and the other to support the ceramic. Then I dusted the pieces with a pony hair paint brush, flicking the dust into the nozzle of the hoover.

My work space

My work space

It was an absolute pleasure to get to see the objects so up close because they are all so beautiful. They were made with such attention to detail by what must have been some very talented craftspeople.

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So now the Middle Floor is finished!! And we only have one more room to Deep Clean and we will be finished until November. However, no rest for the wicked, we still have plenty of other jobs to be getting on with, Deep Cleaning store rooms, cleaning tapestries and getting through our Summer Works program as well, not to mention helping the house survive the summer holidays!

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

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!

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!

The little things

With all the huge projects we have had happening at Hardwick this summer it is easy for the little things to get glossed over, however the little things are so important as well. Our weekly clean on a Monday, daily cleans on Wednesdays to Sundays, checking for pests, monitoring environmental conditions, managing volunteers, talking to visitors and millions more tasks still have to happen even when we are preoccupied by opening exhibitions or installing art work!

We have achieved an amazing amount this season aside from all the bigger things I have been blogging about. So hear are some of the smaller tasks I have been doing recently.

We finished the Annual Deep Clean!

A big deal that unfortunately we were too busy to really celebrate. In contrast, we didn’t get our Deep Clean finished last year before we closed at the end of the season so this is an amazing achievement for the team. Thanks to good planning and our wonderful team of staff and volunteers we got a huge amount of the Deep Clean finished over the closed season, and we have kept up the momentum until we had checked everything on our list off!

Cleaning the Over-mantle in Miss Webb's Room

Cleaning the Over-mantle in Miss Webb’s Room

We’re half way through our summer works program!

The ‘summer works’ are the conservation cleaning tasks that happen several times a year, not just once in the Deep Clean. Things like cleaning bed flats and chairs that get too much dust landing on them for us to leave them. We split all our summer works into the things that need to happen at the start of summer, and those which we won’t do until the summer ends and our visitors numbers drop. Thanks to the fact that we had already finished our Deep Clean it meant we could focus our effort on these task, and last week we finished the first half of our list.

Cleaning the velvet cushions in the Long Gallery

Cleaning the velvet cushions in the Long Gallery

Bits Boxes.

One of my personal projects has been to revitalise the Hardwick Bits Box. I did a similar project at Powis, however this was a much bigger undertaking! Where Powis’ Bits were already in organised boxes, the Hardwick’s Bits Boxes were two huge crates full of years of bits! So my job involved going through the bits, cataloging every one, writing labels for each and putting them in a bag, putting these bags into location specific boxes. Believe me when I say, there are only so many ways you can describe a broken piece of wood!

Before . . .

Before . . .

The new and improved bits box system allows the bits to be easily identified if ever there comes a time when we have a conservator in who could re-attach some for us. As a result of my work several bits have already been returned when we had our furniture conservator here for one of our big projects. Now I have overhauled the system hopefully it shouldn’t get in that state again, so I have helped out the future Conservation Assistants of Hardwick Hall (you’re welcome! 😛 )The final part of this task is for me to just finish typing up all the bits records, all 340-odd of them!

. . . and After!

. . . and After!

Felting the Still Room.

A small task that has needed doing for a while was to put pieces of felt underneath the objects that have been added to the still room. If you have even noticed when you go around Trust properties, often objects that sit on pieces of furniture have a layer of something between the two. This protects not only the surface an objects sits on, but also the base of the object.

A felt pad for a pot

A felt pad for a pot

The protective layer can be several things, felt or cork pieces, and type of foam called plasterzote or a thin type of clear plastic like laminate. I chose to use beige felt for the Still Room as it blends nicely with the paint colour of the surfaces. For most of the objects it was just a case of cutting circles that fit the base closely so the visual effect is not spoiled. The only tricky part was when it came to cutting the felt for the fish shaped mould!

The Fish

The Fish

More 50 things!

Last summer we decided to adapt the ’50 things to do before you’re 11 and 3/4′ so that we could bring some of the activities into the Hall. This year we decided to do the same, but not to make things easy for ourselves we wanted to chose different activities so any children visiting us again would get a new experience. I love this idea, and anything that gets us to look at how people interact with the Hall differently! We have barefoot walks on our lovely new matting in the High Great Chamber (something I love to do), caves to explore, dens to be built, birds to be spotted, and my personal favourite ‘catch a falling leaf’. Each leaf has an interesting Hardwick fact written on to be discovered, which I really enjoyed writing as I learnt something new as well! This particular ‘thing’ was a real team effort with the original idea coming from Sadie, me researching the facts, Jen practicallising the idea and writing the facts onto the leaves and Claire going over the words in black pen. The finished product almost looks like a work of art!

Our leafy installation

Our leafy installation

So there we go, just some of the other wonderful things that have been keeping me occupied. But don’t think that just because these are all now finished I shall be sitting on my bottom eating cake (that only happens at tea break, honest!) we have so many other projects in various staged of fruition at Hardwick, getting these done just frees up my time for me to get stuck into the next task! Nothing beats the satisfaction of getting thing done!

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