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!

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A New Year full of Old Objects

As soon as we were back at work we were straight back into our Deep Clean, finishing the top floor and moving into the Entrance Hall. However we’re not just thinking about the closed season, we have already begun preparing … Continue reading

The magic of Matting

Last week was the long-awaited matting week; when we finally got the new matting for the High Great Chamber! Hardwick has been waiting for this for a long time! I have talks about our flooring problems in a previous post you can read here.

Planning for this began a loooong time ago, and we originally has a week scheduled in May, and then September and for our new date last week we began preparing the room a fortnight ago. First we had to clear the High Great Chamber of all the furniture, and cover the Canopy to protect it from the dust that removing the old matting would stir up.

The covered canopy in the High Great Chamber

The covered canopy in the High Great Chamber

Then we had to begin the daunting task of clearing all the old matting out. As we could not afford to have the alcove matting replaced as well as the rest of the room we have to find a piece from the old matting to put here. Luckily part of the room is underneath at 16th Century rug and roped off from the public so was still in quite good condition. We measured the alcove and cut a piece to fit, storing it our of the way until the new matting was laid.

Next, in strips of about a meter wide we pulled up the old matting. To do this we had to cut the stitching between each strip, which is sewn with garden twine. Then the lengths were rolled, and as we did this we vacuumed underneath them to remove the dust and debris, and there was an awful lot! We filled at least five hoover bags and twice as many bin bags with the brown paper and dust that was underneath the matting.

The Old Matting

The Old Matting

It took us nearly an entire day to take up the matting, and then the next week the matters arrived. We spent monday morning carrying old rolls of matting down the Main Stairs and pushing new rolls up them! A bit of a work out indeed!

Up we go!

Up we go!

The Plaiting of the Matting

The Plaiting of the Matting

Then we could let the matters get on with their work. Long strips of rushes are plaited from hooks hanging on ceilings to the required length, and then these strips are sewn together to form pieces several feet wide. This is how the matting arrives and then the matters sew these rolls to one another on site. This is a really back-breaking job, I have no idea how the matters do it! They amazed me with their speed as well, finishing the whole thing in less than four days.

The New Matting - ready to roll

The New Matting – ready to roll

The matters use a large curved sail needle and go in-between the gaps in the rushed that make up the plaited strips. They have to use a really heavy-duty thimble that fits across their palm on a leather strap. After sewing all the pieces together edging strips are then sewn on to all the cut edges of the matting to stop it coming undone.

Sewing the Matting

Sewing the Matting

When it arrives it looks very different to matting that has been down a while. It is very textured and still green, and overtime becomes flattened down and beige. It also still really smells like the countryside, and when the room was completed it was a really nice feeling of having brought the outdoors in. It almost looked how fields look when you are flying above them in a plane. I can’t wait for our visitors reaction when they come in and see our beautiful new matting!

Here is a link to the website of the Matting company we use; Rush Matters.

We’re closed!

Well sort of closed, for a little while . . .

So it is finally the ‘Closed Season’ at Hardwick Hall. Traditionally this would have been the time when the house could be cleaned from top to bottom and then ‘put to bed’. However for us, we’re open again in December, for Christmas and more then doing the Deep Annual Clean we also have a few little projects planned. Projects which include laying new matting in the High Great Chamber and getting trained by the NT textile conservators on how to clean some of the larger textile objects in our collection.

The High Great Chamber

The High Great Chamber

This week we have mostly been getting ready for our up-coming projects, and starting our Deep Clean. We started by emptying the High Great Chamber of everything we could carry, and covering the rest with dust sheets.

The covered canopy

The covered canopy

This meant we got to build the scaffolding tower not once but twice! I really enjoy building scaffolding because we get to all work together as a team, and we always have a laugh together! Before we covered the scaffold we had to clean the top of it, and it really needed it!

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Before cleaning

Mid-clean

Mid-clean

After we had moved all the furniture out then we cleaned to cornice around the top of the room from the scaffold. Actually cleaning the cornice doesn’t take that long, but moving the scaffold what feel like every five minutes takes up the time. Every time the scaffold tower is moved it has to be re-leveled, which on our less than flat floor definitely needs doing! I think I was up and down that scaffolding about 20 times!

