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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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!
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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!