The scaffold tower in the High Great Chamber

The scaffold tower in the High Great Chamber

After finishing the cornice I moved on top deep cleaning some of the amazing pieces of furniture that live in the State Withdrawing Room. I dusted the Sea Dog Table and the Spice Cabinet, both pieces are believed to have been gifts to Bess from Mary Queen of Scotts.

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This is believed to be the case because both pieces are of royal quality. To dust our furniture during the deep clean we use different types of brushes, so on these partially gilded pieces of furniture I used two types of paint brushes. We use hog’s hair paint brushed on the main pieces of carved wood, and a softer pony hair brush on the gilded wood. this is to help preserve the gilt as much as possible.

One of the Seadogs

One of the Sea Dogs

This also means we get a chance to look inside the objects we are cleaning, like opening all the doors inside the beautiful spice cabinet! I was told that originally it was lined with silk inside, and must have looked stunning!

The Cabinet open

The Cabinet open

While I was cleaning some of the wooden furniture the other Chaps were turning their attention to the Farthingale stools from the High Great Chamber. Because of the delicate embroidery on the top of these stools we have to clean them very carefully. We use one of our adjustable suction Museum Vacs and a fine tool, and clean the piece through net to avoid pulling up any fibers.

Cleaning the Farthingale Stools

Cleaning the Farthingale Stools

Sorry for the lack of posting recently, I’ve been having technical problems (ageing laptop is refusing to co-operate any more)!

More cleaning!

After a loooong period of being very busy and down a few chaps we are currently slightly less so, on both counts, so we have been taking this opportunity to crack on with our annual deep clean! We had left off in the Dining Room and we are now in the Drawing Room!

The Entrance Hall, and Gallery

The Entrance Hall, and Gallery

I love getting into the deep clean aw we get to take our time with each objects, to really look at them properly and notice new things about them, that many people will not notice when visiting. We also get to see what a huge different the work we do makes, especially when we are cleaning certain textiles and see what they look like underneath the dust!

I’ve talked about the problems we have with dust on textiles versus how often we can safely clean them, and briefly mentioned that we are experimenting with using volie covers on some of the objects. The stools on the Entrance Hall Gallery are some of the object we are doing this on. Ideally putting voile on the stools means we can clean the volie more frequently than we could clean the textile. One of the stools does not have a cover for comparison, and the difference was clean when we removed the covers from the other ones, the were much less dust.

The seat of the one of the Gallery stools

The seat of the one of the Gallery stools

These beautiful stools are Elizabethan embroidery on red velvet, featuring a range of cute and interesting creature great and small. I think the covers are a good idea, as even though they change the look of the objects you can still see the detail, and it is much better for the object. These stools are a particular concern as people cross the Gallery twice, and this embroidery is very delicate.

The Gallery, featuring our Irish Elk

The Gallery, featuring our Irish Elk

Claire was tasked with climbing up our big ladder and in between the massive antlers of our fossilized Irish Elk skull, a tricky fella to clean but good fun. While she did that I cleaned the glass lanterns that hang on the Gallery, and notices how beautiful these seemingly plain objects actually are up close!

Birds on the lanterns

Birds on the lanterns

Detail around the base of the lantern

Detail around the base of the lantern

Moving into the Drawing Room, what people often say is our ‘homeliest’ room, meant lots more textiles to clean. Some of the textiles are more mundane, like the chairs and the sofas, and others are beautiful examples of Duchess Evelyn’s embroidery. Duchess Evelyn was the last family member to live at Hardwick, choosing it as her dower house after the death of her husband the 9th Duke of Devonshire. She lived there until her death in the early 1960’s.

The Drawing Room at Hardwick Hall

The Drawing Room at Hardwick Hall

One of the most noticeable changes after we had finished cleaning it was actually the plain red sofa in the Drawing Room, which had a very odd pattern on it when we removed the cushions, but looked bright and spiffy when we had finished!

Dust on the drawing room sofa

Dust on the Drawing Room sofa

We shall be carrying on our deep clean in earnest, around all the other exciting things we’ve got coming up. Our tasks over the coming weeks will include, but are by no means limited to, building scaffolding, moving paintings, going on training courses, planning events, daily dusting, bit of vacuuming, and maybe we’ll even find time for a cup of tea and slice of cake (or two!)

 

Dreadful Dust!

Firstly I must apologise for the gap between posts lately, I have not been my usual bouncy self at the moment as I have torn a muscle in my side (ouch!). How did I do this you may be wondering? Was it thought my physical and active job? No. How about my fairly dangerous hobby of Medieval re-enactment and sword play? Nope. Then how? Coughing! You heard it here folks, coughing is bad for your health! So I was unfortunately off work most of last week resting and repairing and therefore didn’t have much to report (other than five days with my feet up made me feel a little stir-crazy!).

This week however I am back at work and busy again (in a very careful manner) and today we have been tackling a huge problem of Hardwick’s. Unfortunately we do get a few comments about dust levels in the Hall from some visitors. We had one a couple of weeks ago that at first caught the House Team by surprise. Dust!? In our Hall? But we dust almost everyday, there is no way there is that much dust in our Hall. Then when we were told the visitor was talking about dust on our textiles we all went; ‘well yeah, we know about that!’. Not because we know and don’t care, of course we care! But because we are already doing all we can do.

Uh oh, some one touched!

Uh oh, some one touched!

Although we do dust the Hall practically every day, there are many objects that we do not touch on a day-to-day basis. We have objects that are cleaned weekly, bi-weekly, three months, six months, annually, every so often, when they need doing or as little as once in 400 years if you’re talking about our Gideon tapestries! What some people do not know is that over-cleaning an object can be just as damaging as under-cleaning it, and therefore we must draw a balance between the two.

The Dining Room table after two weeks

The Dining Room table after two weeks

However this balance is getting harder and harder to maintain. Hardwick Hall gets around 150,000 visitors a year, five years ago that number was less than 100,000. Although we love showing our house to more and more of the public this dust generate lots of added dust! The dust at Hardwick has been analysed and found to be around %50 made up from human skin (ick), so the more visitors the more of this is going to be coming into the Hall.

Me cleaning one of the velvet cushions

Me cleaning one of the velvet cushions

A close up of the fine suction tool

A close up of the fine suction tool

You would think the answer to more dust would be simple: more cleaning! We dust most of the flat surfaces in the hall daily when we are open and do a deeper clean on a weekly basis during our closed days. Then we have the deep annual clean where pretty much everything gets done, and a Summer Works Program as well. We cannot clean a lot of the objects in the collection more than we are already doing so, especially the textiles where every act of cleaning is also removing some of the fibers and therefore damaging the object. This is why we have to leave certain objects looking dusty, it’s not that we are neglecting them, we are looking after them by leaving them.

A lovely line of dust on the base of the stool

A lovely line of dust on the base of the stool

Today we were taking the dust off the 17th Century red velvet stools that live in the Long Gallery, they have been looking pretty dusty lately and are part of our Summer Clean Program. This is the rota of items we clean during the open season, the objects that are sturdy enough to be cleaned every three or six months. We clean this with a museum-vac on a low suction through an ironing net, and then use a fine tool on the edges to get as much dust of as we can, without pulling any of the fibers up. The process will take two of us the best part of two days, and requires a lot of patience. It is very relaxing work and gives you plenty of time to think (for instance today I was rehearsing this blog post). However I do not think it will be long until the poor stools, which sit on the visitor route, will be dusty again as we are gearing up for the busiest part of the year!

The stools in the High Great Chamber

The stools in the High Great Chamber

We are looking at different ways to prevent against dust without having to increase cleaning, such as with the stool in the High Great Chamber. These beautiful stools and there fabulous embroidery are very delicate, and also right on the visitor route, so they get dusty. However we cannot clean them more often than we already do, so we are trailing putting a voil over the stool. The idea is that now the dust will land on the voil rather than on the velvet of the stool, and the voil can be cleaned much more regularly, as it is modern fabric. However this solution does change the look of the stools, so it is something we have to weigh up against the look of the dust, and the damage of cleaning.

The voil on the left hand stool

The voil on the left hand stool

So when you go visiting heritage properties and you see a bit of dust, it is not usually a sign of neglect but a sign of a difficult juggling act the conservation team are trying to balance every day. At Hardwick we are working very hard to educate visitors about the work that goes in to looking after our Hall, with our ‘Conservation Station’ Activity Trail, the ‘Last One Out’ Tours we run daily, and ‘Conservation Week’ which we are running next week.

I am really looking forward to Conservation Week, as it will involve more talking to the public, which I love. The Conservation Assistants will be out and about in the Hall all day chatting about what our job entails and answering questions. We will also be delivering talks, that I have help write, on conservation issues and projects we are undertaking. It should be good fun and hopefully we will have lots of interest!